Getting Some Religion
Away Java went to the second round of training. But not without refusing to load, pulling back, running away, and then loading completely civilly. Go figure.
This place is great!
He settled fine, as seems to be his custom when it's somewhere completely alien. He finished his sucrulfate with no continued ulcer signs, is eating a more natural diet, and plays with a bunch of geldings when he's out, so he looks and feels great. And he's only gotten better. Initially, he was speedy and silly and unsure when working, but the more Roddy works him, the better he gets. Where once I had a horse that never stood for mounting, relaxed, or stood still, now I have one that steps up to the mounting block, and will stand calmly while I sit on him, head low. He's the same horse, the same silly Java, but his mindset is different. And I've realized I'm the problem.
"Dude, I'm calm. You're the one with the electric butt making all the issues."
Since sending Java away, I've been trying to visit once a week to ride and learn. Roddy has been kind of a lightbulb/straighforward kick in the ass I needed to reveal some flaws I have. Like how tight I am in my legs and hips, and how I nag and pinch at him for more walk before I even try the one I've got. It's kind of amazing how much he sees. So here you go, some amazing gems I've learned, in no particular order:
No matter where you're riding or what you're schooling or at what speed, you will never accomplish anything unless you have a purpose. Riding along the rail doesn't count. Purpose means aiming for the corner. Riding to it like you have somewhere to be. It means bending into it and going into a straight longside. It means looking at the trees all the way down the trail instead of where you are. If you don't have a plan for the next step of your ride in place, you're going to get "stuck" in whatever you're currently doing, be it going in circles or stepping over a log. I am notorious for getting stuck, and the hallmark? Looking down.
You have to ride the life the horse gives you before you start trying to change things. Think of his walk as a balloon you're tossing. You throw it up to the level you want, and when it comes back down, you tap it up again. I don't do this; since I rode a slow poke pony for so long, I got in the habit of squeezing and pushing at the walk, which just dulls the horse to my leg (duh, should have put that together, Casey). But horses are way smarter than balloons, so after a few times of bump/release to keep the walk you want, they figure out that's what you want. Once you have that comfortably, you can start increasing the speed/extension, but not before.
Fun fact! If you spend 20 minutes holding a horse still before you get on, keep a hold of him when you finally mount up, but clamp your leg on (like formerly-worried me) he has no choice but to rear. You've said "go" with your leg but "not forward" with your hands, so the only option is up.
Your horse is not a China doll. He will not break or be ruined if you ask firmly. Don't be rough or rude, but it's ok expect a response (and get it) when asking for something he knows. This was hard for me, since I am terrified of messing up this really nice, good-brained horse I've got. But reminding him to listen to leg with a harder kick instead of bump or direct rein pressure instead of a tiny touch isn't going to destroy him.
By the same token, when he doesn't know something, you have to be patient and understand that he's making decisions based on what he thinks is best/safest for himself. Being scared and looky is ok, but it's your job to captain the ship. Looking where he's looking and getting concerned only validates his reason for being worried in the first place. And even if you're not worried, if you don't talk/rub/reassure him, he's going to think you are. Sometimes, in my case, I get tense anyway as a muscle-memory reaction from his initial jumpy drama, and that only makes it harder.
Stop releasing before he does when you're trying to tighten your girth or hose his face. When he sidesteps away, if you don't follow and instead stop tightening the girth, he thinks moving=no more tightening. Same with the face hosing; when he lowers his head and gives, the water goes away, not when he throws it up and makes ugly faces. You'd think I'd never ridden or worked with a horse based on how basic this shit is and how much of a revelation it was for me.
A surefire way to make your hips release is to switch your reins to one hand. I have no idea why this works, but holy shit it totally does. And when your hips release, so does your whole leg, down to the ankle, and you flow with the motion.
Want to sit the trot better? Keep your leg in the correct position but engage your abs and lean waaaaay far back. This feels stupid as hell, and looks it, but it completely realigned my hips to be open and following instead of closed, tight, and pinching. You then maintain that hip angle and sit up again. It was kind of mind-blowing. Especially because it was my first ride on Java at Roddy's, my stirrups were too long, and I was kind of afraid to die.
The horse you took to training is not the one you will bring home, and you need to let the old horse go. Trust the horse first, then he will trust you.
"Trust me, you dumb idiot. I'm not the one screwing around."
Every time I'm there, I feel like I'm learning everything anew and also a bit like I've never been doing it right in the first place. I'm kind of a hack, but if nothing else, I want to learn. I take notes and try to change behavior. Roddy says muscle memory takes 120 days to reset, so I've got a ways to go, but the most important thing, for me, is trust. And last week, we loaded up and hit the trail I started to feel it when we were heading up a big hill. My saddle slipped back. Java did nothing except stop politely when asked, let me adjust it, and set up next to an embankment for me to remount. I believed that he would do all of that, and he did. We cantered up hills, walked through streams, and jumped logs. Sure, Java looked and swerved, but nothing I hadn't ridden before, nothing I couldn't handle. According to Roddy, he showed me everything in his hand on that trail ride, and never does much else.
And instead of being scared, I was laughing.