Sunday, January 19, 2014

Red and Pie and I Work on Figuring Some Things Out

Red and Pie and I had a very good set of work sessions yesterday.  The barn was practically deserted - Red and I had two people to ride with and Pie and I were all by ourselves.  (It always amazes me how few people at my barn actually show up and ride, or even visit with their horses, on a regular basis.)  We love it when we get the opportunity to get some good work done without a lot of other people in our very small indoor arena.

All of the new tack items have arrived, except for Red's new black headstall.  So, before I rode, I moved Pie's stirrups (copper colored) back on to Pie's saddle, put the new stirrups (silver colored) on to Red's new saddle, and put the new mohair cinch (brown leather) on Pie's saddle and left the old mohair cinch (black leather and neoprene) on Red's saddle.  I also had two thin wool pads to try, one single thickness and one double.

I saddled Red with the new single thickness wool pad, and it made the new saddle fit him perfectly, and the green suits him very well.  We did a lot of work in our session on transitions.  Red still has a residual anxiety brace that shows up on upwards transitions early on in a work session - if you're carrying any contact in the reins, even if very softly, he braces hard up and to the right as you think about an upwards transition.  On a loose rein, it's a little bit better, but he still raises his head and tends to bend his body to the right.  This is a very baked in response, and is clearly tension/anxiety related.  He's looking to have someone grab him in the mouth and to hit a tie down, and to be expected to go into a gallop.  I guess his barrel racing experience has something to do with it - it's out of the box behavior - but who knows.  After a few transitions, the behavior evaporates.

So keeping him soft in the early part of our work, and helping him to find a way to transition while he's soft and not bracing, is the challenge.  We got trot instead of canter reliably, but the brace was still showing up. I'm still in the process of having him help me figure things out - we're trying various things, like doing transitions off of small walk circles to the left (so he is bent left and it's harder to brace right and up), and some loose rein work.  I may have to slow things down a bit and just laze around with him for a while until he gives up his anxiety before the transition.  A quote from Mark Rashid's new book/DVD set A Journey to Softness, that just arrived today - I've only just started looking at it - may be appropriate:
Some horses don't like being pushed; you need to ease them into things to decrease their worry.
Pay attention to the state of mind before asking for a transition.
 We've got a ways to go on this, but Red is trying very hard to help me figure out the best way to get there, so I know we'll get there.

The other thing Red and I worked on is his tendency to get all worked up when we do any significant amount of canter work - his canter on both leads is just getting better - more engaged and smooth.  When we come back down to trot, he gets all elevated and "jittery", wanting very much to break back into canter and anticipating that.  Again, anxiety issues.  But I'm not worried about any of this, as he's so willing and 99% of the time so soft - we'll get there, too.

Then I saddled Pie up with his old saddle, which fits him a bit better than Red's new one.  I tried the doubled over wool pad, but no go, as it was too thin and his saddle nosed down in front.  We went back to his Diamond Wool 1" felt pad, and all was well.  He moved much more freely in the old saddle, and his ears were happier throughout our ride.  We did lots of cantering, since we had the ring to ourselves.  My objective was to get him breathing correctly, one breath per stride, to help him relax and be able to give me a better canter.  It took a fairly long time to get there - for him to have to breath every stride - more than 5 minutes of straight cantering on one lead.  He stuck for a while at a breath every two strides.  Finally we got there, and we took a rest break.  We switched to the other lead, and it came through very quickly, and then back to the original lead and things were immediately OK.  And lo and behold, the quality of his canter - its engagement and softness, were already much better.  I'll bet the next time we canter things will be very nice . . .

Today we're all taking a much-needed break.  Back to riding Monday . . .


  1. Good work with both horses. I'm sure Red will eventually lose his anxiety. It's hard to undo what they have been conditioned to do in a previous life. It all takes time, encouragement, patience and consistency. The way you've been working them with softness is sure to have the desired effect.

    Didn't know there were more DVD's out. I'll have to check them out.

    1. Mark's new publication is a set - an extended interview on DVD, a book, and a separate book of quotations.

  2. Good work, Kate. Let us know what you think of the books and DVD. I'm thinking about buying them in a month or so when I can save up a little money. :) Dan

  3. Another good day with your boys.

    You could also try some lateral work to help Red with the bracing. Doing the depart from a shoulder in or leg yield sometimes keeps a horse from setting his hind leg against you on the depart. Just a thought. The lateral work would soften his body too.

    Both Red and Pie seem to have such good work ethics and really try for you.

  4. Hey, I have a quick question I wanted to ask you about your blog, do you think you could send me an email when you get this? Thanks! Tiffany

    1. tiffany - feel free to ask it on here - I typically don't respond by email unless I know you. I also get a lot of referrer/commercial spam, and if your question concerns a commercial/business/promotional matter, I'm afraid I'm not interested.

  5. I thought it was we humans that had cornered the market on anxiety, but I guess not. The good thing about anxiety is that those that don't have any anxiety tend to be under achievers. Too much is bad and too little isn't so good either. Interesting the way it all works. Good luck with the transition learning. Just remember: Rome wasn't built in a day! (But it sure would be easier if it were).


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