I am sure she thought I was suffering from heat stroke or stupidity, or maybe both, but it was the truth. It finally felt like Izzy was actually thinking rather than just reacting. Hallelujah!
I try really hard not to focus on the negative or frustrating parts in my life which means that I don't write much about those things that suck, at least not in detail. So when I say that Izzy has been a frustrating half-ton of green bean, what I mean is this:
- A behind-the-bit beach ball that is bouncing all over the place with a HUGE hump in his back.
- A giraffe who knows he can bolt as long as he can lock his neck.
- A Tasmanian Devil who can whip it, whip it good! (for us that grew up in roller skating rinks in the 80s). He either blows through the outside shoulder or dives in on the inside shoulder.
- A squealing, grunting, head flinging monster who can do the aforementioned galloping sideways.
And all of this is to avoid trotting forward in a large circle. I guess I should point out that there were a few days were he did all of this to avoid walking in a large circle.
That really got me thinking. So when I rode on Wednesday (the first time), I mapped out an easy to follow "trail" in the arena: the fence-line to the edge of the sprinklers, down to the edge of the hose, and then we circled back to the fence-line. We walked this "trail" tracking right four times. Then I asked him to cross from the sprinkler back to the fence-line where we did it in reverse four or five times.
In all, we spent ten minutes just walking. He tried to bolt and giraffe and do his Tasmanian Devil routine, but I acted exactly like I do out on the trail. I dropped the reins down to the buckle and let him gawk and geek out, but when he was naughty, I sucked those reins back in and said no. It really only took him a few minutes before he dropped his head and just moseyed around. Aha! Gotcha, Dude!
I started him off at a walk. I used the other half of the arena and once again picked out a "trail." When he was following my "path" to both the left and right without any tension, I asked him to pick up the trot. First, he bolted, but I pulled him around into a stop, patted his neck and pointed him back down the "trail."
When I asked for the trot again, he giraffed his neck and tried to get away from me that way. I again pulled his head around but kept asking for the trot. He tried a few more of his tricks, but I just sat there redirecting and asking. His back stayed loose, and the hump of tension that he usually gets never showed up. But then I felt a change in him. Instead of getting "humpy," he got very flat.
When I next asked for a trot, he slammed on the breaks. Ooh .. this is new, I thought. New and actually better! I simply gave my seat a little bounce bounce bounce, and when he didn't move forward, I kicked kicked kicked. When he finally lurched into a trot, I praised him enthusiastically, let him trot five or six strides, and then asked him to stop.
I actually laughed. I even told him that his "back up" was a bit pathetic. It was pretty slow and careful - perfect for a rein back, but not so good when you're trying to intimidate your rider. He eventually gave up on backing up and decided that simply waiting out the kicks to his side was preferable. I just kept kicking.
Each time he would pick up the trot, I made a big deal out of it and only trot five to ten strides. I was hoping that he wouldn't see the trot as just being loads of work. Eventually, he started thinking that he would pick the spot to trot. The first time he volunteered, I actually praised him and patted his neck. After that, I just pulled him back to a walk and ignored his voluntary efforts. This isn't the Red Cross; we don't need volunteers.
Eventually, he picked up a semi-prompt trot twice in a row which seemed like a good place to wrap it up. I again gave him lots of atta boys with neck pats. The look on his face was pretty funny. I don't know that this lesson will stick, but he definitely got a dose of "hey, someone else seems to be in charge here."
We're trailering down to Moorpark today to meet with the always awesome Chemaine Hurtado (dressage trainer extraordinaire). I am hoping she can give me some insights into his decision-making process as well as give me a road map for how I should proceed.
I'll be share to share how it all goes.