Our off property trip for the week was Team Penning on Tuesday night. He handled it like a champ. We warmed up around the training track, and then stood patiently for our turn in the arena with the cows. On his first of five runs he needed a little help going into the herd, but was tracking the cows back to the pen. By the end of the night he was making deep cuts into the herd, and brining them back all by himself. What I love about taking horses team penning is that you get to give them a job, and have a great time doing it. It changes up the sometimes monotonous ring work schooling, and lets you apply your training principles to a real life situation. The other great thing about cows, is that if you have a hole anywhere in your training program it WILL come out on cows. If your horse tends to drop a shoulder, or brace to one side when you do flat work, even if it is subtle, it will 99% of the time be exaggerated when working a cow. So having a low key evening to do something new, and give Disco a job, also showed me which areas I can really hone in on over the next few weeks. In Disco’s case, he bows out his right shoulder when going to the left at the lope. It has been improving over the last few weeks, but although he was fine pushing a cow, if it would turn back on him he would get nervous. When he was nervous, he would bow out his right shoulder to try and get away. So, this is what we worked on the rest of the week.
In working on balancing a horse’s shoulders, I do not like to do a whole lot of repetitive drilling. Especially on a young exracehorse who is used to picking up on a routine, it is good to have several exercises to work on the same technique so they do not get bored and sour. For example, I will spend some time jogging and loping squares and strait lines, and then I will go find a tree on the trail, or a jump standard in the arena to walk symmetrical circles around. Then I will go sidepass a pole, and may be do some leg and hip yields. The point I’m trying to make is this…. balancing a specific part, i.e. the shoulder, is less about picking apart the specific body part, you feel is not cooperating, and more about gaining control of all the body parts. If you can get your horse to respond to the smallest cues in order to manipulate any part of their body, then a little thing like bowing out a shoulder all of a sudden goes away. Again, it is less about the shoulder, and more about the body moving in accordance with your cues and releasing of pressure when you get what you want.
When I got back from Team Penning I did these balancing exercises on our trails while I cleared some downed trees, and set up some on trail obstacles. I went bushwacking off trail until I would find a tree that had some space around it, and I would do some circles at a walk until Disco softened and made an even circle. Then I would release my inside leg that was holding him in a smooth arc, and let him do a turnaround and walk back off into the woods. After doing this a few times, I would take him to where I was setting up obstacles, and tie him to a tree while I worked. It gave him the chance to mentally relax and absorb what we had been working on. Then I would get back on and go back to work. By the end of the ride we had created three new obstacles, improved his tying skills, and come the next time I rode him his shoulder was no longer bowing out at the canter, and we were even doing bareback flying lead changes. Oh and did I mention, that when I did these exercises on the trail, I never left the walk. This just goes to show, that long slow rides where you really focus on being calm and correct gets through to these horses. One thing I always go by when I train... Teach at the walk, reinforce a the trot, and test your progress at speed, or on cows :) We have tested ourselves at the canter, and will go back to the cows again next Tuesday. That should really show us what our week of slow work has accomplished.
Make sure to keep up with our Facebook page www.facebook.com/reeleert for photos throughout the week. Stay tuned for next weeks adventures!