Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Finally, Starting to Get It

At the last clinic I attended of Peggy's, she noted that our horses should stop in their neutral position. That is, with a lowered head and weight on the rear. However, most horses learn that they stop on their forehand and therefore their heads come up when stopping. She used a couple of examples in the connected groundwork with the student on different "spots" you can apply pressure (level 1 or 2, examples of this given in her book) to help the horse stay connected and telescoped as they transition down to the halt. At the clinic I didnt get a clear shot of those three different locations, and have since been fumbling with my attempts to work on our neutral halting with Milo on the ground.

So at the end of my last lesson, I asked Sarah to demonstrate the different positions for me. One is pressure on the cheek just underneath the side piece of the halter. Another is right in the center of their neck, and for this location its your entire forearm. Sarah showed me with her arm grasping some mane, and from wrist to elbow making a steady contact against Milo's neck perpendicular. A good visual for me was it was right between two spots on his neck. She said Milo would probably respond the best from this location and she showed me how tight he was at that point in his neck.

I experimented with these two locations as I worked on our groundwork at home. I also incorporated more combing the line to help Milo find connection again, as well as combing the line above my head. Milo was taking the line and connecting, and I would encourage him to become more active in his hind end by increasing the energy above his croup with the lunge whip (only tapping Milo if no response above). As we would move downward in our transition, I combed the line gaining some until I was right at his head with the line drawn like a bow. With my inside arm, I tried the press on his neck as shown by Sarah. At first, Milo tensed up, but eventually stretched forward into the connection of the line and allowed his neck to relax. However, this did not seem to be the spot for him to stop in neutral posture. Instead, even with the connection on the line and a telescoped neck, he would stop heavy on the front and raise his head.

So I repeated our forward and instead tried with my inside hand to apply pressure to his cheek. This location too allowed him to stretch forward into contact, and as I slowed my body and breathing down, we soon crept down to a halt in neutral position. It took a few rotations, however, but I remembered Peggy demonstrating it on horses at the clinic, and mentioning that it can take time for them to learn how to stop in this new position. So I would allow Milo all the time to process to allow his body to stop balanced. I repeated this whole process on the other side as well. I always find it so surprising that by the end of these groundwork exercises, how complacent and content my horse is. No longer grabbing at the halter or bridle, or looking around at others passing the arena or riding in it. He gets that "zen face" I showed to you before, and licks and chews, totally happy with himself and his surroundings. If that is all we get out of any of the groundwork exercises we do, than I am pleased with that.

Another exercise Peggy demonstrated at the clinic, and one I described in that post, was moving the shoulders around. Excerpted from that post:

"Another good reminder was to stay soft in our bodies, and Peggy demonstrated an exercise I have read from her book, but didnt quite know how to apply it. For horses who are stuck in their front feet (the good majority of handled horses, Peggy commented) this exercise is to help them unstick their feet and bend through their neck. She would apply cheek pressure (and by pressure, its more just touch), and with equal consistency with her "active" right hand (applying the pressure) and her "outside" hand (those are terms I just came up with to describe with), then with her body she would ask the horse to move away and unstick his feet. This was not pressing the horse over, it was opening the possibility for the horse to do so, and if he chose not to, she brought his head back towards her, then tried again, or walked off as necessary. In this exercise, Peggy made an excellent comparison to that "outside hand" as being that consistent support the horse needs, much like an outside rein when riding. This really hit home for me, reminding me the importance of creating consistent connection on that line."

Typically, it seemed, if the horse wanted to stop on their front with their head in the air, usually their shoulders were stuck "with drills from their hooves into the ground" as Peggy put it. I experimented with the same exercise she had shown by encouraging Milo to move his front feet as I encouraged him to turn from the standstill. I was surprised to find how readily my horse moved away. There were a few moments of a slight stick, but I would bring his head back to straight, and try again. I was pleased to find that my horse was not as stuck on the front end as I had anticipated.

Finally,  I have had another "Aha" moment for the stop, and actually for most any use on a line as well. Peggy says in her book to think "up" with the wrist. I have read that and heard her say it many times now, but never really got what she meant by that. The other day I was leading Milo in the barn aisle and as I went to halt him, my hand came down wanting the head to come down. This only created resistance and Milo's head came up, planting his front feet. I backed him, again with my hand thinking "down" but suddenly realized that that was only encouraging his head to go up. I remembered back a few months ago when my farrier said that he moves with the horse when they move. If he tightened up against them, it only creates more tension. So I led Milo down the aisle way again, and this time, thought "up" with my wrist. Wouldnt you know, Milo stopped balanced and with his head down. I backed him, still thinking "up" and he backed with his spine elevated, and his head down.

It's funny how you can read or hear something so many times, and not fully understand or practice what you keep replaying in your head. But then the moment comes where it clicks and makes total sense, and it's like your horse takes a deep breath and says, "finally, she gets it."

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