Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The last piece of the equation...

We cantered for the first time!!! Hurray! He only tried to face plant once!

So we've been going strong lately. Saturday we trailered out to the big arena and took advantage of a perfect sunny-but-crisp afternoon. I rode in the dressage saddle again so that he could trot out a bit more without me feeling like a sack of potatoes trying to post in a western saddle. I think the big trots this weekend helped out with the forward willingness to canter by Tuesday. Sunday we rode out alone in the upper pasture for the first time, and he did just fine. I chose a few easy spots to trot, and practiced a whole lot of turning, and moving off leg pressure. Plus having the wide open space meant that even walking a straight line was a lesson in listening. By Monday morning when we rode in the lower pasture, he was doing a really good getting a few steps of a turn on the haunches, and turn on the forehand. We also started over the logs I have out there so that he knows that going straight stopping and veering away is not an option.

So Tuesday night was the big night. The CANTER! Or I should say lope, since everyone present was western trained, and in a western saddle... but I just can't. He actually bucked while cantering to the left on the lunge line, which is pretty out of character for him, and did not seem like a good sign! So I chased him forward for a full circle hoping to make the point that bucking is not a good thing. Then I got on and we walked a few laps around, mixing in circles in the corners, a few turns against the wall, and a nice big trot around the arena at a good forward pace. Then we were ready for the next big step.

So since I'm in this class to see other trainer's tricks of the trade, I was excited to see how this trainer introduced the lope. I've seen several ways, mainly these have included someone from the ground helping to encourage or reinforce the cue to canter. Often this just results in running them or chasing them into it, which is not the correct way to do it, and can create bad habits. However a person cuing from the ground to reinforce the rider is what I've done in the past, and sort of what I had prepared him for. On the lunge line Bear fully understands the difference between a kiss and a cluck. Kiss means canter, and at this point in his training he can transition smoothly into the canter within a stride of me kissing. At least he does on the right lead... the left lead is not as strong and usually results in a few extra steps and the wrong lead 50% of the time. So he understands the cue, but doesn't have that left lead when traveling in a circle like that. So the left lead was my worry. He's been improving, but its still not consistent.

So here's what we did, and it worked marvelously. Trot a few figure eights (cutting the arena into two circles with a change of direction in the middle.) The trick is to have a nice forward trot and make a fairly straight aim at the wall with an almost last minute change of direction. Obviously last minute changes don't work as well with a green horse until they've figured out the changing direction routine, so coming through the middle at angle once or twice to helps to get the idea. Then you can move straight from wall to wall. The idea is that just when you start the new direction against the opposite wall you kiss, and push them into the canter. As soon as they pick it up you continue the canter around the arena once or twice. Then do the process over again with the other lead. It worked perfectly! He picked up the canter calmly, without rushing into it, and without him stressing out over a bunch of cues he doesn't understand. Better yet, he picked up the correct lead every time. We started with the right since that's his stronger lead, and he was just smooth as butter! He was forward but not rocketing around, and he has a strong enough canter that I can feel what lead he's on. (My Arab has kind of a bunny hop canter and your hips hardly move on way or the other enough to feel her lead...) So then we try the left lead, same easy pick up, no problem. I could feel it was the left lead and he maintained it okay for almost a lap when he stumbled.

It was one of those front feet trips where your horse is suddenly trying to use his nose as a hoof while his front feet fly every which way. I hate these kinds of stumbles, I much prefer when a back leg slips out and the head gets thrown up. (If you have to fall at all, its better to not have the horse somersaulting along with you like I did with my pony as a kid!) But when they trip in the front I swear sometimes their nose actually hits the ground before they get two front feet on the ground again, and that just seems wrong! Plus it seems inevitable that I end up catching the horse in the mouth when his head goes down and I'm yanked forwards because I suddenly have a death grip on the reins. Of course both of those things are the worse possible reactions because suddenly the rider has caused a little stumble to turn into you and your horse actually face planting or knee skiing across the arena. Not exactly a confidence builder for me or Bear our first time cantering! Luckily, that did not transpire! I was sitting tall and centered in the saddle so I wasn't thrown forward, and because I'm always obsessively thinking about being light with his mouth while he's young I was able to simply let his reins slide through my fingers a bit until he caught himself.

We tried it again, and had a more successfully go at the left lead. The only real problem we had a difference of opinion on what direction we should go one time when coming to the wall. This was totally my fault; I was trying to cheat. I wanted to pick up the left lead, but I had turned left into the center. This was still in post "almost fall" so I wasn't thinking ahead very well. So of course turning left through the center would mean changing to the right and picking up the right lead. So I thought, well maybe, just maybe, if we turn to the left again at the wall he'll pick up the left lead. Nope! In fact we didn't turn to the left at all. I looked to the left and asked for that direction, and he turned to the right. He was changing directions because that was the drill, and because I had been hesitant while thinking it all through. So I really couldn't fault him. We sort of came to a halt at the wall while I debated how much I wanted to insist on going left when clearly I wouldn't be able to get the canter depart at this point and would only be walking away and starting on the wrong side of the arena again. So I just chalked it up to rider miscommunication and trotted off to the right so that I could pick up the left lead on the next pass through.

Overall it went really smoothly, and everyone commented on how great he was at the canter. (I think they were all secretly hoping for him to take off at a dead gallop, since he can rocket around on the lunge line when he's feeling it.) Sadly we've come to the end of the class! So I'll have to keep him going through Christmas without Tuesday nights in the covered arena. He's learned a ton in the last three months, so the next month and a half we'll just be reinforcing the same basics in all sorts of different places: arenas, pastures, trails, maybe even a show if there's something cheap and close. We just need to perfect what he knows, and then in January we'll be starting into the horse training II class, so in case we totally get caught up in the holidays and bad weather and stop riding, we can still get back on track with Tuesday nights in the covered arena!

Hoping to see the trails before the autumn leaves are all gone...


fernvalley01 said...

Good looking colt!!
I stopped in to see your blog as the name caught my eye . I have had Appys for over 20 years and I love them!Iwill have to sit down and read your stuff from the start when I have some time . Looks like it is going well though.

Heather said...

I just wanted to say how impressed I am with the work you are doing with your colt...I have a 3 year old filly that I am training myself..who thought I'd be a 36 year old horse lover training a baby. I will most definitely be keeping up and catching up on your blog!