Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On His Honor

There is nothing quite as devastating as having a horse as talented as Moon is and not being able to just enjoy it. In so many ways, Moon is extraordinary. His strengths far outweigh his weaknesses. But, if I was ever given the opportunity to change one thing about him though...I would change his level of intelligence. I would make him not so smart!!! I have always said that Moon is too smart for his own good. He is waayyyy too smart for my own good.

So after our run in Eagle Mountain, I took care of Moon and decided to take the opportunity to put a little experience training on Bugs. The wind was blowing like crazy and the arena was lined with banners...

See where this is going?

Bugs is a spooky little dink and I thought, rather than beat Moon to death (that thought was foremost in my brain most of the weekend), I might as well go torture Bugs with some blowing, flapping banners. Oohhh boy, was that fun! (full sarcasm intended)

So I am riding Bugs around the arena and he is blowing and snorting this way and that way in pure terror of all of the blowing banners and I am rather enjoying his discomfort. Why yes...I DO a bit of have a mean streak in me. In all seriousness though, Bugs is really going to have to learn how to get over some of his spookiness. He's absolutely no good to me if every little thing continues to bother him...a blowing banner, a dirt clod on the ground, some imagined vision out of the corner of his eye...It doesn't take much to make him booger. It's getting old. Time to just learn to get over it and learn to focus on more important things...like ME and turning some cans!!

There was another lady riding around as well. Doing the same thing I was doing with Bugs...Just letting her green horse get used to the distractions of the real world. Her's was going much better than mine. LOL.

Eventually though, Bugs did settle down and I could walk him up to and along the fence with all of the banners flapping and whipping in the wind. And me and this other lady got to talking. I never did catch her name, but I gathered that her daughter had made a run as well, but all she said was they didn't win any money either. She remembered Moon's run though and thought he was a pretty neat horse. So we got to talking about that. I lamented on how hard I was working to perfect my riding and the changes I had made and the help I had gotten that had worked, but now I was running into the same problem with him wanting to run over the barrels. I told her I was about at my wits end because it sucked having a horse with Moon's potential and not being able to get any consistency.

Then she said something very profound...She said, "It doesn't sound like he has very much honor."


In the past I have accused Moon of being a cheating sucker and Ed Wright told me that was absolutely not the case. There was nothing wrong with Moon. I just rode like shit. I took that to heart and stopped blaming Moon for things going wrong and started working on myself. For the last 2 years I have done almost nothing but work on myself. My hands, my legs, my timing, anything and everything I could think of to make myself a better pilot. It all worked for a run or two and then I'd start having problems again. I pattern Moon a couple of times a week, but to be honest, I think harder about what *I* am supposed to be doing than what he is doing...outside of feeling for when he feels right...but I'm trying to remember what I did that got him to do that something right. Know what I mean?

Believe me, at this point, I am ready to listen to what anyone, who seems to know what they are doing, has to say. Listening to CZ was tremendously beneficial. So I was ready to listen to what this lady had to say too. Running with these pro girls, I have figured out that very little of what they do and how they run corresponds to what EW teaches. There is absolutely no time to do all of the little things EW teaches. Everything just has to be automatic and click if you want to pick up a check.

Again...I want to make it perfectly clear...I am NOT bashing on EW!!! What he teaches is absolutely necessary to know. I just look back and think that because I respect EW so much, I took some of what he said too much to heart. I know he liked Moon a lot. I don't think he liked me much though because what he saw is a horse with a lot of talent and his rider who keeps getting stuck in defense-mode on said horse. I tried to explain to EW that Moon is more than what he seems...ie-the continually outthinking his rider thing...and he told me I was full of shit. I do however think EW severely underestimated the kind of horse that Moon is in the smarts category. Moon may look like he is trying to get a long, but he has always been the kind of horse that puts a lot of thought into figuring out if he can get away with something. Give him an inch and he's going to take a mile.

So for someone to finally say that, "Yes, there are horses that lack the desire to honor their rider's requests." was a very welcome opinion. So I asked this anonymous lady, 'Can you fix that?'

She starts telling me that she has bought and fixed a lot of problematic horses and that most of the problems revolve around one of two things; Either the horse is hurting somewhere or they simply lack respect and are running around the pattern doing whatever they damn well want to. We went over my health care routine for Moon and she agreed that pain is probably not the issue. However, I am going to have my chiro out to work on Moon just to make sure there is nothing going on.

The next thing she told me to do was to get Moon on the pattern...EVERY DAY...twice a day if I need to for the next 21 days. This part will probably freak a few people out...but she also told me to put the biggest, meanest bit I owned on him and to get an over and under or a long chunk of lariat rope. It's time to get Moon to thinking about doing things the right way, not the way he thinks they should be done.

Every day, I am supposed to start the pattern at a walk, on a loose rein. I can put cones out if I want to to help us judge our distance from the barrel. She said with a horse that wants to duck into the barrel, work them on the outside of the cones. For a horse that wants to blow out of a turn, work them on the inside of the cones. I told her I thought Moon needed about a 4 foot pocket coming into the 1st barrel and a 5 foot pocket coming into both the 2nd and 3rd barrel and asked her if she thought that was too much. She did not think that was overly wide and with a horse that is inclined to drift in anyway, it's better to give them a little extra room to start.

Funny thing is, as soon as she mentioned the lack of honor, I knew exactly what I needed to be doing with Moon. I have used this tactic before, but because EW told me Moon had waaayyyy too much rate, I stopped because he said it was what was causing him to overrate before he turned. I asked anonymous lady about that and she shrugged. She said right at this moment it was more about getting Moon to respect and honor the pocket...and me...again, than it was worrying about his rate. He would quickly find out it wasn't about rating, it was about honoring the space I requested he have around the barrel.

I am to let Moon walk the pattern and while I can pick up on the rein to shape him, I am not supposed to add pressure or guide him. It is Moon's job to walk around the pattern exactly where I want him to go, while holding his shape. As soon as he holds his position/shape through the entire pattern, the next time through, I am to trot him. Again, all I am supposed to have to do is pick up the rein to shape him, no pressure and no guiding. If Moon tries to fade in at any point, the first time I am supposed to stop, back up and then counter arc him in a full circle, bring him back into position and ask him to finish/repeat the turn...He HAS to maintain the position on his own. If he holds his position, go to the next barrel, but if he falls into the pocket the second time around, this time I am supposed to get active with my inside hand and then spank him either on the shoulder or the butt, ONE TIME and counter arc him around again and bring him back into position. The more persistent he is about fading into the pocket, the more aggressive I need to get about correcting him until he finally stops fading in and figures out he is just supposed to pick up and hold that shape until I say differently.

The point is not to beat him into submission, but to wake his mind up and get him thinking again, not just wallering around and pushing on the rein every time I pick my hand up or move it. That cue is supposed to tell him to get prepared to turn...NOT lean into the rein. He cannot leave that turn until he maintains his position on his own at whatever gait I am asking of him. Each time he goes through the pattern and holds his position on his own, I am supposed to increase the speed the next time through. Walk to trot, trot to lope, lope to a slow run. But a slow run is as fast as I am supposed to go. When he can make a slow run through without me touching him. Quit for the day.

She said we might have to go around that pattern 50 times the first day and I might have to really get after him. But do not stop until he will carry himself around the pattern without guidance. And no slacking off. I feel like he is even remotely thinking about fading in or he puts so much as a single pound of pressure on the inside rein, I have to get after him and take that out of his mind. As aggressively as I need to.

Repeat the exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY!!! for the next 21 days. She called it the '21-Day Rule'...You know the one about it taking 21 days to make or break a habit??...

Now, here's the thing...The goal is to get Moon to honor the pocket (and my hand) the first time at every gait. She said the exercise not only teaches a horse to honor the rider, it firms up in their mind exactly where they need to be in the pattern and once they KNOW where to be, they will try harder to maintain that position during a run because it feels natural to them. She said a lot of times when horse starts ducking into the pockets they have become uncertain about what position they need to be in. They aren't exactly sure where to be in the pocket, but they know they need to turn the barrel and that becomes their major priority. Thinking about the rider doesn't even enter their mind anymore. Once it has become a habit, they will literally fight to get to that position during a run.

Well, that sounds exactly like what is happening to Moon and I. He knows he has to make the turn and that is ALL that is on his mind. And then I had to resort to riding defensively...which is just a nightmare. When I would change things up, it would confuse him just long enough to get a good run or two out of him, but then he would just revert back to ignoring me and deciding he was going to make that turn the way that had become a habit for him.

I might add...This exercise is ONLY designed for horses that have become problematic. It's not what you might call a 'training' technique. It's a wake-up call and after that it's about re-establishing a firm understanding of exactly where they need to be...and stay! when they are running in competition. Like I said, I have used this tactic before and I think the reasons it didn't work was Moon was not as advanced as he is now, he was still a little green and was just starting to pick up speed (speed we weren't really ready to handled) AND also I didn't stick with it long enough to make a lasting impression.

I headed back down the road, still a bit heartsick over that tipped barrel...but still tingly from how fast Moon had clocked on that run. I don't have any doubt that he has what it takes to win...I feel loads more comfortable running him in the style CZ showed me and now it's just a matter of getting Moon to hold his position and/or move if I need him to.

The next morning, I opted not to enter the barrel race at the facility we were staying at. Instead I got Moon out, warmed him up for a long time and put him on the practice pattern, exactly like I had been told. The only bit I have with any 'bite' to it is Moon's reining bit, so I put that on him. He's used to it and respects it. We walked the pattern. Perfect. We trotted the pattern. He did want to lean a little on the way to 1st. Cleaned that up no problem. Wanted to drop into the pocket at 2nd. No big surprise there, but he cleaned that up pretty quickly. Man, he did not want to hold a position going around that 3rd barrel and that was were I had to resort to swatting his butt. At a trot mind you. :-/. After that, he decided maybe he would hold his position.

Then we loped...Oh crap!! Charge, lean, duck, dive...He was all over the place!! We worked at the lope for quite a long while. Moon was pretty sure he was just going to charge up to that barrel and dive around it. That was not happening!! Not even a smigeon!!

We stopped, backed, counterarced, he fought the counterarc and I had to alternate swatting him on the shoulder and on the butt, he charged around and got goofy and I was getting a little embarrassed. There were a lot of people around and I wondered if maybe this was too much going on at once...or if I really wanted this being observed...and then all of the sudden it was like something clicked in his brain and out of the blue, he loped a perfect pattern. Nice, collected and relaxed...and he held his position without me even touching the reins.

I stopped right there. Got off, loosened his cinch and cooled him out. That was the moment I had been looking for. Moon finally relinquished mental control and decided to play nice. The first day was as ugly as it got. Since then it has just taken minor touch-ups to get him to perfect his position and we are on and off the pattern in about 15 minutes.

The funny thing is...This is the 2nd time I have gotten schooled on things I already knew. If anyone had come to me and asked me what to do about a horse that was persistently tagging barrels, this is the exact technique I would have told them to do. I also fell right into the trap I get after other people for...Don't let your horse be the boss. LOL!

I'll get the chance to check out his progress this weekend at a couple of local jackpots. We are going to need to reaffirm that he is listening, in a competitive setting but without the pressure of a rodeo. Now it's Moon's turn to prove he can run with some honor.








14 comments:

WishIHadAHorsey said...

Wow, sounds like a huge difference. And it sounds like you can be a little bit hard on yourself sometimes :). I bet you will do well this week-end.

Louisa Valentina; said...

Excited to see where this goes! Also really like the term "honour" in relation to horses.. never really thought of it that way.

Funder said...

That is exactly why we need peers: to tell us what we can't see cause we're in the thick of it. Hella good on you for being open to suggestions and doing what feels right!

I don't like fighting with my horse, but when I do have to, I love that feeling at the end, when we've come to an agreement and gotten our partnership back on track.

Cindy D. said...

Trying to teach our horses to make good (or honorable) decisions...seems to be the theme today.

kestrel said...

Woohoo! A tough horse like that can have a bit of a 'dirty' streak, and it really does need to be swatted out of them before it gets hard wired. No other way around it, because they have lost respect. I rode with an old Native American trainer who taught me to hiss 'I am the predator, and if you ever try that again I will kill you and eat you!' For some reason people who hear me say that also back the heck of, hahaha! It is only something that you have to use on strong willed horses that have gotten out of line. Different temperaments different solutions...

Can't wait to hear about your next runs! Got the speed down, got the timing down, got the riding down, now just respect to get and vroom!

Laura said...

Ditto to Funder's comment about peers!

What a great post - you really explained the problems and steps really well.

I'm finding that my horse has a little streak of disrespect that flares every now and again... "don't let your horse be the boss" is probably one of the best pieces of advice for all of us to remember.

Good thing you struck up a conversation with that lady! I hope your test runs go well - can't wait to hear about it. :-)

in2paints said...

One of my old show geldings was similar to Moon in that he would take a mile when I gave him an inch. I had to be really firm with him at ALL times and not cut him any slack because he'd make me look like an idiot every single time. I was trying to be "nice" and instead of be gracious, he'd take charge.

Sounds like Moon needs you to stay after him as well, but I'm hoping you have success in the future and he'll run the pattern like you need him to without so much work on your part.

Can't wait to hear about your next run!

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Remember your comment a while back about how Moon would have been a mean stallion? My trainer had a WP horse like him--world champion, could probably have done some nice English as well as he had impulsion. But...tough gelding, and he WAS a mean stud. I was able to get his Championship jog and lope out of him, but man, it meant being on top of him every second. He was not a generous boy and he made his rider work for every stride.

Moon sounds like one of those--some horses are generous and honest, others won't give it to you unless you make them do it.

Marissa Rose said...

Heres the thing....

No one knows your horse like you. Even though one thing may work for a million other horses....that doesn't mean it will work for you horse, and therefor, its not fair for anyone to judge you or expect something to work for you when ALL HORSES ARE DIFFERENT.

I know my Pony. I think I know her better than the person that owned her for 5 years. So, when I became suspicious that her tack wasn't fitting, and her owner told me it was, I knew I was right...and I didn't stop until I changed tack and knew that was the problem.

So, even though this guy (I can't remember his name. EW?) said that he was a great horse, and it was your riding....deep down, if you felt like this horse is a tricky mc trickster, and there was more going on than meets the eye, then no one should feel the need to tell you that you don't know what your talking about! A lot of times as riders we can sense something that other people can't see, or that other people can't tell by riding them a few times.

It's so frustating that hind sight is 20/20. I'm so glad that you and moon have figured out something that will work from now on :)

Cut-N-Jump said...

Hopefully you will get to meet up with this woman at another event (SOON!) and get her name at least and maybe her contact info? Yes it is good to have insight from peers and no, not every method works on every horse.

I like the word honor and as Kestrel said respect fits right there with it. Some horses readily give it, others you have to earn it and a very rare few you almost literally have to beat it out of them.

Rising Rainbow said...

I know you know this already but everything is training. You said this wasn't a training technique but that's exactly what it is because we are always wither training them or untraining them. Sounds like for a while you were untraining and now you're back to training. Been there and done that myself so many times I want to just smack myself right up alongside my head.

I like to go to clinics because they tend to remind me of things I used to do but have since forgotten. I'd like to blame the forgetting on old age but I think it's just human.

The 21 day rule sounds interesting. I hadn't heard that before will try to keep that in mind if I ever get back in the saddle. Legs was just turning an important corner when I was forced out of the saddle and I think this will help me measure the "when" in that journey.

Hope all goes well this weekend with Moon. It would be awesome to see you get him meeting his potential. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

And yeah...I was thinking about this blog as I marched off to switch bits on Miss Mocha this afternoon. Mini stud snorting sweet nothings plus attitudinal mare who decides to AIM for cones rather than go around them, while running like a bat outta a hot place and being silly?!

Yeah. Pelham. Amazing what a difference it made. With these smart, mature, finished horses, sometimes you've gotta get tough with them. It's one thing with a greenie, another thing entirely with a horse who's supposed to be finished who is being a butt.

Grr.

Crystal said...

Sounds like it might work. I have done the same thing a million times, where you know what the solution is and you have used it before but don't think of it at the time. Amazing how fickle the memory is.

Vaquerogirl said...

Isn't it funny how the Universe gives us exactly what we need- when we need it? You met that woman at the right time for you and Moon. I know you will be able to work the 21 day rule. ( Not a lot of people would be able to commit to that!) My Dad would say that Moon isn't an honest horse, but honor works too. Lets hope he will begin shaping himself up. Sometimes it's not us- it's them!