AND. I'm taking it as an opportunity to write about Charlie's second lesson with my go-to local horsemanship pro, Jim McDonald. But for those of you bored to tears by the subject, this post also features pictures of a gorgeously lit winter sky at dusk (evidence that the days are lengthening, slowly but surely!), one extremely handsome bay ottb, and his new goodies ;)
|lookie how pretty the light is on those trees!!!! and. also. i <3 this handsome horse|
Ground work was never my thing. Even with Isabel, who arguably would have benefited from it immensely. I just never felt like I needed it with her, like we could get along just fine without it. And, spoiler, we totally did.
|jim brought us a new rope halter too!! we had been borrowing one of jim's spares, but this one is all ours|
Charlie is a large and unknown entity. It is of critical importance that I am comfortable and confident in every aspect of our work together. The ground work has proved perfect for getting to know each other, build trust, and learn how Charlie processes new information, reacts to pressure (and to being corrected), and refine my timing and communication with him.
Plus, while our progress under saddle is excruciatingly slow-going as he physically adapts to a new lifestyle, the ground work progress has been lightning fast comparatively. So in that regard, it's really reassuring to see that, from one day to the next, Charlie IS learning and developing, even if the whole picture isn't drastically changed.
|i'm totally diggin the blue specks too. and just ignore the muddy face. charlie has been rolling daily ever since i described him as 'not a very dirty horse.' go figure.|
Charlie and I spent the fall and beginning of winter working on those holes, while Jim recovered from an unfortunate injury. Then one frosty frigid day a couple weeks ago, Jim came back out (being fully mobile again, yay!) to check in on our progress and give more clarity in how to continue advancing.
Jim said my timing has improved, particularly when releasing pressure - arguably a very important part (tho after my recent post about pressure, where I admitted to being a bit of a softy, this somehow doesn't surprise me lol). So now the focus needs to shift to my position. Much like riding, getting the correct response from the horse starts with positioning myself correctly.
|"does this bra detract from my macho manliness??" - charlie, probably|
Jim says the farther we are from the driving line when asking the horse for something, the more effective we can be. Interestingly enough, when we ride we are both in front of and behind the driving line (hands and legs, respectively). Food for thought!
Just that alone was super helpful for me, since I've often felt like the hardest part of ground work was figuring out what to do with my own self to get what I wanted from the horse. Hand waving and rope shaking alone just don't seem to cut it haha (go figure).
|"never mind, i don't even wanna know your answer"|
The repetition with body parts relates to moving from one side of the horse's body to the other (ie, left hip, right hip), which is interesting to me bc I had been doing everything on one side first then moving to the other side. This approach instead calls for switching back and forth from sides as you move through the exercises.
Hip (turn on forehand):
- Stand at the horse's hip, facing the hip, with rope in hand
- Put light fingertip pressure on the hip, increasing pressure gradually
- Use voice cue (rhythmic kiss noises)
- Apply pressure on rope
- Immediately upon achieving a step wherein the hind closest to you steps underneath the horse, crossing over in front of the other hind leg, remove all pressure, face forward and pet the horse.
Always begin with the absolute least amount of pressure (ie, fingertip) then steadily increase from fingertip pressure, to heavier hand pressure, to voice, to adding rope pressure, all in rhythm, until the step is achieved.
Use the same progression each time, starting at the absolute minimum, and eventually the heavier cues will fall away until you can get the outcome with the least amount of pressure.
Start with just one step, and always be clear on how many steps you want before you begin asking. Don't change mid-course! Should be able to gradually increase number of steps until the horse can achieve a full 360* circle with its hind legs around forelegs.
Shoulder (turn on haunches):
- Stand up near horse's head facing diagonally backwards toward horse's far-side hind end
- Lightly place one hand under halter, palm facing up, other hand on shoulder. Apply light pressure to ask the horse to move away.
- Step forward in toward horse (toward diagonal far-side hind)
- Use voice cue
- Continue until the horse steps a front leg away (how it moves is less important than the direction it moves - so long as it isn't forward or backward).
Should be able to gradually increase number of steps until the horse can achieve a full 360* circle with its forelegs around hind legs.
TOH is harder for the horse bc it requires that they shift more weight onto their hind end. It may be a while before Charlie can achieve true crossover with front legs, and that's ok. For now we are only concerned with direction of the movement. Correctness of movement will come with time and strength.
|alas i think this sleezy slinky thing might be a titch too small... maybe it'll stretch? but charlie gets the nastiest of rubs on his shoulders so hopefully this will help!|
- Lightly place hand on horse's mid-face between eyes and nostrils, with finger tips extending to both sides of the face.
- Place other hand on shoulder
- Use voice cue
- Continue until horse takes step back. (quality of step is not important to start - eventually we would like diagonal pairs stepping back in sync).
Charlie backs great with this cue. When I last wrote that he was terrible at backing up, my cues were either: light tapping with dressage whip on his front cannons, or using hand gestures in front of him to 'push' (without touching) him back. Neither worked very well (and not bc ottbs for some reason can't back up... that's just patently untrue). But for some reason thought I wasn't supposed to pull on the halter or push on the shoulder.
This new cue (hand on face, secondary on shoulder if necessary) works like a charm tho. And just goes to show that, at least for me, learning the positioning and specific ways to ask makes all the difference in getting the right response from Charlie. Go figure lol.
- Um. Lead the horse forward. This is typically pretty straight forward haha (puns!).
|he really is the sweetest tho <3|
Again, the idea is to gradually (over time, not usually in one session) get to a point where you can achieve all of these movements with the most minimal body cues and zero contact.
Jim reminded me that the horse remembers whatever it was they were doing when you released pressure. Only release when the right activity is achieved, but release immediately and clearly. If the horse continues doing activity after your release, the release wasn't clear enough (for instance, if the horse continues to swing his hind end away after I stopped asking).
He also described how these exercises will progress into new movements:
- Forward backward forward backward (he recommended this for my work with backing)
- TOF into sending away (as if to lunge)
- Sending away laterally, bringing forward laterally
- Which eventually turns into a cue for having the horse move his hind end toward the mounting block (which Jim has videos of and it's totally awesome... but I can't find the videos, womp womp).
So. It was a good lesson. My inner scientist seriously appreciates the systematic nature of how this training progresses. It makes sense to me. And now I feel much better equipped with understanding where and how to position myself. And how my position directly influences how easily Charlie can understand me.
What do you think? Think you'll give any of these cues or moves a try? Or maybe they're already standards in your tool box? Or maybe you do the same movements, but you ask for them differently?
I'm super curious and interested in all the different ways we can get the same types of outcomes from our horses - and especially in figuring out how to be as clear as possible in how I cue Charlie for anything!