Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Continuing Education of Hawk (pt 4)

Had a few more sessions with Hawk and his owner.  Hawk simply needs regular workouts that engage his mind, and force him to pay attention to the person on the ground.  Once I'm in the saddle, or, for that matter, have one foot in the stirrup, he does fine.  He stops all his evasive tactics as soon as my foot is in the stirrup.  So, when I'm most vulnerable, with one foot up and one down, he is as still and safe as a horse gets.  My major problem with him is getting him to stand still before that point.  He is a fairly tall horse, roughly 16 hands high.  I am a smallish fellow, and with age, not as nimble as I once was. 

His first tactic with me was to move his shoulder into me.  I countered that by keeping light contact on the off side rein.  That worked for the first couple of sessions.  After the first little contest, we would have no problems mounting and dismounting for the rest of the day.  During later sessions, he changed tactics.  When he realized that I could physically prevent him from crowding me, he started moving away from me.  There's no way I can prevent that with signals from the reins.  He simply needs to stand stock still on the command of "whoa".  I think he knew it once before, as evidenced by his standing still once I get my foot in the stirrup.  But, after years of getting away with fidgeting and moving around, he's "forgotten" it.  To "remember" it again, he needs to be put into a situation where he can get it right, and be rewarded for it. 

To counter his moving away, I placed him against the fence.  Hawk countered by moving forward.  I put him in the corner of the fence.  He moved backwards.  I backed him into the corner.  He moved forward, and added swinging his rump toward me.  At last, I got him still long enough to get a foot in the stirrup.  We took a couple turns around the arena to wind down from all that. 

Back in the center of the arena, I dismounted and remounted several times without taking my foot out of the on side stirrup.  Of course, he stood still, and I praised him for it with much scratching of his withers and neck.  Next, I dismounted completely.  Hawk started moving again, once I tried to remount.  Normally, after I've mounted once, he stands still for the rest of the day.  This time, I think he was too worked up from the first go round.  He was however, less fidgety, and I was able to take advantage of a slight pause and get mounted.  I praised him a bit for that.  We did the "up and down" drill again.  Again, he stood perfectly still for it.  More praise and neck scratching, then a couple more laps around the arena.  We did the "up and down" , then a full dismount and remount with similar results. We finished up with a couple circuits around the farm. 

Now, I'm still spry enough to dance around with Hawk.  His owner is not.  She is shorter than me, and not particularly athletic.  Mounting her tall horse from the ground requires all her effort.  There's no way she can manage to climb up, and,at the same time, work the reins to keep the horse lined up.  She'll either lose her balance and fall, or jerk the horse's mouth unintentionally, causing even more problems.  Her usual method is to have someone hold the horse, while she uses a mounting block. 

My first goal is to get rid of the horse holder.  I want Hawk to stand perfectly still, on a loose rein, while she uses a mounting block.  My second, and more difficult, goal, is for her to be able to mount without the holder or the block.

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