Day three of the clinic . . .
Sunday night it poured - someone said we'd gotten 5" of rain. Needless to say we were back inside on Monday - but even without the rain, it was in the 30s and the wind was very strong and it snowed on and off all day. The indoor arena was cold, even with the wood stove going full blast.
I had planned to work on trailer loading with Pie but think it'll be fine if I'm clearer with Pie - I've just been confusing him. He actually loads just fine, but I haven't been able to have him understand that I'd like to send him, rather than lead him, into the trailer. The work we did on day three will actually help us with our trailer loading, I think, and with lots of other things.
I told Mark that Pie and I had been struggling a bit with our lateral work - turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, side pass and also leg yield. Pie sort of does them, but not crisply or precisely - and since this is Pie, this was undoubtedly due to my not asking him in a way that was clear and consistent.
Mark helped us out a lot with this.
First, many people (including me) tend to lean our body weight towards the leg giving the aid. This makes it very hard for horse to do what you're asking since the horse has to lift that side of its body to move away from your leg. When people complain that their horse moves away from a gate they are trying to open, this is almost always the problem - when they lean over to open the gate, they inadvertently put leg on on that side, and the horse correctly does what they're (unintentionally) asking and moves away from the gate. So stay straight and don't lean.
Don't leave any openings except the one you want the horse to move into. Be clear and precise. The reason Pie was fumbling around with my requests for lateral movement was that I was leaving too many possible opening for him to move his body into - in an effort to be soft, I was being unclear. It's possible to be clear and soft at the same time. I need to clearly define where the opening is and not leave him all those possibilities to sort through. I just have to be more definite and more precise, while still being soft.
Take things one step at a time - moving hindquarters (tip nose), moving front end, then side pass, before trying any traveling movement like leg yield or half pass - isolate movements then put them together in side pass first. Once side pass is fixed, traveling movements should be easy.
Pie and I have always had a tendency to fall in when tracking right. Mark said this was unlikely to be my upper body - head tilted to right or shoulder dropped - that if anything would be likely to shift him left (since the rest of my body would be compensating by moving left). Mark said that I'd been working a lot on improving my upper body position, and that I perhaps was ignoring my lower body in figuring this out. Mark watched for a while as we trotted to the right and then said it was my left leg. I was appropriately using a little right leg preemptively to help Pie not fall in, but I was also using a very slight amount of left leg, a hair more than the right leg I was using (unbeknownst to me) and that was the cause of him falling in. He was just doing what I was asking - honest Pie. As soon as I thought about taking my left leg off - voila! no falling in - this was a tiny adjustment. I have to work on not bracing with the leg I'm taking off, but that will come as it's more automatic.
One of the things I like about working with Mark is that he's perfectly willing to admit that he's learning things all the time. He said he'd had exactly the issue I'd had with Pie with a horse he was working with - the horse kept doing perfect half passes across the arena in one direction - and Mark wasn't asking him to do that - at least consciously. Mark said it took a while to figure out what was going on. The horse was an ex-roping horse, and was overdeveloped on one side of his body, so the saddle didn't always sit perfectly square. Mark discovered that in trying to compensate for the slight unevenness in the saddle position, he was inadvertently putting just a hair more leg on the horse on one side than on the other side and the horse was responding. The lesson is that, whenever you find a repeated pattern with a horse, take a close inventory of your whole body position and what you may be signaling the horse to do without even realizing it.