Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Rehabilitation of Storm... The Misunderstood Cue........

Part 1

The hardest part of this process with Storm was a result of the breaks caused by the weather. I very much believe in starting the work week out slowly and building each session as we go. That way I don't push my horse to do something that will make him sore or put undue stress on him that can result in injury.

This method has worked for me for many years. Knock on wood, I have never had a horse injured using this method. I think it has also contributed to the happy, willing attitudes of my horses and the fact they get to the point they actually appreciate their work.

It probably contributes to me taking longer to train a horse than other methods but that's ok with me. With Storm it meant we just weren't stringing any time together so he could really understand what I was asking. While I am a believer in giving a horse a day to "think" about something new, the days and days of bad weather definitely did not help the training process or the thinking process.

I think the biggest issue I had with the horse under saddle in the beginning was he really didn't understand what I meant when I tried to squeeze him up with my legs. To Storm that squeeze meant go into the next gait. If I could get him to the point he was considering that maybe going to the next gait was NOT what I wanted, then he was convinced I meant he must go faster. It sure didn't mean push deeper, round up, lift your back, whither and shoulder or anything even close.

What complicated this, of course, was the fact the horse gets frustrated. He doesn't like to be wrong or to not understand. I'd guess the best way to describe this horse is to say he is a classic over achiever. He wants to be good. He needs to be good. He thinks if he has to repeat something, that he has done something wrong and he gets frustrated. The more frustrated he gets, the harder he wants to get it right so the more frustrated he gets if he doesn't get what I want.

It is a vicious cycle and could be very destructive if not taken into account. The training needs to be done in a way that doesn't push those buttons for him or that pushes them as minimally as possible so the horse doesn't fight the process because that's what Storm does when he gets frustrates, he fights. He thinks he's getting it right and I am being unfair by not giving him a release or accepting the gait he's given me.

I suppose I could have just galloped him whenever I rode but galloping takes strength that I don't have when I am not riding regularly. I get very sore in the hips from cantering and even more sore from galloping so that wasn't going to work. Also, I am not convinced that galloping alone would have fixed this particular problem with Storm so I took another tack.

I decided to eliminate part of the options for him so we just didn't canter. Once he understood we weren't going to canter in a training session, then he could eliminate that from his options of what the cue of squeezing him with my legs actually meant. That made it clear to Storm that squeezing him up with my legs did not mean cantering. Once he began realizing that, he became open to trying to figure out what it might mean instead. That was my starting point.

I decided the best way to do this was to begin on the ground. Even bitted up, I did not ask the horse to canter. When he did canter, which he did a lot, I corrected him by telling him "whup" (which he mostly ignored in the beginning) and shaking the lunge line at him. I didn't quit shaking the line until he broke back down into the trot.

Shaking the lunge line may not sound like much but it really is annoying to the horse but it is not hurtful. It's just an in your face, pay attention to me, cue that I have learned works with most any horse. Some take longer than others to realize it means something but once they get it, they get it "good." Any horse I have worked with that goes through a "whup" cue will usually respond immediately when I begin wiggling that line. Even if they are highly excited, they will get the wiggling lunge line, although those excited times can require a longer period of shaking. My horses have learned I won't stop the annoying shaking until they do what I ask.

Of course, Storm used to know that cue pretty well but like everything else he has unlearned over the two years he was gone, he had unlearned this too. I think had we had some days strung together in a riding week, say even three, he would have settled into this cue pretty quickly. As it was with a day here and a day there, it would take a while before he was easily responding to that cue and understanding that he was only supposed to walk or trot on the lunge line.

Also, having more days off than on, we always started off with a highly excited horse with an attitude. The first day Storm tended to be in his own world on the lunge line. He was happy to be out, running around like a lunatic snorting and blowing making Arabs look nuts. We always had to get through that phase into a listening phase before he would even consider we were in a training session to figure out we weren't supposed to be cantering at all BUT I stuck to it. By the time I ended the lunging session, Storm knew we were NOT cantering or galloping for that matter.

To be continued..................

Signs of Progress..... and a Little Whoops......

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  1. baasha knows "whup" too as "down one gait." i wonder where this comes from - is it from the NW, is it from dressage? i was happy to hear you use it too but where did we get it? (i think i got it from debi.)

  2. That was a good idea to eliminate cantering from the choices starting from the ground. They can canter in the pasture. I like the idea of lunging for communication and attention.

  3. I just finished about 2 months ago my own long rehab on my mare. We also started off with the lunging. We however did not to canter on the lunge line because we felt that it puts too much impact on the horses legs and joints. We did walk and up too 10 minutes of trot. We still do not lunge the horse for the reason of putting pressure on joints and muscles and a possible re-injury. I just wrote a blog post on keeping a sound horse. Depending on the injury my tactics may work for you as well. I am a few steps ahead of you though because my horse is in normal work right now.

    Good luck!

  4. I use 'whup' too. Always for downward transitions. Kat when in harness takes it all as "WHOA! Stop NOW!" and slams on the brakes.

    I lunge him in harness before putting him to the cart and no cantering allowed when the harness is on. Maybe later on, but for now- it's just NOT allowed.

    I agree, try to make this all as easy and clear as possible for them. With stallions it can be all about their pea sized brain and super ego. "What do you mean I'm doing something wrong? As if!"

  5. That's smart to reduce the number of choices he has to make in trying to figure out what you want. I know it's annoying and can't be allowed in training, but it's so cute and admirable of him that he wants to be right, and thinks he has a clearer idea of right than you do. It sounds like the two years away from you led to him forgetting how to learn.

  6. Whup is a very handy word (must be, 'cause I use it too ;o) Storm's baby pictures are absolutely precious; actually, I enjoy all of the photos you share at the top of your posts.

  7. Sounds like he is coming along. My Razz was like that for a long time, a leg on her meant go faster, but we also cut out cantering for a long time and she is finally figured out I dont always mean fast with a leg.

  8. I admire your tenacity in sticking with your "program"! The weather this year has made most everything to do with horses difficult!

  9. I'll have to give that technique a try with Gabbrielle. I want to be able to start taking her for walks in new places, but she gets so excited that she wants to charge ahead and leave me in the dust. It causes a lot of wear and tear on my arm. Shaking the lead rope should remind her that I'm there with her and she needs to keep in step with me.

  10. lytha, I don't know where I learned it. I think maybe at a clinic but I couldn't tell you who the clinician was only that clinics I attend are usually not someone local.

    Linda, I think if you don't have good communication on the ground, you don't really have it in the saddle so good groud basics are an important part of my training.

    Steph, the rehab of your mare was from an injury if I remember correctly. Storm's rehab is for improper training techniques so he doesn't require the "build up" of strength a horse recovering from an injury would need. What I am working on has a lot more to do with his brain and what he's been taught and getting the horse back to normal movement when it was pretty much trained out of him. I'm sure that parts of this process are the same but Storm is not a risk for injury in the same way your mare would be.

    CNJ, I know others with driving horses who do the same thing. No cantering in the cart.

    You're so right about stallions egos. They can take things pretty personally.

    Carol, I have a number of over achievers here and I really do appreciate their wanting to be good but sometimes it sure can get in the way.

    It's hard to know what Storm learned in the two years he was gone but so far it doesn't look like it was useful for what I need him to do. I feel sorry to see the frustration he has trying to sort it all out. Poor guy really is trying. I think once it begins coming together it will move quickly. In the meantime the rate will be whatever he needs.

    Jen, yes it appears that a lot of us use that word. Storm seems to be hearing it also as to slow within the gait which is good too.

    Storm was definitely a beautiful baby. It has been fun sorting through baby pictures like this but I seem to have a whole bunch of them missing. I've had a lot more babies than things. Glad to know that you're enjoying them.

    Crystal, typical for a young horse. I think it's always a good milestone when they hit that point the understand the leg does not necessarily mean faster.

    HHmstead, I'm so with you on the weather. With just a little cooperation from Mother Nature the horse would have been ready to show this year but he's nowhere near it even yet. I sure hope it doesn't continue.

    NuzzMuzz, I use a variation of it for my horses walking with me. I would think Gabbrielle would take to it pretty well. Let me know how it goes.