As soon as I put Midge's halter on, I knew we were in for a mare/evil pony kind of day. She definitely woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. She was not super interested in standing still to be tacked up, so we had a discussion about that. She was super spooky and 'up' on our short hack down the road. We had a chat about that. I tried not to have visions of a repeat terrible clinic, but by the time I got to the ring and was attempting to ride a super spooky,quick, pushy, giraffe, generally pissy pony I was getting more than a little worried. I was also kicking myself for not learning my lesson from the last clinic and bringing a longe line with me!
|I did get new pics, but am waiting for them to be sent. Here's an old one of Cowboy and Bridget|
Beyond not forgetting your longe line, there's definitely something to be learned from all the above. When Midge gets outside her comfort zone (overnight stay at a strange barn, new arena to ride in) she reverts back to all those bad habits we thought we had a handle on and that all basically boil down to her being being very pushy. That of course means I haven't adequately addressed the basic issue. I can't ignore the little things because they're going to escalate to bigger problems every time she's feeling overwhelmed. I want the same (cooperative!) pony anywhere and everywhere I go.
So, what does a cowboy do with a generally uncooperative and pushy pony? Put them on a circle of course. Take away the rider 'handholding' and make them work! In this case I was instructed to drop my outside rein and use only a light inside rein to tip her nose in slightly. Midge was expected to quietly trot around a 15m circle and just soften in my hand and around my leg and look after herself. Genius. By just using an inside rein and putting her on a circle in trot, we took away Midge's power as well as her desire to tip her nose outside and look for more interesting things. If she got quick or tried to run out through my outside leg, my inside rein got stronger and she had to circle smaller and yield her hindquarters a bit (think one rein stop but not actually stopping, more using it to spiral in and then releasing and leg yielding back out to the circle). If she fell in, she met up with my inside leg, but no outside rein there to hold her up. And tiny circles are hard, of course. So simple, so effective. It really got her more honest about looking after herself and just doing her job. By the end she was trotting nicely around in a perfect 15m circle, coming from behind and in self carriage. Off my seat and leg. Wow. Midge was pissed at losing the fight she wanted in such a non confrontational way, but I was pretty happy! This goes against every 'inside leg to outside' rein dressage lesson I've ever taken, but it was exactly what we needed in the moment, and a tool I will be using again. Our homework is to build up to a canter using both flexion and counter flexion. Cowboy is all about giving your horse a job ( trot a certain sized circle at a certain speed, canter a straight line, whatever) and having them be honest enough to keep doing that job without any nagging until you say otherwise. Yes, please, I want my horse more like that!
Next up, we were given poles set in a 10`square box and practiced circling in the box. That`s not an issue for Midget ponies, so we moved on to just keeping her front legs in the box, and her back legs out, then sidepassing around the square. Fun test of your lateral aids, and again using my reins was discouraged except where completely necessary. Midge was really wanting to pick a fight and give up/suck back to the right, but we got it done pretty well after a bit of a discussion.
We finished with our square built of poles. The next exercise was to straddle the pole - (ie left side of your horse outside the box, right side in the box. Harder than it sounds, and we gave Midge many pats for leg yielding in and quietly standing staddling the pole.
Clinicians feedback: Midge is a compact, powerful horse with a lot of opinions. Her default with anything new is to sulk and say 'I can't/won't do that'. I am not a giant person. I need to take her power away from her. I need to work smarter now before she figures out she's physically stronger than me and makes my life miserable in the future by learning to be heavy in my hand and on my leg. Funny how she went from sucked back and dull a few months ago to too hot/strong and forward now, but as he explains it makes perfect sense - she's trying to make her life as easy as possible and horses commonly go from one evasion to another in an attempt to lessen the pressure when the previous evasion stops working for them!
|Random to break the text|
Final thoughts: I really, really appreciated this lesson. Bridget brought her worst, exactly like in the second day of the dressage clinic, yet unlike the dressage clinic, this time pony had to work more mentally than physically and we got some good results. I'm left feeling like we made the best of a bad pony day, and more importantly, that with continued effort, pony might think twice about bringing a bad attitude in the first place. I feel a lot more confident about handling our worst case effectively. I like how this was all achieved with common sense - making her work honestly, taking away her opportunity to bring a physical fight, and rewarding her immediately for the right decision. I know most, if not all, the above isn't groundbreaking stuff and is just common sense and exercises a lot of trainers use. It was a great and timely reminder for me though! I find it's easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of micromanaging everything and 'riding every stride' and always being 'busy' actively giving some kind of correction or encouragement. I like how cowboy expects his horses to just do the job and the default for the rider is to just quietly be there.
As for the peanut gallery, I have some thoughts there too...why oh why do people have to be so very insecure. The negative commentary about every horse and rider there was distracting and really off putting. In between trying to diffuse it with compliments for all the riders, I tried to keep to myself and just watch and learn. No one is perfect. The people being talked about are you know, actually riding their horse in a clinic in an effort to learn. How can you say anything bad about that? I don't condone nasty gossip or put downs at the best of times, but at a clinic? Yuck, it reflects so poorly on everyone. The power plays and games are unbelievable and so unfortunate. The clinician obviously couldn't hear, but I'm going to say something to the organizer - while I don't think the majority of riders were aware they were being talked about so harshly, it made the auditing section kind of a miserable place to be.