Friday, June 15, 2012

Hawk, Round Two (pt 3)

For the second time out with Hawk, I took the same trail.  This time, I put him through several gait changes.  I didn't want him to think that whenever I was on board, we would simply go as fast as he could.  Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how responsive he was.  He changed gaits readily on command, but needed about the same amount of correction as before. 

At our first meeting, Hawk only wanted to go fast.  Now that we're better acquainted, he is much more calm.  He walks quietly on a loose rein.  This did highlight another problem his owner had mentioned.  Given his head, he sometimes strays off the trail, as if he's heading off into the woods.  Don't know yet if he's not sure he's supposed to simply follow the open trail, or if he's trying to take control from the rider.  I suspect the latter.  At the creek crossing, he attempted to turn back.  I pushed him through, then crossed and recrossed several times to make my point  After the fourth time, he more or less grudgingly plodded across without much pushing.  At the top of the loop, He knew that one fork went back to the barn.  I turned him as if we were going back around the loop.  He protested by trying to turn back and by wandering off the trail.  I cued him into an amble until he appeared to accept the new direction.  Then, I turned him back.  At the top of the loop again, I turned as if we were going back around in the opposite direction.  Once more, he protested in the same way.  I pushed him until he accepted my decision.  I repeated this exercise several more times.  Each time required less distance before he relented.  I think we're going to play that game often.  On the way home, he wanted to pick up the pace, but it was easy to keep him at a walk on a loose rein.

I got more encouragement from him the other day.  I was fetching up another horse from the same field.  Hawk came up to me on his own, and stood there for me.  This is the first time he's done that.  I've always had to chase him down before. 

This is a sign of improving trust.  His reward was not having to work that day.  We'll see if he continues.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hawk (pt 2)

I had Hawk under saddle a couple of times last week. Probably, more importantly, I had the chance to speak with his owner for a short while.  I told her of my assessment, and suggested she be a little more assertive in her handling of him.  She seems to be following that advice, and the horse seems to be working better for her. 

I had been told that the horse wasn't holding his gait.  That is, he would break out of the smooth, fast, and comfortable walking horse rack, into a bouncy trot.  For my first time on the trail with him, I wanted to push him into holding that gait.  Tacking up went better than before.  He didn't pretend to shy from the saddle and pad this time.  As I cinched up the girth, he arched his neck and flattened his ears at me.  I continued the task, and spoke firmly to him.  He sighed and relaxed his aggressive attitude.  He also stood quietly while I mounted.  A big improvement. 

I got another pleasant surprise when we got onto the paved road leading to the trail.  Right on command, Hawk moved easily and naturally into a smooth 4 beat amble.  For a walking horse, this is the next speed up from a flat walk.  He held this for the full quarter mile to the trail head, only breaking stride a couple of times.  That was easily corrected with a light tap on one rein.  This tapping on one rein, or nudging with one heel, is the cue used to train some walking horses to hold their gait.  Once on the trail, I pushed him into a rack.  This is the walking horses' specialty.  Done well, it is so smooth and fast, that other types of horses often have to canter to keep up.  Hawk made this transition easily as well. 

My plan was to to push him hard for one loop on the short trail around the pond.  He is a strong, well conditioned animal, and can handle that easily.  He moved well.  But, he frequently had to be reminded to hold his gait.  Usually, he corrected himself when I tapped on the rein.  However, a few times, I had to break him down to a walk, or a stop, and start again.  He is still headstrong. At each intersection, Hawk tried to choose the route.  He knows these trails, and seemed to prefer the one that would take us back to the barn the quickest.  I had to muscle him around to the one I wanted to take.  Other than that, he is very responsive to rider cues.  I think he simply needs a leader.  In the absence of one, he will take charge.