25 Sep Back in the saddle – 25/09/19
I don’t have a way with words. I can’t write you something about the ethics of science and modern horse training and make you feel like you are at the precipice of change. I won’t make you feel like a warm summers breeze or a bring your attention to the way your breath fills the air. I won’t be able to use my words to tell you how to connect with your horse through a perfect union of quantum science and spirituality.
I am the mundane, everyday person. I would like to think I am on a journey of discovery and improving my knowledge and skills. However when it gets right down to the moment I go out to get my horse and do something with it I can only tell you what happens through the lense of my own experience.
My own lense changes. A lot. Does yours?
Today. Today I decided I would take Joey around to use my friends arena where the surface is better.
My decision based partly on the welfare for my horse and how the sand would improve concussion on his joints rather than a grass paddock. I also partly based my decision on my own mortality and the possibility of slipping over on a grass arena. The grass arena also does not align with the vision in my head while riding dressage.
So I asked Joey to load into the small metal trailer on wheels and we travelled around the corner.
I unloaded him there are we take in our new environment.
Joey is on alert. Horses have moved to new paddocks at this property. There are very small ponies in a paddock nearby where we were standing. This was apparently cause for some alarm. He pawed the ground a few times while I saddled up.
I pondered whether I would actually ride at all. Maybe I will just do some groundwork and see where he is at and see if we can find some relaxation through some groundwork. Maybe I won’t ride. I have no agenda. We are here for the outing.
Though I rode 3 days ago and he was fabulous. I make no assumptions. We head down to the arena.
Two geldings are playing alongside the arena. Rearing and biting each other playfully and parading around. I observe Joeys behaviour. Nothing. Joey is completely normal. He is switched on and totally focused on me and ignoring the other horses.
I proceed to ask Joey for a few known behaviours that have a strong history of reinforcement.
Walk, trot and canter. Joey is flawless with everything I ask. I click and reward a lot. Unsure if my intention is to build Joey’s confidence in this environment or to build my own confidence.
Joey responds to every cue with perfection. He maintains a rhythm, he bends perfectly on the circle. He stretches over the back and has round swinging strides. Hmmm it all looks perfect yet I am suspicious. This horse has had 4 rides back after nearly 3 months off. It is spring and although I have him on a careful diet I am aware that he is slightly rounder than usual. Perhaps I am deluding myself to Joeys training. It all seems perfect though so I decide I will get on. We go through our mounting rituals.
Again Joey is there every step of the way with me. Ignoring all distractions and totally enquiring as to what behaviour will be required to earn his next reinforcer. He is relaxed though. His eye observes me and I feel a surge of dopamine. I rub his neck. I’m in the saddle and now we both have a strong history of reinforcement on our sides.
We walk and bend to a stop. Joey has done 3 million repetitions of this in every environment. Again perfection. I still click and reward because…hello, perfection!
The colts play and race along side the arena. Even though there is a lane way between the arena and their paddock. I look at Joey’s reaction, nothing. He is awaiting me to give him a cue to tell him how he might earn his next reinforcer. Hmm. Ok. So I proceed this way. After a few repetitions and checking everything out, soon we are trotting. Again, perfection. He has rhythm, he is supple. The contact is light and even . His impulsion is beautiful. The engine is there and yet he is waiting. I notice he is slightly crooked and make some small adjustments asking his inside hind to step under a little further and also straightening the outside shoulder and neck alignment. Joey responds beautifully. I make some slight half halts to improve his balance…. And there it is. We are trotting around feeling magical while he ignores all distractions. I click and reward him generously. I’m still kind of incredulous that our reinforcement history is so strong as to proceed to this point so quickly.
At any moment I’m ready to drop my criteria down and go back to working on safety, getting rhythm, suppleness or relaxation. Nope its all there.
What did I do to deserve this horse? I feel blessed. Suddenly I have time to observe my own less than perfect posture. I breathe deep and sit on my pockets. My legs lengthen. I stretch up through my chest. I carry my arms and hands more correctly. Joey responds to the improvements in my posture and feels like he moves with much more ease and grace. I click and reward him.
We continue through our ride in walk trot and canter. Transitions. We do some lateral work. I click and reward a lot, even though this stuff is all feeling very established.
Walk to canter is there. Though he hollows slightly through the transition. His ears come back slightly in the transition. He tenses a little. Ok I found something I can work on in future sessions.
Still all in all I am simply in awe of the moment. The horse and our reinforcement history together.
It was enjoyable, I felt like even Joey enjoyed the whole event. Except for the walk to canter transition where he felt a little unsure. With everything else Joey felt very confident with how to earn the click and rewards. Even the counter canter was solid and I had tried some harder lines just to see where it was up to. Joey rose to every cue and tried his hardest knowing that he would earn a click and a small handful of pellets for each of his efforts. He said this deal is worthwhile. He signed up as a keen participant in the process.
I felt like I had a fun time feeling that Joey was enjoying it so much. We both got some exercise and I gave him a good groom afterwards. Joey enjoyed that too.
Then we returned home and I put his rugs on. Gave him his evening small feed and thanked him for such a nice afternoon.
I guess this is what it is all about. I am grateful that Joey is in my life.
If you read all the way to here I am amazed. Thanks for your time. 🙂