Even though I’ve only been able to visit Charm once a week lately, our progress has been going well.
I’ve been making sure that the time I spend with her is meaningful and supportive. My main focus these days is creating and maintaining draw, meaning my horse wants to be close to me, that she’ll run across the arena to be next to me. This will help our Liberty grow stronger.
I had some proof yesterday that our draw is getting stronger…
Picture Charm and I facing each other and about 15 feet apart. Then I start running backward and her running to join me. But while doing that, she jumps the upright barrels (about 3 feet tall) in between. Pretty slick! She was very consistent with the barrels laying down on their side. And my end goal was for her to jump the barrels standing up. Well, yesterday was the day! She was motivated and gladly sailed over them several times 🙂 (Charm tends to put forth as little energy as possible.. so this was really good!)
We had a good time! She was a hoot and I was smiling!
Another thing we’ve been playing around with is the contact while riding thing. I have horrible flashbacks to the Dave Ellis clinic this past summer. Charm trotted around that arena with her head practically straight up in the air. We looked uncomfortable and horrible. And we were uncomfortable and horrible.
After having several months to dwell on the situation (not that it’s all I think about .. far from it.. but I’m always trying to get better and there was major room for improvement) I think I’ve figured out a good plan of attack. Don’t worry, I’m not really attacking anything! Poor choice of words.
I’ve had about 4 short sessions to play around with this idea I have and so far I think it’s improved our contact and harmony.
First, what I was doing wrong.
I tend to do everything fast ever since I was a little kid. I like to be first! It must be the competitive side of me. Well in this case, it hurt me. When Dave would say.. “Now stop your horses” I would try to be the first one to stop. “Pick up your reins, hold step 7 and ask for the canter and release.” Guess who tried to be first? The stoooopid thing was it wasn’t a race or a game. He just wanted us to do an exercise to supple our horses. To prepare them for the cow work. But there was nothing “supple” about my hands or how I was asking Charm to do the manuevers. In fact, I was causing her to brace. She was saying “Crap! What the heck is she going to do to me now?” I wasn’t preparing her for the next step. I would just do the next step and wonder why she was running around with her head in the air. Not pretty.
Obviously I’ve thought about this for quite some time and now things have changed drastically.
Thought #1: Charm doesn’t like her muzzle touched. She’s always been like this, I think it is a dominance thing. But as I’m asking her to lead by the chin, she’ll do it, but only on her terms and is quick to take her head away from my hand. So now I’m going to put a bit in her mouth and expect her to respect it? Expect her to want to “try” for me? I’ve reproached this now and have dialed way back in hopes of giving her confidence so I gain her trust.
Thought #2: Wait till she’s ready. There’s no race! Just wait until she’s confident. Until she’s ready for the next move. Just don’t surprise her randomly.
So my plan has been this: For a warm up I ask her to stretch into the bit and I take the contact for a few seconds and release. I encourage her to keep the same speed in gait when I release the contact. The contact shouldn’t affect the gait. My seat affects the gait, and that hasn’t changed. We do this until she starts blowing and relaxing under me. Most of this is done at the trot, so I give her breaks and soaking time in between.
Then I start asking for more.
Yesterday went really well when I asked for more. I ask her to stretch at the walk and take the contact. The contact is held for a few seconds and I ask for the trot. Once we’re trotting, I vary the time the contact is held. Sometimes only a few strides, sometimes for around the arena and then some. I tend to start out at a few strides until she tells me she’s good with it all. Then when I release, she maintains the trot for a little longer and give a rub and we go down to a walk and eventually start again.
This worked so well yesterday. I can’t even remember all the times she blew and released tension and her head didn’t come up one time. And as I would ask for the trot I started to feel this awesome power under me. Could that be Charm engaging her hindquarters? Rounding and collecting? hmmmmm
My goal is to get to the point where I can ask for the contact and there’s no resistance from her. She just holds my hand and we dance!