JJ Asks, "Do I Have To?"
And the answer is, "Yes!!"
Since my chiropractor told me I couldn't ride until at least the middle of the week, I was worried that JJ, my Arab buddy, would not be fit enough to do the competitive ride we have scheduled for the end of the month.
Now, let me say this. I come from a long lot of training for eventing and my trainer back then was really big on fitness for our horses. When I was preparing for a horse trial, I worked my horse 5-6 days a week and work meant exactly that. There was lots of trotting and cantering as well as dressage training and jumping exercises. I know nothing about getting an endurance horse fit for an opening season 10 mile ride, but my brain tends to think in event mode, so I want to give JJ at least a modicum of fitness in that direction.
I'm sure Chris will steer me in the right direction as far as that's concerned, but for now, I'll kind of plan on giving JJ some good trot work to build him up.
The footing out on our trails is still not great, so doing some arena work will have to suffice. And, since I can't ride at the moment, long lining is a good option.
But the first obstacle is getting the horse to understand the concept, then to buy into it and finally do it. Turns out Chris had long lined JJ in the past, so he was not a total novice. That has its plusses and minuses. The plus is that he will go around me on a circle while I hold the lines. This is the only real way I can trot a horse on the lines. When I first learned to long line some 30+ years ago with Lockie Richards, we started off behind the horse, ground driving. However, when I asked for trot and had to run along behind, my hands began to bounce. At that point, Lockie gave me a choice. I either had to ask the my Russell to trot really slowly so I could just walk behind him or I'd have to work him on a circle.
I have since opted for the circle and can pretty adequately get my horses to walk, trot, canter, and reverse on the lines without too much trouble. I will also work them on straight lines by walking alongside and can get shoulder in and a little leg yield as well.
JJ and I aren't there yet. We did master the trotting circle for the most part, but here's where the minus comes in. At some point before Chris got him, someone taught JJ to stop and face his handler. I know there are people who teach this when lunging. They ask for a halt and then want the horse to turn and face them.
To me, this poses a significant training issue. Once the horse is facing me, it's virtually impossible to ask him to go forward again on the circle since the hind end I need to drive forward is away from me. When I teach my horses to lunge or long line, when I halt them, I want them to stay facing the same direction on the circle. I used a command to "come in" if I want them to come to me, but otherwise, they need to stay on that circle. Then I can do reinbacks, transitions, etc. and never lose the ability to drive them forward again.
Now, JJ is a very bright fellow and figured out pretty quickly that if he stopped and turned to face me, I was going to have to give him a break as I maneuvered my way around to his hind end--trying not to tangle the lines as I did so--and then send him on again, usually on a nice small circle around me at the walk until I could urge him back out on the circle perimeter to do some more real work. I lost count of the number of times he pulled this little trick on me. Here are some pictures of those moments. Still a good boy, but just a little tricky to get behind him.
The look of interested innocence on his face each time was adorable. He looked right at me as if to say, "This is what you wanted, isn't it? I'm being good looking at you like this, aren't I?" (JJ uses good grammar, by the way.) Only once did he kick out his heels in a protest as I moved him on again, so in general, he at least made an effort to be a good boy.
These pictures taken by Chris. Hope it is OK to post them.
The cool thing was when he finally offered to stretch down into the bit and use his back. He looked super! I'd like to do some more work with him to encourage him to go like that from the start when I ride him. He usually will relax like that during a ride, but it can take a while and if he does get excited---well, he has now and then then I've ridden him--his head goes up and his back inverts. I would think if he would keep his back round, not only would any tension disappear but he'd feel a heck of a lot better carrying a rider.
Anyhow, I probably should have looked at my watch to see how long I was working him, but JJ certainly let me know when he'd had enough. "Stop and face" showed up on every circle. So I insisted he complete one full circle until I asked him to stop, and I made sure we didn't finish that final circle by the ever magnetic gate.
JJ really is fun to work. You can see his brain engage and disengage as he's trotting around. When it engages and his body joins the fun, it's a beautiful thing to see. Next time I line him, I'm going to start him off to the right as it's his more difficult side. That way, if he can master it, (And I can master it) going to the left will be a cinch.
It's really cool being able to work a horse I did not train in the lines. It's ever fascinating to try to establish the lines (both literally and figuratively) of communication to a new mind. It also teaches me to think about what works and what doesn't and forces me to adjust and refine my skills and techniques in order to get good results.
Taking a tumble off Tucker wasn't the best thing that ever happened to me, but in this case, it actually had some benefits.