February 20, 2011 1 Comment
I went out to the barn today, looking forward to my first ride on Maddie in almost a week. It was a horrible rainy day the horses were inside, so I had allotted plenty of time for a nice long ride. However, there was one problem. I was the only one there – and I don’t ride alone (just not safe in my opinion.) No problem, I thought. I have some time to kill, and Maddie was pretty muddy. I decided that a marathon grooming session would be a good way to pass the time until someone else arrived.
I curried (twice), brushed (thrice), picked her feet, picked clumps of mud out of her mane, but decided to bypass the dirty tail entirely. And I was still alone.
So I shelved riding, and decided that a groundwork session was in order. Picking up a longe whip, I took a sparkling Maddie into the arena and turned her loose. My plan was to work on my ability to read her and influence her movements while at liberty. In past lessons when we’ve worked on longing Christy has had me work on keeping the mare’s attention and controlling her movements from the ground.
Maddie was feeling frisky, and started trotting back and forth between the two barn doors that lead back to the barn. She is always drawn to this end of the arena when she’s turned loose. Standing between them (and at a safe distance of course) I started the session by preventing her from doubling back in front of the doors. As she trotted by me going left, I extended my left arm (a cue I’ve been using with her when longing, to indicate the direction I want her to go), and flicked the whip with my right hand just as I could see her start to think about wheeling and turning back to the right.
It worked, and she kept moving left, circling around me. I switched the whip into my left hand, extended my right hand, and stepped toward the place she was headed. A ha! Maddie changed direction neatly and went back around to my right.
We did this a few times until Mads decided that she was done trotting nicely, and took off bucking down one of the long sides, ignoring my cue to change direction. She dropped into a canter, and I kept her going, cracking the whip and stepping quickly toward her hindquarters when she went to wheel and go the other way. When her canter became more relaxed, she actually stretched low, bringing her back up and maintaining a really nice, balanced canter. I asked her to switch directions, and moved her into a canter again. There was some more bucking, and I sent her forward, making her do a complete circuit around me and not allowing her to change directions. On her next pass, as she looped toward the middle of the arena cantering to the right, I decided to see if I could get her to change direction, quickly switching the whip to my right hand, and stepping quickly in the direction she was heading. She tried to barrel by me, so I gave the whip a sharp crack and extended my left arm. Mads wasn’t too happy but she executed a neat rollback, and a flying change of lead, and went the other direction. Her inside ear was on me, and I had her attention, so I asked her to change directions again as she approached the other side of the arena. We managed two more of these cantering changes of direction, working a serpentine down the length of the arena! Best of all, she was licking and chewing the whole time, which is horse language for “Yes, Boss. Anything you want, Boss.”
She had been working pretty hard so I said “easy” and she dropped into a fancy, fancy trot – uphill and extended. I gently kept her going in a big circle, and Maddie treated me to show of the entire range of her trot. She rounded, she stretched, she extended, and even collected, keeping her back up and staying round of her own volition. It was thrilling to watch and I really regretted leaving my iPhone back in the barn, otherwise I would have grabbed some video.
As she trotted I kept moving her around, changing directions and moving the arc of her circle. She listened well, and stayed attuned to me. I brought her to a walk, then a halt. I called her to me, and gave her a much deserved head scratching. Even though we didn’t ride, I was really happy with how well we worked. Good mare!