Friday, May 24, 2013

Outsmarting the Smart Horse

So now that all Tucker's physical issues are behind us, I've spent many an hour contemplating how to improve the behavioral issues, and at about 1 a.m. one night lying on my couch staring up at the ceiling, it dawned on me:  nothing is going to get fixed until I start riding through it.  There's really no other way a round it, no amount of pro-rides or different tack or schedule changes or feng shui stall arrangements are going help anything unless I start taking the wheel again.

After many, many hours of deep thought (I'm not the only one who does this right?) I came to a few conclusions:  Tucker is not a mean horse, and in fact probably doesn't realize how scary his leaping and spooking and spinning really are.  Tucker is a smart horse, who likes being challenged and likes being rewarded for a job well done. Tucker is an evasive horse, who would rather not work too hard if he doesn't have to and has realized that spooking is an excellent diversion from work.

So driving to the barn last night, inspired by some of the exercises in the George Morris clinic, I decided I would set up an exercise that would make Tucker think a little bit and would help work on forward/straight and involve some transitions within the gait.  Time to outsmart my horse, right?  Of course, when I arrived at the barn to find him spinning in circles in his stall, convinced that the driving rain pounding on the roof would lead directly to his death, I questioned just how smart this horse could actually be.  Two ear plugs later, however, calm and order were restored....

So in the indoor I set up four ground poles set on a circle, that walk six strides between each one using a natural bend like you would on any circle.  One of the poles was a skinny rail (5' instead of 10') for a bit more of a challenge.  Like so:

(Sorry, the Tucker-Cam was a little shaky)
(Sorry, the Tucker-cam was a little shaky)
I am happy to say that Tucker was wonderful and we got a lot out of the exercise.  I'm working on getting him to give me a better walk (something other than a Sunday stroll or a death march), and an actual working trot, so at the walk and trot we worked on getting him to take me to the poles.  He understood this much better than me just nagging him to go forward on an ordinary circle.  We did outside bend and inside bend, worked in some quarter-turns when I needed to for straightness, making figure-eights, and lots of changes of direction, so the exercise stayed fresh.

At the canter, at first we just worked on controlling his shoulders (not letting him fall in or bulge out), not worrying much about what strides we got.  Once I felt like he was listening to me laterally, I asked for six even strides between each pole (he was doing either five or six before), with some simple changes of direction.  Once that was smooth on each lead, I asked for five strides between each pole, and I'm happy to say he moved up really politely, I was sort of afraid he'd start dragging me around but asking him to think about turning and the next pole kept him focused.

I ran into some protesting when I asked him to come back and give me six strides again, so I skipped every other pole and worked on using my seat and leg more, until I had him sitting down and using his hind end instead of fighting my hand.  Once the canter improved, we went back to every pole and were able to get six strides, and then seven, between each pole in a nice collected canter that felt pretty balanced.

On another night I might have then asked for five strides and back to six again, but I thought it was good to end on a positive note like that, so we stopped there.  He helped me put all the poles away and I decided to take it as a good sign that he was still dutifully following me, stopping when I stopped and turning when I turned.  The cowboys like when they do that, right?


  1. :) Excellent recovery. Glad you two are staying busy.

  2. I'm still working on this one. How to outsmart the smart horse. The feng shui wasn't making a bit of difference. My stall mats were facing east, the water tank wasn't near the opening of the gate, and the electric tape was straight and even. Which means: Jane sucks it up and rides through it. Very. Slowly. Hudson is on the "Now Don't You Wish You Owned a Lazy Horse" plan. The vet was clear: slow, steady progress. No galloping!

    I'm glad you figured it out for Tucker, and he did the cowboy thing afterward. Excellent logic, planning, and follow through! (Also wonderful affirmation for those of us who stare at ceilings at one am.)


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