I’m blessed with two really trainable horses. Sure, they have their moments, but I can’t say enough about how forgiving they are.
Over the past couple rides with Kona, it has become apparent to me that the only thing standing in his way of becoming a truly finished horse who knows his job is…me.
What an eye-opening and heavy moment that was, when the light bulb went off. It’s my lack of time, my lack of purpose in his rides, and my lack of expectation. It’s time for him to grow up! I should expect more from him, because he’s fully capable of doing every single thing I want him to do. Loping off immediately like a big boy, making a full turn on his hind end, neck reining with light touch, and SIDE-PASSING. It’s time to grow up, Kona, and I’m so sorry I haven’t been a better leader in helping you do that.
So, during our last ride we focused on one thing, side-passing. This is something Kona has always struggled with, so naturally I’ve skimmed over it so as not to make him mad or frustrate myself in the process. Guess what, Allie, sometimes the frustrating and slow progress is absolutely necessary. After warming up, I tried to ask for the side-pass in the saddle, just like I would if I were on Hot Rod. Kona’s feet got super sticky and he managed a half-step–stepping on himself–before throwing his head in the air and backing up at lightening speed. He must be confused, I thought, which is yet another indicator that I’m doing something wrong. Instead of proceeding in the saddle, I got off and grabbed my stick from the trailer.
Quick note: The stick I have is a Clinton Anderson handy stick, and it’s really lives up to it’s name. Since it’s long and stiff, yet flexible, it’s super handy to have around. 😉 See what I did there? A long time ago, Clinton Anderson and I used to date. Yup, he was my boyfriend. Okay, not realllllllllyyyy. But I have watched many of his videos and seen him on tour. That’s almost dating, right?! That’s another blog post for another time…
Anyway, I worked from the ground with my stick. First, I worked on desensitizing him to the stick and string (didn’t realize how goosey he’d be with that!), by rubbing it all over his body until he calmed and licked his lips. Then, I used only the end of the stick right where my foot would be in the stirrup, and I bumped him until he moved away from me. He was still sticky, but his recognition of the bump got faster and faster, as did his lateral movement. That was encouraging.
I incorporated a sound with it, too. Some western riders have certain sounds for each gait and each maneuver, so I use the “cluck” for trot, “kiss” for lope, “ssshhhhh” for backing, and now “shh shh” for side-pass. I “shh shhh” with each step. Not only do sounds help him recognize different cues, they help keep the cadence of the movement. I made him side-pass all the way down each long side of the arena, first from his left, then from his right. He got a little frantic about halfway, so I gave him a second to collect himself, but then made him keep going. Stamina and endurance are an important part of maturing. Too many times have I let him get away with stopping something when he feels a little tired or worried. I’ve done him a disservice by not expecting more.
After we worked from the ground, I climbed back into the saddle and we immediately exited the arena to walk around the property and stare at scary objects. I chose not to ask him for the side-pass under saddle this first time, but our next ride I will ask on the ground, as well as in the saddle. Hopefully my cue will be clearer next time. I’ve already thought through how I will quietly ask, enforce with a verbal cue, and then immediately reward an effort. The time to grow up has arrived, Kona!