Backwards but Forward
The barn Achates and I are at recently finished installing their outdoor arena. This is a VERY exciting development considering that our indoor arena is slightly larger than a 20 meter circle and I am more than excited to have some more room. The new arena isn’t quite finished but I couldn’t resist trying it out today.
I decided to lunge Achates in it instead of riding him. Why? Because it’s a completely new environment than what we’ve been working in this whole year and he deserves a chance to go through his emotions and let any steam he has out.
The way I see it is that as people when our surroundings are changed we feel some degree of anxiety no matter the circumstances, and horses are the same. No one tells us to tamp down our emotions, block everything out, and be perfect. So why in the world would I expect that of any horse, and why do most people? Honestly I don’t know. You are your horse’s teacher, their guardian, the thing that anchors them to this world. Don’t you think you owe it to them to give them some semblance of guidance? And in my opinion I think you do.
So yes, I could have put an immense amount of pressure on my horse today, asked him to be perfect, and demanded such results. I chose though to take a different route, and long term I think it will be far more successful.
The first thing I did was walk Achates around the arena. I stayed on the side that he was more likely to shy away from, this way if he did he wouldn’t knock me down and I could handle the situation easier. When I felt him tense up I asked him to do something that would take his mind off of any distracts, like backing up a step or two, or even lowering his head. I tried to use the least amount of pressure possible because you can always add more, and honestly you usually only need about a quarter of what you’re using.
Then we moved on to lunging. Achates surprised me by walking a couple steps and then bucking and cantering off. Instead of pulling him in or punishing him for it I let him go a couple rounds, because as far as I’m concerned lunging should be used to get out those little hiccups and if I didn’t let this energy come out in a forward way it would come out in a more unattractive, and I’m sure, unsafe way.
After the initial bumps were ironed out I asked Achates to walk around me calmly. If he did this successfully I pulled him into me and praised him. I continued this pattern at the walk, trot, and canter both ways until I saw him start to stretch out. And that simple act of him stretching his head out and down was enough for me and in my books a huge success. I gave him another treat and walked him back to the barn.
Was it frustrating to see my horse loose his mind and have to go back to working on things we were 3 years ago? Yes, it was but it didn’t get me down. Don’t I as a person take steps back? Yes, and I fully recover after a brief relapse and I have faith that my horse will do the same.
The way I see it no one dropped me in a pool and said “Swim or be swallowed by this chlorinated water!”. I was given lessons, I practiced, got more lessons, and practiced more until the idea of swimming became ingrained in my brain and completely uneraseable. This is exactly how I view training horses.
You ask your horse on a daily basis to form specific habits that you want. It can vary from discipline to discipline but the concept is the same. Some of the habit’s you ask your horse to make are unnatural to them but you ask anyways, and there is nothing wrong with that you just have to be willing to give your horse the time to develop and perfect these habits. Not doing so is like asking a pre-schooler to explain and use the quadratic formula without giving them any guidance. Which any compassionate person can agree is ridiculous.
So yes, today was a minor step back. I wished I could have ridden my horse but instead of focusing on that I looked at the positives. Achates was scared but he kept himself together and at no point did I feel that he was out of control or completely out of his brain with fright. I was really proud of how he held and conducted himself today. That towards the end he switched gears, relaxed and settled in.
As far as I’m concerned my little warrior’s growing up and living up to all my expectations.