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June 20, 2015: Friday Morning Lesson: Important Revelations

The day started out with the sun shining brightly – it appeared as though it was going to be yet another beautiful day. More good karma. Get karma where you can and run with it.

My equitation instructor, June Snyder, appeared at our place at 9:30 a.m. – I was almost ready – I had my boots and breeches on and Raudi was tied to the trailer. I had an idea of what we might do, that is to work some on the barrel exercises that I’d come up with after Deb’s lesson related example. June suggested that we first warm Raudi up, by taking her for a walk. I immediately agreed that this was a wonderful idea, after all, I do this before lesson’s at Beth’s, by walking Raudi around the perimeter of the arena both ways, and then going over cones and over jump poles. And I always, without fail, walk Raudi before and after trail rides.

Our walk became a lesson, with June offering suggestions. We weren’t even out of the driveway when Raudi stopped – I kept it to myself, that this is habitual. She said that this might be that I step out in front of her. So I stepped back and extended my rein hand, and Raudi obliged and walked on. She then had

us walk in unison, speeding up and slowing down, then turn left and right. I attempted to do as is suggested by Vanessa Bee in her Three Minute Horsemanship book, and adjust my stride to Raudi’s stride. This worked. And somewhat agreeable Raudi became even more agreeable.

I got to thinking that there are lessons to be learned doing something seemingly as simple as walking one’s horse. In this particular instance, I came to realize that there is a connection to be made between doing exercises like this and being mindful. At the same time, there’s a connection to be made between exercises like this and building or (in Raudi and my case) furthering a relationship.

From now on, I am going to walk Raudi before doing any home-based lessons, this including agility. It’s an instance in which more is better than less.

Once at the corner I got up on Raudi and June offered directives. We began by working on the rudiments of leg yields. I was to put pressure on her flank with my left leg, so as to move her to the right, and then put pressure on her flank with my right leg, so as to move her to the left. This was quite difficult, for as June rightly noted, I am still rein dependent. I also tend to nag with my legs, going thump, thump, thump.

We did circles at the next two corners – what came back to mind was that my inside hand controls the direction and my outside hand controls speed. Easy to speculate about, difficult to do. Had to think outside the circle, the gravel perimeter, in order to make my circles larger.

Going downroad, I was asked to do trot and then halt, using my seat in hope of getting the desired result. I noted that we were heading downhill, and almost said that perhaps it would be a good idea to do this going uphill, since Raudi would undoubtedly pace. She did – I then realized that if I posted, she’d go into trot. She did better the second and third times we did this. And my downward transitions to walk and then halt also improved in the next few go-arounds.

June, walking behind us, continued to offer directives. Like before, I drew upon my centered riding training, grounding myself by focusing intermittently on my breathing and peripheral vision.

I realized that June was right in remarking that during lessons I become very focused and in the process lose sight of what I am supposed to be doing. What I didn’t say was that the reason for this comes from my both wanting to get things right, and my instructor-related apprehensions. This seemed to me to be less so this time. Being out on the road and my being able to interact with June had a relaxing effect on me, which then had a relaxing effect on Raudi. The effect was synergistic.

Once back on the home front, we did some of the barrel exercises. We first began by my walking Raudi through the narrow gap, then after doing the same, this time with my legs up. Further chunking down occurred during the latter exercise – she had me walk through the barrels, first with my legs jockey style, and then further up. This was good, otherwise, legs up would simply be legs up. The trick became to get Raudi to keep moving with my legs in these differing positions. And here I thought this would be easy . . .

The overall problem was Raudi’s lackadaisical forward movement. I had to use my seat to keep her going. I soon began to sense that she was in “what’s in this for me?” mode. I finally decided to go and get the crop – not because I intended to use it on her, but because the clicker is attached. I also grabbed some treats.

June was right in saying that I need to learn to give the correct cues to Raudi, and then use the clicker in combination with these correct cues. I had previously thought of this, but her articulating this to me made me realize that this is extremely important; otherwise the use of treats will become a gratuitous gesture. This is something that I obviously don’t want to happen.

I did mention that I now fully understand why trainers/riders/instructors near exclusively use the clicker in doing groundwork but eschew it in using it when riding. This is because coming up with the right clicker/cue combo is like patting my head and rubbing my stomach. Get it wrong and you really get it wrong. There were a few instances in which I ought to have clicked and did not.

Maybe next time I’ll hand June the clicker and she can click instantaneously when Raudi and I get it right. This could be like what Karen Pryor calls tagging – in doing gymnastics some coaches click when the gymnast performs the desired move. Maybe, just maybe, she could click at the exact moment in which Raudi and I do what’s expected of us. This, I think, is a radical idea.

June is the first instructor that I’ve had who I’ve felt like I could interact with. I do listen carefully to her, particularly when she’s being directive. But at the same time I get this sense that together, we are assisting Raudi and I in moving forward.

June is a very busy woman – I hope that she’s able to continue to give me lessons because she’s soon to be even busier. Next week her two recently acquired thoroughbreds will arrive in Alaska, via Fed Ex. She is going to have them at her place, and as she well knows, this is going to be an additional time and energy commitment.

Well, if June can’t continue to work with Raudi and I, she has at least made me aware that yes, it is possible to work with a riding instructor (as opposed to being talked at about things). And she has reaffirmed what I’ve been thinking for some time, which is that it is possible to reward/reinforce horses’ behavior while riding them, using a clicker and treats. These things may in the great scope of things seem inconsequential, but to me they are huge. Today’s lesson was momentous in that it alerted me to all this. No matter who I have lessons with in the future, after today things will never be the same, a good thing I think.

Next: 164. 6/22/15: Center and Grow

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