Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Few Discoveries, and a Bad Milo!

I gave Milo some good-lovin' scratches halfway through cleaning the pasture. Another pasture left to clean, but I wanted to give Milo a little attention in the meantime. Finally it was time to catch the red pony, and as I entered the pasture, it started to rain. Milo was in the far corner of the pasture, and as I neared he lifted his head and trotted straight towards me. Good Boy, Milo, I thought, eager to get to the barn before getting soaked. Just as the thought ran through my mind, and Milo was about fifteen feet from me, he turned tail and took off across the pasture with Chica.

Last week I witnessed Chica pull this stunt to her owner, and once Milo decided it would be fun to do so as well. It only took a few minutes of his lunacy before he decided it was in his best interest to come to me. But this time, the both of them were flat our refusing to be caught. I could barely get within fifty feet of either one and they would book it to the other side of the pasture. Round and round we went, me walking a line of about twenty feet back and forth from their running to one corner to the other. I was starting to get mad. I was getting drenched by this summer rain, I already have been suffering from a head cold (again) and after already spending my energy cleaning stalls at Sarahs and cleaning both pastures, I did not have the energy to go chasing after some hooligan horses.

A solid twelve minutes into this insanity, and I decided I would fool the dumb beasts with "oats" in their feed pans. I tossed a couple small pebbles into one of the buckets and shook it in the shelter. Slowly the two horses meandered their way towards the stalls, curiosity and eager stomachs taking over their shenanigans. Chica entered the stall, with Milo closely behind her outside. As she checked out the false oats, I got a rope around Milo's head. Removing the fly mask, there was a brief moment as Chica left the stall I thought Milo was going to take off after her. But I got the halter on and some firm words in, and Milo sure as hell got his booty worked right there in the pasture.

I know this can go two ways - some of you might think that Im only reinforcing to Milo to not come to me in the pasture by working him as soon as he is caught. But from experience with a few horses pulling this stunt, I have found that they tend to associate their bad behavior with discipline. Last week when Milo did this, the very next day he didnt think twice about leaving Chica and the grass for me. Im hoping this pans out the same way when I get him tomorrow. Either way, Chica is a bad influence! And Milo is a little stinker for following her lead and blowing Mom off.

I felt bad about working him on a tight circle on the slick grass, but Milo needed to understand that twelve minutes of deliberate refusal is absolutely unacceptable. Not to mention its a big pasture, there's no way I can chase on after him.

So anyways, I brought Milo into the barn, who promptly called out three times while in the cross ties. A few swats and he gave up the call. And I decided that more ground work was needed before getting on. Out came the Peggy halter and line. Working in the arena, I was pleasantly surprised to find how connected Milo was to the line. I also made a few observations:

First: I had removed the line from the inside, so it was fastened over the nose and on the off side of the halter, so the line was not looped around his neck like I have been keeping it, allowing me for more length of line when out on the "longe" circle. He seemed to respond well to this single outside connection, and in fact, ate up the line and reached out for a larger circle. This is unusual for Milo, who is usually much more comfortable only a lead rope's length away from me (most likely stemming from all the close-quarters Natural Horsemanship stuff I previously had done with him). Interestingly, as I watched Sarah longe a few horses that morning, I was wondering how I might be able to convince Milo to stay out on the line without the excessive coaxing from my body, voice, and longe whip as have been needed.

Why was he willing to extend the circle today? Could the excess line have been all he needed to increase his circle? Was this what he had been really waiting for all along? I think it goes a little deeper.

Second: my body felt more "in tune" within myself. From reading Melissa's post  and talking with Sarah about the recent "Peggy day" held at her facility this weekend, I learned a more significant difference between "twist" and "rotation" in the body. Sarah said that Peggy commented that the word "twist" provokes a psychological attachment to tight and stiffness. Whereas "rotation" was much more "open" and with a softer feel to it. Think about it; twist is a tightening action, like when you twist a rope. Rotation is a free motion, with no retrain. So thinking about that in terms of our "torso twisties" Sarah has had us do when riding to find our bodies, that signifies more of a torso only action. While the hips do follow suit, the brain thinks of the upper body mostly, instead of the seat. Now, thinking about rotating in the saddle, and suddenly an emphasis of a rotation through the whole body is established. Hips and seat rotating.

I thought about this as I worked Milo on the line. Instead of "torso twisting" I did "body rotations". With each comb of the line, I rotated my entire body all the way down to my feet with each comb. Suddenly, I felt more aware of my posture, and I automatically went into neutral pelvis. I watched my horse, and he too began reaching more from his hind legs, and evenly holding connection on the line, even at the trot. I pushed this into the lope, and the first few strides were beautiful. Milo was driving with the hind and coming up over his back while holding the connection. Then I fell into my own bad habit of "following" him as he loped. This eliminated my body rotation, and just like that, Milo lost the connection, lost his impulsion, and fell to the trot. Aha, something more to be aware of.

I changed the line from the off side to the right side, and combed the line to prepare Milo to hold connection on the off side (remember, the line runs from the inside over the nose and connects to the outside. So while I am on the off side, the line is "attached" on the right side, and vice versa for opposite direction). I looked at my horse and made another observation, third. My horse was not sweating up on his neck, which is typically the first location he begins to sweat at, but was sweating up near his gaskin and the flank area. Very interesting indeed. Milo was connected and truly driving from the rear, pushing himself forward and up. This was the kind of sweat pattern I have been wanting to find under saddle. How can I get this connection while undersaddle?

On the off side, I made a fourth observation: Milo dropped himself excessively into me, and needed many many reminders to stay on the line and holding himself up. This is the same side he has been dropping while under saddle. Coincidence? I think most issues undersaddle can be worked on and developed on the ground. What does this mean? I see more off side work here in our near future.

Undersaddle, Milo felt great. I kept my ankles relaxed, and allowed my core to stabilize myself. He felt fluid and relaxed over his back, and the trot work was exceptional. Taking to the lope, I found issues staying centered and finding the left seat bone. Milo dropped away a lot on the right side, but with outside rein support and some bumping on the inside with some corresponding leg aid (also, keeping the outside leg further back I believe helped a bit too), he eventually began holding up the right side. I also found in our turn arounds to the right, I was collapsing my body, resulting in a terrible spin. More to remember.

I pulled off the saddle and found perfectly even sweat marks - on both sides. More Peggy work is definitely in order. Why I find myself straying from it to begin with, I will never know. The results I discover in myself and my horse should be enough for me to stick with it on a much more consistent schedule. It just takes hitting a wall I guess to knock some sense back into me.

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