Friday, March 30, 2012

Update - Pie Graduates and Peeling the Onion with Drifter

I went up to Heather's today to work with both boys.  The weather was pretty stinky - a high of about 40F, rainy and windy - we worked in the indoor, which is very small, but got some very good work done.

Pie is ready to "graduate".  He's far from finished, but he's made enormous progress.  He softens readily and consistently at the walk and trot, and is now using his whole body - where he used to have a short-strided walk and a stiff jog, he now has the ability to do a beautiful, fluid, swinging walk, and a lovely, forward trot with a fair amount of elevation at both the longer and shorter trot.  The transformation in the quality of his gaits is wonderful.  Heather had me work him today as if I were at home, and only made a few comments, since we'll be on our own soon.  I always need to watch my posture and head position, to be sure I'm focussing high to keep my weight and energy off his forehand. While warming up, while he's on a looser rein, I still have to "define the box" to be sure he doesn't brace at the poll and invert his neck.  (It's amazing to look down at his neck now and see how the muscling has changed as he's developed a top line.)  I need to always be very clear with him about direction and quality of gaits and not accept anything less than what I want.  The ride went extremely well - his walk/halt/walk and walk/trot/walk transitions are consistently soft, and his trot is now immediately forward and starting to be engaged.  We didn't canter today, as the indoor is too small for a horse at his stage of development to canter comfortably. Heather will be taking Pie and Drifter out to another arena and possibly to some other trails next week, and then Pie will be coming home with me next Friday.

Drifter and Pie both spent the session while I was riding the other tied.  There was some fidgeting and digging holes to China, but both boys did well.

Drifter is like peeling an onion.  He's doing very, very well, but Heather agrees that there is that 10% that he's mentally/emotionally holding back and doubting/not trusting - the resistance I talked about in my post from a day ago.  He's often compliant with his body, but the inner softness is missing - he may have never had a person he could reliably trust to provide effective leadership.  Part of this is physical - he is a horse who tends to overflex and overbend through the head and neck, while the rest of the body is disconnected.  Due to his athleticism, he gives the visual appearance of softness - he's capable of elevation and extension, and he's not inverted, but he's not soft through his body and most of the action is below his hocks and knees, and he's not mentally soft.  We expect he was ridden in a tight tie-down - the white hairs on the bridge of his nose and his tendency to go up with his head and brace is consistent with that, and he may also have been ridden in draw-reins and in general ridden too much from the front - his tendency to go behind the bit and over flex in his neck is indicative of this.  So he's never really learned to let go through his body, and use his head, neck and body together - he's disconnected.

Today we worked on a number of things.  First, we did some groundwork - he came into the arena pretty excited due to the cold weather.  I watched Heather work with him, and then I worked with him. She helped me with my body position - keeping it parallel with his body and being very clear and directive with him - no wishy-washiness, but keeping my demeanor quiet and soft to keep the energy low.  We also worked on keeping me moving - no standing still - and moving him around the whole arena. Since it was a small arena, I worked him in his web halter rather than the rope halter - when we're in a larger space such as the arena at the new barn or outdoors, I'll use the rope halter to make sure he stays within bounds.  She also helped me practice inside turns - shortening up the rope slightly and taking a step to the inside to open a space for him to move in, but then changing my body position to direct him in the new direction.  The groundwork went very well, and as we get closer to him coming home at the end of April, we'll do more in larger spaces to be sure I have that available in my bag of tricks.

In our ridden work, we worked on him stretching down and out at the walk and trot, and quality of gaits, to encourage him to connect the rest of his body to his head and neck.  We also worked on my position and his transitions.  We've got a pretty good handle on the "hop" he tends to want to make when transitioning from walk to trot - he's throwing himself into the trot for a couple of reasons - first, because I was tending to overweight his forehand with my posture and focus - Heather says he's very sensitive to where the energy is flowing and my driving the energy down with my eyes and posture isn't helpful; second, because his head and neck have been disconnected from his body, his movement isn't truly engaged which makes stepping into trot a big effort; and lastly, because of my earlier insistance that he trot "now!" (regardless of how poor the quality of the transition) - he isn't ready for this yet since the quality of the transition needs to be established.  So, we focussed on my interrupting any walk/trot transitions that weren't right before they even got started, and waiting until the walk quality, stretching down and softness were just right to ask for the upwards transitions.  We got some lovely transitions by the end - he seems to be figuring out that he can flow into trot without hopping.

Heather thinks that Drifter, when things start to break loose mentally and physically, will make a dramatic change - we're close to this but will continue to peel the onion until we get there.  Sending the boys to her for training was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It was a very, very good day with the boys.

And for more about my ordering a new saddle, and some photos related to that - as well as a gratuitous cute kitten photo - see the previous post.

16 comments:

  1. Great news again! Pie is coming home and Drifter, I think, is on the verge of the breakthrough he so much needs. Congratulations on making some very wise decisions for your boys.

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  2. This is really amazing progress. I hope to see pictures soon :) The descriptions of Pie's gaits are great; so nice that he's coming hime. Heather sounds like a great trainer and fits well with your philosophy. Many people wouldn't realize Drifter needed more softness. Good for you. They both sound wonderful and ready to give you many years of pleasurable riding and fun together.

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  3. Sounds like Pie is coming along amazingly. I'm sure Drifter will reach that 100% soon:) Heather sounds great

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  4. I didn't think it would take Pie long to graduate. Glad he'll be coming home soon. Although Drifter is taking a little bit longer to get there, when he does come to where he needs to be he'll be that much easier to work with. Great idea sending them away to school.

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  5. I can't help but wonder what will st off the aha! moment with Drifter. Your trainer is doing a wonderful job with your boys.

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    1. Shirley - I think it's partly physical and partly mental - he's beginning to figure out that he can move softly using his whole body - we get glimpses of that - and that's connected to his mental softness. I think the mental and physical softness will progress together and reinforce each other, and Heather and I both think that, when he really lets go and makes the change over, the improvements will be sudden and dramatic and he's going to be one amazing little horse.

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  6. Good to hear about Drifter. And the photos are looks very beautiful.

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  7. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

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  8. I've had to learn the waiting lesson with Winston as well. I wanted to rush the transitions or force the frame. I had to learn to be patient and wait until he is relaxed, ask, and not interfere. I like your trainer a lot.

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  9. I think it's great that you're so willing to learn from your trainer--a lot of people with as much experience as you have would probably view everything that someone else had to say as suspect. I can't wait to hear how Drifter does.

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    1. Fetlock - it helps that I've know her and have watched her work with horses and ride for years, and that she's a student of the man I ride with - Mark Rashid - so her philosophy is consistent with his. She's very much about working with the inside, as much of the outside, of the horse, which I think is what it's all about in the end - the outside has to come from the inside.

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  10. That is great news about Pie! Well done and I am sure you will have a lot of fun with him. Drifter, well he is coming along isn't he. Still improving. That hop into trot you are talking about - Sam does it as well. He is much better now than he used to be. When he is bought back into work it will be really bad again - he needs the strength from behind and if I make sure his walk is forward, he is round and has implusion from behind he can do a beautiful transition. Sound like you a are learning heaps and everybody is improving!

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  11. Great report!

    Harley can do the hop you mentioned as well. It started when he was wearing a former and ill-fitting saddle. Once the saddle was replaced, it still took time to teach him to pick up the trot from behind. He is quite consistent now. I think that the walk to trot is one of the most difficult transitions, because the horse moves from a gait without impulsion to a gait with impulsion. It is deceptively difficult. Drifter will get there.

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  12. That's a very interesting observation about Drifter. I'm curious whether he'll be able to maintain inner softness once you find it or if he's a horse who will always have difficulty in that area. I don't have an opinion either way, but it's something I wonder about. At times I ask myself that about my own horses and if I can get that softness out of so many when my time is spread so thin--or if it will take me concentrating on one or two of them to get it. Cowboy was a horse with little trust and inner softness when I bought him. He sounds an awful lot like Drifter. I made him my heart-horse and we eventually had a wonderful partnership, but it took everything I had. It was well worth the effort.

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    1. I'm suspecting that, once he finds it, it'll be so comfortable for him that he'll relax into it and be able to stay there - he really wants to trust and is really tries already - he just can't let himself go all the way there yet. He's a lot like Dawn - one of those horses who's outwardly compliant but inwardly anxious. I think this has a lot to do with her, and his, tendency to be spooky and reactive and want to take control - lack of feeling that they're safe. Dawn's come a very long way on this, and she's naturally of a much hotter temperament than Drifter is.

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