Both Kiwi and Dawn Treader were difficult today! It was the opener of black fly season today (judging by the turn out), which added another level of anxiety for all of us. We were being harassed while we trained. None of us are ever prepared for bug season. During the ride I briefly dismounted Dawn Treader but when I attempted to get back on, she reared and threw her head back, bashing me in the head. She then put her head down to buck her protests. I managed to stay on and pull her back to her senses; however it took me a little longer to regain my senses. She showed her anxiety by throwing her head up and down but gradually settled down. She would not back up today, but once she relaxed, she carried herself correctly, her back legs reaching underneath and her head vertical to the ground in a typical dressage horse stance as she trotted and walked. She did this with very little and intermittent contact.
We spent more time in the training pen than usual. We cantered in circles for a good long time, which helped her to settle down. She does lead changes smoothly, without apprehension and intuitively, feeling the change of direction without my physical cueing. We practiced half passes, which she really did quite well. We practiced turning on her haunches for the first time. Again this she did very well. I was surprised.
One of the exercises I used for practicing turning on the haunches works like this. I walk or trot straight 25 and 30 yards and completely stop. From the stop I ask for a spin more than 180°. For a left turn I pull lightly with my left arm out so she can see my hand. With my right hand close to her neck I keep light contact to keep her head from turning toward my left hand. I push on the girth with my right foot, while holding my left foot in contact behind the girth. I’m not using spurs. Then we walk 25 or 30 yards and turn the opposite direction using the same cues only opposite left or right hand and legs. If you could see my path from a bird’s eye view it would look like a series of connected together W’s. Dawn Treader did it perfect several times. When I asked, she spun on her inside hind foot, which remained stationary.
Kiwi and I started our training by cantering down the road a half mile. She wanted to buck a couple of times. I have found that cantering is an invitation to buck on a green or sometimes fresh horse so I’m always prepared for the possibility of bucking at the initiation of the canter. I pulled her out of it pretty quickly-to a choppy, awkward canter. Finally she evened out nicely. We did not canter in the pen.
In the pen I attempted the W turns, but Kiwi could not turn as neatly as Dawn Treader. She has not learned to pay attention to my legs as specifically as Dawn Treader. However she half passes very well, indicating that she is starting to pay attention to my legs. She generally acts calmer and better behaved than Dawn Treader but she is not as responsive because she doesn’t have as much experience with my cues. She will soon learn that my legs, my hands, my voice, the distribution of weight, my hips and more communicate specific action. On a green horse, I gently exaggerate the movements but my cues gradually become subtle as the horse begins to respond automatically from repetition, the same cue indicating the same movement.
The flies are an unwelcome distraction. I will try to do what I can to make it easier and more comfortable for the horses. Nevertheless, there are always distractions. The trainee needs to learn to overlook the distractions and pay attention to me, the trainer.