In case you didn’t catch my post about Ruby (baby western horse turned baby English horse), here is the short version.
Ruby is a young mare that has progressed rather quickly. She is learning to go in a proper frame and has been started over small fences. We have found that in her inexperience going over jumps causes her tension. In turn, making her tend to run through the bit and hand.
Not run through the hand like runoff, just stick her head up and not stop or listen to half-halts as she should. We thought it through and came up with an exercise to pinpoint the issues she was having.
Second Time Around
We were really happy with her reaction to the first lesson we did the exercise in. Of course, the second time around we had high hopes that our exercise would continue to help with Ruby’s problem of getting super tense and then ignoring what her rider is telling her.
Not Ignoring/Distracted And Tense
If you did not know Ruby and her typical behavior, it might be an outsider looking in that Ruby was ignoring Christina’s half-halts. Ignoring them because she is being bad. This actually isn’t what is going on.
Ruby likes jumping. Her energy level builds higher and higher as she does more cantering and jumping. Her high energy level causes tension, especially when she feels Christina trying to get her to slow down.
So we needed to work on getting and keeping her attention, all the time. Not just at the walk and trot, or by not cantering or jumping. We need to be able to keep her focused all the time.
How Some Would Fix It…
There are some trainers that would just look at how Ruby goes over jumps and gets to not listening, as her being bad. Then they would fix it by changing bits or riding her with heavy hands. Like they were going to “make her” do it.
I see it differently. To me, I see an enthusiastic young horse that has lots of energy and wants to do something with it. That is not a bad thing! We just have to be smart and use it to our advantage.
Yanking on her and trying to force her to slow down when she is having fun and trying to figure things out, could take away her enthusiasm. It could change her attitude. Why would we want to risk that with a nice young horse like Ruby?
We don’t of course! This is why we came up with the exercise with ground poles and a cross rail with ground poles, also incorporating cantering to help keep her focused.
I Still Have To Tell You About The Second Time Around
Ruby warmed up much better the second lesson than she did the previous one. She went forward more easily and seemed like she was willing and ready to work.
Using the set up the same way as the last time. We had her trot over four ground poles, canter a 20-meter circle, then come back to a trot and pop over a cross rail with ground poles in front of it.
She seemed to remember what we were doing and basically, it seemed that we picked up where we had left off at the end of the last lesson.
One Thing Leads To Another
We were super happy we thought up an exercise that worked, and that stuck with her for the next ride.
We did such a great job coming up with the exercise. Then Christina did a great job riding her through it. But….. there is always something right?
She Started Anticipating
The exercise worked so well and she was so tuned in to Christina that she started anticipating what we were going to ask her to do next. Anticipation started leading to the same issue that we had in the very beginning. Her anticipation was leading to tension, making it harder for Christina to get her to listen.
We found an exercise that we know will get her attention and help with getting her to listen to Christina’s half-halts. That’s great, but it’s never that easy with horses.
Our perfect exercise worked too well, to the point that Ruby thought she should just take the wheel because she knew exactly what to do.
So, it was time to tweak the exercise! Be grateful that it accomplished what we wanted, it was time to change it up!
This Is What We Did
We decided that the exercise we came up with worked well, just that we needed to incorporate some other things. Some transitions and halts here and there. By doing this, it got Ruby’s attention back again. We did such a good job of getting her to focus that she thought she didn’t need to listen anymore.
We used the poles and cross rails but didn’t do it exactly the same way every time. That we had the things that we knew would keep her focused. By sometimes cantering, sometimes trotting and adding a halt here or there, it kept her on her toes. Which was great because that made her tune in to Christina and pay attention to her half-halts and wait for a cue to find out what she was going to ask her to do next.
Moral Of The Story
The second ride using this exercise was just as effective as the first. It actually was even better. Why is that? She got tense and anticipating again, and by throwing in a few transitions and halts in here and there, we got her attention back right away.
You have to pay attention to what your horse is telling you. Ruby told us what she needed when we came up with the exercise, to begin with. Then, on the second day, she told us we needed to tweak it a little bit to continue to help her progress, without ruining her enthusiasm for her job.
That’s the best way to work with horses. Let the horses tell you what they need. Then when they need something different change it up!
The horses are the best teachers, we just have to listen!