My computer caught a virus and I had to bring it to the computer vet to get it healed. I’m just now getting back on schedule with the blog. In the meantime, I rode Johnny many times but lost track of how many times. The days of riding kind of blend together if I don’t keep daily record. Counting the days from the last documented ride and subtracting the days I missed riding altogether, I think we are pushing about thirty days.
On Wednesday Johnny was really responding nicely to my cues, as if he was receiving training very quickly. On Thursday it seemed like he had forgotten everything. It is tempting to be frustrated with these apparent setbacks but I have experienced colt training long enough to know that learning for horses or people is by all appearances not a steady day by day progression. Improvement is apparent month to month, especially at the beginning levels of training. Day to day, sometimes it is hard to tell if he has learned anything. During the exposure part of training (generally the first two weeks or so) the changes are the most dramatic. However, after the introduction time training, one day seems to be much the same as the next day.
The following is a general run down of what goes on day to day on at Johnny’s level of training.
My goal for Johnny is that he becomes fully introduced to humans and human paraphernalia. Though he is a fairly bold, level headed colt, he still shows stress in certain situations by not performing as well as he does when he is relaxed. The gate and the pin wheel are evidence of this. These exercises and others allow him to become used to mildly stressful situations while performing a specific maneuver. Though I am probably past the dangerous, explosive stage, stressful exposure issues will continue to crop up for some time, but gradually diminish.
While Johnny and I deal with exposure issues, Johnny’s parts (his hips, shoulders, his face etc.) must be supple and compliant to my touch. If I have to pull or push Johnny around, the horse is not trained; he is only man handled, intimidated or forced. At this early point in Johnny’s training I am not asking him for collection or any difficult or advanced movements, beyond the most basic rudimentary movements. I only want him to be flexible at the pole and responsive to my legs when I ask with a light tug on the rein or a touch from my heels. Establishing sensitivity can be summed up in a short command, “Move away from pressure.” Trouble is we cannot explain it or train it once and then expect the horse to figure out the “move away from pressure” principle and apply it for the rest of his life to all his parts. We have to train every part individually, make it a habit and then keep every part tuned.
So here are a couple of examples of softening exercises. As we are riding and at halt around the pen or on the trail, I touch Johnny behind the girth with my heel or spur and hold until he moves his hip away from the pressure. As a reward I release the pressure as soon as he moves. I touch Johnny on the girth with my heel or spur and hold until he moves his shoulders. Again I release immediately when he moves correctly. I touch and hold his nose or face with continuous light pressure with the reins. As soon as he drops his nose, I release. Johnny’s (and any horse’s) natural reaction to this pressure is to push back or get rigid as a response to the pressure at the point where the pressure is applied. I outlast him, keeping continuous light pressure until he drops his nose or moves his sides or hips. It takes some patience and some time, but Johnny is beginning to drop his nose lightly and move his sides or hips immediately every time I give the cue. I want it to becomes a habit.
As a side note there is no pain or intimidation in any of this. Pain would cause stress which would be counterproductive to our goals. This all needs to be playful and fun.