Finding the Right Key
Do you remember Lell? She's my naughty, pushy, diva-like OTTB that I blogged about last fall. After a long winter of hard work i've been wondering, "When did Lell get a brain?" I asked myself this question a few days ago after I hacked her out to the noisy outdoor arena and then schooled her over a few fences. She was calm, quiet, focused, and nonchalant. Last fall an exercise like that would lead to a big temper tantrum. Instead, she handled it like a pro.
I can’t help but reflect on the last six months and wonder what caused such a great change. Was it really the horsemanship lessons I learned from Stephanie Durand last November? Was it the added consistency of working on a regular basis? Or did Lell just hit a wave of maturity turning from 5 to 6? I know that all three ideas contributed to her success, but I know the biggest factor was the horsemanship, because I see major improvements in my other horses too.
If you remember from my blogging last fall, Lell is a bit pony-like and self-centered. The world revolves around LELL, and if you tell Lell what to do she has an OTTB meltdown. But not a little meltdown either, she likes to have dramatic meltdowns that include rearing, pawing, and racing around like a maniac. In the past, if I asked Lell a challenging question she would resist. Now, if I give her a challenging task she usually does it with only one or two teenage eye rolls, instead of a temper tantrum.
Regardless of her past behavior, I’m really impressed with the new Lell. My kid students absolutely love her for kid/walk/longe lessons. She does silly things like pull all the brushes out of the bucket, pick up the stuffed animals that we practice throwing in the baskets, drink the water in cups when we practice carrying water, and if all else fails she grabs the whip and starts to wave it around. In other words, she's a clown - and it works for the right students that need to have a good laugh during their lesson. Lell is also quite lazy, which is great for my students that need a little confidence building. There's something to be said for the confidence building horse that goes on auto-pilot ho-hum at the walk and trot. Lell's perfect life job would be to slowly walk and trot around on her forehand (on her terms of course). It's another story if I get on and rock the boat.
Recently I used her in a longe walk lesson with a young student and she walked off with slow and patient steps and was extra careful with her young rider. A few nights ago a student rode her in the noisy outdoor arena and once again she maintained her composure. It seems like her self-awareness of the rider is starting to grow – a little less thinking about herself and more thinking about what the rider is asking. Now I can ask for canter transitions and she doesn’t run. I still don’t have her 100%, but she has greatly improved.
When I started horsemanship with Lell last fall I didn’t really know where the journey would lead. I didn’t know that I could find a better relationship with my horse by using horsemanship. Now I see the basis of horsemanship for any discipline. A lot of it boils down to respect and trust, and I feel that quality in my horses now. This spring my horses are more willing to try something new, something scary, or something different. There's a level of respect that I never had before. I can simply point to a scary jump and they go - no questions asked. In return, I have more trust in my horses. When I ask a difficult question I know they are likely to say yes because there is a heightened level of mutual trust and respect. The result? Now I can focus more on training and spend less time on horsemanship and groundwork.
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