Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Training, more details.

...I took him for another walk. Ddrach watched us and said "Ahhh. You are looking at him too much. Look where you want him to go. Lower your hand- keep it at your pockets. There you go. Keep that hand down." And suddenly, sure enough, he was following me with confidence. The instructor I'd hired for a few lessons had been very strict- hold his rope right under the chin, hold your arm straight out, hold everything just so and only even on the left side, etc etc. Well Solomon had his mind just blown by all that charro crap. That was a tense way of holding him. It was high pressure. Not a level that was going to work at the moment. A little more relaxed and a lot more confident with a lot less watching him to see how he did make him feel a lot more secure.

And off we went, up and down hillsides, past strange horses, over logs and other obstacles, and other than sometimes trying to graze a bit, he followed me very very well. If he tried to graze by bending his head to the opposite side while reaching down, ddranch taught me to make him pivot on his forehand, which got him out of that idea immediately. Such simple, basic things. There were other methods people had shown me, but none of them worked like this. Ddranch has a way of assessing horses, and kind of getting in their heads a bit. He uses low pressure training methods, and going by how his horses are, it really seems to work. No shortcuts or gimmicks. patience and consistency, understanding body language, understanding horse psychology, understanding traiditional training and what is useful today, and what is not. We don't have swords on our belts, so we don't have to always mount from the left only. But then there will be some historical saddle design that works better than a lot of saddles today. Things like that.

After a dinner of nice quality oat hay, we took Solomon to the round pen. That's where we discovered that someone had done a bunch of natural horsemanship work on him. So we'll get to work that out of him, heh. I'm sure there is a right way to do that, with the right horse, but it wasn't done the right way with Solomon. I watched the people at horse hell shanking him and snapping the rope in his face to back him up, then whipping his butt with that stupid carrot stick to get him running. No nonono no. So Solomon learned that coming in and joining up thing, and learned to use it as a tool as well, by crowding in and pivoting so you couldn't get behind his shoulder. Ddranch got him going though. No welts needed, no rope or line or halter at all. And lo and behold, Solomon did know what to do. He did have the training. He was laaazy. Didn't want to canter. Charging up and down steep hills in the pasture was fine because that was FUN, but being asked to work? Oh, he was not very pleased about that.

So then we brought in a mounting block, and sure enough he was, as ddranch called it, "winging out." Spinning so you couldn't reach him when you stood on the block, pivoting so he was facing you. So. He was in his halter. We tied him to the rail. Brought up the mounting block. Ddranch pretneded to start to mount. He swing his butt towards the rail. Ddranch moved the block closer again. Pretended to mount. Solomon swung his butt. And eventually Solomon could not swing his butt any more. Ddranch was explaining to me about using our minds, and about Sol's behavior being learned, and working on teaching him that it would not work here.

So he said, "okay, untie the lead rope and hold him fast." I did this, and suddenly he was on Solomon's back! Solomon started to move forward, but he stopped because mom was there and not going to budge. Heh. Then I handed him the lead rope, and we tied the end to the ring on the bottom of the halter. Leadrope reins. Whee!

And then they stood. Little baby steps. And then they walked. Just walked. And Solomon, oh he pinned his ears, he squealed once, crow-hopped a bit, swished his tail, but every time he did, he got a growly "noo, don't you start boy" from ddranch, which he responded to immediately. It was behavioral, He was acting like he expented to get kicked or smacked or yanked on at any moment. All of those things were common with the last owner, from what I heard at the old place, nevermind what happened at the Charro place. But he was also testing the waters. Seeing what he could get away with. Seeing if any of it would get him out of work. Wondering when it was going to start hurting.
"See the thing is, you correct the behavior right away. You let them know what isn't okay. But you focus on the positive. You make it a positive experience. You tell them no, and then you encourage them when they are good." And Solomon relaxed a bit. He obeyed. He was so sensitive about any leg cues at all, he tensed at a little touch. But he was gently and expertly guided through it... just walking, turning, walking. Wakling to the middle of the arena to say hi to mom, then turning and going out along the rail again. A short ride.
"Now, there is a physical limit that a horse has, and a mental limit. Sometimes that limit is higher than other times. But he's in a new place, and it's a totally new person riding him, he's experienced a lot today, and he's on the edge of his limit. But he will slowly learn.

You see, imagine you live in a room and every day for breakfast, the door opens and someone comes and punches you in the face. You don't know anything else, and you think that's what breakfast is. Punching you in the face. So that's what he knows. That's what riding is. But what if instead the door opens, and you get a blueberry muffin and coffee. And you keep getting a blueberry muffin and coffee. After a while, you realize, hey, this is what breakfast is. This is all right!"

So we took him back out of the round pen, and I let him graze a little more. And ddranch told me that we would consistently work with the lunging. The mounting block. The good riding experiences. Wearing a saddle. The first thing ddranch did when I penned Solomon was get out a saddle form, and discover that the tree that company made with full quarterhorse bars fit my boy. Awesome! He has a saddle that he thinks will fit. He'll double check of course. The man knows a lot about saddles and their history too. So Solomon will spend a half hour just wearing a saddle one day, and having it not hurt.

"He is going to learn that wearing a saddle is his job. Standing at the block is his job. Being ridden is his job. He gets to eat this tasty green grass, but he has to wear a saddle. Or he gets to eat the green grass, but he has to be ridden and do what he's asked to do."

When Sol was back and tucked in for the night, we chatted a bit over tea.

"To be honest with you," he said, "I wouldn't put you on that horse at this time. Now you'll always have a horse to ride when you come up here. But Solomon has issues he needs to work though."

"Yeah I understand, he's really too much horse for me at my level, and it isn't safe," I said.

"And some of his issues, we'll see, but some of them could take a year, years to work through."

"Okay. Then it'll take years. I'm not chasing ribbons. I just want him to be okay. I want him to be safe as I can make him."

So Solomon, he might work through the issues fast. He might take a long time. But I think we'll get him past them. And while he's learning, I'll be learning. I'll be learning to work him on the ground, and I'll be learning to be a good rider on ddranch's patient and well trained reining horses who know that the world can be a safe place. "That's all most living things want, it's what they really care about. They want to be safe, and they want to know they'll get what they need to survive."

Now we're also going to check for pain. I've had him evaluated lightly by the vet. I've had chiropractic work done on him, which seemed to help. The next step is giving him bute and working him for about a week or two, then taking him off the bute and seeing how his behavior changes- that's the vet's idea, and I think it is a very solid one. If his behavior is a lot nastier and more twitchy without the pain meds, then we will know it is a pain issue and will start being more aggressive about finding the cause... ultrasounds, blood tests, x rays. He may have a touch of arthritis, or it may be a result of having had bad feet for so long.

Anyway, that was day one. Day two? Getting him to obey me in the round pen. That'll be entertaining for all of us, hah!

I have hope and I am so grateful and relieved.


Anonymous said...

Kizmet here! I'm going to try to keep in the habit of reading this blog since he's at DDR's place. Very interesting stuff. Good job, keep it up!

Evergrey said...

Danke! :D I hope that you enjoy it!

Remember, we're having a meetup on Friday at the Horse Expo that's coming up I think this June...

MaggieMae said...

Wow, sounds like you and Sol are getting a great education and having tons of fun.

I am jealous!