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Poor Expression
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Joanne NZ
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 Posted: Sun Apr 1st, 2018 05:11 am
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Hello Dr Deb I hope this finds you well? I have ridden in your last two Clinics in NZ on the dark clydie x horse you called Baldy Sox and I'm looking forward to riding at your next clinic here in a few weeks. I will be riding my other horse this time. He is a 7 year old who I started in ridden work September of last year (as a 6 year old I had only walked him a little for a month or so ridden). I've been trying hard to ride him right and bring him on the very best I can. I rode him with Buck in January and was so grateful to have done this and for what I learnt. I was thrilled with my horses behaviour as he was a true gentleman and tried very hard. The problem (if you could please help me) is that at times this horse gives me poor expressions (ears tight back and nose screwed up) and I've never had a horse like this. He used to do it a lot when I did groundwork with him earlier on and then I thought he had stopped doing it altogether until a few weeks ago when we started doing more cantering. I use voice commands with him for going up the paces in groundwork. These work well so I thought it would help him to begin with if I use them for the ridden canter transitions. As soon as he hears 'canter' you can feel he starts thinking canter. I believe I then ask for the canter transition politely and he pops into canter quite nicely apart from his ears being back (this didn't happen to begin with) and although most of the time hes going along at a lovely pace on a long rein I can kind of feel a slight reluctance like a handbrake partly left on. Looking through Buck notes he says make the poor expression difficult but I'm not sure how to in the canter transition. My horse is doing it nicely apart from the expression. He then canters with his ears back I'm not sure what to do so I keep him cantering until I feel him change and his ears go forward. Then I pat him and stop. I haven't done too much cantering as I'm worried - feel like I'm practising what is not good. As I type this I wonder if I should being doing something while still in the trot when the poor expression first shows? Not sure what to do though. I really like this horse but hate that he feels as he does at times. I look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards Joanne

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Apr 1st, 2018 01:43 pm
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HI, Joanne --- Yes, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again at the clinic too. Baldy Sox is a good, strong, well-conformed and easily-collectable horse so I'm figuring your new one is probably equally good, since you knew how to pick a good one the first time.

The problem you're having can crop up for several different reasons, but I'm betting on just one. The things I'm NOT betting this is being caused by are:

(1) Colickyness or general unwellness -- I bet it isn't this because your other horse has been healthy and I know you pay attention to Jenny's advice too, so we're not talking pasture toxicity here or some other kind of metabolic upset or disease.

(2) Pain in the feet, i.e. laminitis -- ditto above

(3) Pain from the saddle not fitting -- Baldy Sox's tack fits him fine, so again I'm thinking you know how to choose tack that fits the animal you're riding. You might want to give this possibility a once-over, though, and double-check for any signs of soreness, particularly under the 'buttons' of the fore-arch in front (i.e. in the pockets of the withers).

(4) Pain or at least discomfort from the rider not sitting the canter well, or trying to "post" into the canter. As you have heard me say about ten thousand times at previous clinics, no rider on earth has ever been able to transition from trot to canter unless they STOP posting and sit down. Seems I remember you can do that just fine, so again, I doubt it's this....in fact, weren't we working on walk-to-canter and halt-to-canter last time? So you aren't the culprit in this way, I think. Observe less skillful riders whang their horse in the back repeatedly during the trot-canter transition....not surprising if their horses express some objection.

OK, so all that having been said, what I think this is around is that you're anxious to be sure he canters, when instead with a green horse you have to absolutely not care whether he ever canters at all, and let it just be a pleasant surprise, like getting an unexpected birthday present, when he does. In other words -- you are asking politely, I believe that, but you're still from HIS point of view rushing him; you might say you're insisting on taking the canter from him, instead of letting him give it to you. He lays his ears back in groundwork for the same reason: you have to give him HIS OWN TIME to get his feet in the right places and his balance arranged. You know he knows (and again I believe your report on this) when you want him to canter. He knows. The problem is, it worries him because he thinks he's got to canter RIGHT NOW NO MATTER WHAT.

With some horses this can get to be really rather amusing....one sees that the poor beast knows that his human wants him to canter, and he kind of rolls his eyes and says to himself, 'well what am I supposed to do to please her' and then he gives a couple of crowhops or low bucks, hippity-hop! You wouldn't think he'd buck to please his rider, but that's what he's doing anyway, because it's the best compromise he can come up with. He bucks to buy some air time....only when he's got at least a couple of feet in the air can he get his legs rearranged so that the timing of the footfalls changes from that of the trot to that of the canter. Your horse doesn't do amusing little bucks -- he figures he'll get punished if he tries that option -- so this leaves him NO options and that makes him feel grumpy.

Because that's all it is, of course. A 'transition' means that some feet are going to have to accelerate, or else others decelerate, which is what changes the order in which the feet hit the ground. That's the main difference, to the horse, between a trot and a canter, or any two different gaits: the feet have to hit the ground in a different sequence, and how you get from one sequence to the other is by speeding up some feet or slowing down some other feet.

You will benefit in solving this by going back to groundwork and just forget about having him canter out of a trot. Don't encourage him to go FASTER in order to change into canter. My old Painty Horse could walk at 7 mph and canter at 4 mph. He could also canter at 25 mph. Cantering is not a speed, and the analogy one often hears that likens a horse's gaits to the gears on a motorcycle ('first gee-arr, it's alright, second gee-arr, hang on tight...) is entirely bogus. Gaits are not speeds. The canter is not necessarily faster than the walk, and in a finished horse, the collected canter is slower than the working walk.

If you've got a roundpen, get a single ground-pole and put it in the pen as on a radius with one end butted up against the wall or right next to the perimeter fence. If you don't have a roundpen, then put the horse on a righteous longe line, not just the 8 to 12-ft. leadline. He needs the length on a 20-ft. line or the space in the roundpen so that he doesn't have to circle too tight -- one problem at a time, please.

Have him well out at the end of the line, or else on the rail in the roundpen, and have him at a real good 7 mph walk. Let him go around several times so you're sure he's OK with the pole and not going to stupidly trip over it or spook from it. Then find a moment when he's at the opposite side of the circle from the pole. We choose this spot because YOU are going to need at least a half of the circle to get your timing right.

Observe the horse's hind legs at a walk. See how he walks -- left, right, left, right, just like a two-legged person when you ignore the fact that he also has front legs. Focus on just the inside hind leg. See how big a step it may be taking. If you can get the horse to follow your gesture with that leg, and sweep a longer forward arc with it or i.e. take a bigger step, in the moment he does this he will canter.

You get him to take a longer sweep by sweeping him. Point at his hock with your driving hand, and send your laser-beam energy from the ting-point in the center of that palm out to that hock. If you're holding the tail of the line or a ballwhip or a rope or flag in that hand, fine; any of these just serve to magnify your gesture. Once you've touched him with your laser beam, he knows which part of his body you're addressing. Then use your driving hand in a sweeping motion, almost like how you would do if you were in a bowling alley -- big gesture. Lean toward him as you do it. Sweep your arm in a big arc. Time the sweep with the swing of his inside hind leg, the idea being to get that leg, as I said, to take a bigger and somewhat more vigorous step. Be sure you're not in his way with the energy/aura/bubble on the leadline side of your body, so that you don't inadvertently block him.

Work at this on the side of the pen, or in an area of the arena, away from the pole. Then when you feel you've got the hang of timing your "sweep" with his step, then arrange things so that you are aiming him so he will go over the pole. When he's a few steps away from it, coming towards it, then you sweep your arm, and the pole will help him push off harder and thus get the air time that makes it easier for him to swap into a canter timing.

I would not use the voice command while you do this, at least not at first, because I think you're not going to need it (indeed as you know, I generally avoid voice commands or other mouth noises, except for very particular situations, and ordinary everyday cantering isn't one of them). Needless to say, also, you're not to be the slightest bit concerned if it takes quite a long time for him -- many repeats -- before he canters. He may do it right away, but this is just exactly like getting a horse up on the drum: you have to let him get it done in HIS OWN TIME, and that applies double once you're sure he knows what you want.

Once he starts picking up canter from having been "lasered and swept" from the ground, then you can transfer to the saddle. Put the horse in the exact same situation physically, either in the same place in the open arena where you had been longeing him, or else in the roundpen, and at the place where you would have started sweeping, as you approach the pole, that's where you use outside-inside leg which is the canter aid. Be sure you don't grab up the reins or in any other manner inadvertently block him.

Absolutely we do not care not even one iota which lead he gets at this point. As you know from attending previous clinics, a horse is on the correct lead as soon as he adopts the correct bend, correctly, i.e. as soon as he weights the outside hind foot. In general, we establish the lead at a walk as the first step in transitioning to canter. But your problem does not lie in this area; your problem is around the 2nd half of the canter transition, which is the energy change or jump-up, which also entails the change in the timing of the feet.

Remember to keep your butt planted as you apply the canter aid and school yourself and insist to yourself that you LEAN BACK NOT FORWARD as you ask for the energy increase. Nail your outside seatbone to the saddle and let nothing bump you up so that it comes out of contact with the saddle. This means ADHERE not crush downward. Lead with your crotch without, however, pushing with the seat; in other words, let the saddle carry your crotch forward, and then just see to it that your crotch is always a little ahead of your sternum.

Have a go at this and then let me know if you have any questions, or whatever observations, either here in the next few days, or when I see you in Hawera. Cheers -- Dr. Deb




Joanne NZ
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 Posted: Tue Apr 3rd, 2018 04:50 am
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Thank you Dr Deb, for your generous time given in replying to me and I believe you have hit the nail on the head. I did double check my horses gear and back, as suggested and this all seems fine but on reading that from my horses point of view I am rushing him and that I am taking the canter from him rather than letting him give it to me I immediately saw that this is what has been happening. I didn’t mean this and am glad to be made aware of it. I find it interesting that in asking quietly and supposedly politely I have still rushed him. A good lesson for me here, thank you to you and my horse for it.
I keep re-reading your reply and I then make a point of re-reading it before going out to my horse. These last two days I have done as you have suggested with the groundwork and will continue this. I was surprised by the power of the sweep and laser beam and actually upset my horse to begin with. It took awhile to get him calm enough to try it again and I had to keep adjusting my sweep ( such is the power of the sweep) and I felt I was rushing him with it. This morning I did get one lovely walk to canter transition. I will keep doing this exercise and can see it maybe a few days before I ask him to do it on the other side of the circle heading into the pole. I feel this has been a very good exercise for us to do.
Dr Deb, at the beginning of your reply you mention ‘Baldy Sox is a good, strong, well-conformed and easily-collectable horse so I'm figuring your new one is probably equally good, since you knew how to pick a good one the first time’. I wish I could say I picked Baldy Sox but I didn’t and I didn’t pick this other horse either. Both boys were unborn foals mares were carrying on our property. The people (two different people, and this happened 6 yrs apart) who got the mares in foal then decided they didn’t want the unborn foals. I was asked “Did I want ‘it’?” I didn’t want either foal born where they were unwanted so I paid the service fees and ended up with these two lovely boys. I feel they were meant for me somehow and that I am very lucky to have them. This second horse is very different from Baldy Sox as you will see. He is tall and lanky so I think things aren’t so easy for him and he makes me look at myself A LOT. Guess he is teaching me what I need taught. Many thanks Dr Deb. I very much appreciate your help. Have a good trip over and see you next week. Big hug and kind regards Joanne

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Apr 3rd, 2018 07:41 am
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Oh, this is SUCH a good example of our commitment "to do ALL that it takes but NO MORE than it takes."

But figuring out how to do the minimum that still makes what you want clear to the horse may take some doing! Horses are very, very sensitive animals and it does often surprise people how little it MIGHT take.

Isn't it amazing too, how he knew exactly what you wanted the very first time you lasered and swept him! Proof once again, for the millionth time, that MERE repetition (i.e. "habituation" or "getting the horse used to it") is not a productive way of training. All the person has to do is believe in how intelligent horses are, and how they are here for one and only purpose, and that is, their attitude is that they are here to help us do whatever we ask. I'm still chuckling about the expression on your horse's face when, as you say, you inadvertently got him upset. He must have thought -- "oh geez, now I've REALLY gotta do it RIGHT NOW!!!!"

There's a great story that Ray Hunt used to tell about the rider taking stuff from the horse rather than letting the horse give it to her. Ray grew up in poverty -- hardscrabble ranch in the Montana back-country, during the Great Depression of the 1930's. So as soon as he could, probably before he was 18, he was hiring himself out to neighboring ranches to do cowboying and general farm work. And apparently he worked for quite a number of other men, some of whom were good bosses and others not so much fun to work for. And what Ray would say was: "When I'm at my own place, and I've got a job to do, then I do my job MY way. But when I work for another man, I have to do his job. And I could do that job so long as he let me do HIS job MY way. But I could never do HIS job HIS way -- I'd quit first."

So give Mr. BoJangles time to shape his body up and get his long legs into the right places so that the transition is easy for him, and when I come down there and meet him, then we'll look for whatever aspects of his conformation or way of going hint at what his strongest talents are going to be. It is a great deal of fun to have two good horses who are not alike!

(You see I've already got a name for your new one).

Cheers -- Dr. Deb


Joanne NZ
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 Posted: Wed Apr 4th, 2018 04:42 am
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Thank you for your reply and for sharing the Ray story with me. I have learnt a lot from our conversation.

And I like "Mr BoJangles" :0)

Kind regards

Joanne


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