Saturday, November 14, 2009

Backing in Hand and Lily Looks Around

Yesterday, Dawn and I groomed ground-tied in the parking lot watching the horses come in for dinner. She didn't move a muscle. I bridled her and led her to the arena for a brief work session. After our session the day before, my only goal for the session was to end with her taking a couple of slow step backwards in hand at a time, with a pause in between each step. The slower the better was the objective. With Dawn, I rarely have to worry about how much pressure I use - she responds to cues that are almost nothing - but I needed a specific amount of pressure I wanted to ask with so I had in mind 0.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being almost no pressure and 10 being the most pressure you could use - what I'm saying is I wanted her to take a slow, soft step back with a whisper of pressure. With Dawn, using almost no pressure is the easy part - the hard part is getting her to do it in a relaxed, non-rushed, soft manner.

I started out standing next to her shoulder, but she's done so well with her leading exercises and "crazy walking" that she started backing (rapidly) as soon as I approached - she thought that's what she was supposed to do! So instead of trying to modify that, which might have been confusing to her at this point, I changed what I was doing and stood directly in front of her face, with my arms extended and holding a rein about a foot from the bit in each hand so the reins were approximately in the position they would be in when I'm riding. (This did have the advantage that, as she would get distracted by something and turn her head - there were lots of things going on - the farmer spreading compost, people and dogs walking by, cars driving by - I could use one rein to ask her to straighten her neck before backing.) As I expected, as soon as I lifted the reins, not even really asking yet, she started to move backwards. After a few repetitions, she began to understand. First we did a lean backwards - no foot movement - my job was to give an almost instantaneous release after the ask and her job was to stop her lean as soon as I released. Then one foot backwards, and finally two feet with a pause between. Every time she did it the way I wanted, slowly, relaxed and with softness, we took a little break and walked around. We also did some head-downs with my hand on her poll to improve her relaxation. By the end of our session, I got three repetitions of two slow steps in a row, with walks around in between, and we were done. She seemed happy with herself, and relaxed, which was the point. It only took about 10 or 15 minutes, but a lot was accomplished. We'll keep building on this in-hand until it's solid - now that she's getting the idea it won't take long - and then reintroduce it under saddle.

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Melissa at Paradigm Farms sent me this lovely photo of Lily enjoying her retirement:

Have a great weekend, and may it include horses!


  1. Was Lilly your horse before she retired? Beautiful girl.

  2. Lori - if you follow the tag Lily in the label cloud, there's a lot about her there. We learned a lot from Lily - she was my older daughter's jumper mare, and was one of the most difficult horses to handle and ride I've ever been around. She helped us learn to think about and do things in different ways. She's 20 now, and has heaves, so we retired her to Tennessee last summer so she can live outside 24/7 and enjoy life.

  3. Lori - the best picture of Lily in her competitive days is here:

  4. Kate, every photo of Lily at her new home is so happy. She really looks like she likes it there!


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