It’s one thing to train a horse.
It’s a whole other thing to train yourself.
I know which one I find easier!
I decided to enter Sonic in the Olds show this coming weekend, in Obstacle and Showmanship, since we spent quite a bit of time working on those skills during the course of creating the Groundwork Masterclass, and it would be a nice addition to the course to see him in his first show. (Also Rocky is still healing and has to stay home.) Sonic is a spooky guy, so all his knowledge might not stick with him in a new environment, but it will be a good experience for him regardless.
I went out the evening of the entry deadline and caught him, measured him (he is 34″, which I knew but needed to double check before I spent money entering him), and played a bit and he was right on, even after many weeks off. Happy to be playing again, he was sharp and precise, working beautifully.
So I entered him.
The following week was our first workshop here at the farm, Girl Powered, so for about a week I was too busy with other things to play with Sonic, despite the show coming up.
In fact the next time I was able to do anything with him was when I went to catch him to clip him. He lives in the far pasture, so it’s a fair distance back to the barn, and we made use of it by doing some groundwork on the way.
It didn’t go well.
Apparently in the ensuing week he forgot that a) he knows how to do a haunch turn and b) he can actually stand still when asked to, without swinging his butt all over the place.
We did manage to get one good haunch turn and one good whoa before we moved on to the clipping portion of the day, but it certainly wasn’t our best work.
The next day I took him to the round pen and tried again.
The bum swinging was worse, and it was stressing me out. After all, I’d just spent money that I didn’t really have to enter him in a horse show because he was good at this stuff! I was quickly reverting to old patterns of behaviour, telling him NO and making him move his bum back to where it started.
Was that effective? Heck no, that’s why I have better ways now! But frustration makes me forget what I’ve learned (does that sound familiar to anyone else? Horse or human?)
Luckily, my own personal training has progressed to the point that I recognised that I was hindering, not helping, and I was able to take a little time out – grazing for Sonic and sitting on the grass in the sunshine for me – and make a proper plan that would actually help him remember what he’d learned, rather that making a nervous horse more nervous and making the games he loves to play a lot less fun.
When we’d reached an emotional equilibrium again, we started with walk and whoa around the outside of the round pen. That way, I could focus on the timing of my cues while the fence kept his bum from swinging out.
Once that was going well, nice and calm, I moved away from the fence, but instead of just asking for the whoa in the middle of nowhere, at first I stopped with a pole along his right side, to give him a physical reminder to stay straight. Still concentrating on my cues, so I wasn’t relying on a physical restraint to stop him, it worked really well.
After those quiet reminders, when I asked for the whoa without any guidelines to help, he stopped straight and stood quietly.
It doesn’t mean that with the added excitement of the show (his first in all his 13 years!) he won’t forget and need to move his feet, but it does mean that if I remember to use my breathe cues, reward his effort, and keep it fun, then we’ve got a good chance of showing our very best effort!
Frustration gets me every time – what is it that drives you nuts and makes it hard to remember your OWN training?