Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Peter the Pony
This is Peter. He's a nineteen year old Welsh Pony/Quarter Horse cross. We've had him for three years and have used him on trails and for 4H. So far on this blog, I've covered some work with Kasper, and the harness training and sleighing with CJ, so now it's Peter's turn.
Peter has a couple of issues that I would like to see if I can change. First of all, if you put your leg against his side to get him to move over, he thinks that means go faster. Secondly, when I take him to any arena, indoor or outdoor, he wants to go way too fast. I think he goes fast because he's nervous. People call him a "hot" horse (a word you could use to describe Arabians) but he really shouldn't be. When you lead him, he's quiet and gentle and goes whatever speed you want him to. On trail rides, he's much more relaxed and also goes whatever speed you ask from him.
So, I started working on him about a month ago. Here he is at the local arena. I started him at Stage One of the natural horsemanship program I've been learning. Which means I did several session of ground work with him before getting on, at home and at the arena. I taught him to move away from pressure. At first, when I put my hand on his side to ask him to move away, he would lean into my hand. Now that I've worked with him and he knows what I'm asking, he politely moves away when I press on him with my hand.
Then I started riding him and asking for the same movement away only with my leg pressing on him. He didn't like this pressure. He'd move into my leg or shoot forward or pop up in little mini-rears. So I kept practicing on the ground, getting him more and more used to the idea that I can press on him anywhere and it won't hurt, I'm just asking him to move. I've had him down to the arena eight times now and he's getting fine with my leg on his left side, but still a little cranky with my right leg. The last session was the first time he didn't try to rear, so we're getting there.
Before I started working with him, you actually had to kind of ride him with your legs held away from his sides, because even just squeezing to get him to walk from a stand-still would cause him to leap forward. I did a lot of desensitization head to tail by rubbing him, swinging ropes, tarps and flags along his body, and sitting on him swinging my legs back and forth and rubbing them on him while at a whoa. He's made great progress!
The second issue of too much nervous speed has slowly been getting better as he spends more time at the arena. I think it's more an issue of improving his confidence than anything else. He has typically done a lot of head tossing when we've ridden him with a bridle (with various bits), so I started riding him in the arena with just the rope halter. The last session there, I used the bridle with him and he didn't toss his head at all. He could be ridden with the halter all the time (I ride him on the trails with just the halter) but for 4H he has to be ridden with a bit. (I'm not too fond of rules like this for horses, but there are some long-standing traditions in showing that I'm not quite ready to go up against.)
One way to slow Peter down is to lunge him for half an hour before riding him. But there is so much controversy about lunging and so many reasons not to do it, like it's boring for the horse and hard on his hips, that I'm looking for a different way. The last time I rode him, after forty-five minutes of ground work and warm-ups in the saddle, I let him trot without stopping for about ten minutes. Glenn Stewart has a game he does at his courses which is: keep the horse at a trot but let him choose where to go. There was no one else in the arena with me at this point, so I let Peter go. We high-power trotted all over the place. It was hilarious. The people tacking up their horses must have thought I was nuts. But when I finally asked Peter to walk, he was happier to just stay in a walk. Usually, he tries about every four or five steps to hop up into a trot, but after the mad-trotting caper, he was tuckered out and more relaxed at the walk. And the whole time I hadn't had to use the reins, and he really likes to have his mouth left alone.
Here he is snoozing in the sun after the ride. Counting ground work at home, road rides and the arena sessions, I've put fifteen days on him. That's how the cowboys say it: "I'll put twenty days on 'im fer ya, Ma'am!" Twenty days seems to be the magic number. It took me twenty training days to get CJ hitched and pulling the sleigh, so we'll see what the next five days do for Peter...