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June 26, 2014: Lessons Learned: Affirmation and the Unexpected

Tuesday’s lesson was cancelled and rescheduled for Wednesday evening. I figured that the rescheduled lesson would be cancelled because of rain. On a whim, I called Vickie at 4 p.m. and asked if there was going to be lesson. Her response was “sure, lesson is on!” I wanted to bow out because it was a cold, hard, driving rain, but instead I said yes, thinking that perhaps it would magically abate. And as I pictured it, if I said no, then at 6:30 p.m. the sun would appear, and I would regret my decision. I do not in any way want to regret anything. So I got my gear together and off Raudi, Rainbow, Pete and I went.

The rain didn’t let up. Rather, it began falling harder. I had good raingear on, so I remained somewhat impervious to the elements. Raudi didn’t seem enthused, but this is a horses’ life.

Once in the area, Rosie and I sloshed around, her avoiding the puddles, me not pushing the issue. Rosie soon realized there was nothing to be antsy about, even when Maria and Emma appeared and lunged their horses.

I had Rosie remain still while I mounted (this is something we’ve been working on), and we continued walking around, over poles, around cones, and about puddles. I then had an idea. I put her perpendicular to the arena fence, and attempted sidepassing, an activity that we have been on the verge of mastering. Rosie complied, going first one way, and then the other. This time, I remembered to bring treats.

Beth appeared, and I crowed that, finally, Rosie was sidepassing. She, of course, waxed enthusiastic, commending me for what really is a major accomplishment. Lesson began, Beth wisely decided that jumping was out, so we instead did flatwork, working on our positions while astride our horses. Not many braved the weather – the combined lesson consisted of Emma, Maria, Vickie, and me.

We pretty much stayed in two point, keeping our heels down and head up. We posted in this position, and one at a time, removed outside and inside feet from our boots, and then reinserted them. Beth worked with each of us on individual things – I was told to move my shoulders back when going back into an upright position rather than pulling on the reins. We were also asked to raise our arms, and alternate moving them backwards, in windmill fashion. We also worked on walking fast and walking slow. Rosie did well, remained focused though her concentration wavered when Pete and Ryder walked by.

The high point of arena work came when we worked on getting our horses to carry their heads low. You do this by holding the reins outward and squeezing your legs, in order to raise the back muscles. The opposite is when the horses’ head is up—the back muscles then drop. Rosie and I had practiced this before, but not by moving the reins out. This time, she did what I call the hoover maneuver – her nose was at one point touching the ground.

I thought that we were then done. I was wrong. Beth then opted to accompany the five of us on a brief walk down the residential road adjoining her property. I presumed that my seasoned trail horse would do just fine, but once outside the gate she immediately began acting like a ditz, pulling at the reins and stepping from side-to-side. There is a fine line between being attentive and reactive, and she was pushing it. I was concerned because I sitting on what I have come to call the postage stamp saddle.

It occurred to me that I should just get off and walk her. However, I didn’t want to look like an overly fearful rider in the eyes of my instructor or accomplished friend Vickie. So I stayed put. Beth, who had been talking with Vickie, suggested that I try sidepassing. I breathed, and then put her perpendicular to the grass. Raudi was by now really pissed – she wanted the grass by the side of the road, and I wasn’t letting her have it. As I told her, what Raudi wants Raudi gets isn’t always the case. I released her left rein, relaxed my left leg, and thumped her with my right leg. Off she went, barreling down the roadway sideways. I went forward a few steps, and then had her sidepass to the right. By now, we were perpendicular to the driveway. She walked nicely over to the arena the entrance of which was on our right. I faced her in the direction of the opening, and then asked her to enter.

She was initially resistant, both because there was a puddle in her path, and because the other horses had continued up the driveway. Neither seemed to me to be reason enough to give up on the next item on my agenda, which was to get her back into the arena. In we went. I then had her stand quietly, by herself for a minute. Then I dismounted and rewarded her, by giving her a scratch and loosening her girth.

Most of the time I see myself as an inept horseperson, who when it comes to training, doesn’t do much right. I’m not hands on, and I don’t think fast, which are at least in my mind attributes of someone who successfully works with horses. So I was surprised to subsequently receive kudos from both Beth and Vickie, who affirmed that I had made some good decisions when outside the arena. Beth noted that I’d done well by having Rosie sidepass in not one, but both directions, and then after, praised her. She added that in doing this, I’d given her another, better option. Vickie also noted that I’d done well by having Rosie go into the pen and stand quietly, because she had to again listen to me, and to do as I asked.

Lessons learned:  I again saw the value of positive reinforcement in relation to horse training. I used treats early on in preparing Rosie for our lesson. Most definitely, this calmed her down, and it also let her know that she was doing right by remaining calm.

I also saw the value of positive reinforcement in relation to human interactions. Beth and Vickie’s observations served to reinforce the lessons that I learned today, both inside and outside the arena.

In the previous lesson, the lessons learned, which were related to the sprinkler monster and the barrel monster – were learned prior to the formal lesson. In this lesson, the lessons learned, which was to go with what Raudi and I know when things are sticky – were learned after the formal lesson.

Next: 176. 6/27/14: Ryder – A Progress Report