Friday, May 17, 2013

Clear Communication

Part of good riding is listening to what your horse is telling you. Today, Lex said loud and clear, "I do not want to go in that ring."

I started the ride with a few minutes of lunging. She balked at the ring entrance but went in without too much urging on my part. I probably should have skipped the lunging. She behaved, but I could tell that it was a little hard on her, so I called it quits after getting a decent trot each direction. I hopped on, walked one lap of the ring on a loose rein, and then headed for the fields. It was a night and day shift in her attitude. She went from being kinda glum-looking to being delighted to be out riding. She pricked her ears, admired the beautiful egrets that were all over the fields today (oh, Florida, I love you), and enjoyed trotting around. She went from sluggish to sparkly. We hacked all over the place, and I even let her gallop up one hill. I was very careful not to pick up any contact for her to lean into, so she didn't really get going, and came back nicely when I asked her to.

Happy ears!
We even ventured out into the field we haven't spent much time in - the only other time I rode her out there was when we hacked with Susannah and Belle. But she seemed to enjoy the excursion and didn't even mind when we got out of sight of all the other horses (although she DID want to trot back and we had to talk about how I get to pick the gaits).

Saying hi to Baron and Winnie as we cruise by in a power-walk!
Then, after we rode around for awhile, I figured we could just walk back into the ring, maybe do a trot circle or two. We got to the ring, and she balked again. At my light urging, she went in, but broke into a trot. I gently brought her back to a walk, dropped the reins, and just let her stretch out. We did one lap, walked back out, wandered around for a couple more minutes, and I got off.

So the ring thing is a little befuddling in its source, but she couldn't have been more clear about her feelings if she had spoken English. I'm guessing it's that the footing is deep in there and she has to work very hard to stay forward and balanced. In fact, she can't stay balanced well, especially to the right. I'm wondering if she's more freaked out by the lack of balance than she lets on. I think she's actually kind of stoic in some ways: when I first brought her to the farm, she explored and never panicked or anything, but she didn't touch her grain for two days. She also went off her feed when she got her rabies shot, but never acted like she didn't feel good otherwise. So maybe she didn't have anything nasty to say in the moment about how she wasn't enjoying work in the ring, but it's coming up in her resistance today. Or! Maybe she doesn't object to the ring on principle, but she's sore and tired today. That would make sense to me, because she did work hard yesterday, and she's smart enough to know that the ring is where it's hard for her to work.

I'm turning myself inside out to do right by this horse. On the one hand, I'm glad she's telling me what she can and can't do. On the other hand, I'm hoping really hard that she can get to the point where she's happy to work in a ring - maybe a bigger one, with better footing, and with more interesting exercises. We haven't been riding long enough for her to have gotten sour to the whole idea of work yet. It's been about a month of pretty light work. But I think she could get sour, and that is something I desperately want to avoid.

So here is my plan - feel free to chime in with your thoughts:

1. Chris and I already agreed that she would work hard Thursdays and Sundays, and get Mondays off. The other days are for less-hard work. So Thursdays and Sundays, we will do at least 10-15 minutes of real work in the ring and fill out the hour on the grass. That balance may tip towards more ring time on those two days as she gets stronger and more balanced.

2. Mondays off, as planned. I'm also going to give her tomorrow off, because I'm going to check out a horse show with Chris for a couple of hours in the morning, and because she was a very good girl today.

3. On days that aren't Thursdays, Sundays, or Mondays, I'll feel it out. But I'm not only going to ride her in the ring when she's working hard. That won't solve anything. I might do the warmup and cool out walks in the ring, and give her breaks in the ring, and do the conditioning work or whatever it is we're working on that day in the fields. Work in the field, rest in the ring - seems like that could work, right?




  1. Sounds like a good plan to me! She'll learn to love ring work too as y'all start doing more complicated things and her brain starts ticking.

    1. I hope so! It would be nice to have a bigger ring. I wish I had lots of money so I could get her one. :(

  2. Sometimes you need to force a balance, like children they want to do what they want to do 24/7 so we teach them compromise. Carlos would love to do hillwork all day long and jumping and never lateral work but the lateral work is/was good for him so we had to sprinkle it in here and there. Never enough to get him too sour.