It has finally happened. I now have not one, not two, but three horses to ride. Acey has replaced Consolation as the green bean of the group, and Aaruba has graduated to downright safe and pleasurable.
You might recall that, back in late June, I took my first ride on Acey. Though calm, she was less than confident about moving forward under saddle, and I determined to do more ground work -- particularly driving -- with her before mounting again. As it turned out, Aaruba's conditioning, Consolation's training, and life in general got in the way. Twelve weeks passed before I spent any more significant time with Acey. Finally, with Owyhee Canyonlands completed and the ride season over (waaah!), the time was ripe to try again.
After a quick review of such prerequisites as giving to halter pressure and accepting ropes dangling around her hind legs, Acey and I spent several days "plowing" the round corral, until she moved forward freely and turned and backed with ease. Then, I mounted up and asked her to move off. Voila! Confident forward motion.
I usually disagree with old-time fiddler and horse trainer Frankie McWhorter's training techniques, but he had a point when he said that ten days of ground driving equate to thirty days under saddle. To read about how I introduce ground driving, click here. You might also be interested in Susan Catt's description of a different ground driving method; see her September 7, 2008 post at The Pony Expression.
Consolation is moving right along...sort of. We've conquered her obsession with returning home and are now focused on adding up miles and experiences. This is a bit frustrating at times because Consolation likes to pick her way cautiously along. Given her way, we'd poke down the road at 2 mph, investigating every stone and twig for concealed artillery. She's not spooky, exactly, just careful. I try to view this as a nice change from Aaruba's emotion- charged speed games, but truth be told, it's a bit frustrating. There's nothing worse than having to push a horse down the trail.
What's the solution? I'm not sure yet. I think, however, that I'm dealing with a combined lack of confidence and a poorly installed "hustle" button. Miles under a firm but empathetic rider should cure the former; I've begun remedial training to cure the latter. This is an easy problem to fix, requiring only clear signals and consistency. Consolation has plenty of "go" both physically and mentally; I just need to train her to engage it.
The "hustle" command works like this: think, look, seat (if mounted), voice (click), leg (if mounted), more leg, tap hindquarters with dressage whip. Consolation is no dummy. Yesterday, it took all of one tap with the dressage whip (startled the cobwebs right out of her brain, that did!) to get her listening for a "hustle" click.
By the way, I'm calling this the "hustle" command because I'm asking for more speed within a gait, not an upward transition. Interestingly, Consolation has gait changes down pat, including the pre-cue I've found useful for gauging Aaruba's energy level on endurance rides. Before chirping, "trot!", I almost always ask my horse, "ready?" If the horse wants to trot, I'll get a trot in answer to my pre-cue question. If not, I get it on the "trot!" command, but I know my horse isn't enthused about the idea and respond appropriately.
Speaking of Aaruba: He enjoyed a two-week vacation to celebrate the end of ride season, but I think he liked our first trip back on the conditioning trail even more. Here he is, cooling out in the round corral after Monday's 9-mile jog.
Note that I took him out in Consolation's Indian bosal from Crazy Ropes. Though it's a bit small for him, he went beautifully in it. Once my sponsorship saddle arrives from Stonewall Saddle Company, I'm going to order him his own Indian bosal, fancy-stitched in red to match the blinged-out saddle.
Bling? Me? I'm branching out, folks. Live a little!