Monday, September 27, 2010

Backing up an 18-Wheeler

I wasn't able to ride on Friday after work. My birthday month celebrations continue and on Friday vodka sodas and girlfriends beckoned. What the heck - my birthday only happens once a year! :-)

I had a good ride yesterday, though. It wasn't very busy at the stables; everyone was at the last big show for the season. He was still in his stall when I arrived, so he was a little antsy. He soon settled down when I started grooming him. I could absolutely tell from his demeanour that it was going to be a good ride. I love that we are connecting in this way.

Sundays are usually pretty good for us. It is the only ride where I am not rushing from work, so I am stress- free when I arrive to see my guy. In addition, I had visitors watching me ride. A girlfriend and her 11-year old daughter came to visit the stables. Gem likes an audience and he actually likes kids. Perhaps they put out some sort of pheromone that tells him that they are not a threat or perhaps it's their size. I don't know, but I am glad that he's gentle with them.

Another boarder was riding her mare at a walk and slow trot when we arrived at the arena. Her horse had an injury that required stall rest for the past 4 months and is now getting back into the swing of things. Unfortunately, the mare doesn't like other horses around her, so we were relegated to the inside portion of the arena, while the other boarder rode large. That was OK, but I couldn't give Gem as much of a work out as I had planned. However, we still had a splendid ride. He felt light on his feet, supple, responsive and balanced. It was a very smooth ride. We worked on leg yielding exercises at a walk and a trot, backing up and some 90 degree turns. I did transition from a jog to a lope a couple of times (yay, me!), but couldn't practice going around the arena because of the other rider. It seemed everything I asked of him, he did. Gem was terrific.

After I rode, I allowed my friend's daughter to climb up on Gem's back (yes, she had a helmet on!!) and I hand walked her around the arena for 10 minutes. She was thrilled to be "riding" and Gem couldn't have been more patient. I just love him. This picture was taken by my friend at the beginning of my ride....yes, that is a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth....he can't resist taking a swipe at the bales when we do our walk around! :-)

Since the beginning of the year, I have been working on verbal commands with Gem. At my age, I think that it is important that he know verbal commands, so that I have a back up plan just in case there are times when I need to reinforce my cues because of lack of physical strength on my part. Some may think I am being lazy, but in my mind I am being prepared for when I get older. He already knows walk, trot, canter, whoa and easy. In addition, we have been working on back, come, wait, over, NO and hup!

I am going to review "back" in this post because he was really showing off his moves on Sunday. :-) After a rough start late last winter (head tossing, stamping his front feet), Gem has mastered "back", both when I am on him and when I'm on the ground! Initially, I was nervous about this maneuver. It is showing submission when a horse backs up and Gem did not want to back up. Others at the stables are quite aggressive with their legs and reins when it comes to backing their horses up and I was quite intimidated. But, I determined a level of asking that I was comfortable with and Gem responded to it.

When I am in the saddle, I have contact with the reins, move my legs in front of the girth and apply a little pressure and then softly say "back" and he backs up! I keep saying "back" to keep up the momentum while still maintaining some leg pressure and if I need to straighten him, I apply very slight tension on the rein of the side that I want him to step back. This is quite a breakthrough because I think it shows that Gem is not only listening to me, but he also trusts me enough to agree to move in a direction where he can't see. We are up to about 10 straight steps!! I suspect that he looks good when he's doing this; he drops his chin closer to his chest which rounds out his neck. :-) When I am on the ground, all I have to do is turn and face the opposite direction next to his shoulder and start walking, saying "back" until it's time to say "whoa". No fuss, no pulling, no yanking. When he is in his stall, I ask him to "back" and he will move away from the door when I open it and will "wait" until I ask him to "walk on".

Yesterday, I had to move some upright poles set up in the arena. I had Gem walk right up beside them, and then I verbally asked him to back up a little - I didn't cue with my legs because I needed to maintain my balance in the saddle to be able to pick up the pole - and then asked Gem to walk on while I was carrying it. Using this technique, we were able to move three poles to different locations. I was amazed that he knew that I wanted little steps when he was backing up next to the pole. How is that possible??? I was also amazed that he had no issue with me carrying a 5-foot pole beside him. In addition, we were working together, in sync!! Wow! He got lots of praise, of course.

It wasn't a strenuous ride yesterday, but it was a good ride, one that left me elated and smiling. I would compare it to finding a gorgeous pair of shoes on sale or perhaps being given something sparkly...No, you know what??? That feeling doesn't even come close to the kind of delight and satisfaction I felt on Sunday, how times have changed!!.... :-)

What was I thinking....?


  1. That's terrific that he knows his verbal commands. They do come in handy. I'm glad to hear that you had a great ride and some great experiences. You and Gem have come a long way together.

    (Just wondering why the other rider in the ring, wouldn't take turns with you, so you could use the whole ring to do what you needed to do for a while and then switch back). Of course, I don't know the situation but I never could abide ring rudeness or being inconsiderate to someone else.

  2. Hi GHM - Thank you for your kind comments...yes, I think we have come a long way. The other rider has a rehab plan set up for her horse and needs to ride for so many minutes and a certain distance which is measured by the size of the arena. She was there first. I did get to go large a couple of times at a trot when she was airing up, but her horse is nervous so it was just easier to stay in the middle. No worries. She wasn't being rude. :-)

  3. Your horse is just so pretty. Can you call boys pretty? Maybe he's handsome :)
    I love your last paragraph.

  4. Hi Carol - You can call him pretty, he won't mind. :-) Thanks!

  5. Sounds like you're having fun, and making good progress. I am looking forward to getting a bit more experience riding this winter as looks like I might be borrowing a horse for five months.

  6. Wow! Love those verbal commands! You said it all in your last paragraph! There is just nothing that compares to the joy of riding a horse! So glad you had a good day.

  7. Morning!

    JanLou - Congratulations on taking lessons this winter. You will get so much out of it. Looking forward to seeing some pictures!

    Journey's Mom - Thanks! I have a lesson tonight and can hardly wait to get back on my boy. How are those Halloween costumes coming for Roman and Journey...?? :-)

  8. Hey Wolfie, hope it isn't too late to wish you all the best for your birthday! :D
    You & Gem sound like you have such a fab partnership, I'm in awe that he listens to your verbal commands -- grinning like an idiot reading about that, don't know why!
    I'm curious about his bridle, what are the bits around his ears for?
    Handsome guy who's gentle with children... what more could you want?!

  9. Hi Joy! Thanks for the birthday wishes. :-) I am riding Western and his bridle is a one-ear Western headstall. You will notice there is no browband, noseband or throatlash, like the English bridle. The bit simply slides into his mouth and the headpiece goes behind his ears and one of his ears goes through the loop at the crown to sort of secure everything in place. Very simple to put on.

  10. Whoops... my comment never showed up! Well, I think I said something about verbal commands being good things, congratulating you on your success with Gem (you've come so far since I started following you guys!), and encouraging the vodka sodas.... Carry on :)

  11. Thanks, Marissa! I am starting to feel like we are working together now. Vodka sodas...oh, yeah.... :-)