Conversations With a Red Horse

April 19, 2008 at 8:38 pm 2 comments

Over the course of the last week, I’ve done a bit of ringwork with Klondike.  To be totally honest here, while he’s probably one of the most fun horses I’ve ever sat on, ringwork is not his favorite.  It’s just… what’s the point of staying on the rail? Or of going endlessly in circles?  And more importantly, what’s the point of going on contact and stuff, when we could be on a loose rein, enjoying the fresh air and sightings of all sorts of interesting wildlife in the woods? 

I can’t say I disagree that much, but I know that horses need to know certain things if they’re to be successful in life.  Things like going in straight lines, and moving forward into contact.  So we worked on those things a little bit.  Over the course of a few rides, we accomplished some really good stuff.  I took Jess’s advice, and threw in some canter work pretty early, since that’s the gait he’s most comfortable and relaxed in. 

Cantering early definitely seems to make a difference, when we move back to trot, he’s much more loosened up and happy to take a little contact.  In fact, we had several moments that can almost be described as “almost round” where he “gave” to the bit contact a little- bringing his nose in instead of giraffing about.  While this is definitely preferable and a sign of progress, maintaining the “forward” through this is somewhat difficult.  He tries really hard, but it seems to be a new trick for his body, so all the pieces are not together yet.   I would also love for him to consider stretching forward and down from the base of the neck, but he’s not quite there yet either, though I suspect it will take only a few more rides.

The straightness/inline issue we are tackling not by working on straight lines, but by doing a lot of circles.  As he improves his body control on the arc of the circle, his general straightness and “staying between the legs” improves as well.  On the circle, it just seems like there’s more room for me to control his body parts.  If I could scientifically explain that, I would, but I lack the skills of communication.  In any case, the “motorcycling” through turns and circles is now drastically reduced, and in the course of our work the other day, we had a bit of an epiphany, which I will sum up in the following conversation (me in red, kloninator in blue):

“arg, horse, you’re tipping and popping your shoulder, and none of your feet are on the same track!”

“Well lady, let me give you a hint.  Maybe if YOU straighten out, I can do this better.”

“What?  You mean… if I stop collapsing to one side, and keep my outside rein actually OUT, and my hands wide and directive… then it’s easier for you?”

“Regular rocket scientist you are.  Now give me a cookie.”

In other words, “duh.”  As usual, the real discovery here is that it’s not really such a matter of training the horse, as it is riding right, which allows the horse to figure out what you want and gives him the very best chance of success.  I think I learned that in my third riding lesson when I was eight, but sometimes I’m slow to catch on.

There’s not much left to say about the joy that is ring work- as his body gets stronger and more flexible (yay carrot stretches!), he’s getting better and better.  In the last two rides he picked up both leads every time, the first time I asked.  He’s also very quick to pick up on when you’re pleased with him, so our rides involve lots of pats and “good boooiiieees!” He seems to understand that when I sound excited, he’s done something fantastic.

After fun ringwork the other day, I decided a nice quick walk in the woods would be relaxing, since that’s where SuperKid is the happiest.  What I hadn’t counted on was how quick he was to pick up the routine- I have a habit of getting off near the barn door.  So after learning how to stand and move so that I could open the gate from horseback, he pretty much thought we were done.  Which led to conversation number two (again, me in red, klon in blue):

“la la la, time for a nice walk!”

“huh? this is the barn door.  The barn door, lady!  It’s carrot stretch and rubdown time, what the heck are you thinking?”

“er… was thinking we’d go for a walk?”

“but.  this is the barn door.  We’re supposed to go in there.”

<interjecting- this is where he started backing up and being a little stubborn.  I turned him a few times, so that his feet were at least going where I wanted, when I remembered Allie’s words of wisdom about keeping them occupied, and tried something different.>

“Ok, well you don’t want to go up the driveway, but… HEY WHAT’S THIS?  IS THIS A GRASSY HILL?  Don’t you just want to see what’s up there?  What’s up there Klon, huh?  huh?  You know you want to see!”

“oh hey, haven’t been up here before, what’s all this?  cool! let’s go up here!”

In other words, while I could have forced the issue of walking straight up the driveway, I distracted him completely by turning left and pointing him at a little grassy bank thing.  Which was interesting, and got his attention.  When we came back down again, he was firmly in “let’s go for a walk” mode, and we had a lovely, leisurely loop through the woods (where we also worked on stretching down from the base of the neck while walking up hill- trail rides are great for “stealth training”)  Our little ride ended with a spectacular sunset- the farm where he’s living now has a gorgeous, red sunset almost every night.  I got off in the upper ring, having learned my lesson about routine.  🙂


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How You Fall in Love On The Backside

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kellymurphy00  |  April 20, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Sounds like you are building a great relationship with this horse – and major props to you for being about to think about outside thhe box. The grassy knoll trick is a good one!

  • 2. Splash's Mom  |  April 22, 2008 at 9:21 am

    You sound like you are having a tremendously fun time with Klondike 🙂 My 16 year old OTTB and I have been working on some of the same things you and he are working on… like not being a giraffe… and are finally getting it on a more consistent basis. Somehow we missed all of this when we were younger 🙂 One of the things that has helped us the most is work on sliding side reins on the lunge line. Because they slide up and down they allow him to figure out where is comfortable. They encourage but don’t force. It took a little bit but Splash figured it out and when he did he really got it. 🙂

    Keep having fun. I enjoy reading your blog and hearing about all of the progress Klondike is making.



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