Thursday, January 21, 2010

Groundwork, Part Two

January 5, 2010. It was terribly cold yesterday at the barn—temperatures in the low teens. Since my riding lesson was cancelled, Galahad and I did groundwork: sidestepping up to walls, hitching posts, wash stands, and other barriers; walking and backing over that scary, horse-eating pole on the barn floor (for the third day in a row); practicing tight turns on a lead without me getting run over. Then I fed him his lunch and let him romp in the arena.

I didn’t ride at all, but we had a very good session. I practiced keeping my energy level low, smooth, and kind, and did a lot of stroking and talking softly. He seemed to respond very well, and even came over to me when he got tired in the arena, which he hasn’t been doing up until now.

The last couple of days I’ve been working on a different energy, and a slightly different desired outcome, with Galahad. Many trainers want to dominate the horse—to be the unquestioned Leader. This is my father’s approach: to demand, expect, and receive instant obedience. The trainers at the stable are always telling me to be more assertive, even aggressive, with the horse. Yes, they get quicker results. But I’m after something different—I want to be the Lead Mare, but I want to be a “beloved leader,” not just an unquestioned leader. I think that is possible.

What I’m trying to do is insist on obedience, but use patience and a firm but comforting touch to get my results. I find myself saying, “Yes, you can!” to Galahad when he refuses something, and giving him a gentle tap or two on the shoulder as an encouragement. “I’ve got you,” is another one I find myself using. Not that he understands the words, obviously, but he understands the tone and the energy. I want him to know he’s safe, that I won’t ask him to do anything that will hurt or injure him, and also that I expect him to obey. The trainers would have me get in his face and shake the rope, or even use a stick to encourage him; I don’t find that necessary, most of the time.

January 6, 2010. I was SO proud of Galahad today. I led him over to the arena wall, climbed up on it, and brought him a couple of steps closer to me. Then I leaned out a little, pointed to his butt, and he sidled over right next to the rail. Took two tries and he had it, from both sides. Smart horse! Soon, I'll teach him to stand there while I hop on, but for now, this is huge! Today, the wall; tomorrow, out on the trail, a rock or a log….

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