Last fall, before making the move to Colorado, Jolene and I took several mammoth leaps backwards in our training progress. Read more about the debacle.
Since then, we’ve gone back to the very basics: ground work, round pen work, roadside walks, jogs, and hikes on a lead line. They are all exercises in building back the confidence and partnership that we lost in one unfortunate afternoon. I did get back in the saddle a few times last autumn, but I could feel nervousness in both of us. It seemed right to spend time with more rudimentary work.
In the process, we filled in holes I didn’t realize existed. Specifically, the exercises covered the very basic stuff that I thought we had a handle on:
— lateral flexion– yielding hind quarters
— yielding front quarters
— forward impulsion.
We could do those elements. But could we do them with lightness and softness? Could we do them under duress?
In the past, my human need for meeting goals and “making progress,” did not jibe with my equine partner, nor did it tell the real
story of where we were as a unit. An example: With the mule in a rope halter and a long line, I could ask her to move to the left of right and she’d comply. But if I asked her with too much energy or with distractions around us, she would either plant herself or bolt.
So, for days, we worked on moving away from pressure, with Jolene going left, then going right, away from me and backwards as I pushed her with my advances. If I moved quickly and demonstratively (with the help of the contained space of the round pen), she learned to stay with me instead of bolting.
When we had this down solidly, I took her out of the round pen and gave her more space. She could bolt across the pasture if she wanted to. Jolene assessed her new surroundings and chose to stay with me.
Next, I took her out on the road, and as I’d done in the round pen, raised the energy level higher than was her comfort. Again, she learned more and more that it was a pretty good deal if she chose to stay with me.
At the same time, I reminded myself to work as lightly as possible, to get my cues as soft as can be. The efforts have paid off. For example:
— While leading her, I can go from a walk to a jog without any additional pressure on the line.
— While standing just ahead of her (both of us facing forward), she will step back as soon as I indicate that I’m going to move backwards.
Suffice to say, the understanding, confidence and relationship pieces are more solidly in place than this time last year, when I thought we had a good thing going on (but definitely did not).