“If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question or you asked the question wrong.”
I’ve determined that my drifting speed demon canter problems are mostly a result of Shiloh’s under-conditioned hind quarters and lack of balance. One of the easiest and most straightforward methods of solving this is hill work. Luckily for me, I have an incredible Man From Snowy River caliber hill in the back pasture. The only problem is that I have to actually get him to the hill in order to ride on it. It’s about a half mile away, crossing through deadly woodland trails full of blood thirsty deer and open fields that scream “time to gallop.”
I know most of the problem is me. As hard as it is to admit, Shiloh and I are both reactive and nervous creatures that lack confidence in each other. I learn more everyday but deep down I feel like my horse deserves a stronger leader. Yesterday I stupidly attempted to take Shiloh to the back of the property alone. It was okay when I worked him close to the fence where he could still see his pasture buddy. We even had some moments of absolute bliss as he stood on a loos rein and we watched the sunset and a small herd of deer bound into the woods. It was all downhill from there.
I gradually attempted to ride further and further from the dividing fence, towards the hill I wanted to ride him on. He walked hesitantly with his head and neck as high and tense as possible. I’m sure my own body wasn’t communication confidence either. When get nervous I tend to get light in the saddle and take my legs off at the first sign of trouble. Obviously, this only escalates the cycle. Shiloh was starting to pull his hop and skedaddle back to the barn nonsense. He actually jumped some bushes during his shenanigans! I was impressed with his athleticism but also reminded of why I so prefer dressage (staying on the ground…mostly) to cross country insanity. So I hopped off and found a flat space to lunge him and I just worked him until he started to forget that he was in the middle of a mental breakdown.
After working him by himself for a while, I led him back to the barn and his buddy and rode in our comfort zone. We had some nice canter moments, but it wasn’t nearly as productive as the session that I had in my head.
While trying to stay on this crazed, wide-eyed version of my sweet Shiloh, I was reminded of Parelli’s quote “If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question or you asked the question wrong.” Not only was my horse saying “no,” he was screaming “HELL NO!” and I had no idea how to rephrase the question. After all this time and everything we’ve been through, my horse doesn’t seem to really trust me. I may be able to fool myself into thinking I know what I’m doing, but fortunately my horse is always able to call my bluff.
That’s the wonderful thing about horses; they can never lie. They have no agenda and no plans, and if you care to listen, they will always tell you when you make a mistake. Luckily, they also tend to be reasonably forgiving.
I was supposed to have a lesson this morning but it got cancelled. Instead I decided to try my hand at Joining Up. I watched Monty Roberts’ video demo about a million times until I was sure I had the important details locked away. I need Shiloh to stop thinking about the outside world and lock onto my cues. The only way to accomplish this feat was to speak his language, what Monty calls “Equus.”
The basics were, gently drive the horse in a free lunging situation in both directions and wait for them to give you signals that they are ready to come and be near to you. Look for:
- Lowering the head
- Turning the head to the inside of the circle
- Turning their inside ear towards you
- Licking and chewing
- Making smaller circles
Our join up went pretty much by the book and it didn’t take long for Shiloh to run a smaller circle around me, turn his head and inside ear, and lick and chew.
The only thing he didn’t do was bow his head, which was the one thing I really wanted him to do. He’s on giraffe mode nearly all the time, and I was disappointed that he didn’t lower his head and just relax. Overall, I think I accomplished what I wanted to happen. He came to me when I turned my back and proceeded to follow me like a puppy for the next half hour. I think I will try again in a few days and see if I can get the relaxation that I want him to experience.