Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Entries From My Horse Journal and Teaching Joey the Bow


Today, I really wanted to have another lesson bareback and bridleless; but Joey shifted away from the fence twice when I tried to mount. And though I didn't pay attention when he did that yesterday, I took it as him telling me that he didn't want to ride tonight.
Now that I think about it, he did the exact same thing last night -- I just wasn't paying attention in my eagerness to be consistent with our bareback, bridleless lessons; I quickly slid on before he could move away a second time. And you know what? We rode all the way down to the second paddock, and even half a circuit around it before Joey quit! It didn't feel quite like the connection we had the last time. . .but still.
So it was really tough for me to respect Joey's movement away today as a "no". But, though I had the fear that he'll now say no every time, I finally decided to go with respect instead of "ignorant" force this time.
Instead of riding, I wanted to see if he would walk willingly with me; that's one of my big horsey dreams (besides bareback/bridleless riding): to have a horse that will want to be with me no matter what; even following to the point of running with me. Joey and I walked the entire perimeter of both paddocks. He took some coaxing at only a couple of spots; and I reinforced with bits of cookie at intervals. Not once did Joey's ears go back or head and neck relax; even when he stopped and looked as if he might not follow me, he always looked interested. And I guess that alone (much less coupled with the fact that he did end up following me all the way) is a step of progress just as much as anything we could have accomplished bareback and bridleless. It's all about the attitude and the perspective.

Here's some more really helpful advice from Mosie:

"The best thing that really changed everything for Annie and me was approaching [ riding] not like an expected service a horse must give but rather a gift they are giving you. When you are on him, I believe it is better not to even think of what he "isn't doing" or what is "not right" (of course being safe). Rather, focus on and rejoice in every small gift he gives you. It will make you feel better, and thus allow him to be more receptive, if you aren't commanding/demanding him to turn. Evey thing should be a question - a request. If you ask if he would like to turn and he does, then praise like there is no tomorrow because he is willingly giving you the joy you are looking for! He will be more likely to turn for you again the next time if he knows it is a grateful partnership. With this attitude, if he doesn't do what you ask, it is not big deal - you are still happy to just be with him and because it wasn't a demand, your "pride" isn't hurt and you (meaning whoever!) can stay calm. You want the experience to always be positive :) ... you sound like you know this though ;) This is still how I ride with Annie - every ride is a gift she gives to me - I try to always be very grateful and conscious of that."
Present day.
I've been worried about Joey's fitness lately. The other morning he galloped up from the second paddock for breakfast; and though it was 5 or 6 strides, he had sort of a coughing fit when he stopped in front of me. I remembered a fitness schedule that was published in one of my DK "Horse and Pony Care" books, and decided to start him on that. They start you out just walking for the first two weeks, gradually building up from 20 minute lessons to 45 minutes. No training and gridwork or hacking is involved -- just a pleasure walk on level ground.
So we walked around the only little bit of level ground that we have in a clearing in the woods that we kids have always called the "wheat field" (there's no real wheat there; but the grass grows shoulder-height and turns golden in the summer). Joey tried to be fresh; and I found that there were a lot of things that I need to work on, like staying still and steady through my legs and seat and hands (we rode bareback).
I'm part of a little horse-owning/loving group that Mosie brought together on Facebook. She came up with the idea of doing a kind of group project. We all agreed on the project of teaching our horses the bow. She put up a video of her teaching it to a new horse named Sierra using liberty methods (I also got to see the way she uses clicker training-- something new to me). She really only did two steps in the first video: getting Sierra to lift her left front leg on visual command, and then combining that with a target-touch between her front legs.
I was so excited to do this group project; but Joey can't see my visual cue [of lifting my hand to indicate a leg-lift] and he can't see the target to touch it. But I wasn't about to give up the group project; it's just the accountability I need to teach Joey the bow. So I just shrugged my shoulders and told myself that I would just have to get creative.
Because I'm not a very creative person, all I could come up with was tapping Joey on the leg with my whip and saying "*left". (*My idea with "left" is that maybe Joey can memorize his left and his right? It sounds a lot like "lift"; so if I need to abandon that thought and go with the simpler idea of "lift" just meaning lift a front leg, then we can. :) ) But right off the bat, Joey was backing up instead of lifting; and Mosie emphasized (kinda) be careful what movement you reward.
Now I was torn: I feel that I would really like Joey to think about the training and try and correct himself/figure it out himself; but in the past when we've taken that attitude, he doesn't try anything except  what he did before that isn't working (in this instance, the back up), and then we both get frustrated.
So I opted for the less painful route: I asked Joey to back up to the fence and then I picked up his leg as if I was going to clean his hoof, and said "left". (I should note here that before I asked him to back to the fence, I did try to break it down to me picking up his leg as if to clean his hoof; but even then, for some weird reason, he kept backing.) Then I remembered that we were going to use the whip as an aid; so I began tapping his leg, saying "left", and picking it up. After several gos at this, I stopped picking up his leg and just tapped it and said "left". He lifted his leg! But after that, he wouldn't; so we went back to what we knew: me picking it up. We got to the point where I was gently leaning into his shoulder to shift his weight, tapping, and saying "left", and he was picking it up (for the most part).
I have a feeling that it's going to take us a while to get to the actual bow. But that's ok: slow and steady wins the race; patience is a virtue; and most of all: I'm learning a ton about training horses while doing this, and I am finally clued into breaking the big things down into little steps and working at the horse's pace (both things I've never been able to wrap my mind around and totally understand).
I will note that a couple of times Joey pawed instead of just lifting. The first time, I accidentally rewarded; so he did it a second time, which I did not reward because it wasn't the movement I was looking for. I was excited when I asked for the lift a third time and I saw him thinking hard about what it was I wanted him to do. He tried just lifting his leg like we had been doing and he got rewarded! :P
We had another lesson in leg-lifting after supper. I screwed up my courage and positive attitude (I was sighing a lot, believing that because it was a little difficult the first time, we were never going to get it). Do you know what? I was prepared to lift his leg like we had already done so many times because he seemed like it wasn't connecting in his brain; but I tapped his leg with the whip, said "left", and touched his shoulder with mine as I was bending down, and his leg popped up before I could grab it! You can imagine the praise he got for that! ^.^ I only gave him a second to think about it (Joey tends to lose interest if I let him sit too long without presenting the cue again) and then I tapped his leg, said "left", and touched his shoulder. He lifted his leg again! We did it several more times; and though we were not able to do it just yet with just the voice command of "left", at least I wasn't having to bend over and pick his leg up for him anymore!
I'm beginning to think the bow is possible for Joey and I! ^.^


  1. Sid can lift his hoof and tuck his nose to the inside of his knee. I won't take him down on one knee though...he flopped onto his side last time we tried that. xD So much coordinated.

  2. Fellow 17 year old horse blogger? Yay!


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