Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back to Basics

My goodness, I have been a blog slacker! Of course, this time of year is hectic and jam-packed with shopping, parties, cooking, family get-togethers, etc. That's a good excuse, right?

Well, in the World of Salem, things are going well. We've had some great days, a few Crazy Cracked-Out Pony days, and plenty of days in between. Last week, we had one particularly exciting day when Salem decided that he was ready for some Lippizaner-esque airs above ground. His *buck*leap*buck*leap*twist*buck* combo almost had me eating dirt, but I managed to stick it out somehow. My philosophy about bad behavior is to just ride through it. Yes, I might have to ride through spooks, bucks, and general brattiness for 45 minutes -- but, it's worth it if I can get a nice soft, relaxed 10 minutes at the end of the ride. Salem can be so good sometimes that I forget he's a greenie; so, when he is a bit naughty, I just remind myself that, all things considered, he really is a very well-behaved boy.

Thankfully, the Crazy Cracked-Out Pony days are far outnumbered by the mediocre and amazing days. Last week, I actually made a little fake ditch out of my trusty blue tarp and two ground poles (something I've thought about doing for a while, but was further inspired by the Solo blog). Salem trotted right up to that fake ditch and leaped over it like he had been doing it his whole life. Hhhhmm, I think we have an eventing prospect here!

On Tuesday, Heather got on Salem for the first time in quite a while. She said that he feels much straighter (he doesn't do "The Snake" anymore -- yay!) and that he feels like he's filled out and put on some muscle. However, she found one of the gaps in our training (of course!). For a while, I had spent a lot of time working on installing Salem's breaks. He was doing very well, so we moved on and started working on stuff like serpentines, trot poles, even cantering over the occasional flower box. At the beginning of the ride, if I asked Salem to halt, he would resist me and start pulling and putting his nose in the air. After getting a rather ugly halt, I would just move on, do a nice long ride, and then come back to the halt at the end of the ride. By that time, Salem would be softer and more relaxed, so our halts would be crisp. But, of course, he should halt quickly and without resistance any time he is asked to do so. Heather worked with him a bunch on Tuesday and I could tell that he was really starting to understand. She told me that, when he starts pulling, I need to soften instead of getting into a pulling war with him.

Unfortunately, I couldn't ride for the next three days because of the incessant rain (what is up with this nutty weather?!). So, today was the first time I got on him since Tuesday. I decided that we needed to spend a lot of time getting back to the basics. So, for over an hour, we worked on walk/halt. Yup, that's it. Salem is a smart horse and a very fast learner, but we had to work on unlearning our new bad habit. So, I just relaxed, took up a "we have all the time in the world attitude," and got to work.

At first, Salem was fairly resistant. I would ask him to halt, he would put his nose up, open his mouth, and start pulling me. I kept thinking about softening and doing a give-and-take with the reins so we wouldn't get into a tug-of-war. Let me tell ya, some of our halts were pretty ugly! But we kept at it, and eventually I could get four or five lovely halts before we had a resistant, walk-for-eight-steps-with-nose-in-the-air, not-so-nice halt. I noticed that we got our good halts in certain areas of the field, and the bad ones in other areas. Well, we just kept walking, circling, doing serpentines, stepping over ground poles, and halting all over the place.

Eventually, I figured out that tucking my tailbone and sort of tilting my pelvis helped tremendously. And, after an hour, I had Salem walking around on a loose rein and halting perfectly just by pushing my seat down, squeezing my fingers closed, and saying, "Whoa." It's a small victory, but I'm still absolutely thrilled. All the work that we are doing now is setting him up for the rest of his life, so I take it very seriously. We'll just keep taking baby steps. And, yes, sometimes we'll have to take a few steps backwards in order to move forward -- but we'll just keep at it and continue forging ahead.


eventer79 said...

Woohoo for lack of ditchiness! And sounds like the halt training was a success. It is definitely easy to forget those little things, but they are crucial. We have spent many a ride on "yes, you will pick up a trot without snatching the bit, I don't care if it takes 40 minutes of walking ourselves dizzy and 1200 tries."

Frizzle said...

Hahaha, he loves that ditch. And after the rain, it was turned into a mini liverpool (for way less than those $300 ones in Dover)!
I am learning that I need to take things slowly and not expect too much, too soon. If we have an issue, I need to just relax and focus on that.