Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Attention Span of a Gnat

The problem with our practice rides is that my job is to keep the pony's attention.  Which works for about five or ten minutes.  Then it quickly devolves into me pulling on the inside rein while she tries to yank her head around to stare the other direction, which leads to me looking in the other direction to see what she's looking at, which leads to her spinning her body in that direction.

These pictures don't have me on her (which is why I've cropped and blacked out faces...internet ya know) but this picture shows her in the middle of a spook, her little tail clamped between her legs.  Her back legs physically shake when she spooks because she's genuinely scared.  Poor pony.
Then I take more inside rein, exhale and try to re-focus. By this time, I've completely lost her and she's doing her best Arab-y giraffe imitation.  So I tap with the whip.  The tail swishes up and pops me in the head (you have to love Arab mares and their amazing helicopter tails) but I get an ear back.

The amazing helicopter tail in action.

However the very next stride I've lost her again.  More rein, more tap, more swishing.  I know that I need to make the work we're doing and the inside of the arena more interesting than what's going on outside, but it seems like when I'm not in a lesson I lose MY focus.
What's over there?  It's amazing how rein contact just goes out the window when she does this with her head.
Seconds before a spook, the giraffe neck begins.

 Our trainer has us working only on one end of the arena right now because the Princess loses her pony mind at the other end pretty consistently.  So to build our confidence, we're just working in half the arena, roughly a twenty meter circle or so.  We do changes of direction but I'm losing the pony's attention EVERY stride so changing directions that often just leads to us careening about and eventually stopping.  I think it's also hard because the pony is lazy.  We're planning on conquering that at a later date too.

So here we are on a 20 meter circle and not even a good 20m circle at that since she is very spooky in one corner and I can't seem to maintain her attention for longer than two strides.  Which really means I can't hold my own attention for more than two strides.  So what do I focus on?  I have a lesson tomorrow and plan on asking my trainer this also.  If I'm focusing ONLY on getting her attention on me, then once I have it I have nothing to focus on so I think I may need a more detailed game plan for my practice sessions.  How do you set up your practice sessions?  Do you have a plan or a goal?  I'm also trying to set myself up for success and not make my goals too big, which I am totally guilty of.  I'm trying to remind myself this is only week 2 of working with a whole new way of doing things....


  1. I have a couple of horses who used to have this problem in spades - and it turns out it's all about my attention - if I'm focussed and directing them - providing them with leadership, everything pretty much falls into place - I have to get ahead of them and lead the way. I recommend focus exercises - there are some on my sidebar - if you're focused, you can worry and your horse will follow your lead and focus too. Of course, you need not to over face your horse, too, and work out from an area of comfort. Is feed and/or lack of turnout an issue - a horse whose energy level is too high will have trouble focussing. Good luck!

  2. In my schooling rides, I basically try to make every movement my horse makes because I asked him to do it. If I am constantly asking him to bend, or leg yield, or do this or that, he doesn't have time to think about spooking.
    You need to do the same. Every step needs to be because you asked for it to happen. If you can't manage to keep her attention focused more than 3 steps, then take 3 steps, start over, take another 3 steps, etc. Then try for four, etc.
    Also, when she is looking off at something else, you shouldn't look too. You know there's nothing scary out there, and should be more concerned she's not listening to you. She needs you to keep her focused on the task at hand so she can't look around for things to be scared of. She's too busy listening to you!
    It's tough being the leader, and if you can only manage it for 10 minutes before you get tired (and it is tiring), that's OK. :)

  3. Kate- I have been making my way through your sidebar and all your old posts! I need to slow down so I can actually *digest* the information. Feed and turnout are both good, though it gets super muddy here in the winter so making sure she can get a good stretching kind of run is harder. I have to turn her out in the arena for that.

    Steph - This is also really helpful. I think I keep hoping that one day we'll just *get* it and suddenly start being able to ride for hours with her paying attention. I need to stop while I'm ahead!