I have mentioned a few times that Armani does not always lead well when I bring him in to the barn. I'm told he was like that before I bought him (my coach had her 4 horses at the same barn I bought him from). Over the almost 4 months I've had him, it has gotten better and worse a few times. Oddly enough, the period when I was there everyday bringing him in for hot compresses but not working much was the best so far. It's tempting to think dislikes work even more than those compresses but I honestly don't believe he dislikes work at all.
A few weeks ago I was trying to be firmer with him. Truth be told, a number of other people got into my head about what to do (why must people feel so compelled to constantly tell you everything you're doing "wrong"?) and I started to believe that maybe I was being to nice about it.I basically tried to make him work and keep his feet moving when he stops but I did so with more force than I had before. By "force" I don't mean anything harsh, the most I did was smack his butt with a dressage whip. But, for lack of a better word, my energy was a lot more forceful. I think my frustration and yes, anger, made my manner aggressive, even without the physicality.
Well, it backfired, no surprise. Realizing this right away, I felt so stupid for forgetting lessons I feel I've already learned. I also felt that something so simple shouldn't be an issue and I was quite honestly embarassed that I hadn't solved it yet. I knew I had probably damaged some of the gains I'd made with Mani, so I started at square one.
For me, that meant taking absolutely as much time as he needed. My only requirement was he had to remain facing in the direction I wanted. I felt like I needed to press "reset" and the best way I could think to do that was to be as neutral as possible. So I didn't praise or coddle (or so I thought...) nor did I push or punish. That didn't mean he could bulge into me or otherwise misbehave, I treated those as behaviours on their own and dealt with them as I always would, then went back to neutral.
It helped a lot right away but I felt I still was not really fixing the issue. It was what it was - a reset - but it wasn't the way forward. Then last week, as I was trying to bring him in for my lesson, the barn owner came out to help me. She had him in within minutes with little fuss. Argh! Lol.
After my lesson, I sent her a text, asking her to work with us the next day. I wanted a second set of eyes on the situation. So far this week, what we figured out seems to be helping. It boils down to the very basics of horse training, plus some mule-like behaviour ;-)
The main issues:
- Armani doesn't seem to have really learned pressure and release. This is obvious in much of his behaviour but I hadn't realized it.
- In relation to pressure-release, I got into the habit of keeping too much pressure on and not giving enough release at the right times. I knew in my mind that it wasn't right...but since he stops every couple steps, in no time I found myself keeping the pressure on to get that extra step or two. Um, yeah. So I'm focussing any leading on the pressure-release concept and refining my timing.
- Yes, I was doling out praise and coddling at the wrong moments. "Oh, you ate the couch, good boy!" is kinda what I was dong. I'm not very smart sometimes.
- I have gotten into the habit of holding his leadrope right at his
halter. Because of his "sticky-ness" I thought I needed to be closer to
direct him better. Not so; giving him a little more space seems to be a
huge part of the equation.
- Also, Armani is a bit of a mule. My goal is to make his feet move no matter what but my gosh you wouldn't believe how hard this can be!
Even still, I'm very happy with my boy. He is generally a kind horse who is fairly sensitive but is also young and therefore lives to see what he can get away with ;-) I suspect he's teaching me more than I'm teaching him at this point, but that's why I have a trainer!