shut it down

Almost a year ago in a lesson with Yves, I got a little talking-to about how I needed to put a lid on Murray’s celebratory naughty behavior when we are jumping.  I was playing around in the lesson and it was all fun and games, but Yves told me seriously and in that horrible way that makes you know you’re really, really not doing the right thing, that I did not want Murray thinking that this was okay.  Not now, and especially not as we moved up the levels.

And of course my response was oh it’s fine / it’s no big deal / it’s not that bad / it’s all in good fun / I like him like this / it’s cute / I’m an idiot.

Now I’ve finally realized while it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s not that bad, and it may be all in good fun (MAYBE), I do not like him like this, it’s not cute, and I’m totally, totally an idiot.

I got on tonight for a flat ride in my jump saddle to prep for Hawley.  Murray decided that every single noise another horse made in the arena was a fantastic excuse to drop his hind end and fling his face in the air and run forward, which was super awesome.  The best part was that Murray’s screaming and spooking would set off a chain reaction with the other horses, so they’d all spook at one another and make more noise and spook at the noise and make more noise etc.

After we jigged our way into the trot and had several ridiculous mishaps and near misses with the other horses I set some clear boundaries.  Bucking, kicking out, and screaming were not going to get Murray out of work, and the best way to convince my lazy, recalcitrant horse that antics = more work is to kick him forward.  So kick him forward I did.

Our warm up, which I usually try to keep stretchy and relaxed, became a monster 20 minute session of moving forward forward forward, direction changes, canter transitions, and transitions within gaits.  I was willing to soften whenever Murray complied with a reasonable request for some kind of change without fighting me on it first, but he wasn’t really willing to offer up reasonable responses at first.

The best part was when I tried to push Murray forward into the bridle and a slightly bigger trot and I felt my upper body pitching forward in anticipation… of nothing.  I tried again for a bigger trot and again: nothing.  Little kick?  Nothing — maybe a reluctant duck behind the bit.  I pony-school kicked Murray and got a cranky canter transition.

You know what you can’t do if your horse responds to your leg by doing nothing?  JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.  You can’t push him into the bridle, you can’t ask him to carry himself, you can’t transition within gaits, you can barely transition between gaits.

Image result for shutting it down gif

So  it was back to the drawing board.  The entire ride became a discussion of “leg means go, and it means go now”.  I used a strategy Tina taught me and if Murray chose to move up to a canter when I asked for more trot I made sure he moved up into a BIGGER CANTER, so he didn’t just use a shitty tiny canter as an excuse not to push in the trot.  Then when I asked for more trot (a little more quietly), I could reward for the right choice — more trot — fairly easily.

I tried, tried, not to get too out of hand with kicking Murray forward.  I only put my crop on him once, and it was a love tap to control a wildly swinging haunch (and I was rewarded with a kick out anyway) when we were walking.  I guess I could have wailed on him for antics at some point, but realistically I didn’t want to get into that fight while riding in jeans and not at my strongest.  But I’m going to pretend that it was also a strategic decision to avoid fighting, because picking a fight isn’t really productive either.

This obviously isn’t going to be solved in a day or even before this weekend.  I do hope  I have some kind of go-button before the weekend.  I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the winter, and I’ll have to be very diligent and stay on top of it.  Of course, I probably won’t, and come April we’ll  be having some kind of similar discussion once more.

Episode 2: Electric Horsealoo #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

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8 thoughts on “shut it down

  1. so i’ve been struggling with some similar stuff with my guy lately. ya know. leg = go. it’s a thing, apparently. anyway. i’ve been torn about how to deal appropriately with the instances where he bumps up into canter when i’m only asking for more trot. he’s giving me forward, and forward can never be punished and all that… yada yada yada… but it’s still not what i wanted. how to handle? and it NEVER occurred to me to take a moment and really make that canter count. sure, i’ve let him have a couple strides before returning to trot… but it was those ‘shitty little canter as evasion of trot’ strides vs anything notably valuable. this is EXCELLENT food for thought for me – thanks!

    also tho. just in general, i relate to this post. keep fightin the good fight tho!

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    • FOR REAL. This has been my number one struggle for three years, and you’d think I’d have solved it by now but CLEARLY NOT. (A big part of the problem for me has been that kicking Murray forward usually = head in the air inversion, which in my uneducated mind did not translate well to head down dressage and I couldn’t figure out how to link the two, so I just left him behind my leg. But I digress.) I definitely would never have come to the CANTER MOAR THEN solution without Tina’s input, and she knows Murray and I quite well after three years of watching us struggle, so I assume it was somewhat tailor-made to his current level of training (since we’ve always had a similar problem and I’d not yet heard that solution). But who knows. Every day I just keep learning how much I DON’T KNOW about training.

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  2. Don’t you love it when the warm up becomes the whole ride? We’re still working on very very very basic stuff so I’m not there yet with Mae but I can just see the day…

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  3. I need to keep working on making Miles go MORE FORWARD when he balks and doesn’t want to go. Of course for me, it’s all a mental block and I worry about what he’ll do (and that I’ll fall off), if he’s WORSE.

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