Friday, December 17, 2010

A Lesson In Lunging

They say that you want your horse to be his best when you are practicing alone and do his worst when you are working with a trainer. That way the trainer can see where your problems are and you can learn more. Well... I learned a hell of a lot this past weekend. (Actually several weekends ago. I was very upset and unable to finish writing this post for a while. As you know, I am not the most emotionally resilient person.)

The Oracle was in town the weekend following my “breakthrough” with lunging Shadowfax. I was all excited thinking that I could show her and everyone else what I had discovered. HA! Shadowfax was very excited that day, and though he was very good about letting me halter him and lead him over to the lunging area, once we started lunging, he went into a flat out gallop and didn't pay any attention to me. I could stop him by shortening the lunge line until it was hard for him to run, but other than that, I had no control over him. Needless to say, neither The Oracle nor anyone else was impressed. In fact, I think they were scared I was going to get hurt. (This was only the second time that The Oracle had seen Shadowfax since I bought him. and he behaved just as badly the first time, in a lesson under saddle with Foxfire riding him. She must think I bought the worst horse ever.)

The Oracle stopped the lesson and sent me off with FuzzyPony to borrow a surcingle and side reins to see if that would allow me to control my horse better. By the time we got the surcingle and side reins on, another person had shown up for their lesson, so FuzzyPony worked with me and Shadowfax in another area of the arena. Shadowfax did fairly well with the side reins and surcingle. Though at this point, he was obviously too tired to run around like a mad horse anymore. Anyway, FuzzyPony watched me work with him for a while, then she stepped in and worked with him for while, then had me lunge him a bit more. By the end of the lesson, Shadowfax was covered in sweat and obviously exhausted, but he was listening to me... a little better than he usually does at home.

So... anyway... I learned a number of useful things:

1. Try, try, try not to be self-conscious and nervous in front of the trainer and your friends who are watching. Shadowfax was antsy and excitable to begin with, and even though I tried very hard to act calm, inside my nerves were jumping all over the place. Shadowfax probably picked up on that, and although it wasn't what made him act up (since he was excited before I even haltered him) it certainly didn't help to calm him down.

2. Don't let Shadowfax's excitement make me nervous.

3. Remember to just breathe. Deep relaxing breaths.

4. How to hold the whip when I'm not using it . Yay!!! (fold the string back along the stock and tuck the handle and end of the string under your armpit, letting the length of the whip hang down behind you and out of the way.)

5. Why holding the horse between your hands is the best position to lunge in, not the way that I “discovered” the other day.
a. you have more control over the horse
b. in a way it's closer to actually riding the horse – your lunge line hand is like holding the reins and your whip hand is like your seat and legs
c. it's easier to get the horse to collect when holding him in that position
d. when you learn more, you can make them side-pass and do other things while lunging

6. Point the whip at his middle ribs, not his shoulder to push him out, basically where your leg would hang if you were riding him.

7. The proper way to make him stop. (Which doesn't really work with him, because when he sees me stepping to the side to try and get the whip ahead of him, he speeds up. Getting that right is going to take a lot of work. Though he usually does stop when I simply say, “Ho”.)

8. Why you need a surcingle and side reins. (They give you more control over the horse. I love Shadowfax dearly, but he is a very large horse who can behave unpredictably.)

9. How to use a surcingle and side reins. (Though I definitely need more help with this. FuzzyPony very kindly gave me her old surcingle to use and I bought myself some side reins. Unfortunately, the side reins seem to be too short and so I haven't been able to use them. I need someone to come over and help me figure out how to make them the proper length.)

10. Shadowfax and I are both weaker going clockwise.

11. Sometimes a horse has just got to run.

12. Not to be embarrassed when your horse acts badly. Trust that your trainer and your friends know that you are not as incompetent as you seem. (Though I am still embarrassed.)

13. How much I have yet to learn, even with something as “simple” as lunging.

BTW, I have lunged Shadowfax several times since then, and he has NEVER behaved that badly again. He is a rather moody horse, and some days, he wants to run and I have to hold him back, but more frequently, he does NOT want to run, and I have to work to get him to go. But though I may occasionally have to repeat my commands to him several times, he has never completely blown me off the way he did in front of The Oracle and my friends.

And that wasn't the first time he's misbehaved in front of others. As I mentioned before, when Foxfire rode him in a lesson with The Oracle, he kept disobeying Foxfire's cues and even bucked a little bit. And another time, during a jousting workshop, I offered to let a very experienced jouster to ride him. Shadowfax bucked so badly, that the jouster decided he wasn't safe. I knew Shadowfax wasn't perfect when I bought him. But is it too much to ask that he, at least once, allow The Oracle and my friends to see how wonderful he can be when he behaves? Which he does, most of the time, honestly. Sigh...

To end on a more positive note: After my most recent lunging session, I continued to work with Shadowfax on bowing, and it seems like he's finally figured out what I want him to do. I no longer have to use the carrot to lead his head down, then between his legs. I can just say, “bow down” and he extends his left front leg, tucks his right front leg under him and lowers his head between his legs. It's not the most graceful bow, and we still need to work on standing still until I give the command and standing still after he gets his reward, but it is definite progress.

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