Monday, April 30, 2012

Purpose

Boy, the weather has still been a bit cool here.  In fact, we had snow last week!   But there is a positive that comes out of the cooler temperatures.....I appreciate that the bugs have been kept at bay.  :-) 

Gem and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary last week.   I wish I could say that we celebrated with a great lesson. :-(   I have been in weekly lesson for almost 4 years now, and have been riding Gem for 3 of those years.  The first couple of years, I was concentrating on myself really....trying to learn how to sit and stay in the saddle.  :-)  When it comes to lesson, Gem has moments where he is a delight to be around and I can really feel the magic of a partnership.  But, regularly he has moments of rudeness and pushiness and wants nothing to do with the task at hand.  I can tell what kind of ride it's going to be like from how mouthy he is when we tack up.  :-)

Well, the last 2 lessons sucked.  Gem pinned his ears more often than not at the other riders if they got within 6 feet of his personal space.  Trotting and loping were not on his agenda.  Head tossing was a regular occurrence. Last week's lesson was so horrible, in fact, that I seriously considered quitting lessons right then and there.  

I admit that I am a push-over when it comes to disciplining Gem because I am not comfortable with some of the methods used by other riders at my barn.  I am not into aggressive kicking, smacking or pulling of reins.   I know people roll their eyes when they see me trying to convince Gem to work with me.  I am not adverse to a swift kick if necessary or the use of my crop on his shoulder to keep him focused.  But, bottom line is I would like him to want to do what I ask. 

I steamed about last week's lesson for days.  Yep, it was that bad.  I replayed our usual lesson routine in my in my head trying to figure out what the heck was going on.  Yes, Gem suffers from the spring grumpies, but I realized that his behaviour is nothing new; he has always acted this way.  Why hasn't he improved in this area??!  Why is it regularly a test of wills when we are in lesson?  It's a hard pill to swallow when you can see improvements in so many other areas, but he still has a tendency to act in a discourteous manner towards me when it comes to lesson.  As I racked my brain, my inadequacies as a rider started to bubble to the top and I felt my confidence start to diminish.  Yep, I must be the worst rider ever. My horse doesn't want to ride with me.  Just as I started to sink into the depths of my pity party, I started to think of the great trail rides we have had together over the last 8 months.  It doesn't matter what the weather is, he loves going out in -12C or 28C.  He loves watching the wildlife and the golfers and I love watching him. Truly in that area we have grown more and more in our relationship.  And, that's when the penny dropped.....

Gem doesn't like lessons.  Period.  When I push rewind and think about our lessons in general, I see a horse that is trying hard to tolerate a repetitive situation, but sometimes he just can't. I believe his rude attitude is one of boredom.  When we warm up or are in the loping part of our lesson, I can almost feel him thinking, “what the heck is the point of this?”  He knows the lesson routine too well and will anticipate what is up next without me cuing him.  If poles are part of lesson, he is a different horse.  He enjoys the change and it shows in his willingness to participate.  He has fun trotting and loping over the poles or weaving through them.  Gem needs a purpose and to feel accomplishment.  Running around in circles doesn't quite do it for him.

One of my blogger friends (sorry, I can't remember who!) mentioned a while back that he might be bored.   Up until now, I didn't understand.  I assumed that horses didn't mind being in an arena or in lesson.  When they aren't out with the herd, the horses that Gem rides with in our lesson are trained lesson or ex-reining horses who have spent many years in an arena environment.  Their calm work attitude is what I based my assumption on.  But, in his first life, Gem was out 24/7 and when he was ridden, it was out on the trails.  He only started spending time in an arena when he partnered up with me.  

 The vet who gave Gem is pre-purchase exam and the vet  that I use here both said that Gem is really smart and would need to be challenged.  My job was to make sure he used his powers for good instead of evil.  :-)  I thought being in lesson would be challenge enough for him, because it sure was for me!  :-)  I can see now that I was mistaken.   But what to do?  I want to continue taking lessons because I do believe they serve a purpose for both of us.   I will continue to ask LA if we can include poles in our lessons to add some variety.  But what do I do to keep him interested and focused during those lessons when poles are not included??    I am frustrated that I can't convince Gem that if he does homework with me, our rides, inside and out, will be soooooo much better.....Any ideas??!


44 comments:

  1. Girl, I feel your pain. If I don't make Coriander use his brain he becomes a total P.R.I.C.K.

    I think you two are ready to do more complicated work during lessons. Asking for lateral work and more frequent transitions would probably help. Do turns on the forehand, then teach him turn on the haunches. You could learn shoulder in! Just break up the monotony of going around and around on the rail.

    (and make sure something physical isn't going on)

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    1. I like your idea of working on turns! I try to keep him moving in lesson. We are learning how to do turns on the haunches and forehand, so I can practice during lesson if I am waiting my turn or warming up. BTW, nothing physical is going on...he's as healthy as a horse. :-)

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  2. I know how you feel, I've been fighting with the same issues with Lucas, only it just seems to be me that he's clashing with.

    I would suggest working on patterns, (search for horsemanship patterns, or equation patterns) You could do some usual warm up stuff and build elements of the pattern in so that you can end up doing a couple of different ones that focus on the same stuff. (find 2 or 3 that work on canter transitions, but in different ways, out of a haunch turn, out of a trot circle etc). The patterns in the link below are hard, but if you cant get something, just substitute something else. (Cant do a lead change, just trot instead!)

    http://www.janhare.com/patterns.php

    It wouldn't hurt to look up some dressage tests too, they have lots of transitions and different elements that keep you working.

    Hope this helps!

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    1. I took a look a quick look at the site - thank you! :-)

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  3. Try putting up trot poles or setting up little obstacle courses in the arena. You can set up a little maze pattern with poles that Gem would have to go through. It helps with tight turns and bending. Shy likes to be mentally challenged, too. If she does not get what she needs, she creates her own challenge. Let us know what you come up with!

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    1. He actually likes the challenge of poles and cones. I think that if I am working in the arena, I will take the time to set some up.

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  4. Blue and Dusty are a challenge to ride...mostly Blue though. He sees no point in going round in circles and doing the same thing over and over. He sometimes decides to relieve his boredom by not listening to cues or not steering just for his own amusement. I know he knows this stuff cold. Like Gem he is very smart and opinionated.

    To alleviate this poor creatures boredom of having to work for an hour a few times a week we try to challenge his mind. Lessons are a must for both of us so we'll do some different patterns in the arena over cavelletti. I try not to do the same thing two lessons in a row so he doesn't anticipate what's coming. In the past I know lessons consist of the usual warm up walk, trot, canter etc. So during the warm up walk a few circles or figure eights might be used. Same with the trot figure eights, straight lines down the middle to a halt. I just sort of try to do different things each time. Lateral work is always nice too. There was a book I bought at Amazon that had a title something like 101 Arena Exercises, and it had lots of great patterns and other ideas. I'll try and look it up and get back to you. Good luck and don't get discouraged.

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    1. Poor Blue! You are such a task master! :-) I have to say that I am glad to see that I am alone in this. Great idea to incorporate figure 8's in warm up. Thanks!

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    2. That should read "...that I am NOT alone in this...." :-)

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  5. It's possible to do arena work and also present a challenge and learning opportunities - there are several 101 exercises books - one for dressage, one for jumping, etc. - that have lots of nice idea on patterns/exercises. Just riding with intent and focus can make a difference - he needs to feel like it's important to you! Poles and cones are good . . .

    Educate yourself and try some new things - trail exercises - opening gates from horseback, etc. Lots of possibilities - use your imagination!

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    1. I like your idea of trail exercises!

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  6. Hi again Wolfie,

    I looked on Amazon and found these two books that might be of interest to you:

    101 Horsemanship & Equitation Patterns: A Western & English Ringside Guide for Practice & Show by Cherry Hill
    101 Arena Exerises: A Ringside Guide for Horse & Rider by Cherry Hill

    I haven't read either of these but maybe they could give you some ideas on different things to do with Gem?

    I've got this book and it's very good but I don't know if you would be interested in it:
    101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider by Jec Aristotle Ballou

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    1. You are so thoughtful! Thanks for looking up these books. I like Cherry Hill....she's easy to read. :-)

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  7. I agree that he sounds like he gets bored. Smart horses need challenges. Val acted the same way when I lacked intention and creativity in our ring work. And I also started thinking my horse didn't enjoy me riding him. I got pretty down about it. Keeping things interesting has been one of the biggest challenges I've faced as a rider so far.

    You've gotten lots of good advice already. Cones work well for us. And changing things up with tons of transitions. If Gem is anything like Val, once he figures out what you're working on, he starts to anticipate and jump the gun. Rapid fire transitions gets Val back listening again. Clicker training has been fun for us too, and brought us together on the ground.

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    1. You are right....Gem is a quick study and he does start to anticipate and jump the gun. I think keeping it interesting will be one of the more difficult challenges for me. :-)

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  8. I think you are very smart to figure out Gem's problem. Now that you know he's bored, you won't have any problem figuring out ways to make it more interesting for him. Good for you for listening to what Gem was trying to tell you. That's partnership.

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    1. Thanks! I think I have my work cut out for me. Nice to hear from you. :-)

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  9. You're such a good mama:) Poles are so much fun...so are raised cavaletti, four or five in a row, our favorite! :) Cones are great, barrels, pole bending (all can be done at walk and trot obviously). You have a very smart horse and he is lucky to have a smart owner. I hope your lessons become more enjoyable.

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    1. Aw, thanks. I like to think I look out for my guy and I want him happy. :-) I like cavalettis and so does Gem. I have already sent an email to LA to see if we can use them in lesson tomorrow!!

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  10. I have to work to keep arena work interesting too. I try to go on a trail ride at least once a week and I try to mix things up in the arena. Some days we work on transitions, some days we work on conditioning (lots of canter), some days we do poles... With a smart horse, it is definitely a challenge. Now that you know the issue, it will be easier to deal with (and more fun for you). I have the Cherry Hill 101 exercises book -- it is very good.

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    1. Based on yours and GHM's recommendation, I am getting Cherry Hill's book! I do go on a trail ride almost every Sunday. I am usually only in the arena for lesson....with 3 other people. I am thinking that I need to start being more involved in the content of the lesson to ensure it's different each time.

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  11. Does he have toys to play with when you're not there? (Thinking it might ease up on the overall boredom. Also thinking as a dog-person here.)

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    1. Funny you mention toys. Having 3 dogs of my own, one of the first things I bought him was a big ball. :-) He doesn't play with it much in the summer, but he likes kicking it around the paddock or field in the winter. He has a couple of turnout buddies that he plays with, so I am not too concerned about him being bored when I am not there.

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  12. Good on you for finding out what was Gem's problem.
    Maybe you guys are ready to move up a level and start doing more complicated exercises.
    instead of staying in the arean all the time why don't you take Gem out on a trail ride once a week.
    As well as incorporating poles into your flatwork, how about making small cross rails or small jumps and jumping him over them.

    Just a few ideas ...:)

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    1. Good ideas. Jumping? Yikes! I don't think my old body can handle that! :-)

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  13. Many great horses get burned out being used as lesson horses. While I imagine there are ways to make arena work challenging, it's still the equivalent of being in a classroom for a child. Sometimes one needs to get out and have recess.

    Could you take lessons on a lesson horse? It's always good to learn on different horses. You can also have purpose in an arena by playing games with others.

    But at the end of the day a good trail horse always seems bored by being in the arena, a good arena horse dislikes the trail. At least that's what I've found.

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    1. You are so right....it is equivalent to a child being in a classroom. I was bored at school, too, so I can relate to what he is going through. I never thought of taking a lesson on a lesson horse; something to consider. I hadn't realized it, but your observation about trail horses being bored in the arena and arena horses disliking trails is so true!!

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  14. I was going to make the same suggestion as Breathe. It depends on why you take lessons. Are the lessons for you to improve your riding skills or are they so you can have help with improving Gem? If the lessons are mainly for you, I think it would be a good idea to give Gem a break and ride a school horse. Or perhaps you could take a private lesson with Gem?

    I use my picadero for in hand work and liberty work. I do ALL my schooling out on a hack. I have just started riding Cassie again (yay!) and after 8 months off she needs a lot of work, but I do it out on the roads and forestry around here.

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    1. Interesting question - I take lessons so that I can learn how to be balanced, safe and correct in my communication to Gem. My focus is definitely on me at this stage. I am seriously considering taking a break from lesson this summer. It may be time for both of us. Wonderful that you are riding Cassie again - Yay!

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  15. So many ideas! But hats off to you for working out that he acts the way he does because he's bored and not because he's naughty.

    I was thinking this might be a dumb idea but I see that Sandra does her schooling while out hacking :D *enjoys a small confidence-boost* Would that be a possible option for you and Gem? Are there level stretches of ground where you go trail-riding?

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    1. Make no mistake - he does have a naughty side to him, but he is not malicious. :-) Excellent suggestion and yes, there is a "loping" field out on the trails. My goal is to lope around it a few times by summer's end. :-)

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  16. Brilliant blog! Why not come and post it at Haynet an Equine Social Blogging network? We have blogs from all over the world in all things equestrian. Be great to have you there! Come and visit http://hay-net.co.uk/

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    1. Thank you! I will visit, for sure.

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  17. Could you alternate your lessons so that one week you ride out and the next you have a lesson? Apart from that I'd make the same suggestion as Sandra and Breathe, in fact a school horse may even up your confidence during your weekly lesson so that when you take Gem out, you feel more confident about things? This story brings to mind a school pony we used to ride who also soured from teaching novices, so she would be so difficult to move forward, but once we got on to give her a canter she would hot up tremendously and really get into it, sometimes even trying to steer into jumps hoping her rider won't mind :) Good luck Wolfie!

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    1. Lesson horses are so small compared to Gem! I may have an even worse time trying to keep my balance. :-) There is one lesson horse that doesn't care much for trotting, but like your example, she loves to run. She looks beautiful.

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    2. Two gears: walk and hell-for-leather! Lol, I have known a few like those. The self-same little school horse is in my profile picture... she even looks like a brat - but everyone loved her to bits. Ride out then Wolfie, and work on your bits of schooling while you ride out, a good time with your friend is also important. :)

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  18. I love that you are willing to try and make things fun for Gem, you are listening to your horse and that is great! I would definately talk to your instructor about mixing things up in your lessons but that can also be difficult when it isn't a private lesson as she needs to consider others. If possible can you have a group lesson every second week and a private lesson the other week? That way in your private lesson you could work on more challenging things? Everybody else has suggested great ideas for arena work.
    GOOD LUCK!!!!

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    1. So nice to hear from you! I like your idea of mixing group and private lessons. I had a couple of private lessons in April and I got so much out of them compared to group. However, I really do like the social aspect of group lesson. :-)

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  19. You've gotten so many good suggestions here. One more thing to think about --- When I was finding that Siete was bored and didn't seem to want to be my partner, I discovered Carolyn Resnick. Check out her blog and her book. Just starting the Waterhole Rituals with Siete made such a big difference in our relationship. It compliments whatever else you are doing in your lessons and it helps build the bond between you. Just a thought. I'm sure that you and Gem will work this out. He's just trying to tell you something and luckily, you are listening.

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    1. I seem to recall you posting about this, Victoria. I will check it out. Thanks!

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  20. woman smart, horse smarter? ;) lol

    anyway, seems when my friend set up my new page, all previous comments were lost, including yours... sorry bout that

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    1. I have never had any illusions that Gem is smarter than me! :-)

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  21. lol the comments about trail horses not liking the arena rung a bell for me. When I borrowed the trekking pony on loan the other year, he hated the arena having never done any schooling work but he wasn't just bored he was pissed and showed me by bucking me off

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    1. I guess that some enjoy the routine and comfort of the arena and lesson, while others don't. It's too bad that you weren't aware of his dislike before you borrowed him. Nice to hear from you!

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