To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

And in contrast to that nice, relaxed walk...––

That was Stella yesterday!

Stella has not been one of those horses who tries to play on the lunge line; she's really quite biddable (once you have her caught). And she hasn't always done a lot of playing during turnout. But yesterday; oh my!

We had a rare (for January) dry day, so I turned her loose and planned to ride Lance in the arena at the same time. But she was so full of herself that the boys were snorting in their paddocks, so I rode Lance down the road instead. She must have had a full hour to play, and still had plenty of "go" when I went out to catch her and bring her in. As in, "Nope; I'm not going to let you get near me!"

Sigh. Most of the time I've been taking the no-pressure approach, allowing Stella room to have a choice in what and how much she's comfortable with, hoping she'd learn to trust me as a safe place. But doggone it, there are also things horses need to learn for their own safety, like trailer-loading . . . and accepting being caught and restrained. And in the month she's been here, that hasn't gotten better; it's gotten worse. My first horse, that bookend black Quarter horse mare, was notorious for being hard to catch. Since her, I've trained my other horses to have a good recall with the principle "Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard," and it has worked well. Come when I call and you'll get a cookie; play hard to get and you're going to have to move and KEEP moving . . . even if you're tired and would like to stop.

So yesterday, after pondering my options, I went with experience. If Stella played hard to get, I made her keep moving. If she stopped and turned to me, or even just looked at me, I praised her. Then I started slowly moving toward her when she stopped and looked at me, praising her when she didn't move off or turn away, making her move again if she did. It took a bit, but it worked. Not for a cookie; she's not that food-motivated. But she's smart enough to work for the praise – and for what takes the greater pressure away. I'm hopeful that with this approach we'll start making progress!


Jeanne said...

I like your approach with Stella. It sounds like it should work to get her to do what you want! Good luck!

And I think I've watched that video of her four or five times.

Retired Knitter said...

Is it possible she is just smarter than you would expect? Sometimes intelligence is harder to work around.

Michelle said...

Jeanne, I've probably watched it a dozen times; I just love it!

I expected her to be smart, Elaine, but I didn't expect her to be so slow to bond or trust.