Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dawn In Hand

Today Dawn and I did a little bit of in-hand work with the bit. She's in heat right now, so she's a bit distracted - she was trying to mate with the feed cabinet, on one side, or the wall, on the other side, while I was grooming. Rain was threatening, and the arena was very wet, so we didn't do any lunging or riding today.

I was interested to be able to see what she was doing when she backed in hand. I stood at her shoulder, on the left side, took the right rein in my right hand over her neck, and had the left rein in my left hand. And I asked for a soft back. With minimal pressure, I got backing, and I got a head at or behind the vertical, but I didn't get softness. What I got was a relaxed poll and neck through the 2nd vertebra, but nothing else. Her jaw wasn't soft, and her neck behind the second vertebra to her withers wasn't soft - it was pretty braced. I could see one lateral muscle working very hard to maintain the brace. At some points her chin went almost to her chest. She also had a tendency to swing her hindquarters to the right, but that may have been because of where I was standing - she isn't used to backing in-hand - but it was easily corrected by my keeping her head straight with my right rein. I see that we're going to need to do a lot more of this until she offers up what I'm asking for, which is a somewhat more raised head, not behind the vertical, and where the whole neck and body are softening through the top line. Dawn's offering what I call "false softness" - it looks impressive but it's not the real deal. As I thought might be the case, she's essentially "locked" right through the area in front of her withers. It's no wonder she has overdeveloped muscles in front of her shoulders at the base of her neck. Once she figures out that it's less work and more comfortable to soften in the whole neck, I think things will resolve quickly.

To give her some relief, we did a little bit of lateral work, refreshing our turn on the forehand, which she did very well in both directions with very light pressure on her side with my hand.

We'll also be doing some lateral flexion work to loosen up her neck - I don't usually do a lot of this as it can lead to "rubber neck", but in her case her neck needs to be more relaxed and flexible, some rotational work so her face can tilt from side to side, more backing in the halter - I was beginning to get some good results with that and need to get that to transfer to the bridle - and some work with getting her to stretch her head down and in between her front legs - the stretching involved will be good for her. I'm also going to do some massage on her neck and shoulders to locate any knots and work on those. And then we'll be doing more backing in hand with the bridle - she'll have some moments of being frustrated and it may take some small "fits" and a while on each pass for her to begin to get the idea of what I want.

A horse whose head disappears to her chest, without full softness, isn't what I want. It may take some time to get there, but we'll take whatever time we need - we're in no hurry.


  1. Lateral flexion to soften the neck's a good idea. Hopefully once her neck is soft and not braced, Dawn'll will get the idea!

  2. I think backing is a really hard exercise to get true softeness in for some reason. Dawn's heat cycles are really strong!

  3. Melissa - that's one reason I start with backing - if you get that one solved, everything else is easy. Dawn's heats are monstrous - last night in her stall, and this morning, we had the squealing and kicking, with more of the same in the pasture this morning, as well as lots of squatting and peeing for the adjacent geldings. I probably won't work her today, and we have the vet coming anyway for shots.

  4. Lilly is pretty funny in heat too. She's got all the geldings going nuts and her sugar daddy is in major freak out keeping them at bay.

    Thanks for all the help on bending. I'm going to scale way back and follow my instincts and your suggestions!

  5. Breathe -- sugar daddy???

    Kate, I think it's amazing that you can detect softness (or bracing) through every little section of the body like that. I'm sure that takes a lot of practice, and I can't help but wonder what I'm missing since I can't (yet?) see it.

  6. Katharine - I think, once you get the basic idea, it does take some time to learn to see and feel the actual thing - I think that's why so many people get stuck on headset - that's easy to determine. But headset isn't the thing - Dawn could win a headset contest but she's pretty braced. I'm a "noticer" by natural inclination, but it did take me a while. And I'm certainly not an expert, just a practioner of the art.

  7. Tuck will go behind the bit like that too. His whole body loses the forwardness and he just curls up. Takes work to get him through again once he starts that, especially on the long lines.

    Those "over the top" emotions always worried me about owning a mare. Dawn sounds pretty extreme. Ever tried any herbal remedies for her?

  8. Jean - I'm looking into Mare Magic and Moody Mare. She's already on a magnesium/chromium/selenium/vitamin E supplement for her insulin resistance. Magnesium sometimes has a calming effect. I've seen a broad spectrum of mare behaviors - Maisie's an outlier in one direction - usually calm and you can hardly tell she's in heat - and Dawn's at the other extreme, but part of that is just about getting her to pay attention to me and not the other horses - a little like dealing with a stallion, I expect.

  9. I would sure like to see this on film -still or video. I think wa is bracy and would like to see the real thing. I am a visual learner~

  10. Great post! Not only do you have a gift of feel but also a gift of describing your training on here. Thanx!


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