Storm's Saturday and Sunday
I've started to write up Storm's sessions this weekend several times and always start over because they become too long! That's because while the methods and techniques for training Storm are super simple, the philosophy behind training him is not! And by training him, I don't just mean teaching him how to respond to cues and pressure and how to carry a rider.
By "training him" I mean considering how every single work out I do, will either help or hinder in developing Storm into a horse that enjoys being ridden. A horse that likes to work. A horse that thinks having a job is, well...fun!
I haven't put a lot of time and study into how to go about this because understanding how to motivate horses is easy for me. Horses are basically "lazy". Now before anyone gets all "up in arms" over that statement, notice I said "basically". And I stand behind that statement 100%. Observe horses during their natural day. What do they do?
They eat, they hang out with their buddies, they nap.
They roll in the dirt!
Most big displays of energy are either battling about one's status in the group or short bursts of "oh my God...run...it's a "scary thing"! Occassionally they frolic a bit, but that's usually the youngsters practicing the adult behaviors of the battling or the running. Or, as shown above, a couple of goofy geldings enjoying a friendly battle!
When was the last time you saw a group of horses decide it was time to do some laps in the field...just to keep in shape? Oh, and then to make sure everyone was well balanced, let's make sure we circle the other way too. And, don't forget...put some "energy" into that walk! Go somewhere with it! And I'm absolutely certain no horse ever decided that "just for fun" they'd spend a half a day or more just going through hill and dale and woods just for the fun of it. Their idea of a really nice journey is from one juicy morsel to the next!
And I so get that! I think the the most important factor in my success with creating happy riding horses is that I'm just like them...basically, I'm pretty lazy! Yup. Not going to deny that. I don't enjoy sweating or being out of breath. I know it's good for me. I get that. I said I don't enjoy it. So there's got to be "something in it" for me. Some reason to not only do it, but to enjoy it...or at least not "hate" it!
And when I say "work" let us be clear. I mean to physcially exert ...not "work" like creating this blog or any other kind of intellectual tasks. I'm talking about the kind of work where sweating is involved. For me to even begin to approach the concept that it's fun, there's got to be some point to it and preferably some kind of immediate gratification. The quicker the better! Even better, is if the "work" is so engaging ....that it ends up not seeming like work at all.
See...this blog is already far longer than if I was going into detail about the pros and cons of bosal vs bit, the bit's I'm using or how long my side reins are when I'm bitting him! But this information is actually just as (if not more) important.
So to try and sum up Storms training routine right now, I'll make a list:
1) I try to never make it routine...Storm is smart and picks up on patterns quickly and then thinks that the point of a work out to learn the pattern and do it as quickly as possible so he can get back to fun horse things..like being with his buddies or eating...preferably both!
2) I try to make sure there is something "fun" in it for Storm. I NEVER hand feed my horses during training (okay I don't hand feed them ever), Why? Because in my experience, hand feeding treats to horses makes for very rude horses. I never want them to confuse me with a vending machine! And besides, I go with something better! Scratching! Physcial reward is a far, far better reward for a horse than food. Why? I think it's because that's the way horses "reward" each other in their natural group. It's easy to figure out when you think about it. When was the last time you saw one horse pick up a piece of hay and give it to another horse? Okay, now when was the last time you saw two buddies indulge in the wither scratch?
Felenah and Haley enjoying a sunny afternoon
In my opinion, a good wither scratch is the ultimate form of "I love you"! Something that only another horse (or a very cool trainer) can give them! This is closely followed by the "butt scratch"! If you pay attention you will see that when I'm teaching "stay put when hearing "whoa", there's a very good chance I'm saying the word "whoa", have gentle contact on my long lines (I call it a "cradle") and I'm scratching them somewhere. If I'm long lining, I'm probably scrathcing right above the tail! I think this also helps with their perception. It accustoms them to the fact even when they can't see me...they can feel me...so it's still "me" back there...helps when it comes to the riding part!
I'll also use the butt end of the lunge whip as a scratching/reward tool! Works great, but remember that while I'm using the whip pressure like this I'm also saying "whoa" "good boy" the the pressure is very slow and steady. That's so it's very different from when I do a "cluck or kiss" and an "energetic quick tap" to signal him forward.
3) Because my goal is for Storm to think carrying a rider and obeying commands is "fun and easy", the most physically taxing part of his sessions DO NOT involve a rider at all. He's either lunged (free lunge in the arena or on a line...varying locations to spice it up), bitted or long lined...or all three in some combination. Always, always making a point to really make a big deal over praising him for his "hard" work effort...he loves being told he's done well! I make sure to break up the "sweaty parts" with lot's of scraching! And then back to a little more "work".
4) The absolute best use of the "workout time" for Storm (at this point) is bitting him in side reins. While he's a nice mature 9 year old, that 9 year old back has never carried weight, so despite appearances, he still needs to develop and shape the muscles in his back. It's not rocket science to understand that doing it with no weight is "less work". And bitting gives a trainer the opporunity to do two things at one time. Develop the horse physically and at the same time practice a very important skill...how to "deal with" the contact of the bit. Every horse that has ever come to me with the story "he hates a bit" is a horse that was never introduced to a bit properly. My horses are not afraid of a bit. No horse is afraid of a bit that understands how they are supposed to interpret the pressures coming from it.
Colleens indoor arena is a perfect size to teach a leg yield from the ground. Shown above, Storm with a single "non stretchy" side rein with inside pressure. At this point Storm has learned to "move over" when I "push" my body towards him!
The decision between using a "stretchy or elastic" side rein or a side rein that doesn't stretch is very much based on the individual horse, their personality, disposition and past experience. I'll usually start with a side rein that stretches and see how they respond. In the case of Storm, he thought the point was to see how far he could stretch it. Storm is a little bit of a bully. If he can get away with pushing and shoving to get his way, he'll do it. I needed Storm to understand that pulling against the pressure wasn't the point and it wasn't fun (or funny). After a couple of tries in elastic side reins that were unproductive, I changed to a simple rope side rein. And only one side at a time. If I make a statement that I did "single side rein" work, that's exactly what it means. And the first sessions I just let him move around the indoor arena to so he could find out for himself that pulling against the pressure wasn't going to work. It took a couple of minutes and he figured it out! I'm always observing a horse during this kind of work and constantly making adjustments, sometimes to lengthen, sometimes to shorten the side rein.
This is Storm working on trotting a corner with me on Sunday! Needless to say, the bitting work is translating really well to the "rider on top" work!
At this point in his training, Storm is still working in single side reins, learning to go slightly flexted to both the inside AND outside at a walk trot and canter. Soon, I'll start adding some work where he has both side reins attached, but given that the winter here will be long, there will be plenty of time to work on that when the we're trapped inside for the winter! But, be sure, I'll still find ways to make that indoor space really interesting! Have you seen what I can do with giant packing boxes yet?