Thoughts From Devin:
Alise’s last post, and a conversation with my good friend Jen over at Toklat led me to think on the partnership of horse training. I often talk about what a willing and easy horse Rainier is to train, but the training is a give and take, and requires a good deal of reflection on the right way to bring THIS particular horse forward at each training session. As trainers, our goals and intended outcomes are usually the same, but how we go about getting our horses there varies with each partner.
Rainier and his canter leads provide a good example. From the beginning, his gaits have been balanced and lovely, with neither a tendency to speed up, or break to the trot. Picking up his leads, however, has presented a challenge. He easily and quietly picks up his left lead, but he struggles to pick up his right lead. After years of training ottb’s to have good canter departs, I have several methods I use to teach the transition. But after using all the regular options, Rainier still struggled. I had to come up with a new plan, and one that worked with his talents and his desire to be correct, as he was getting worried about being wrong each time I asked for the right canter depart. Plan…..D was to ask for a flying change from left to right. This worked very well, but not as a long term solution. Now, using repetition and praise, Rainier is learning to pick up the right lead from the beginning, with a combination of restarts and flying changes when he picks up the left lead instead. Using a combination of methods allows him to be right some of the time, and get praise, and therefore keep his willing attitude and desire to please, while still correcting him from the “wrong” answer of left lead.
Wanting to give him another opportunity for praise alongside this challenge, I decided one day to ask for changes not as a correction, but intentionally. You will be happy to know that Rainier has two lovely , consistent changes, and does not speed up, kick out, or otherwise get agitated when asked to change. Going back to the topic of partnership, this element of his training demonstrated that as trainers (and riders, since every ride on your horse is reaffirming good or bad behaviors), we need to listen to what our horses are telling us, and proceed accordingly. I do like to teach my horses flying changes early in their education, but I would not normally teach it before confirming solid and correct canter departs. But we must listen, and teach what each horse is ready to learn, and not be fixed on a set series of steps that must be learned in order. Flexibility and communication are key elements to a successful training program.
In other week four highlights, Rainier was an absolute star on his second cross country trip, getting exposure to ditches, banks, and schooling with other horses. He learned each lesson with willingness and caution, and ended with confidence and ease. Today he had his first lunge lesson, and it was a huge success. Lunging can be as difficult to teach as any mounted training, and Rainier completed his session with no attempts to change direction as an evasion, listened to transition requests, and licked and chewed with gusto. Teaching him to lunge is another way to help him pick up his right lead canter, which he did many times during the session. Before heading back to Canada, my working student Emily Corrie showed Rainier some basic ground work maneuvers, and after his lunging session he was willing to follow my instructions and demonstrate he remembered what he had been taught.
Rainier has also picked up a new generous sponsor! CHS Nutrition and Equis Feeds have agreed to supply Rainier with their Equis Element Grain and Rice Bran, in a combined effort to add weight while keeping carbs and sugars low. Thoroughbreds can be very sensitive to feed, and respond well to low carb grains. Rainier, a typically picky thoroughbred eater (he has not decided yet whether apples are something to eat or just roll around the paddock) is happily devouring his new grain, which was an easy transition from my own CHS specially milled low carb supplement, Blue Rider Blend. Thanks again to CHS and Equis for sponsoring us and providing Rainier with great nutrition!