Thursday, October 7, 2010

Collection and the Art of Toilet Bowling

"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." That quote is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill. I couldn't agree more.

With that said, I must confess a dislike for riding in the arena. I don't think Smokey is too fond of it either. Or maybe I'm just trying to project human emotions on a four legged beast. Regardless of how hard I try to liven things up by working on this, that, or the other thing, riding in circles in a cloud of dust is, for me, a bit on the unexciting side. Except for the occasions when I'm riding alone, and I let old Smokey Joe out into an extended lope, some hand galloping, and the occasional flat out run thrown in for good measure. That gets the adrenalin flowing.

With that said, I accept that arena work is a necessary evil. It is the place to learn and hone riding skills.

Lately, I've been working on collection, which is the horse equivalent of good posture. The short explanation is that the horse keeps his head down, and arches his back. It's a little more complicated than that, but I hope you get the picture.

I know how to collect a horse. Smokey knows how to be collected. But, somewhere between my hand and the bit, there is a disconnect between this particular horse and myself. I push him up with spurs, tug gently on the bit, and his head will drop. After a few seconds his head will come back up. Rinse, repeat. It seems to be a test of who will tire first. Maybe some day we'll get there.

In the last few months he has developed this habit of tilting his head in toward the center of the arena while riding on the rail. And, soon enough, his body follows the head, and we start spiraling inward, circling the drain. I point out the error in his way, we get back on the rail, and start the whole thing over. It doesn't matter which direction we're going, we just start circling inward. Since my first thought is always "what am I doing wrong", I've made sure my legs are off and the reins are loose. No matter, it still happens. If anyone has any thoughts on this behavior, I'm certainly open to suggestions.

On some level, I think he's trying to tell me that it would be much better to go stand in the center of the arena, instead of working on this silly collection business.

I wonder if horses respond differently to riders they are familiar with. When DN3 rides him, it's all business. She is an amazing rider, and doesn't put up with any monkey business. I'm more like Good Time Charlie, preferring to go fast, run gaming patterns, and ride for hours or days in the mountains. In a large arena, I can point him downwind, make a little a kissing sound, and Bam! It's like getting shot out of cannon as he heads full steam for the other side. But he won't do that with other people on him. Riding point on the trail, I can drape my reins over the horn, and eat lunch or read a map while he keeps up the same pace. But with other, less experienced riders, he is known to stop, and refuse to move again, no matter how much kicking is involved.

If anyone ever unlocks the key to finding out how horses truly think, they will make a mint.

"What's all this collection nonsense about, anyways?"


Anonymous said...

When one collects ones horse, one must apply pressure to the bit to block forward momentum while applying pressure with ones legs to propel ones horse to round their back up and move forward! At what ever gate, this is appropriate so that ones horse moves correctly and at a true gate. This is very advantages to keep ones horse in good shape and in good muscle tone. Good luck!

Just Me said...

Nice post. Although it's been quite some time since we had horses, there is one thing I never forgot about them. They are pro's at reading people. Sounds like maybe smokey knows you better than you think. Which is why he responds well to those things you like and not so much to those things that are not as interesting to you.

Just a thought. ;)

Jessica said...

Haaaa!! Smokey reminds me of a Thoroughbred I know and love! "I am collected, you just don't know it."

And you know how we feel about arena work. Bleh.

I think you ride Smokey a lot like Steve rides Lena, too. Last time I rode her, she was calm and responsive. He gets on her and it's indeed like she has been shot out of a cannon.

I think different input is good for a horse, though I'm still not sure any other input will be good for Bar. I guess that's hypocritical, yeah?

Oh well.

It will be interesting to see what we learn when we go up to Slide.

The King of Crap said...

I do not know if anyone ever will find out about how horses think. THey are very deep thinkers and tend to plan things out. My grandfather had a horse when I was a child, and it would plan various things, like how he was going to escape, get more food and more attention. Heck, he even hid large sticks from a tree under hay, because he knew my grandfather would remove them to keep a tidy stable, just so he could get them later to pull apples from just out of reach into his stable.

WomanWhoRunsWithHorses said...

Smokey is a smart horse, but you already know that. He knows that the distance around a smaller circle is shorter than the distance around a larger circle ...hence the rail being the boundary, staying on the rail means more work!

You made sure your outside leg was not pushing him and your reins were loose, but I would try giving him gentle steady INSIDE leg when he drifts in. It should be a correction, not a constant. Decide a range of distance you want to remain from the rail ...say 2-4 feet. If he drifts to 4 feet from the rail, give him INSIDE leg. Release the leg pressure the moment he drifts back toward the rail. Small corrections with speedy rewards (release) will teach him the quickest.

I love the trails, but I enjoy the arena work too. It should be for refinement exercises which will ultimately enhance your time on the trail.


Anonymous said...

When I'm riding, and it may not be true at all for you, the head popping up thing is usually due to my hands - either I'm giving too much of a release - the horse can find its own release and stay there, "in the box" on just a whisper of contact, if I'll just keep my hands still and never pull, just using my hands to establish the boundary. A work in progress for me - but that may not be what you've got going on.

Bag Blog said...

Horses know who is riding and they know their cababilities and their fears. Horses will react to those things. They know who is really in control and who is not.

I like WomanWhoRunsWithHorses' comment - the nudge should work. I also thought that you might try holding the reins (not pulling, but just holding) where Smokey's nose is straight or leaning slightly to the rail. Apply just enough pressure so that when he moves his nose out, he will bump into the reign (he will feel more pressure). Don't change your pressure on the reins, but make it uncomfortable for him to look out to the center of the areana. Horses want to be where it is comfortable. I had a mare that would toss her head to the right - I think she was trying to scare the rider into letting her do what she wanted or getting off. With her head straight, I would hold the reins loose, but I kept the left rein close to my knee/thigh and held it tight. When she tossed her head to the right, she bumped into that tight rein, she didn't like that, and she eventually stopped slinging her head. But that horse was always high-headed.

Deb said...

All excellent suggestions. Keep practicing BR, it'll come. I'd say that you've come a long way in 4 years.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff

Buckskins Rule said...

He knows the cues. Even when standing, if I lift on the reins and apply gentle spur pressue, he will drop his head. It's just getting him to stay that way. One of the challenges is trying to decipher how he was trained. Like Kate, I think he is one that needs constant pressure on the bit, as opposed to the loose rein western pleasure horses.

I'll try the 2-4 foot off the rail. I tend to to try to stay absolutely straight on the rail.

Jessica, with Bar I don't think you are being hypocritical. At this stage, he needs the consistency that you are providing. I can't wait to hear how things go at Slide for you.

alter_ego21 said...

On the whole "collection" issue. I've been told that if I am riding my horse, and he wants to either, "drop" his shoulder to the inside of the gallop, or, like you are addressing, circle the drain, it is often wise to take the horse a little bit out of his own comfort zone. This would be done by instead of putting his head to the inside of the turn, keeping his head to the outside of the turn, but at the same time having him yeild to your inside leg while taking a left handed or right handed circle. This usually makes for a quite uncomfortable ride, however, I would be willing to put money on that it will get him to stop circling the drain. Hope that can be put to some use.

Lisa said...

I just love reading your blog and looking at the pictures you've taken...I sit and day-dream about my happy days when I had my appaloosa's, trail rides, the wonderful smell of horses and woods, the companionship and friendship unlike any I've ever know, Mmmm...wonderful!

Kipp said...

...horses, women can anybody understand what they are thinking? I live with three women (wife and two daughters); my mind is constantly trying to figure out what they are thinking.
Love them both, but have no idea what is going on in their minds. Superior intelligence? :)

Me, baby and horses said...

Hi there my name is Natasha from NZ, I have been riding all my life (English) and just recently started learning western with a friends horse. Like someone said make sure you aren't putting your legs on when you think you aren't and but sometimes I also felt with the head think you just actually need to drive a bit more forward to keep the head in the position you want them drop and come back to the jog or slower loop if he brings head up send him forward again then you will find you will get better collection and its also a good exercise for you and the horse putting in paces within the pace, if you can understand what I mean, make your horse lengthen then bring him back your collection will come naturally from there. Bring him back with your seat not your hands. Arena work can be a bit boring sometimes but you will find you will come to enjoy the arena when you nail some kind of technique you are doing. Have to say though all horses love a good blat and its good for thm so don't stop doing it.

Ashleigh said...

Hey there, Congrats on being named a blog of note. That is where I found your blog. I look forward to follow your blog. I find your history very interesting. I was in the Army, my husband still is and we are currently stationed in Madrid, Spain. I have a blog about our family's adventures here. I have always loved horses, but I have never done more than trail rides. There is just something about them that draws me to them. I was so amazed to see that you had no experience with horse and now you have this whole other life. Wow! How inspiring for all of us who don't what life holds after military retirement!

Word Imp said...

Goodness! Who knew there was so much to know about horses and their foibles. I have missed a whole section of life accidentally.

Anonymous said...

one word for your blog : Awsome !

Penny Stavast said...

I'm not an expert, but have taken numerous lessons from some very experienced trainers in the Reining world, in Western Canada. Horses, like people, can be lazy, and the easiest route will be the shortest route, thus the reason they cut the arena until they do a nice tight circle and eventually come to a stop - they are smart critters! One of the trainers I was working with recommended an excercise. If you are riding the rail and keeping a constant distance of 4' from the rail and the horse starts to "creep" into the arena, a quick roll back in the opposite direction for 15-20 feet followed by another one back into the direction of travel will often fix this problem. As I stated earlier, horses tend to be lazy and soon your horse will start to realize, with consistency on your behalf, that if he travels off the rail, it's going to mean more work as he has to turn himself basically inside out on one of the hardest maneuvers for a horse to accomplish - and after doing a few of these in a row, they soon learn quickly to stay where you place them - same thing can be done to correct a horse while travelling on a circle for large and small.

As for the head bobbing, I apply a couple of other cues to my horses. Firstly I apply equal presssure with my knees and slightly lift my rein hand(s) straight up. As I am riding western and my reins are loose, this is actually enough pressure for the horse to feel. THEN I apply applying equally with both legs, slight pressure with my spurs. While my pressure of my spurs is steadly increasing, if I was riding 1 handed I pick up both reins in both hands and slowly bring both hands back latterally towards my hips, with equal pressure until my horse drops his head, where he drops his head, I hold this position (the pressure in my spurs, my hands etc) for a couple of strides and then release my hands, the intent is for him to hold this position on his own. If I does, I release all pressure, if he doesn't I immediately go back to the beginning. Have patience, make sure you are ready for the long ride, because physically it's hard on you as a rider, but ultimately it does work! Your horse will start to learn that with the cue of the pressure of your knees they need to drop their head - the rest is just used as a back up! Horses are smart they pick up on it quickly.

Ultimately, I can apply just pressure with my knees and the horses head will begin to drop - very cool once you master this technique and once again it's all about the timing! You as the rider need to be consistent. Also, take into consideration the horses confirmation, if they have a higher wither, they will never be able to comfortably carry their head in a "peanut" position, and you may have to accept a higher head set - depending on where you want to have your horse carry themselves. Watch your horse run and see where they carry their head "naturally" as this will ultimately the most comfortable position for them to carry themselves while under saddle.

Good Luck!