Let’s return to Z. She got most of the summer off due to heat and then she was moved up to Missouri. Not having to board her is WONDERFUL!! In the horse management world everything has gone along very well. I’ve worked up a buying list: 8 cubic yards of gravel is needed to get the stalls and the area around the exterior stall doors done so I can have better drainage.
Each stall needs 10 stall mats (I’ll buy the recycled rubber ones from Tractor Supply).
After pricing out the hardware that would be needed to do sliding, exterior doors to the stalls, (over $180) we’ve decided we’ll go with Dutch Doors. These will be about $60 in hardware and we will cannibalize the wood from the leftovers in the barn. That is most likely a December project as the gravel must come first.
Back to training….
I had a revelation last spring/summer in doing the Masterson Method on Z. You might remember this post….? In reading back through the journal, I also realized that I’ve gradually been coming to a fuller understanding of the principles of being in a relaxed state of mind vs. a not-against-the-idea mind.
1.) Z lives in a state of mind and body tension that prepares her to immediately challenge any request. For example, in the Masterson Method work, it took some time before she was calm enough to release her tension and this was to an Air-Gap pressure (the pad of the fingers are barely touching the hair of the horse).
This puts her body in a state where it will block and resist any work. This prevents forward movement, hampers flexibility and starts setting up an antagonistical relationship between her and I before I’ve even gotten on! Gaining relaxation of the body and mind, continually returning to that state, has to be a top priority in training.
2.) While doing MM work on her I had to really WAIT. I realized I was moving too fast for her and not allowing her time to process what I was asking and for her to make a conscious decision to comply. I have slowed my work way down with her this week and I’m seeing the results of this in a horse that is more engaged and willing to work with me. I’ve discovered that the horse I had been thinking was a slowpoke is now actively engaged and wanting to respond.
3.) Her body, through its internal tension, some of which is mostly not even conscious and planned, is blocking movement. I needed to get her unstuck and let these tensions melt away by achieving a relaxed state of mind first – allowing her time to respond to my request (myself in a state of calm waiting), and then letting her respond.
So what have I been doing this week?
Reading back through Mark Russell’s Riding in Lightness. Thinking over the Masterson Method and WAITING and LOOKING for those subtle signs of relaxation before continuing. A lot of clicker training work.
I’ve concentrated on moving the feet (groundwork). Tapping a leg and asking for it to lift. Tapping a different leg. Tapping the croup and asking for forward. Tapping the chest and asking for backing (with a diagonal leg movement). Asking for a crossover with the hind leg while the nose is lower then the shoulder and gently bent into the leg that is asked to move. Shifting weight to the hind legs. Squaring the front legs.
Bending the neck to the right or left with a rein request while I was standing on the mounting block. Asking her to move forward, back, side to side while I was on the mounting block (those that have followed Z might remember her strong resistance to anyone being taller then her…?).
Lowering her nose, below her shoulders, and then waiting for her to relax the jaw, sigh, blow, lip smack etc.. to show me she had relaxed. From halt to walk with a relaxed head seat that is natural to her (no rein pressure or gee-gaws to get her to do it). I will be looking for the same relaxed head with the walk to the halt but we are slower getting that just for now.
All this I’ve done under the saddle though I’ve been on the ground or on the mounting block. This is part of my strategy. Whereas in the past our groundwork was done without saddle I want her to recognize that the saddle is NO BIG DEAL. While you can saddle her up without issue, she will stand still without being tied, you could always see an increased body tension as she anticipated work she didn’t enjoy – this is all about changing her expectations and fostering an attitude of curiosity and willingness in a RELAXED state.
I would have even mounted her but the saddle needs a thicker saddle pad – I’m doubtful even that this saddle fits too well and I’d like a thicker pad before throwing a leg over… but we are getting really really close to that happening!
I’ll go into more about what I mean but for now I’ve realized I THOUGHT I knew what a “relaxed” state was but all I was getting was a not-resisting-state. Think about those subtle differences and I’ll be back tomorrow to post more about what we’ve been up too.