Our basic lesson routine is this: Our warm up consists of walking a couple of times around the arena, then jogging for a few minutes, then posting trot for a few minutes. After that we move into the center of the circle and we learn or practice a couple of new moves; during our last few lessons we have been practicing backing up and doing 90 degree turns. After that, we go on to loping. After loping we start to slow things down again and trot patterns (different each week) and eventually walk to cool down. Pretty simple.
A couple of weeks ago, at a clinic being held at the stables, I heard the trainer say to one of the participants that it wasn't necessarily a good thing to have your horse assume what you were going to ask of him. There needs to be a response to an actual request. When a horse assumes he knows what you want it means that the horse is not listening to you. Well, when I heard the trainer saying this, I thought what a load of horse crap. I would gladly have Gem anticipate what I wanted from him so I wouldn't have to suffer with rubber legs on a regular basis! The trainer's comments were filed waaaay back in my memory banks.
Last Friday, I rode in the arena with the Arena Gang. They had vertical poles set up down the middle of the arena and were zig zagging through them at a jog. Good for them. Gem and I started our normal warm up routine. We were up to the posting trot portion of our warm up, but I cut it short. He swished his tail a bit. Only one member of the Arena Gang was still in the arena at this point, so I walked Gem through the poles - in and out, in and out. He swished his tail again, but did it. I then moved him back on the track and as I gathered up my reins, he started to jog before I was ready. Hmmmm, that's interesting.
We continued on like it was a lesson, following the normal routine. The only difference was I did jog him through the poles a couple of times when we were moving towards the end of our session. For a big guy, he did really well - yay, Gem! The first time through the poles though, I could tell that he was a bit irritated - the swishing tail is the indicator. He did what I asked though.
Sunday I spent an hour just walking Gem. We were in the arena and I did our warm up the same as usual - walk, jog, posting trot. Then I walked patterns with him; figure 8's, squares, small circles. A couple of times, he started to gear up to jog, but I held him back to a walk. Again with the tail swishing. Eventually, he settled down and we had a really good session. We practiced the 90 degree turn and backing up. Both he and I relaxed and more often than not, Gem did the turn without walking off! It's a work in progress, but I was very pleased with him and I. His backing up has improved immensely. I position my legs a little forward of the girth and squeeze while gently pulling back on one rein and then the other. He can now back up 7 steps at a consistent pace and while remaining pretty darn straight!
So at this week's lesson, I had to show LA how much Gem had improved with backing up. As soon as we finished warm up and went to the center of the arena, I showed her Gem's new moves. She was pleased. :-) I then asked Gem to walk on. Hmmmmm...he backed up.
No. I mean go forward.
Here, let me back up some more.
WALK ON means go forward!!
What? You want me to go forward?
Stop backing up! GO FORWARD!!!!
Strange. Then I had a light bulb moment. We always practice our moves in 3's; three back ups, three 90 degree turns, three side passes. I had only done ONE back up. Was Gem trying to correct me?? Was he assuming what was to come next?
We came to the loping part of the lesson. After a rough start, off we went. It was stop and start as usual and I had to make it "uncomfortable" for him when he slowed to a trot. At one point we were going at a pretty consistent pace and all of a sudden he stopped for a bio break! As I rearranged myself back in the saddle, he finished his business, turned his head slightly towards me with a look of "where were we?" and then started loping again, without me cuing him. Weird.
I know Gem is lazy. As I mentioned before, in so many ways he's like me! :-) I think he finds a certain amount of comfort in knowing what our routine is because he doesn't have to try; he just goes with the flow. He's smart enough to know what comes next and how many and for how long. He gets irritated (tail swishing) if there is a deviation from the regular routine. In my line of work, I must anticipate the needs of others so I can be proactive. But, in Gem's case, having your horse anticipate the next move might not be the way to go. Having him jog or lope without me cuing him was cool initially (he read my mind!), but after thinking about it I am not so sure it was a good thing. I wouldn't want Gem to think that loping always comes after trotting, particularly if I am on a trail ride. The words of the trainer now start to make sense.
Has my improvement been Gem anticipating the next moves of our routine rather than my ability? Well, it's probably both and I am OK with that. However, I am going to have to work hard at shaking it up. I need to start incorporating some new moves and requests when he least expects it and push him through his tail swishing episodes. I want him to be interested, on his toes and wondering what's next. There needs to be a bit of spontaneity in our relationship. Resistance is futile! Rubber legs are a good thing! Yeah, right.....
What was I thinking.....?