About 6 weeks ago, I started working with two very smart and handsome boys named Ted & Tommy and their owners Jo & John. During our first meeting and assessment session, Jo & John talked me through their concerns and hopes for their horses. I was briefed that Ted would not stand still at the mounting block and Tommy had become ‘difficult to handle and ride’ according to yard staff. So Jo & John were quite anxious to get some help and support, with some tangible improvements. And having tried various other approaches before, they felt that a more natural, empathetic & mindful approach to horsemanship would suit them and their horses better.
We decided to address Ted’s dislike for standing still at the mounting block first: as mounting from the ground was not always practical or possible for his owners, this had to be remedied pretty swiftly. I also have to mention that I’ve not often come across a more ‘laid-back’ chap than Ted…fast was simply not a speed he’d ever moved in 🙂
Getting Ted off the yard and into the arena on a lead rope was a challenge in itself, but we got there in the end, although with lots of stops & starts. I was told that this was a daily occurrence and walks to and from the field were quite literally ‘a drag’. I started with some basic straightness training exercises (LFS), backing up etc. I then placed the mounting block parallel to one of the arena fences, leaving a large enough gap for Ted to walk through/stop in and then walked Ted up to the mounting block. He was hesitant to walk, hesitant to…well, just do anything.
I gave him a tab with the schooling whip on his belly to encourage contraction of his core muscles and then a tab on his inside hind leg/quarters, asking him to move forward. He had firmly planted all four of his feet and it took all my energy and body language to move and manoeuvre him around. Eventually he reluctantly moved a few steps and then…stopped again. So I repeated this sequence several times until we got into a flow and I then re-approached the mounting block. Once we stopped next to it, I asked Ted to lower his head and remain still while I moved towards the first step on the block. Ted immediately started backing up, away from the block. I asked him to step forward; stand still, rewarded him once still and then proceeded as previously. And Ted backed up again. This continued several times, until eventually Ted got the message that I wasn’t going to stop moving him until he decided to stand quietly. After about 15 minutes I managed to stand on the top step without Ted having moved a muscle. RESULT! I repeated getting on and off the block a number of times with varying degrees of success of Ted standing still, but would only reward him with a treat and with…just being…once he stood still. He began to understand…and that’s when we ‘called it a day’.
The following sessions were a repetition of the above, just reinforcing what we’ve learned and practiced each week, and eventually he was standing still more often than not and for longer periods of time. By session 4 I even managed to mount & dismount without Ted moving away from the block…Jo & John were so pleased as this was a FIRST- EVER! We will continue this positive journey until Ted has learned to fully relax at the mounting block…so watch this space.
I also managed to find Ted’s ‘ON’ button for moving in more than one speed, including trot 🙂 During some in-hand work, I really had to dig deep and increase my energy field to inspire him and draw his attention to my body language. And with the help from a little flick of the lead rope behind me towards his tummy, we were off… I sped my walk up, slowed it down, stopped, backed up, then moved off in fast walk again, and Ted mirrored my moves and energy every step. I started to trot on the spot and Ted joined me…it was amazing. I could almost see/sense the ‘light bulb’ that had switched on in Ted’s brain that moment – the change in his mental attitude was visible and tangible. We’ve not looked back since…
Now Tommy was a different matter altogether…being so super sensitive, I managed to push him a little too far out of his comfort zone and straight into his ‘stress zone’ in our first session. But this just goes to show that we are all learning…all the time. And I am no exception 🙂 Introducing Tommy too to the beginnings of straightness training, we practiced LFS in stand-still and a few steps on a small circle in walk. As Tommy fell in over his shoulder on the circle, I pushed his inside shoulder out, using my finger, on the left rein, when he suddenly squealed and reared up in protest. I remained calm and when Tommy had settled, I quietly asked him to lower his head, and then sent him away again on a larger circle on the lunge. Tommy walked, trotted & cantered merely by directing my energy and body language. He was so focussed on me and picked up every little nuance of energy; he worked out what I wanted him to do even before I asked. What a smart horse! Although a little tense at first, Tommy really settled into our in-hand work, learning to relax and stretch, at which point I concluded our first session with a big neck rub and a treat.
The following weekly sessions were a continuation from our first session, with an added 20 minutes of ridden work each time. Following on from the in-hand work, the aim of the ridden work is to teach Tommy to stretch down & forward, encourage lateral bending and the stepping forward & under of the retrospective inside hind leg towards his point of mass (LFS). With Tommy being such a quick learner, we were able to practice LFS in walk on circles and had a first go along the side of the arena a couple of weeks ago. He really tried his heart out and I could not have asked for more. And as for Tommy ‘being difficult’? I think not…only misunderstood!
It is such a pleasure to work with these two horses, and with their personalities being at the opposite ends of the spectrum, they keep me mentally, emotionally, spiritually & physically on my toes…literally 🙂
I hope you’ll have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed doing my job and writing this blog. I will keep you updated on how their journey continues…
Have a blessed weekend,