Thursday, January 25, 2018

1/21/2018 - Day 2: You Have an Attitude Problem (only it's a good thing)

I meant to share this in my last post since it was from Saturday's lesson.
It's a screenshot from a video, but I just thought it was so pretty.
"I expect teenage cheek. I actually cherish it, because generally speaking I’ve found a connection between the thing that makes a horse tell me to go pound sand at 7 years old is the thing that lets them piaffe 15 steps with no whip when they’re 12 years old. And of course whenever a horse I’m riding starts behaving in a resistant faction, my first point of action is always to make sure that he’s 100 percent healthy and sound, and also that my aids are 100 percent clear and 100 percent fair." - GP Trainer (from one of her online articles)
Penn finally found his teenage cheek! Maybe not a "go pound sand" level of cheek, and at almost 9, not 7. But seeing as how he started real work at 6.5, we'll call it meeting his timeline, just late! It took me this weekend to realize he's been conning me with his teenage cheek into thinking he can't do something. Penn is doing well physically right now and I just had his saddle checked and reflocked. I tend to assume I'm screwing up, or it's not fair to ask more of him because he's not strong enough, etc because I am an AA who rides without eyes on the ground A LOT so it's more than likely my fault. I needed the lessons this weekend to help me work through this hump we've met: "No, I can't half pass at the canter" and "No, I simply can't do a right to left flying change." And in our second lesson of the weekend, Penn continued to give cheek under GP Trainer's watchful eye, who helped me keep my cool and methodically work through it without escalating it in the slightest.

But I'm ahead of myself.

He got a stall with a run again!
Yes that's his dinner AND breakfast sitting outside with him.
And yes, he refused to eat it after taking a few bites.
#frustration #whydoibotherfeedingyou

GP Trainer stopped by while I was putting Penn's double on and was like, “Yay! Big boy bridle!” before making a few adjustments to my curb chain (tightening it a link, sorry Penn).

A brief note on GP Trainer's double bridle methodology: Keep generous loop in the curb rein- the mere presence of the weymouth is enough for majority of horses to go the way she wants. Don't let it become a band aid, but certainly give it a try at this point.

Oh, I thought we were in for a better ride Sunday since he’s been so polite in the double. Penn was very relaxed when we got to the ring, he felt good. We walked and trotted with very little resistance, repeating the trot/walk/trot from the evening before and mixing in some SI to renvers. It was all much better work. Then we cantered a little- the right was nice, prompt and uphill into the canter, hop within the canter, but a mediocre transition to walk because I did not prepare well. I changed to the left and just wanted to canter a few circles before moving on to whatever GP Trainer wanted to address… well, remember the 7 year old 3rd/4th level horse that had tantrums at our December clinic?

Penn was having none of it, though not as bad as the horse from the clinic. He offered a few crappy running transitions, then got stuck in the canter and didn't want to go forward. I wanted a walk/canter transition, no trot steps with an agreeable canter on a huge 25-30m circle. You would have thought I wanted brain surgery. We spent the first part of my lesson simply getting to that canter. He did not want to stay on the bit AND go to canter, so he would simply stop. I’d nudge nudge nudge until he started moving again.

Eventually, GP Trainer had me pick up my super long whip (I hadn’t worked out how to carry that and use 4 reins), and then when he would stop, ‘tap tap tap’ his hip until he decided to go forward again. No emotion, no beating, no kicking. Just be annoying with the whip and spurs and keep my hands and seat where they were before he put on the brakes. If he decides to back up instead, that’s perfectly fine. Keep his poll up and back up for as long as necessary. After 10-15 steps, take a big breath and see if he stops backing up when you relax. If he doesn’t, keep backing up until he’d rather go forward. No pulling or kicking, just an unemotional, “OK, let’s back up.” Give him endless chances to make the right decision, even if he needs a second or two to think through it.

A bad decision beginning.
A chance for a good decision, but nope...
Yay, a good decision!

It's the thinking of: I'm sorry you don't like this, but I am not going away or changing what I'm doing and I will wait for you to be done. Then we'll carry on like you never had an outburst.

And that’s basically what we did all lesson. The double shut the front door a little bit more, and he’d rather be lazy than sit, and we were addressing the lazy the day before, and so it culminated at a wonderful time where I had someone to coach me through it. Days like this, you don’t get to work on much. The work is in fixing the attitude and rewarding a good work ethic with breaks and praise. This is a fight worth having.

We got the left lead canter I wanted in my warm up, gave him a break, and then GP Trainer said, “Put him back to work. Do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. This is about asking him to do things and him making good choices.”

I did a little trot tour- half pass right from the corner to X, 10m circle right, shoulder in right down centerline to C, medium across the diagonal, half pass left, 10m circle left, shoulder in left on the centerline, medium trot on the next diagonal. I think that’s similar to the 4-1 trot work, but that really wasn’t my end goal. I just wanted a bunch of things to do to possibly trigger a reaction. It certainly wasn’t a beautiful tour- he thought about stopping a bunch of times and curling and was flinging his shoulders and hind end around faster than I could contain them. But he did keep going, which was the end goal, “Try harder.” I got to practice fluffing his front end up, which helped the second medium (“Yes! Get his head and neck up so his shoulders have somewhere to go and lift!”)

He got a pat and a break for being so smart, then I gathered the reins and tried to canter right.

He started making poor choices again, and for 2 minutes before we even got to canter, he simply objected to being on the bit in walk and stopped and backed up. I just needed to wait him out... and back most of the length of her indoor (but hey, that rein back is going to be very smart looking!).

We got the canter and moved on to the 20m circle with 10m circles at the points, and we got so many “Super!” from GP Trainer for his sit. He was trying his guts out, and gave a few honest “I can’t hold this anymore” breaks to trot. He let me put him back to canter and go again. I can see the pirouette canter coming, and how his normal collected canter needs to build from it (same uphill, a little less sit and more forward). I was thrilled to finally be able to show GP Trainer something I have been reliably able to get on my own at home!

Look! The sit! I pushed him out before he got too stuck, but he stayed more up after!

As we were wrapping up the right lead, he started making poor choices again. He needed to make one last good canter/walk transition when I asked, then he could have a long rein and a break. Poor boy, he just could not even. He’d canter/halt, rein back. We’d walk on and canter again. He’d canter/walk, then root or jig in the walk. We ended up doing trot/walk to get him to a spot where he could have a break.

The left was good- He got right on the bit, picked up the canter, and sat. It was incredible, she said to find places I could release the rein, and I found I could put loop in the rein in the 10m circles, and maintain the sit with my seat. He gave several honest breaks, and GP Trainer pushed me to get a full 10m circle of canter so he could be done.

These were the exact lessons I needed: Penn had talked me into not pushing him through his stickiness in the canter and half pass. I really didn’t know how to push through it either without escalating the situation and I wasn’t sure how much it would escalate or if I could finish the fight. I also wasn’t sure he was the true problem, it could have been me. Reflecting, he’s been quite passive aggressive for a while.

GP Trainer has a very unemotional, low blood pressure method of dealing with young horse shenanigans. I really like the approach because it doesn’t rapidly escalate as long as YOU keep a very cool head and can immediately move on like nothing happened. It basically amounts to: I’m sorry you don’t like it, I am not going away and I will wait for you to be done with your tantrum. After you’re done having a fit, you can decide to move on and keep going forward or you can have another tantrum, which I will patiently wait through again, after which you will have the same choice again. If you decide you want to go backwards, we can do that until you think you’d rather go forwards. If you go forward, I will tell you how you are the smartest horse on the planet and leave you alone for a little while.

I did decide to bring him home instead of leaving him for a week (we're driving back this weekend for one of their Adult Camps- 2 private lessons and a cavaletti lesson, which is why leaving him was an option). I'm very comfortable working with the issues he presented this weekend, and I'm pretty sure I can keep my cool and work through them quietly. Plus, if shit hits the fan, I can always leave him next weekend and come back for more lessons!


  1. I love her quote at the top, saying that the personality traits that make them difficult or seem like attitude when they're more green are the same traits that allow them to succeed and be really special when they're more schooled. It's a good reminder to just keep working in an unemotional way that invites partnership, rather than trying to shut the horse down or break his willpower.

    1. Yes! It's never all sunshine and rainbows, but you don't have to escalate things either. It's about turning what they want to do into a horrible idea- fine you want to back up, LET'S BACK UP (in an unemotional, non mouth ripping way where you're still leaving the front door open so they can change their mind and stop and walk on). It's a way of saying, you can be mad, but you have to try. You don't want to break that willpower I think, it won't be an honest partnership and you might break that thing that let's them succeed at later levels!

  2. I love your trainer. And dayyyyyum, that is some NICE canter work there!

    1. I wish I could see her more often!!! Is it bad that my favorite part of working in the double is he gets fancy with his feet in trot? He doesn't drag his hind toes. He's actually a bit snappy behind!


    Gahhh I gotta get over there for lessons. I've loved what I've seen her and her assistants do with their students at shows, but everything you said here just makes me love her moreeee. Granted, I'll chill with one of the assistants for awhile, but still!!

    1. They are really amazing at shows- they're there to make sure you feel good, that you're riding the horse effectively, and the best part: they don't try to change things in the warm up. They make sure you have a confident warm up so horse and rider enter the show ring happy. Definitely give them a call, her assistants will be more than happy to have you!

  4. I have had (and still have) so many lessons like this. THIS - THIS!! -- is why people send their horses off to trainers. Because it's TOUGH to deal with this stuff. But you learn so much in the end, and acquire so many tools to deal with various "bad choices." Penn looks so handsome in his double!

    1. From what I've heard... this kind of crap just keeps on coming as you progress, same issues (Penn will always want to do a shitty little 4 beat without sitting) just at a different level. All of the shitty things they do come back and you have to shove yourself over the hump!

      I agree, it's why I just wanted to send him away and let someone else work through this... but I brought him home because realistically, he's not dangerous and I am going to keep having these little tiffs for a while and I have to be able to work through them on my own because I am on my own for the most part. If shit hits the fan at a show, I one, have to see it coming in time to prevent it, and two, if it rages, I need to be able to ride it and salvage it while most likely being trainerless in public. There's no beating them in public (not that I would beat him at home!), but this is something I can go find an out of the way ring and have a quiet discussion.

      And I LOVE Penn in his double. Even if he hates it :-)

  5. I really needed to read this right now! Katai's been throwing the same attitude and it's tough not to wonder if it's physical despite ruling out everything, although we are getting her saddle adjusted. You guys look amazing and I always love reading your recaps.

    1. Thanks! He's made leaps and bounds of progress this month! These are the same methods she uses on her talented hot heads, and I think they are applicable to *almost* every horse. I don't think you can go wrong with patience and quiet riding.