So today’s plans of ponying Grace out from Pepper flew out of the window, We had a bit of wintery weather last night which left ice on the road and that combined with an icy wind did not make for a pleasant ride, Both Grace and Pepper were feeling it too with Pepper squealing and bucking around her stable, ( she is supposed to be the sensible one! ) while Grace was busy shaking her head and stomping her feet. So plan B was to work on the ground in the arena.
The goal with these blogs is to give you an idea of what i go through each day with Grace, who’s not had the best start in life - and i aim to share the good, the bad and the ugly, well today’s ground work went through all three starting out with the ugly!
The more I am working with Grace the more I am realising just how sensitive she really is, she watches everything!
Just as we set foot into the arena and icy blast of wind shot up her backside which sent her into the air, so our first ten minutes of groundwork were actually spent trying to stay on the ground! The interesting thing here is that this is where all her information is and i can start to make a plan on how best to work with her.
While she was busy leaping in the air, watching her body language and how she moved told me so much about how she was feeling, It also told me about how important being straight and in balance is to a horse and when they are not straight or balanced (mentally and physically) all sorts of problems set in. My attitude towards her during this undesirable behaviour is also very important and will affect the outcome greatly— none of this was personal, so the way I respond to her really does impact on how she goes and feels further down the line. I have to stay mentally balanced!
I’m not comfortable with the word respect and disrespect around horses, I personally believe they respond to how we make them feel at any given moment, they respond to our energy, things around them and to their environment as well as everything else! They don’t set out to be bad or evil or disrespectful towards us. None of her behaviour was aimed at me.
I also have an issue with too much desensitising - I don’t want her afraid but I do want to keep that sensitivity in there and if I desensitise her to death I risk losing her passion and enthusiasm for work, and then I have to spend what feels like a lifetime putting the sensitivity back in there!
The thing you’ve got to remember about Grace is that she in very green, her first saddling, (before we took her on) was less than pleasurable for her, so she knows how to fight and she can be a little defensive when she gets bothered by new things but she is not being disrespectful to me, but I do have to prove to her that I am a reliable and consistent leader or her self preservation kicks in.
So my job today was, to get her mentally and physically balanced in order to work correctly without feeling the need to defend herself!
While watching her on the lunge line, it was clear to see that she was having trouble. She was cold, so she was tight, I asked her to circle around me in the walk, with which she set off in canter, with the wrong bend, which ended up in her becoming more mentally bothered, which set off the whole cycle again, because she had wrong bend, she threatened to kick, then she leaped in the air, followed by a rear, then she shot off again at high speed. She was falling in over her inside shoulder when she was going around the wall side of the arena, and on the open side she was falling out over her outside shoulder and while over-flexing in the neck her hind end would swing away, because she was going too fast, she was on her forehand which made her stumble and go faster. We were stuck in a cycle!
Was she being bad or naughty or disrespectful? No! This is natural crookedness - every horse is crooked just like you!
To develop a supple and happy riding horse we have to train them to become straight yet flexible on both sides. Interestingly, In my work I meet A LOT of horses like this and a lot of owners who blame the horse for being just that! I hear time and time again that “my horse is being disrespectful, naughty, bad” etc etc etc, yet i just see a crooked, out of balance horse, who’s having a bad day.
This was the ugly and the bad!
So what did I need to do? well I needed to change Grace’s body shape. Because Grace is so sensitive, she is very aware of where you hold the stick, and by simply holding the stick towards her rib cage instead of out behind her, I created bend in her body with out having to do anything to her head, this had an immediate effect on her body and mind!
It engaged her inside hind leg so she could support and carry herself more and that slowed her down. Because she became more balanced her behaviour changed. This allowed her to stretch and stretching felt good, so she moved better. She also assumed a more engaged outline flexing at the poll and lowering her quarters at times - she was beginning to experiment with balance.
Her circles became rounder, her rhythm became more consistent, her stride got longer and she began to lick, chew and blow out. This was all using just a cavesson and lunge line and stick, no gadgets were used to “make” her go a certain way you see horses know how to balance themselves and they know how to “go” correctly, but when we attach things to their heads or sit on their backs they have to re-adjust, and deal with all our imbalances and fears. So I am allowing her time to experiment with “how to move efficiently” in her own body.
At times she got scared, but interestingly she returned to the long, low relaxed position quicker and because her circles got rounder she moved straighter with rhythm and her hind end stopped swinging out to the outside of the circle because she stopped over flexing in the neck. Now we were seeing the good work!
If I had allowed Grace to go with the wrong bend, on the forehand with her balance over the inside front leg, then her behaviour would not have changed, it would have got worse, I see this when I go to other yards, The behaviour is mis-interpreted, and before you know it, the horse is strapped down with bigger bits and tie downs.
I suppose where i am going with this story is, that it is easy to blame the horse, it is easy to pull on the head and it easy to take their “naughty” behaviour personally and call it disrespect, but if we can just think about and influence their body shape for the manoeuvre we are doing, they can stay on balance and their behaviour becomes easier to work with.
We ended on a good note, with lots of stretching, in all gaits. Grace went back inside happy and so did I.