I’ve been gearing up to bring Aria home for months now and at the end of every month something in the back of my mind would tell me to keep her with P and R a little longer. This month however is different. We finally have a good working relationship and are in a place where I can ride on my own successfully. Yay! That’s big progress for me. I’ve gone from being afraid to ride to riding a baby. Granted she’s a trained baby but a baby none the less.
Because R had back surgery a couple months ago, I actually missed an opportunity to learn a lot of things that Aria knows. She’d been schooling up to second level and was starting on pirouettes in hand. P has actually gotten Aria up to third level movement with the counter canter and I’ve seen a flying lead change but it clearly took Aria by surprise. Haha. It’s not solid but Aria is only 5. It’s more about installing the cue and movement rather than riding at that level. We know she’s capable of higher level stuff but she’ll spend the next year doing training level work with me and occasionally dabbling in first level. Always school higher than you show!
Knowing that I’m wildly unaware of Aria’s full skill set, which is fine because I shouldn’t be asking for movements I can’t even properly ride, I requested a training session with obstacles. I really want to hit up the local Working Equitation clinic at the end of June but I needed to see how R introduced Aria to new things. Now, I happen to know Aria is kind of a rockstar at obstacles because I forced asked her to tackle a lot of scary things when I first got her. R started with a tarp. I knew Aria wasn’t going to have issues with the tarp because we worked on that together and I had her blindly following me while the tarp covering her head when we finished. In true form, Aria did everything asked and we moved on from the tarp in a matter of minutes.
R moved on to obstacle poles next. These are 4”x4” wood planks, so they’re rather big and square versus round. There were four of them spaced about 4 feet apart. He walked her around them so she could see them from both sides and then he sent her through so a pole was on either side. Once she was okay walking between the first set of poles he asked her to walk between the second set of poles and then the last set of poles. This allowed her to navigate around the area and become confident with the footing. It also allowed her to relax within the obstacle space because we hadn’t asked her to walk over any poles, just between them.
Then R went back to the beginning and asked Aria to walk between the first and second pole. Half way through he turned her so that she stepped over the pole. Aria is notoriously clumsy so naturally she knocked the pole as she went over but it didn’t bother her. With any other horse the result of not reacting to knocking the pole is because the horse understands the space it’s working in due to the previous exercise. In Aria’s case, she’s just a cool cucumber about stuff around and under her feet. Either way she got an A for effort but a D for execution. Which is totally fine because R sent her through again and again at the half way point asked her to cross over the pole. She was more mindful and cleared the pole with no issues.
They did this a few times to make sure she would mind her feet. Spoiler alert Aria: you have four. Then R took her through the two center poles and asked her to turn half way through to walk over two poles. After she was comfortable doing that he took her over 3 poles and then all 4 poles using the same method. She cheated a few times and actually stepped up onto the poles instead of over them, but that’s okay. Haha.
Then R moved to the hard part. Now that she could go through the poles and over the poles it was time to get her to back up around the poles. Much scarier and way more pressure because this is where she could potentially get hurt but since she’d walked through them and over them she knew that knocking into a pole wasn’t a big deal. That’s important when backing up through the poles so she doesn’t scare herself. The other trick is to keep the horse perfectly centered when backing up. Not as easy as you’d think so this was a great exercise in how to move the hind end.
Once Aria had completed backing through every set of poles R handed her to me and asked me to perform all the steps he did. I’ve never worked in hand the way he does but I watched his every move so I was fairly confident I could replicate it. I didn’t do bad my first pass through and I was able to refine my cues quickly to make quick work of the obstacle. Plus, Aria is really smart, so I basically was on cruise control. Interestingly enough, this exercise is an excellent precursor to trailer loading.
Then R moved on to an empty water obstacle, which could just be called a bridge with sides. He asked Aria to cross it in both directions. She rushed it a bit because she didn’t like the way it felt when she stepped on it but after a couple passes she went over just fine. Then he asked her to cross it lengthwise. Much more difficult because she wanted to bail out over the sides. This is where having control over the horse’s back end when going backwards is important because he was able to stop her halfway out and back her into the obstacle preventing himself from getting run over. No coincidence this is also a great exercise to do before trailer loading.
We ended the training session there because Aria passed with flying colors and was calm. There was no need to get her worked up again. R said many times during the session that challenging a horse with something new or hard creates adrenaline which in turn creates nervousness/fear and the key to training is to get the horse to work through that nervousness/fear to create courage. All of which can only be done because of trust. Not necessarily trust in us, but trust in themselves.
It gave me a lot of food for thought and honestly during the session my brain started to understand what R was trying to achieve because when I was questioned about why he did something, I was able to come up with the correct answers. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes I really do sit there totally dumbfounded until R tells me the answer. I’m okay with that because it’s still learning.
R asked me to stick around to watch a trailer loading session and I jumped at the chance. Why wouldn’t I? It’s basically a free clinic. He also knows that I’m hungry for training knowledge because he totally sees me creeping watching him when he works. Of course there are always people watching, like the owners of the horse being worked, but they lounge around and chit-chat while R trains. I probably I come off a bit unfriendly in comparison when I watch a trainer work because I won’t really chat with the other people watching or I brush off any chances to start up a conversation or I stand far away from the other people.
It’s not that I don’t want to laugh it up with them or roll my eyes at the rail birds, I’m just a firm believer that if you’re talking you’re not listening. Too many times I’ve watched Aria get worked by R or P and some observer will distract me with a question causing me to miss something and I’ll hear an admonishing “you missed it!” come from the arena. It never fails! Haha. Plus, let’s be honest, when you’re spending a lot of money on training you may as well be throwing it all down the drain if you aren’t paying attention.
The trailer loading session was great. I mean, I was totally terrified at the beginning because the horse kept charging R and he’s still kind of recovering from back surgery but it was very educational to see a horse not excel at the obstacles. This horse was afraid and his method for dealing with fear was to fight. He had been in a trailer previously but on one of the exits the horse hurt itself and refused to go in again. It took an hour and a half for the horse to graduate through all the obstacles. His progress with R was the epitome of ‘training success is not linear’. I won’t go into the details of this training session because this post is long enough and it’s not my horse to discuss but after they completed the obstacle course R led the horse right into the trailer without a refusal.
It was pretty cool to watch and I was able to ask questions after the session. It also gave me an ‘ah-ha’ moment about the progress of trailer loading an unwilling horse. It was a great day. Also, I know there’s media out there of me working Aria through the obstacles because I saw the pictures but I’m not sure if R will post any of it by the time I post this. So this will either be a huge wall of text or it will be a huge wall of text with the occasional picture! Lol.