If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training. This is an old military saying that echoes in my ears when it rains from my time on active duty (Army). It was very applicable to this week’s training. It seemed every time I tacked up Phil and started some warm up ground work the sky would just open up. Phil and I schooled in the down pours on several occasions. Holding up to my end of the bargain Phil and I used this opportunity to review basic lessons and try new ones such as w-t-c through puddles. It only took a reinforcing leg to encourage Phil to navigate through the puddle. If I wasn’t on top of my game he side passed or jumped the puddle.
Now, playing devil’s advocate, I could have easily untacked Phil when it started to rain and put him up. However, I would have taught Phil that when it rains he is going in his stall. As you can see I would create a huge training issue in the future. If riding in the pouring rain isn’t your cup of tea and you’ve made the trip to the barn already, then I would suggest tacking up (to give sense of work) and work on previous lessons that can be done safely in the barn aisle (head down cue, haltering, backing, leading etc.). This would also be a great opportunity to teach a trick such as bowing or shaking. Use your imagination and be creative.
Gymkhana Under the Stars. We showed at night under the lights. This was a new experience for Phil. He handled the new situation like a professional. We did show in pole bending, cloverleaf barrels, key hole, and arena race at walk-trot. Phil and I also tried our skills with the egg and spoon race. Phil brought home a few ribbons, but his future career is not that of a gaming horse; he is too slow.
Lessons for Phil at gymkhana. Phil had to bend and really listen to my cues in these games. He also was the model of good behavior for the geared up, excitable gaming horses that charged at full speed down the alley way. While the other horses were wild eyed and full of nervous energy, Phil was not the least bit interested in wasting his energy acting so ridiculous. I was very proud of him.
Whipper In Training. Fly whisk and Hunting Whip. Phil was introduced to a fly whisk and a hunting whip this week. Humorous note: The hunting whip was actually home décor turned training aid. The things we do for our horses. During the summer I ride with a fly whisk and experience has taught me that you don’t just grab the whisk and start shooing flies out on the trail on a horse that hasn’t had a formal acquaintance with the whisk. Not much bothers Phil, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All of my homework building trust and establishing a relationship with Phil has allowed easy introduction of new objects. If I am not concerned then Phil isn’t concerned. After our trail ride, when Phil was cooling out, I brought out a hunting whip. I desensitized the air and cracked the whip just like I do with any new object until Phil was unconcerned. When I felt Phil was relaxed I mounted and asked for softness. When Phil was soft I swung the whip on each side and above his head. If Phil felt like he had to move his feet that was ok, he was just going to move his feet under my direction. It didn’t take Phil long to figure out that moving his feet was just too much work and it was easier to just stand still. I cracked the whip in using rhythmic timing (the best I could) until Phil cocked a back leg and relaxed. As soon as he relaxed I stopped and released. Now, are the Aiken Hounds going to hire me as a whipper in, probably not, but it was great exposure for Phil when we do hunt with our friends this fall.
Fox Hunting. If you love to trail ride, jump, and enjoy the company of other horse crazy folks, but don’t want to compete, then Fox Hunting just may be your kind of recreation. The first time I was introduced to hunting, I had the preconceived idea that hunting was a glorified trail ride. Well, I was in for a huge surprise when I learned that there is a whole sub culture to fox hunting to include their own Bible; The Hunt Bible. To avoid any faux pas on your part, I’m going to suggest reading Riding To Hounds In America, An Introduction For Foxhunters, written by William P. Wadsworth, MFH. It is an oldie, but goodie filled with humorous illustrations. For those of you hunting with inexperienced horses, please tie a GREEN ribbon into your horse’s tail to alert other riders that your horse is a “newbie.”
Training isn’t glamorous. I was thinking to myself as Phil and I were working on more bending, flexion, and softness that I don’t want folks to envision Phil and I cantering off into the sunset learning lead changes. No, in fact, I hardly do any of the fun, exciting stuff. I rarely canter at this stage of learning. The time I do spend in the saddle I walk and trot. I would probably put an audience to sleep. For example, I spend a lot of time bending into the round pen panel and away from the panel. Phil has to almost hug my inside leg with in these tight circles. I have found that if you put a lot of time into your walk and trot everything else seems to fall into place.
Do I finally have Phil’s respect? The answer is NO. I feel Phil has about 70% respect for me as a human. In some situations I mean more to him than other times. A good example is when I was cooling Phil out on the trail and I rode by the broodmare pastures. The mares came running up to see Phil and I knew what was going to happen before it happened because I was listening to Phil. Long before the mares appeared, Phil’s head was high, back hollow, and his body stiff. He wasn’t even giving me a thought. Just as the mares came thundering to the fence I emergency dismounted and as quick as I could get the reins over Phil’s head I backed him down the trail with a purpose (I was running, he was backing). I was trying to get his brain to switch from instinct to thinking by giving him a purposeful task. Once he softened (he was thinking now) I brought him back to the barn. To avoid creating a barn sour issue I backed him (notice I did not lead him, I backed him) to the round pen and put his feet into motion (going back to the barn doesn’t always mean it’s quitting time). Once I had “two eyes” on me. I put the rope halter on him and untacked. I wanted to make sure the last experience Phil had on the trail was one of relaxation, not excitement over greeting the mares. I purposefully went by the broodmare pastures and gave Phil a good tug every time he put an ear on the mares or tried to tip his nose in their direction. He was still distracted, so I put his feet in motion and let him choose to side pass or back in a hurry down the trail until we were out of view of the mares. Away from the mares we had a relaxing walk and returned home for bath.
Note that I did not reward Phil by dismounting. I put him to work ASAP. I also did not reward him when we returned to the barn. I did reward him when he was quiet on the trail and this was his last experience before going back to his stall.
Phil wasn’t excited by the mares because they were mares (not a stallion behavior), he was just excited because the mares were excited (somebody new was visiting and my mares are very nosy). If I had Phil’s respect 100% I would have been able to redirect Phil and ride past without much fuss. The herd still has a strong influence on Phil. I still have to work hard to prove my worth to Phil. It is easy to be fooled into believing the hard work is done because Phil has become so easy to work around. This is the most difficult part of the journey…..time invested into a relationship.