Friday, February 15, 2013

Lightbulb Moment

Sorry in advance for no pictures and LOTS of text lol, but I feel this is important to get written down.

Okay, I have been feeling frustrated lately that I can't seem to teach Chrome to steer.  I didn't know why teaching him to steer has been so difficult!!  I've taught horses to ride before and never had this problem.  I think my first problem is that I'm a perfectionist!!!!  Because Chrome is my horse and the first horse I've ever even thought about teaching dressage to, I want to do it right!  Unfortunately I've gotten so hung up on doing everything perfectly that I'm not doing ANYTHING!!!  I'm so afraid of screwing up that I'm too afraid to try anything at all (the fact that it's been six or seven years since I took dressage lessons doesn't help the fear of screwing up)!!!

So I started looking up random training videos by random trainers and I learned a few things.  Just because I plan to make Chrome a dressage horse doesn't mean that I can't train him in the basics using Western methods (heck my dressage trainer has a Western rider start her horses before she starts training them in dressage).  I've been so concerned about someday teaching him dressage that I haven't wanted to teach him anything that's not "dressage" including steering.... are you noticing what I finally noticed?  If he can't steer there is no way I'll ever teach him dressage!  Duh!  :)

So I need to take a step (or a million steps) back and start from the beginning.  My first problem is forward.... he has no GO!  Chrome is a lazy horse.... a lazy, overly desensitized horse.  I never taught him that a whip means go forward.  I've never backed up my "walk on" vocal cue for going forward.  I haven't been consistent with leg pressure meaning go forward.  (Note: He will walk forward, but it's a slow, ambling walk with no purpose, not a forward, energetic walk)  So, if I can't get him to go forward energetically how in the world do I expect to get him to steer. 

So, first step is to teach him forward.  He needs to know that a whip means go forward and that the voice cue means go forward.  Once he's good at that I need to teach him that leg pressure means go forward.  And most importantly he needs to learn that when I ask him to go forward he needs to keep going until I tell him he can stop (by saying whoa or just stopping my body from following the movement). 

Since he is almost four I'm going to start teaching him to longe (and yes even use the round pen for some free longeing, round penning or whatever they call it these days).  Once I get some GO in him then I can work on riding and steering again. 

This may all seem sooooo obvious to you guys (if you were even aware of the problem, not sure if I've mentioned it before), but I was thinking so far ahead that I totally forgot about the basics.  Yes I want to start taking dressage lessons again and start teaching him to work like a dressage horse, but if we can't even go forward or steer that's never going to happen.  So, wish me luck!


  1. I wasn't really aware of your problem but good job at figuring out the root cause! Once you move the feet, you chose the direction and then you choose the speed. That is the basics :) Good luck, looking forward to your experiences

  2. It sounds to me like Chrome is right where Gabbrielle was by the 15th ride. You may remember that I had a dressage trainer work with her when I no longer could, and I remember he complaining that there was no gas pedal on her.

  3. no reason to think of dressage as something you'll eventually do. I consider basic dressage to be the fundamental foundation for most styles of riding. Rose began her dressage training on her first ride. Back in those early days, go was definately the first thing she had to learn. balancing with a wobbly human on their back and moving is actually a huge thing to learn, so it sounds like you are on the right track! in addition to your whip, you might want to try some little ball spurs for extra reinforcement. They were really helpful to Rose back in those early days. Steering takes a while, but once they understand to move away from leg pressure they start to figure it out. have fun!

  4. Lounge work helps tremendously as long as you are consistant and work toward getting the correct action quickly. I used voice commands in the saddle for quite awhile along with leg pressure to make sure Riva understood what I was asking.

    My trainer has us working on asking with a 'whisper' to get the right response - but I sometimes have to 'yell' first and then go back to 'whispering'.

    Chrome is young and you are doing just fine!

  5. Think also of the slightest steps. I use my energy in my body to go first. If Kaspin doesn't get it? Then I use my butt cheeks 2nd(I clench them up. If Kaspin won't move, I tighten my thighs slightly. If he won't move again, then I tighten my calves a bit. If that doesn't work? Then I get to whip out to tap lightly for the last step of my process. Kaspin will walk now with my thoughts first and then usually butt checks 2nd. Think of steps along the way and you want them to respond to the lightest step first. Remember they can feel a fly land on them. Have fun!!

  6. Cole wasn't much better at that point, either. Don't forget you are a clicker trainer. Here is what I ended up doing with Cole when I was at that point.

    I needed him to somehow go forward. Kicking or using a whip wouldn't work because he didn't know what it meant. I tried and it confused him.

    I got my sister to walk in front of him. He was curious about her, so he took a step and I clicked.

    We did this a few times and then I started to add leg pressure first, she would walk forward, he would step and click. It only took a couple of sessions of a lot of click to get a solid move forward.

    At that point, I faded the click away.

    Chrome may just need someone to explain just what you want.

    Turning was similar. Many clicks for him to understand and fade away. What would you do if he was a dog?

    Click for small bits and then when you have them, ask for more. Be creative to help him understand you. Stop expecting him to understand perfectly. That will come in time.


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