Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Training the Vaquero Way

The one thing I quickly discovered, the difference between a horse trainer and a riding instructor, and fortunately, Mike is both.  I understand that at one time he refused to work with people because he couldn't understand why they just didn't "get it".  Apparently he learned over time how to deal with people.  Maybe not as good as with horses, but he seems to be "getting it" lol.  He reminds me a bit of Mark Rashid, as he breaks it down to its simpliest form.  In my first under saddle lesson he told me that I would have to justify why I did everything I did in riding my horse.  Why do you hold continual contact, why do you not release?  I was like, can't we just start over?!?  He said, "well that's basically what we're going to do." The first change was he had me put G in a 3/8" single joint snaffle with large loose rings.  
So for our first lesson under saddle he just asked me to take G out on the rail and "play".  He then started asking why I was doing "this" or "that".  He asked me to halt and we chatted for 10 minutes.  He asked me to go out again and ask G to break at the poll and lower his neck.  So I started doing what I would normally do in my dressage lessons and he asked me to stop.  That's when he told me that you can't teach someone to write in cursive, if they haven't learned their block letters properly - we're throwing out all the stuff you've learned and starting anew.  G needs the basic basics, and I'm going to show you how to do that (oh great).  

His first observation of G, and after discussing some of the issues we've had over the years, was that G still didn't have full trust in me as his leader.  Basically, because without realizing it, I haven't been able to keep his focus.  As we were walking on the rail he asked me to pull back on both reins until G gave, not just by stretching out, but by breaking at the poll.  The moment he did, he had me throw the reins away.  I was like "what?!?".  He said "in the beginning, you gotta make the release reward big so they understand it more easily."  So the first lesson was asking for G's face, and working on bettering my release.  

The second lesson, Mike asked how we were doing, what we'd worked on. and I was happy to tell him that for the first time ever, I was able to ride my horse on the trail in a snaffle and had an incredible ride. I kept working on focus, and G stayed relaxed.  We also had a ride in the open arena at the barn, where the neighbor was running a backhoe in the adjoining woods, scraping gravel/rocks, and pulling up stumps - noises that would've turned G into jelly.  We had the best ride in the arena, we'd ever had that day.  I kept my focus, and G kept his.  It was such a simple thing.  But that said, I would never have used that much pull on G's face to ask for his to soften.  But Mike said it has to start somewhere, and with some horses you really need to grab their attention.  Pressure will lessen in time; but at times I may need to remind him with more.  Mike says G has a good mind and a lot of heart.  He told me I was lucky, as a lot of the horses G's age that he starts over, they aren't quite so agreeable to the new "feel".  

So now Mike asked me to come 8' off the rail and go straight.  Not 10' not 5', but 8'.  I turned where 8' looked to be and walked G straight to the short end.  I'm proud of myself.  Yep, nice and straight. Mike was like "so what the heck just happened?"  I'm like, "what do you mean?"  He responded "I mean, you just walked a straight line, but why wasn't G focusing on you - why did you stop asking for his face?"  lol, really....I did?  Yep.  Mike told me not to worry "you all do it" he said.  Do what?  He said, focus so hard on one thing you forget the thing you just perfected over the past week.  Duh, yep, I remember feeling the same way when I first started dressage lessons - talk about feeling inept.  So we worked on focus, while being asked to do other things.  He told me to go play, so I did.  I came down the long side and started leg yielding over to the rail.  He yells over "what are you doing?" and I responded.  He shook his head and reminded me that I need to stop doing high school moves...right now we're mastering elementary school.  I said "well, I wanted you to see that he is capable of it".  His reponse?  All horses are capable, Kate, but are we capable of asking correctly so that the horse is relaxed?  Uhm, maybe not.

The third lesson he added forward momentum, while asking for G's focus/face.  Easier said then done, especially having a horse that has always wanted to raise his head when asked to step it up.  So now we've got two dimensions....focus and momentum.  One of the things I like is that Mike likes to give a horse a mental break while he gives the rider something new to think about.  I like that he makes me think and understand why the simplistic approach works so well; think about what I have been doing, and why I should be doing it another way.  So we worked on this several times during the week between lessons, and one session we actually got some nice strides of running walk with his neck level....get your motor running...ruuuugh ruuuuugh rruuuugh, G sings as he hits his lick.  

Lesson #4 last week, we spent the first 15 minutes showing Mike that we could focus and have forward momentum....well, it comes and it goes.  But Mike praised us both for the progress we've made since day one.  Okay, what's next?  Let's add turning.  Now in dressage, turning for me was all seat and the upper body twist so that my hands stayed pretty level, and the inside rein coming slightly back helps cue the bend/turn.  Ahhh, heck no.  Mike said, "we don't want the head to turn, we want the neck and body to turn.  Bring that inside rein out and toward your knee."  ACK! What? Take my hands "out of the box?" "Kate, why are you holding the contact?" he yells over, "because that's what I've been taught" I respond.  "FORGET WHAT YOU WERE TAUGHT, ask him to bend, when he does, release the contact, tell him thank you"....okee dokee Mike, after all, I'm a 58 year old women, so the memory is going anyway, shouldn't be a big stretch to forget what I've been doing the past 40+ years.   After a few attempts, I'm feeling like I'm plow reining, but sure as anything, G is bending head, neck and body.  Big smile on my face, again I'm feeling happy with us.  Mike yells over "what the heck just happened".  "I'm turning" I said.  "Yeah, but what happened to G's focus and momentum?"  ACK!  So he tells me to play (meaning, go make circles).  I go into the middle of the arena and start doing 20 meter and 15 meter circles.  He yells over "no precision, I want to see squiggles in the sand". "Oh, you want me to do serpentines?"  "No, Kate, I want you to make random turns all to the right, when you get that side perfected, will start on the left".  What, no serpentines?  So we made squiggles, and lots of them.  Mike came in and said to take a break.  He then started talking about the difficulty people have in becoming 3 dimensional riders and why.  I'm thinking, "what the heck is a 3 dimensional rider?" He explained.  He said that the human brain, breaks down all processes into steps, and that in many cases we become so focused on one or two of the elements, that the third falls by the way side.  Whether it be the first, second or third step, doesn't matter.  The key to learning is to stop focusing so hard, and to feel.  Okay, so we ask for focus, while we ask for forward momentum, and we turn.  So what do you do if you don't get focus?  I lose momentum to get focus, and stop turning.  NO NO NO!  Do not sacrifice the forward momentum or the turn for the face, continue to turn, continue to ask.  Ugh.  But I want it to be right!  I got the "you all do it" speech again.  I asked Mike if he would mount up and show me how it should be, as I'm a visual person.  Maybe I'll "get it" by seeing the master do it.  He obliged.  The best part was to see that G didn't respond right away to him either, but by the 3-4th request he was turning with great bend.  Here's Cowboy Mike up!

I mounted back up (from the ground for the first time in ages!) We did a couple more turns, these were much better, so we ended on a positive note.  I spent the next day working on focus, forward momentum, and turning.  We warmed up for 5 minutes, worked for 20 and cooled down for 5.  It wasn't all pretty, but I got it done.   

As we reassemble the puzzle, piece by piece, it will hopefully become a work of art when we're done.  All I know is I'm enjoying the heck out of Mike, and I feel G has made more progress in four lessons, than we did in all those years of dressage lessons.