Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mounting Work

This morning it wasn't as foggy, and the horses were more relaxed. I got Dawn to hang around at the gate for a moment for some treats before she ran off - she's looking at me more and her eye is softer. Last night when I brought her her last treat when she was on crossties I even got a nicker, and I got another one when I gave her a treat in the stall later. Food's pretty powerful as a bond-builder!

As Jean of Horses of Follywoods pointed out in a comment on my prior post, I'm treating Dawn, in a way, as if she'd never been ridden before. Of course she has, and she knows lots of things already, but we're working our way along the linked chain of skills and activities as if she hadn't. This allows us to quickly progress through the things she knows and doesn't worry about and stop and address any worries that arise along the way.

So we continued the work we started yesterday.

Today we saddled up without incident - no weight shifting this time - and went out to the arena. Since I already knew she could lunge at the walk and trot with the stirrups run up without this being a problem, we skipped that step - once a horse gets something and doesn't have a problem with it I don't tend to repeat/drill much - I think that can lead to the horse being bored and frustrated and perhaps thinking that it isn't doing something right (those of you who've read the Mark Rashid clinic posts on my sidebar will recognize this thought of Mark's). We went immediately to lunging with the stirrups down, which she was somewhat concerned about yesterday when we started doing it - we had gotten through that worry yesterday but I wanted to be sure the learning had stuck. She was fine - in fact a bit sluggish. We worked on our walk/trot/halt transitions - once again better to the left than the right - we need to work together some more on this, but I'll save that for the lunging when we do canter work. She seemed a bit bored, and when we halted she would turn and look at me to ask "are we done with this now?".

Then we moved to some mounting work. I decided not to actually get on even if things were going well, since I was alone at the barn - my husband and older daughter were off moving furniture into her new apartment and the person on p.m. feeding duty had already left. So we worked on coming up to the mounting block and standing still. The way I do this is to have the horse in a halter and lead (no bridle yet, and whatever I do with the halter will translate easily to the bridle). I position the horse a few feet away from the mounting block, and then climb onto the top step (first being sure the thing is stable and not wobbly!). I then ask the horse to move its feet by chirping and kissing, and add swinging the lead if needed to get some motion. I do this in a way to get the horse to only move one step at a time. I don't lead the horse to the block - I want the horse to come to the block and stop itself in the correct position with no action by me. I also don't hold the horse at the block - if the horse moves too far or keeps walking, I just direct the horse in a circle around the block and repeat - again not leading the horse or stopping its motion. I don't stop until the horse is exactly in front of me in exactly the right position, on its own.

Dawn had no trouble with this after a few efforts - my daughter lines her up with a fence or rock or high spot to mount bareback, but doesn't usually use a mounting block. After each successful try - I had her do it successfully about three times in a row before considering that stage done for today - I would lead her away for a break, as a release. I got some licking and chewing, and Dawn was quite relaxed.

Even though I wasn't going to get on today, I decided to do two more steps - the first was to put my foot in the stirrup and partially weight it. I do this on a loose lead or rein - if the horse moves, even a step (small foot movements for the horse to get its balance are OK), I have them circle and we repeat until they stand still on their own. I'll do this whole process eventually from the "wrong" side as well, but for today we stuck to the "right" side for mounting. The first time I put my foot in the stirrup I got an interesting reaction - she turned her head around and made a half-hearted biting gesture - I saw the teeth but her ears weren't pinned and there was no real effort to connect - if she'd wanted to actually bite she could have as she wasn't constrained by my loose lead rope. I took it for what it was - a protest that said "do you know that your toe is touching my side and I'm a little annoyed by that?" and hissed at her and that was the last time she did it. Just to be sure, I put my foot in the stirrup and rubbed it (not hard but enough so she knew it was there) on her side - no problem.

At that point a set of grandparents with baby came by and were walking around - the grandfather with the baby on his shoulders - I'm not sure Dawn had seen this human behavior before and she was very alert - and then the grandfather sat the baby on a distant top arena fence board - this was also very attention-grabbing, but we just kept on working. She was somewhat distracted but not scared, so it wasn't a problem. After a few toes-in-the-stirrup-wiggle-it-around, with a walk-around after each, we were done with that step. We'll repeat that step tomorrow because of the bite gesture we had today just to be sure there's no problem.

Then I moved on to fully weighting the stirrup - momentarily standing in in and bouncing my "ground" foot on the mounting block, which made some noise. Again, she stood very still and didn't show any concern, so we walked around after a couple of repeats and were done.

Tomorrow, if all goes well and I have someone with me at the barn, I'll move on to putting my knee on the saddle and fully weighting it, and then to getting on - all with the objective of her standing still on a loose lead or rein until I'm settled and have adjusted my stirrups and reins and asked her to move off. The next step after that is to bridle up and go for a brief walk around.

* * * * * *

Maisie got the day off today - when I turned out horses this morning her left hind was somewhat swollen through the pastern and fetlock areas - I expect she overdid a bit yesterday with all the running! It was fine this evening, which just means that she was resting the leg overnight - we'll see how she is tomorrow.


  1. I hadn't thought of keeping him circling until he lines up correctly on his own. I'm going to try that with Pokey today. He's been pretty good since I got the shim for his saddle. When I first got the new saddle, he danced all over.

  2. Hopefully Maisie's nose was all cleared up?

  3. Melissa - Maisie's nose is fine - it only happens briefly after she exercises.

  4. Kate,
    You're wise to not try to ride Dawn when no one is around. I don't like to either. Please don't let your guard down about the protest bite warning for the next time around... sure to be one step ahead of her with the hissing may have to be really observant and almost catch her at the thought process beforehand, it will help to nip it in the bud right away. Even a warning should not be tolerated. I assume you prefer lunging over round pen work? Perhaps you do not have one only an arena? Many non western riders do not....and for some see it as the "cowboy" way to gain control of their horses....maybe the old way? I truly believe so many of Dawn's issues would be worked out if you tried this method? People usually think you have less control because you are not holding onto the horse but that is not true. You actually gain MORE control because the horse is moving off of your body language completely! I know you said you do this on the lunge line but it's not quite the same result. Dawn needs to learn to respect you completely! The round pen is not to run a horse around but is used for direction control and in turn you gain her respect because you act as a dominant horse would in a herd. The more you work on turning them and control her body moment with yours you bond as a team....much of the fear will go away for both of you and keep you safe. It will help you too with your timing (you mentioned in one post about not being in the right place to move her forward) when you do begin to do it on a lunge. You're on the right track starting with square one. I would work on all of this for a long time before I saddled and mounted....but that's just me and I don't know Dawn as well as you. You know what's best. Boring exercises for you but good for the horse. Too many people try to rush thinking they have basics down and they do not. One of my trainers said to me, when you think they have it down do it 1000 times more! I would view the protest as a sign that the respect is not there. Dawn is used to your daughter jumping up on her....she might do better with you just putting weight in the stirrup with your hand from the ground as a baby step and work up to the mounting block? Maybe you have already done this? She may see it as a scary object to get away from or you don't have control of her body yet....hence the circling. It seems she doesn't understand what it is you want from her? My dad told me that if I cannot mount my horse, then I should not be riding....and he wasn't an old cowboy either, just a good dad. LOL! You're doing an excellent job paying good attention to her language. I have full confidence you'll become partners!

  5. Hiya Kate!
    Nice work! I love the step by step work.

    Wa mare has done fabulously with the mounting as you have described..though I never thought of the circling like that. I do get attop the block first and she usually steps slowly up to me...yesterday she over shot. Thanks for the tips, love learning from you!
    Have a lovley day!

  6. Luanne - thanks for your thoughts - no, we don't have a round pen and there's no prospect of getting one, and our arena is too big to substitute. Round pen work done properly can be very helpful, I agree. I'm actually not too worried about the threat to bite - she stopped immediately when I hissed and she's always been touchy about her sides - probably a legacy of the ulcers we believe she used to have. If the behavior reoccurs I'll take other steps to reinforce that biting isn't OK.

  7. Good work, again. The circling works very well as the horse soon learns if it wants to stand still it has to be in the right spot. Most horses prefer to avoid work, and repeated circling is work!

    When Kenny first helped me back Tucker, the rule was..."OK, now you absolutely must ride him every day for thirty days. Even if you simply get on him and walk a few paces, it's the repetition that makes the horse." So even if you do each step of each exercise along the way once each day, so Dawn doesn't get bored, you will be accomplishing some really good things.

    And very wise not to ride her when there is no one else around at this point. Good thinking.


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