Saturday, June 25, 2016

25th June, 2016 If Bob Marley did Long Reining...

...he would talk about eye-on-eye contact. Today it was a case of working with a Smartie between two Thorns, both children's riding ponies but with a semi-feral background. Neither had ever been long reined before.

In Thorn's case, his owner, Michelle,  is looking for a way of exercising to keep weight off him when her daughter cannot ride. With semi-feral ponies it is essential to do preparation exercises before introducing two reins to make sure that the pony is comfortable about seeing the handler and kit out of either eye, and can also cope with the handler passing through their blind spot from one side to another. Failure to prepare and assess can result in a pony taking off with the long reins and going through whatever fencing (and people) are around.

The preparation exercises include single-line driving (not quite the same as lunging as it depends on constant communication and careful body language - note the eye on eye contact and the 45° angle.)

This exercise is designed to assess whether the pony understands how to follow a pressure and whether they accept the long rein against their hindquarters.

Once Thorn understood what she was being asked to do, she long reined really beautifully, and I was then able to use her to teach Michelle how to long-rein. She finished her session walking over a simple pole on the ground, something that Thorn had leapt about six foot over only a few weeks before.

Smartie and her young handler are  an absolute delight, both very bright and cheerful. We did all of the preparation exercises together and went on to long rein Smartie.

For owner, Fiona, it was helpful to work on the exact body language and level of assertiveness which will keep Smartie going forward as she is more of a laid back pony and wants to keep coming turning in to her handler.

Back to Thorn and we needed to do a little work to repair a loss of confidence on both sides. Thorn has recently reverted to a default position of rearing when she objects to the things that are happening to her such as injections by the vet, getting out of sight of a riding companion, or being schooled by an adult rider. The adult rider answer to this might be to push her through it, to be fairly heavy with the leg, or even to use a whip. Unfortunately this has led Thorn to fight even more as she feels she is being told rather than asked. Thorn has begun to anticipate and ready herself for a battle and as a result her young rider was seeing and feeling a rear coming through even before it had really begun.

Before we began we discussed what our plan was going to be if we felt a 'no' coming through. You can see Thorn's anticipation of trouble with that 'running foot'. Although this young woman uses the lightest of squeezes, Thorn's reaction was a good swish of the tail, a grunt or a lifting of the head and withers. Instead of forcing her to confront the mental wall in front of her, likely to result in her going up instead of forwards, we simply asked her to take a step to the side around it.

I gave her plenty of space to work on this technique, acting merely as an anchor in case of trouble. In no time not only was she moving sideways as asked but she was beginning to walk forwards when asked too. All she wants is to be asked nicely.

Rather than 'schooling' in the future, this little partnership will be working on having fun, carrying on with their hacking but also finding something positive to do in what has been seen as a boring and confrontational work place.