Rides six and seven brought new discoveries and new questions. Below are some pictures from ride six. I put so many photos of Fox just walking because I like so much how confident and deliberate he is. On that day, he walked between the mats with particular gusto. We had not yet approached my original intent of using the mats to go around the entire circle. Once I am on his back, he prefers some mats and ignores others. It occurred to me today during a ground work session that doing some liberty work on the circle and reinforcing him heavily on each mat might help him see all of the mats as desirable targets.

Another highlight of the ride six was integration of head lowering into riding. And I hope that the longer reins that I ordered will be here soon! We practiced head lowering every time we stopped.

One of the things I focused on was asking for gives of the jaw. Fox still has to think a lot about it, especially when I switch reins. There are times when he softens beautifully, and there are times when his mind goes blank and he just stands there. When he is in motion, he may soften and add some elevation, or he may brace his neck and pull the opposite way.

At times, he is so excited to hear a click, that he swings his head around, which sweeps his hind end from under him, and we end up spinning in place. It makes me laugh, but it is not exactly comfortable, with his body twisting, tilting and rotating under me. It will be interesting to see if he learns to eliminate the unnecessary gyrations as he gains more experience.

And the exciting part: We trotted! He was so enthused about going to his mats, that he trotted two times. He was not agitated, just happy.

Mounting: we regained a reliable head lowering. I am having to lean forward to keep hold of the reins.

Fox lowering his head at the mounting block 

Some nice happy walk and one of the prettier moments on the cone circle.

riding Fox

Left: Head lowering. Center: Fox is so happy hearing a click that he whirls around eagerly for his treat. Right: more of nice walk.

head down first trot with rider Fox doing Pilates

Left: we trotted! Right: "Pilates" after the ride.








Fox walks off before I am all the way on his backRide seven has been the most interesting so far. To start with, Fox walked off when I was only half way on. He clearly thought he was doing the right thing. It did not disturb him that I pulled myself up as he was walking. He walked a circle around the mounting block, stood on the mat and scanned 360 degrees with his ears. His question clearly was: "Where is my click?" I got off and we repeated the mounting procedure one more time, now without volunteered departures.

What worked well on this ride was going forward. Fox was now responding consistently, and the moments of confusion were rare. I have three cues for forward that had accumulated in the process. The original one was the lifting of the rein. I installed it taking advantage of his volunteered departures from mats. Subsequently, at times when he seemed to forget what lifting of the rein was supposed to mean, I gave him a verbal cue he knows from lungeing: "Walk". He recognized and responded to it. Then I added a new cue, the leg, before the verbal. I also realized that I really want  the lifting of the rein to mean "I want to ask you something", rather than "Walk off". So there is some work to do sorting it out, but it seems to be happening naturally, since he has no trouble telling when I ask for head lowering and when for going forward.

riding Gives of the jaw figured prominently in this ride. Fox's response is still mixed. It must feel different when the request comes from his back compared to coming from me when I am on the ground. This is not too surprising, considering how attentive he is to me and how much he is cued by my body language. But the result is that when I am on his back, gives of the jaw might as well be a new exercise. When he does remember, he taps into his knowledge of softening and elevating. When he doesn't remember, he does what an inexperienced horse would do: braces his neck. He also gets frustrated and actively pulls against the rein. When this happens at a walk, he might quicken his pace and swing his head. From there, it is not too far to a temper tantrum. And this is what happened one of the times I asked for his jaw as he was walking. He tossed and twisted his head and took off at aFox taking off instead of responding to the rein trot to the far end of the arena, where I have a circle of ground poles. Violet snapped this picture as he was taking off. I was not sure what was coming next now that I was on a rambunctious horse who told me he was not in the mood for responding. I knew that if he was going to have a full blown tantrum, my chances of staying on were slim. As we approached the poles and a cavaletti, he hesitated momentarily, and I took my chance to suggest that he put his head down. "Put your head down" is a cue that he knows well. Which, of course, did not mean he was going to respond. But, to my relief, he did. He stopped and dropped his nose to the ground. After a few moments, we resumed our ride as if nothing happened.

WWYLM We worked on the circle, and Fox's spinning around when taking his treats meant that we made a lot of changes of direction. It took us a while to get to the part of the circle near the center of the arena. And this is when Fox declared that he wanted to go to the far end. He didn't want to go to the mat on the circle. He wanted to go THERE. There was more bracing and quickening of the pace. And going through the outside shoulder. I clicked him through going back to the circle, but as we approached that spot again, he still wanted to go THERE. On our next round, I knew what to expect. He was determined. He was no different from a boarder's two-year-old son who had to run into an empty stall just because he had been told not to. So as we walked from mat to mat, I was thinking about my choices. I could insist on staying on the circle and possibly face another temper tantrum. Or I could see what he would do if I let him go THERE. Could I? My trainer ego said absolutely no, who is in control here anyway? My gut feeling was a little fluttery, being bareback on a horse who is starting to get "ideas". But I had made a commitment to listen to Fox and even wrote about it. If not for my fear of losing my trainer authority by letting the horse get away with his ideas, what exactly is so valuable in staying on a circle that I cannot depart from it? What if I just let him show me what he has to offer if I let him go where he wanted to go? When we got to the spot where he would start pulling THERE, instead of picking up the rein I let him have his way. So he walked THERE, very brightly. He sniffed the trailer and walked into the jumble of plastic blocks piled by it. I told him I was not comfortable there, can we back out and go somewhere else? That was fine with him. He walked somewhere else. Every time after getting his click and treat, he dutifully dropped his head. He picked his way between the poles. He offered some pretty carriage. I was getting low on treats and asked him to pick a mat to go to. So he did. He was thoroughly pleased with himself. I don't know why going to the far end of the arena was so important to him, but apparently it was.

Even though I am not sure what to think of Fox's independence day, I am glad that I let him have a say. At the very least, I found out that he was not up to any mischief, and most of the things that he offered me at the far end of the arena were clickable.

We played at liberty after the ride. Fox had a lot of energy, so I suggested a canter. He cantered with gusto. Watching him kicking up dust made me think that for a horse who was feeling that fresh he did quite well on our ride.

trot at liberty canter at liberty canter at liberty

This was the first ride we had when I felt that Fox disconnected from me, so I kept turning this over and over in my head. Why was going to a mat less reinforcing than going to the far end of the arena, which is, as far as I know, not associated with any extra reinforcement? Why is there so much resistance to the rein? Are there holes in our training? What do we do next?

I will stay tuned!

June 17, 2011


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