March 8, 2010

Leading & settling In for the long winter...and now a bit of longeing

Although sweet, Rose had no understanding of personal space. Next to tying, teaching her about the human "bubble" and how to lead were high on my list. After about a week of leading her in the arena at the walk, trot, and halt, she was responding well to voice commands, but still running into my space. Referring to my now well stocked training library, I decided to tryout Clinton Andersen's "hula hoop" technique.

Once again, I was able to find what I needed, a training stick, at Gallops Saddlery. Well, the "hula hoop" worked brilliantly! I discovered that Rose is not a fan of annoying tapping, especially if it escalates, and is quickly motivated to focus. After only one session I finally had her entire focus on me, and not the fence, or the dog, or another horse, or the light breeze. I had her backing out of my space and standing quiet with her full attention. We repeated this lesson for about a week, and soon I had her walking in circles around me, out of my space and then stopping on cue and turning to face me. All outside of my human bubble! This technique I knew would help a lot once I started longeing her, but that was going to have to wait until spring. Unfortunately the heavens were about to open up and the rainy season in Portland was about to commence. The poor weather, lack of winter footing, and the fact that I had a licensing exam to study for meant that, aside from leading exercises, clipper introduction, and trailer loading, Rose would get a bit of a break over the winter to settle in and grow some more.

It is now March, and the rainy season is finally coming to a slow end. In the past two weeks, the footing has dried up well enough to safely walk and trot, so I decided it was about time that I started formally training Rose to longe. Our first day longeing was more of a meeting of the minds than anything recognizable as longing. Not having a round pen poses certain challenges in teaching her how to move away from my pressure, that being the longe whip, but we are making due with our various fenced pastures. Luckily though, she is smart and once she figures something out, she is far happier to repeat the correct behavior (the easy solution) than stubbornly stick to the wrong (hard solution). Regardless of all of the different and exciting methods she tried to foil me and the longe line with she did not succeed, and we ended that first lesson with a nice calm walk circle in the direction of my choice.

The next day I prepared to repeat the whole process again, but that was not to be the case! Apparently she learned her lesson and to my shock and awe longed like she knew what she was doing (of course we had a few less than perfect moments, but for the most part I was ecstatic about her progress). That second day she was walking, trotting, halting, changing direction, and coming in on cue. It was a very satisfying moment, and I have been enjoying longeing her whenever the footing and weather have allowed for the past two weeks. She continues to get better and more consistent, and I look forward to the day where I no longer feel that wearing a helmet is a necessity.

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