Whoa! Stop! Finding Your Horses Brakes, by Alexandra Kurland.
This lesson looks at a very essential question. Do you know how to stop your horse? And do you know how to stop him using a single rein - without pulling back - even when he's upset - and at the exact spot you picked out?
Good questions. The lesson shows you how to get there using the same circle around a cone exercise that I introduced you to in the "Capture the Saddle" DVD. In that lesson you learned how to steer a horse using single rein/riding on a triangle techniques. In this lesson you'll be using that same basic pattern - only this time the focus will be on stopping your horse.
The lesson features Hannah and her horse Lizzie. Lizzie came into the arena having an emotional fit. She was all wound up, screaming for her stable mate who had also come on the course but was now out of sight back in the barn. We've probably all had this ride. Your horse is tight as a drum, head up, sides vibrating with the force of the screams. Hannah was doing an excellent job staying with Lizzy, but we needed to interrupt the behavior and create, if possible, a change in emotions. Hannah was using the tools she had been taught in traditional riding lessons. That meant she had taken a firm hold of the reins. I wanted her to let go. Now that is the complete opposite of what riders want to do in this type of situation. The last thing that feels safe or productive is releasing the reins, but Hannah managed to follow my instructions. It really is quite remarkable to see the change in Lizzie. Literally in the time it has taken for me to type these last couple of sentences, she started to settle.
It was a fun lesson to watch. Hannah did a superb job riding it. And for once I had the video camera running from start to finish. The batteries didn't give out. I didn't run out of tape. We got the whole lesson recorded. And we were able to do a follow-up lesson the next day which was also filmed. The result is a great illustration of this very basic, but oh so important, lesson. Hannah did a superb job transitioning into the single-rein riding. It's a great lesson to watch because so many people find themselves at this same place in their riding. They're used to more traditional rein handling techniques. Taking the plunge into single-rein riding can seem at times as though you are jumping off a cliff. It's good to watch this lesson and to see that actually there is a wonderfully soft parachute waiting to catch you. Hannah shows you how doable the transition into single-rein riding really is.
That's the first lesson on the DVD. We build single-rein-riding brakes for Lizzie. Once you've got "whoa" it's good to have "go". In that same clinic we had another horse, Shiney, who had very little engine. Shiney is a wonderfully pleasant horse, a very appropriate match for his novice rider. If riding Lizzie was like trying to stay on top of a ball bouncing off the walls in a pin ball machine, riding Shiney was the complete opposite. Again, this will be an all too familiar ride for many of you. You know what its like trying to ride a horse who feels as though he's pulling his feet out of molasses.
Sarah started out carrying a dressage whip as she tried to keep the engine going long enough to get around a circle of cones. I had her set aside the whip and instead give single-rein riding a try. We used the same round-the-cone set up that had worked so well for Hannah and Lizzy, but now the goal was the complete opposite. In Hannah's ride we were looking for halts. In Sarah's ride we wanted energy. The lesson shows how the same set-up can generate both. It's a really fun concept. Your intent - what you are looking for from the turn - determines what you get: whoa or go.
This is actually a really important lesson to consider. If every horse you sit on seems to want to go, go, go without ever wanting to stop, perhaps that is what your energy, your seat is telling them. Do you have a down transition in your body? The lesson Lizzie and Hannah rode will help you find it. And if you have trouble finding the "keys to the ignition", riding the turns as Sarah did may help you connect to more energy.
I had just enough time at the end of the DVD to include another great ride I got on tape last summer. Again we were using the cone circle, but this lesson illustrates the importance of managing your goals so they don't take over. What do I mean by that? The lesson features Leslie and her very green, somewhat reactive mare, Charlotte. The task was to get on and ride over to the cone circle and the central mat. Now what many riders will do in this situation is they will ride a direct path to the mat - no matter what. If their horse over rotates through a turn, they over correct. They ask for a turn to the right which their horse gives them. But when they get more turn than they need, they block the turn and send the horse back to the left. Then they block on that side as well to stop the drift in that direction. They do indeed get to the mat, and they get there pretty directly, but they end up with a stiff horse. They were riding for the goal (get to the mat), not the underlying reaction patterns that would get them to the mat with a quality ride.
When their horse gave them that first right turn, they didn't tell the horse that was right. They didn't reward that good response. Instead they blocked it because they got more right turn than they needed. The horse doesn't know the object is to get to the mat. He just knows he was asked to turn right which he did. He thought he was doing the right thing, but now that's being blocked and he's being sent back the other way. There's a good chance he may get so confused and frustrated that he shuts down. Or he'll get stiff to protect himself from the blocking actions of leg and rein.
Leslie showed a very different approach. Each correct response was acknowledged and reinforced. She would ask for a right hand turn, and when Charlotte responded, click and treat. Then it was which way do you need to turn to be headed toward the mat? Each correct response was reinforced. They were in no hurry to get to the mat and the result was a very pretty, very relaxed young horse - who got to the mat in good form.
Letting goals take over is so normal. Especially when there is a physical goal in sight, we tend to get grabby. I found myself doing this not to long ago. I was riding to a marker on the arena wall. Thirty feet, twenty feet, even ten feet out from the marker, I was being a good ride-for-response rider. But when I got into the tractor-beam proximity of the marker, all of a sudden I found myself grabbing hold of the rein! I know better and I was still letting the goal take over. We were so close! Just a little firm feel and we'd get there! But at what a cost. Goals can so trip us up and mess up training, mess up relationships. I caught myself grabbing the rein, knew what I was doing and rode to the next marker better. But the ride illustrated for me just how important this concept is and how mindful we need to be about managing our goals. We need to create goal-oriented tasks for ourselves so we stay tuned up in the skill of riding for reaction pattern. The goal is a reference point. It gives us a way of measuring progress, of drawing us forward so we don't stall out in one place with our horses, with our lives. But the goal should remain that - a reference point. It should not take over so getting to the goal becomes everything and how we get there is overlooked.
Phew! All that from a simple lesson of riding to a mat. If everything is everything else, nothing is ever as simple as it seems!
The lessons covered in Lesson 16: Whoa! Stop! form a great prep for the next lesson.
Approx 2 hours.
Click Here to read what Alexandra Kurland says about her series of clicker training books and DVDs, and how to get the best from the lesson sequence.