Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In the Arena #95 - ...of mice and men

I've learned to be wary of going into our rides with too much of a plan. I have better results by responding to what goes on in the arena - "ride the horse you have today." However, there is a little strategy I cooked up, and this was the day to try it out.

While we've been improving by leaps and bounds this last couple of months, there is still an unresolved issue. An issue that derails warming up at the walk + steering, and often keeps us from using the whole arena. Recently I've avoided it by moving immediately into trot work, where forward cures steering problems. Bypassing the issue, but not solving it.

Sometimes steering is a monkey on our backs...

As I lay in bed the other night, I visualized beginning a circle at the top of the arena. Instead of closing the circle, I would drop further down the arena, creating a series of loops - sort of an open slinky shape

This would theoretically accomplish two things: surprise my horse thereby keeping his interest - he's very allergic to predictable - and move me throughout the entire arena at the beginning of the ride, in a roundabout way, without arguments. Holy cow - it worked! Nothing challenges my creativity like dressage.You simply cannot phone it in with a partner like Val.

We proceeded to have a lovely ride focusing on contact, stretchy trot and big walk. Although I struggled with keeping my lower leg on consistently - when I was able, he responded by reaching into the contact. Listen to your horse...


As I prepared for our ride this afternoon, Val surprised me with a new trick. Each time I glanced up from grooming, he was in the midst of untying his quick release knot. First mouthing the loop, loosening it. Next pulling the end to dismantle the knot. Then finally yanking the whole rope back through the tie ring with a flourish as the leadline dangled from his mouth. He cut glances at me throughout the entire process, looking quite proud of himself. I was supremely bummed not to have my camera handy, although I expect I'll have other chances to document this behavior. Good thing we ground tie now.

I recently got a comment asking about how we work on ground tying. It's pretty simple. I halter Val, then lay the lead rope over his back. I begin grooming, picking feet, bug spraying etc. As soon as he moves a step, I (calmly) stop what I'm doing, send him back to where he started with a light hand on his lead, and resume. This process also involves lots of cookies.

Initially, the exercise consisted of moving Val back into place, over and over. Now - he might take a half-hearted step or two, get put back, sigh, politely drop his head and wait. It's good to set yourself up for success, ie choose a nice calm day when your horse is feeling pretty mellow, practice after exercise, and have a wall, fence or some barrier to limit avenues of escape. How do you all do it?


  1. It is such a wonderful feeling when you realize you are on the path of really achieving lightness and harmony. By the way I love your header picture that you have these days, Val is so handsome.

  2. Love that exercise. It's pretty much what I use for approaching something spooky, or a scary end of the arena on a dark night. :)

    The big boy daughter was foxhunting unties himself from the trailer at hunts and joins the action sans rider if he can!

  3. Ah yes, the circles are always a great way to sneak them over to where they don't want to be. Get them thinking about something else and then Presto! there you are, and nobody's the wiser.

    You mentioned keeping your leg on - I recently had a lesson that was all about keeping my leg OFF, and only using it when absolutely necessary. I'd gotten into the habit of nagging nearly every step, and my usually sharp horse took SO MUCH to do any little thing. It's a fine line between too much and not enough, that's for sure!

  4. I haven't practiced ground-tying, but I do a lot with my horses when they aren't tied (pick feet, groom, worming) and they usually are pretty good about standing still (although my old mare can clamp her lips shut pretty tight when she sees the wormer coming)! I've been working on the "stand" command off and on. That's a hard one.

  5. Melissa-
    Thanks - I think he's pretty handsome myself! ;)

    Wish I'd thought of the spiral / helix maneuver sooner! We'll have to see where the knotsmanship takes us lol...

    I definitely don't want to be aiding every step. What I am struggling with is posting correctly + keeping a consistent amount of neutral contact with my legs. I've been tending to inadvertantly bring them off and on as I post.

    I usually aid with a wiggle of my calf muscle - and if more is needed I go directly to a little tap - tap - tap with the hearing aid (my dressage whip). :)

  6. Fetlock-
    Yep - I've found that the cookie reward system backfires when working on standing, at least around here.

    And Val has a highly developed sense of fairness regarding (at least) one reward per honest attempt. I tried to chintz him (in his mind) the other night and he went airborne on me. ;)

  7. I LOVE ground tying. My yearling is a PRO at this! I just flip the lead rope over his neck, he cocks a hind foot and goes to sleep while I groom him - and only wakes up to do the happy lips in response to grooming his itchy spots and then goes back to sleep.

    I had to teach him how to ground tie early as we didn't have a good tie-out spot. Oh, and he's wicked smart and figured out how to untie himself withing a month of being taught to stand tied... but he'll stand forever to be groomed if ground tied... silly boy!

  8. Monkey plus Pig? Too much awesome. Too much.

    Thanks for the ground tying tip:)

  9. That Pig Monkey sandwich is great!! I like that pattern too.
    I do the TOTAL same ground tying method and boy does it take time, but it does work. It also took a while for Laz to not step on rope and FREAK OUT, but slooooowly but surely he got over that too. Such a lovely trot on your banner pic :)

  10. I think I'll work on ground tying with Jackson. It will give us something to do on cold, wet days or days when he's a bit off. I have to be careful with the cookie business because he will move with me, looking for a treat. It kinda backfired on getting him stand when I put on a blanket.

  11. HammersArk-
    Thanks for commenting. I'm dropping by your blog later to catch up on the twelve days of Christmas posts :)

    Couldn't resist that photo - love pigs + love monkeys - and both are tiny too! ;)

    Thanks. So excited that my friend caught that moment. :)

    We haven't made a whole lot of progress on standing, I'll have to admit, although he's good about holding still for blanketing. :)

  12. "The Helix"
    I am going to add that to my tool box. It is not everyday that a new dressage movement is born, you know since it has been around since ancient Greece.

    I have to admit that I am a bit lazy about ground tying training. Harley likes to investigate and knock over/pull down everything in the aisle if I let him wander, so I usually just cross tie him. Maybe I will take some time this winter to work on it. Thanks for the tip.

    And Val is so smart!

  13. Glad the sneaky pre-planned curve trick worked in the arena.

    Love Val's adorable knot removal story.

    I ground tie Sovey because he won't cross-tie and I didn't have to teach him. He showed me that he wanted to be tacked up in the forebay by just standing there quietly.

    Pie and Foggy move off looking for more treats. Ugh. I need to work on this.

  14. Dressage certainly does make you use your thinking side of your riding brain...great solution with the slinky to get the job done.

    Chief and Calypso both ground tie...Gabe does not. He's a wanderer. The only negative thing about having a ground-tieing horse is that turning them loose in the yard with a halter and rope slung over their backs for grazing accomplishes nothing. They just stand there and eat what they can reach without moving feet.


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