July was…well, a lost month in horse time. Now I’m back to something approximating a regular schedule, and we’ve got the prospect of a show in six weeks. With reining classes. Coupled with Furthur concerts two days before. So various dilemmas arise…
Meanwhile, it’s now time to get the training back in shape. I think Mocha picked up on it yesterday. Certainly she let it be known she was ready for work, between nickering to get me to hurry up and get her out (oh, okay, it was also the apples. She loves the fresh Gravenstein apples). But she dropped her head and rounded her back for the saddle, and went through all of her “getting the game face on” behaviors. In spite of a little cut on her shoulders, which fortunately is not where the Western saddle rubs (but the English flap would have). Snaffle bit this time.
The work itself was pretty basic conditioning–warmup, circle of pearls at walk and trot, then trot and lope cloverleafs in a 7 loop repeat, followed by diagonal figure 8s with flying changes. Then two track in each direction, haunches in and haunches out, a bit of work asking her to round up and move consistently in collection at jog and lope, a little bit of extending the lope and coming back to collection, and then cooling. During cooldown I worked on turning from seat only with leg emphasis–needed to remind her with the rein a few times, and we went from that into slow spin practice. A good work, overall.
But! Little stinker pulled a naughty while untacking. If no one else is in the arena, I’ll pull off her boots, then her bridle, and saddle last (actually I uncinch saddle and breast collar before removing the bridle). Normally, she stands until I release her by pulling off the saddle and telling her to “go roll.” When we don’t do this in the arena, we’ll often do this in an outdoor paddock and we’ve done it that way the last few times. But given yesterday’s heat, I didn’t want to cool her out outside, nor turn her out to roll outside.
So I was talking to G, and she decided to start wandering. With the uncinched saddle still on. My “whooooah” after she stepped away kind of reminded her, but she got anxious and evaded me (quietly) for a few moments, eyes big. I caught her, brought her back to where she’d been, and put a rein around her neck, continuing to talk to G. Then I made her stand still for a while without the rein, but still with the saddle on, while I walked around her, still talking to G. She watched me, eyes big, now waiting for the release.
Finally I pulled off the saddle and let her go roll.
That’s the kind of small resistances she’ll pull. Nothing big, nothing dramatic, but little tests to keep me on my toes. She does a lot of these little checkins to make sure that the rules haven’t changed. They take relatively small corrections but if I didn’t correct them…well, small steps lead to big landslides, and she’ll get more pushy. Just the kind of mare she is. I didn’t even have to raise my voice to reprimand her for this one. Taking her back and making her stand longer with the saddle on was sufficient.
Afterward, I brushed her up and rinsed her off. She still asks for a treat when I rinse her face, but she’s pretty good about it now (doesn’t hurt that I’ll let her drink from the sprayer and spend a bit of time spraying under her jaw. She really likes that). I almost got her all of the way to the stall’s tie at liberty, only had to take her halter to place her in it. Not bad, considering we’re almost completely doing liberty leading to and from the arena on a regular basis.
The little pieces of horse training can be so very foundational. I expect any horse I train or work with to get to the point where I can do certain basics–tacking, hoof picking, brushing–without restraint. It’s a point of convenience and of self-discipline. Training the horse to stand and wait for a release is a simple safety issue and can pay off in unexpected ways. It’s not magic or horse whispering–just a lot of consistent, persistent, training and regular work toward the goal. A horse that has been trained to stand (or ground tie), relax, and trust its handler will be more likely to respond to those cues to stand in an emergency, or at least be more easily calmed down in most circumstances.
And, with horses, at some point there will be an emergency. Better to prepare the training for it before it happens.
Like I said. Not horse whispering. Not magic. Just plain old everyday groundwork. That’s all it takes.