dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From the Ground Up

It's no secret that I am a fan of ground work. It has been the key to unlocking Carmen under saddle. And I definitely did not do it alone. Royce and Johanna spring to mind as being the most instrumental in teaching me how to work with her.

I now cannot imagine working with her without ground work. For me it starts when I go to get her. How she responds to my cues and body language gives me valuable information on what I need to work on.  For myself I try to keep the 3 C's in mind:

1. Clear- I need to know what I want from her and ensure that I am asking correctly. When she doesn't respond the way I want I stop to think whether it's because she's tuning me out or if I'm being fuzzy. Or on some days it's both.

2. Consistent- It starts in the barn with the ground tying. If I put her feet in a certain spot she doesn't get to shuffle around. When I lapse and do let her do that it colours the rest of the session.

3. Calm- I need to be calm and not buy into any drama no matter how tempting. I'm find the sponge vs mirror imagery working well for me.

Despite my best hopes,  the weather on the weekend sucked. It was cold with a bitter north wind adding to the weather.
at least one creature is enjoying the snow. 

Saturday I was determined to work with Carmen. It was clear from the beginning that she was wound tight. Her entire body was rigid as we walked up to the ring and the wind was blowing (not as bad as the day before but still it was a stiff wind).  I worked with her helping her to stay in control and minimize her reactivity. She spooked and scooted quite a few times and tried to bolt a few times but I was able to get her back each time. Not too long into the session I decided that I was not going to ride. There really seemed to be no point. It would have been an awful ride for both of us. Instead I focussed our session on our partnership from the ground.

She never truly relaxed. But we were able to stay in step and she was being prompt and obedient to my voice and body language. I called it a good session and we headed to the barn. I realized that her poll was very tight and stiff. Chicken or egg? Who knows. But I spent some time gently rubbing it and asking her lightly stretch. I then spent a long time grooming and fussing over her. In the end she was a sleepy puddle of a horse.

Sunday was a write off- it was snowing and cold. Sigh. But the kids came to visit and Alec brought his puppy so it was a fun day.

Monday, of course, was lovely. I left work and decided I was not doing exercise class but would ride instead. Carmen was more relaxed from the beginning. Not too bad in the barn although she needed a few reminders to not move around it was less related to tension and more to 'hey Irish still has food I should help him'.  It was breezy and she was thinking that she should be spooking at stuff. I was sure that she didnt' need to and after a bit of ground work she was fine with all of it.

I mounted and she became stiff again. Tight and looking at stuff, ready to run away. I kept my seat in the saddle (no tightening) and rode her positively forward. Or is that forward with positivity? Never mind, you get the idea. Last year I would have gotten upset and tense too.

But not this year.

 I know that Carmen can be brave and calm because I've seen it.  But that's a story that requires it's own blog post so I'll leave it for now.

In the past as she would get wound up I would try to ride 'softer' and 'gentler'. But that never worked . This time I put my leg on, put my seat firmly in the saddle (not in a half-seat) and rode her forward. I felt her immediately relax. She needs to know that I'm there. I believe that my attempts to be softer left her feeling rudderless. Now she was not always in agreement with where we were going and thought that a complete counter bend to the right when we were going left would allow her to watch those trees that obviously were not to be trusted. I could care less about the trees but I did care about the bend so I fixed that. And fixed it. And fixed it again.

And in the end I had a horse soft and listening to my aids. I found a spot and jumped off. I thought that I hadn't been riding for long but when I checked my phone it had been a lot longer then it felt. I rubbed her poll and it was soft.

I know that I am afraid of history repeating itself. But I'm going to not worry about what might be and take it one session at a time.



30 comments:

  1. I agree that ground work is so important! I think it helps us be softer and more in touch as riders as well.

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    1. I agree- it helps to see things from the ground to know what we're feeling.

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  2. Teresa, this is so well written and really strikes home with me because my girl is so, so very similar to Carmen. I love how you and Carmen are working together and reading one another. You're an inspiration to me to do better with my sensitive mare.

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    1. wow- that is high praise and makes me feel all warm inside. I'm not sure I deserve it, but thank you!

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  3. Taking it one session at a time is a great idea. It's all we can do. We simply work with the horse we have on any given day and go with the flow.

    Love Guinness!

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    1. I love Guinness too. :) I will have to keep reminding myself of the 1 session at time thing. Frequently.

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  4. What do you mean with history repeating itself?

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    1. The past two years we started well and then things went down hill. I know that it's different this year but I still worry. 'Cause that's my thing.

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  5. The way that pup is so irresistible, I can't imagine how you are able to tear yourself away from him for one second!!

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    1. He's not always adorable. Like when he steals my clothes. Well that is sort of adorable.

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  6. The ground work has been instrumental for Charlie too. He's got a different set of issues from Carmen but the solution is the same. Glad she's doing well so far this season, now if only the weather would cooperate for you!!

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    1. Yes- I used to think that the solution was in the saddle. Now I know better and wish I had known it sooner!

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  7. You're going to be having good times come summer I'm sure. Not just with Guiness either lol

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  8. You have such a wide variety of techniques to approach her with now, and everyday is so different, you need them. It really does start on the ground. We often have our agendas, but if we're willing to accept each day for what it is, and not prescript it, there's so much more happiness and harmony. I will say, this isn't always easy, from my experience. I know people who have more of a "get 'er done" attitude and think this way is for the less adventurous person. I sometimes have felt subtly criticized, but as I get older and wiser I care less and less. I'm in for the long haul and I only want positive experiences for my horses and me. It is a subtle and individual dance. No two are alike.

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    1. That is really excellent advice. Thank you

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  9. At least the snow makes for pretty pictures?

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    1. Yes- but that only lasts for so long. It's like the flowers in the California dessert because of the rain....

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  10. Two things. First, Guinness has a lovely uphill canter. Second, I think that the whole riding forward when our horse is tense is difficult for us amateur riders, alone on our property without a trainer for confidence (I'm always braver in a lesson). The other day when Lucy was tense and started to buck, I sent her forward. She was on the lunge so it was easy for me to be firm and brave. And it worked, really well. I made a note to myself. I think that they appreciate direction rather than "its okay, relax" babying -- which is what I tend to do.

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    1. You hit the nail right on the head! And yes, Guinness has a lovely canter. His trot is a bit floppy though ;-)

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  11. Nicely done! And well explained. I've also been schooling with the idea of riding forward and supporting rather than trying to be as light as possible. I think it's important with the youngins that they don't feel out of control. It seems that's when they lose confidence and spiral into a not great lesson/ride. And we all know that good experiences are the best way to overcome inevitable bad experiences. :)

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    1. Yes the good experiences are necessary to keep us on the path when it's all dark and scary.

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  12. Sounds like you are on the right track with her.

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  13. I love your 3 Cs! Stealing those for myself ;) I need the calm C the most haha

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  14. This is awesome - she is starting to REACH for your contact (not sure if that's the right way to say it, but that's how I understand it), how wonderful! Your partnership has really solidified in a tangible way.

    Plus, what a sweet running puppy pic!

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    1. Yes that is exactly the right way to say it. And you are right.

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  15. ground work can work wonders and I am a fan of it myself! I am keeping these in mind!

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    1. It has become essential to all of my work.

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