Sunday, May 5, 2013

In which we discuss the education of horses: who teaches whom?

 Today's ride was more about learning than about mileage and conditioning.

Blue skies, good friends, and great horses.  

Duana and Hana have been learning all kinds of skills.
Hana waits patiently, but is no help if Du needs extra TP

The main skill, of course, is getting the rider to understand how to present a situation to the horse so that the horse will respond properly.  It sounds so easy.

Training while trail riding:  Patty and Du discuss
the mechanics and uses of the half-halt

Duana has three excellent mentors:  Patty, of course, has trained a lot of horses, and she's also helped a lot of riders.
Today Flower ate and drank along the trail...and offered to roll in the puddle, too!
Uh, thanks.  But no.

Du has been taking a lot of lessons with Dory, and that's helping a bunch.  Duana's skills in the saddle have increased hugely--and so has her confidence.
Six months ago, Du would've been much too nervous to mess around
with her phone while holding onto Hana's lead.
Now, it's no big deal.
Hana herself is the final member of the mentoring team. Hana has plenty of experience doing the more complicated stuff that Du wants to do...but she doesn't just give stuff away.  You have to know how to present situations to Hana, or she'll just shake her mane and pretend she didn't hear you.

Du is learning...a lot!  It's wonderful to watch her and Hana together.

The Usual Suspects on the trail.

People aren't the only "learners" in the group, of course.  We all constantly work to improve things with our horses.

Flower has gained all kinds of skills since Patty bought her.
Posing for the camera:  it's a skill!
Today she faced a large log over the trail. Flower has never seen a log over the trail before, but Patty walked her up to it, let her look at it, and then told her to move forward and over it...and over the log went Flower, like a not-very-green-horse-at-all!

Of course, I will never be finished with Fiddle's training.  She's physically so talented,  but was emotionally stunted by hormonal malfunctions most of her life thus far.  Now that the hormones are out of the picture, however...
Ariana on the left, Fiddle on the right
They can trot side-by-side now, without fear of Dragon-fire

...she is able to be much more "socially appropriate" with other horses as well as with people.

Sirie and Ariana.  There's a reason we used Ariana for so many
Endurance 101 photos--it's impossible to take an ugly picture of her!
Today, for the first time, Fiddle and I played the "Pass-me/Pass-you" game with Sirie and Ariana.

This is the exercise where horse/rider teams ride in pairs, and then one horse moves ahead for a few yards then slows down to allow the other horse to pass by and lead for a few yards before slowing down to be passed.

When doing this exercise with a horse like Fiddle--a confirmed kicker who is the equine equivalent of a fear-biter--I must be extremely diligent and not shy about yanking her off into the bushes if she gives me any hint of fear/aggression.

With the combination of a LOT of practice (it's been six years!) and her new hormone comfort level, Fee was able to stay relaxed through the game for several miles, alongside a horse she doesn't usually hang with closely.

I don't know if I can begin to describe how gratifying that is for me.

  Fiddle's standard reward for good behavior:  "Foooooooood!"
I knew that the spay surgery would help her physically, and I hoped it would help her mentally, but I wasn't prepared for the amount of emotional relief I see in this mare now.  She's still pretty intense, compared to most Standardbreds...but compared to herself at this time last year, she is positively Zen.

Would she have gotten to this point without the surgery?   Probably not.

Would she have gotten to this point without a continual training program aimed at getting her here?

Definitely not.

Did I have to push my own learning curve almost every day to try to figure this out--helped every step of the way by the Usual Suspects?


Was it worth the time, the expense, the worry, the effort?

Hell, yeah.

Somebody give me an "Amen!"  Because I think the Dragon has earned one.