Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Development

An interesting development occurred during my ride on Wednesday. Milo just about refused to hold a counter canter. As I would come across the center to change direction for the counter canter, he would bunch up, get tight, and try and perform a lead change. I would attempt to kick his hip out laterally in the counter canter, but the touch of my spur would result in Milo either a) trying to change leads, or b) kick at my spur with the corresponding hind leg.

Attempt after attempt was made for Milo to go into and hold a counter canter. I was being incredibly fair about this - not asking for more than say a circle of counter canter and only a step or two out laterally from the hind. We had done much more difficult counter canter work in the past. But Milo must've thought he was too good for counter canter work and believed he could skip some extra work and just go into a lead change.

It took quite a few attempts before I decided to just counter canter on the rail, and hopefully get Milo to hold it and go back onto a circle. This method worked, and finally I was able to get a lope to counter canter circle, back to a regular lope. I praised him of course and that was all I finished working on for the day.

Thursday, for whatever reason (I was wearing shorts in preparation for my cart pushing shift at work to follow), I decided it would just be a bareback kind of day. I didnt want to have to bring a second change of clothes so I arrived at the barn in shorts and a reflective shirt. Not wanting to stick to the leather saddle, I opted for the bareback pad (In other news, I think it will soon be time to replace the faithful pink bareback pad - the cinch buckle barely works now, it is getting rusty and difficult probably from a lot of sweat).

I worked Milo on the line for about twenty minutes. Working mostly on the off-side has been my approach the last week or so, and transitions have tended to be the focal point. Keeping connection as well as softness through the body has been the goal (no tension, bracing, or hollowing) primarily in the walk to trot, trot to lope, and lope to trot transitions. But through repetition, combing the line, and staying soft in my body, we did achieve some nice work on the ground.

Then I got on, and we had a beautiful warm up. I focused on using m seat bones primarily for direction and cuing. We worked on the butterfly exercise Sarah gave me, the snake exercise, circles, and nose in hip out. All with a light seat and direction from my seat bones. I was very pleased with the ride so far. We moved into the lope and Milo surprised me with an even cadence and a lifted back. I even surprised myself in that I wasnt falling from one side to the other and found it was much easier to stay centered and relaxed than at my last bareback ride. I had noticed that Milo seemed irritated by my new attempts to keep my legs in "lope position" and seemed much more comfortable with the both of them in center. But he surprised me this day by not paying them any attention, and in fact, pushing the haunches in on an arc when asked. The lope work was going splendidly.

I pondered moving into the counter canter work that we had had difficulties in just the day before. Milo had been throwing some small bucks and kicks in the last ride during this work - could I stay on if he tried that today? I cowgirl-ed up and decided to work on it anyways. If I got a little dirty I was only pushing carts later on, who would care?

I came across the center of the circle and kept my leg firmly back to encourage him to hold a counter canter and step his hip out laterally. Although with less attitude this day, Milo still tried to avoid the difficult work and instead just change leads. Again we played this dance a few more times and then I finally wised up and decided to go into the counter canter from across the diagonal, catching him off guard from the typical change in the center. The first try seemed to work until we hit the next corner and he changed leads again. I tried a few more times and again had to resort to getting the counter canter on the rail, then, when it felt good, going into the center for a circle, back to lope circle, and back to counter canter circle. This time Milo obliged to the counter canter circle and didnt try and change leads. Good boy!

I'm curious to what his thought process is behind this, and if in any way my body is not allowing him to hold a counter canter. I have been trying to focus on my seat and make sure I dont change the direction of my hips to unintentionally cue for a lead change. But either way, Milo needs to wait for me to ask for a change and not just try and do it to get out of difficult work. Nonetheless, it did put a goofy grin on my face considering getting a lead change had been the directive lately, and now, without an agenda, it seems thats all my horse wants to do!


Kate said...

I think once horses learn how much easier it is to just change leads, they may have a preference to do that. You might have to change your aids for him to maintain counter canter and the aid for lead change so he knows what you want, very clearly, and also give him relief by asking for a lead change after he's done counter canter for a bit - counter canter is very hard work.

Story said...

Sorry, I'm way behind on things...went on vacation and came home to worse than usual internet!

My old trainer told me lead changes are one of those things you don't practice because horses can really get anticipating. But you know, it's something I felt I needed to practice anyway. My horse was anticipating even without the practice and I think I was causing more trouble by being worried about them. So one day I really practiced them. But I completely avoided the center of the arena, and avoided associating a lead with a direction. So lead changes everywhere but center, and lead changes that didn't follow a change in direction. I basically stuck to a large circle in one direction, changing back and forth. For whatever reason, it seemed to help. I haven't had nearly the same anticipation problems, and Dee seems more confident in the counter canter. Also our "real" changes...the ones in our NRHA patterns...are way more solid.

@Kate - so funny, I wish someone had told my old QH gelding years ago that counter canter was hard. He went through a one lead phase where he would not take his right lead without a huge amount of effort lol.