Thursday, May 2, 2013

One Thing At A Time

One of the things that struck me about hanging out with my pony and my friend Marie, was how focused Marie was with Tessa.  And yet, she wasn't hyper focused the way I get (yeah, okay, this could also be called anxious or overcontrolling, but isn't hyper focused a bit nicer?).

Let's take the walk down the driveway and road as our example.  Marie and I decided to walk Tessa down the driveway and down the road.  It's about a five minute walk.  It took us about half an hour to go one way, with lots of stops and re-directions and praise and grazing.  The way back also took about half an hour because there was turning around, stops for praise and more re-directions.  The whole time, Marie stayed calm and focused on the end goal of making it down the road and then back.  She kept this in mind as we chatted and as Tessa spooked and as we were letting her hand graze next to the road.  All of this was fine, but the end goal was still going down the road and back.

Had she been hyper focused, she might have gotten lost in that goal.  She might have pushed Tessa to move faster.  She might have not stopped and let her graze.  She might have been so aware of Tessa that she was unable to talk to me or enjoy the beautiful sunny day.  But she wasn't and so we had a very pleasant hour of ambling in the sunshine and heading down the road.  And when we got back to the barn, we were all relaxed and happy.

I took that same initiative with my ride on Sunday.  I didn't have a huge amount of time, so I set one goal for myself.  To get on Tessa and immediately insist on going the entire way around the arena on the rail, both ways at the walk.  That's all I wanted to do and I would be patient and relaxed, but insist all the same that we follow this path.  I also wanted to do this without tension, anger or a tight rein.

When we got to the scary end, I could feel myself tense up and want to grab the reins.  Instead, I grabbed my bucking strap and took a deep breath.  I changed my position so I wasn't shoving down into her back.  I asked her to continue to go forward with my legs and then tapped her shoulder with the whip to remind her forward.  The minute she stepped forward, I gave her lots of praise and pets.  We made it all the way around with no spooks.  Same thing going the other direction.  Brilliant.

We ended our ride still on a loose rein and just doing some easy transitions.  I focused on staying out of her way and allowing her to go forward, but keeping her on the rail.  Then I gave her a big hug and took her out to graze.

I'm on way now to go buy a clicker.  We'll see what I can get done with it!


  1. It still amazes me how our relaxation effects our horses - no question about it. Super job!

  2. Very nice work! Damping down that impulse to grab/clutch/tense up is difficult, but can make a huge difference. I find focussing on my breathing - keeping it deep and regular and in time with the horse's footsteps - can make it easier.

    Clicker can be fun - Dawn and I did a lot for a while to help her be less fearful and reactive. I recommend any of the books by Alexandra Kurland, particularly The Click That Teaches.