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June 7, 2014: Horse Training: Imagine it, Rosie a Superstar

Rosie and I did yet another lesson the other night. At one point, Beth, our instructor, watching Rosie negotiate the third of three cross jumps, yelled out “Look! We have yet another superstar.” Then, on the next go-round, she yelled out, “I’m beginning to love these Icelandics!” The latter was in reference to the fact that the other superstar/Icelandic is Hunar, Vickie’s silver dapple. Hunar is really the superstar – Vickie has put considerable time and energy into bringing out the best in him in terms of his dressage and jumping abilities. In fact, this weekend the pair is going to Anchorage to

participate in a dressage schooling show.

Beth’s comment again affirms the importance of the use of positive reinforcement when working with animals and people. Some instructors would say you have to earn the praise – that otherwise it means less. Now I’m not so sure that I agree. Praise relaxes and thus better enables horse and rider to do their very best. Rosie knew she’d done well, because I, without thinking about it, immediately gave her a wither scratch.

Rosie and I started out in the beginner class. A young girl named Blaine was our one classmate. We first practiced going over poles at the walk, then the trot, first circling left, and then circling right. Then we went over poles and an overturned cavelletti, this time at the trot, first circling left, and then circling right. This went just fine. We then took a break and dodged the riders in the more advanced class, who were by then rolling into the arena. Within minutes, there were horses everywhere. And again it was dusty, though not as dusty as previously.

I became mystified because Beth, along with some of her assistants, began working on setting up a small obstacle/jump course in the middle of the arena. What I didn’t know, but subsequently found out, was that Beth planned on including Blaine and me in the larger lesson.

When done, the entire group was instructed to go over to the dressage arena. There, the twelve or so of us worked on trotting and cantering, moving in straight lines and a circle. Beth expressed her approval when Raudi immediately began cantering when asked. This was one way. The other way, well that was lackluster. And later, Vicki told me that we were to do 20 meter circles. Oh well.

Next, we moved on to going over the jump/obstacle course. Twelve of us, following in a line, were to go over the three ground poles, the overturned cavelletti, and the two cross jumps, picking up a canter after the second cross jump.

I was determined to do well, as I think was Rosie. I stopped and waited my turn each time, this gave us both time to take a close look at what was ahead, and to think about it for a bit. My thoughts on the matter, the first few times around, were that this was a lesson in trust. It was my job to set things up for Rosie, then let her do it. By setting up, I mean going into two point, grabbing a hold of her mane, putting my heels down, and looking up. Grabbing the mane – this time around it actually seemed to steady me. This is what we did. We did all our rounds except for the second last in a flawless fashion.

Surprise, after a bit Beth set up a third cross piece. Rosie and I were the first to go over it. And go over it we did, several times. Beth remarked when, finally, we nicked the last crosspiece that Rosie was getting tired, and that the next round would be our last. We ended up doing the last round just fine.

Beth twice reminded me that I cut back into the outside line a bit too soon. This is something I need to work on.

We concluded our lesson with me rewarding Rosie for a job well done. I loosened her girth, put her stirrups up, gave her a withers scratch, and fed her some packer pellets. I then added “Rosie, you are the best horse ever,” to which she sighed and lowered her head.

Praise – it is so very important.

Next: 158. 6/8/14: Horse Sense: Riding with Others