Usually, a trainer would work with Chocolate in a round pen to get her moving, because the horse doesn’t have the option of running away. I don’t have direct access to a round pen daily, so my trainer, Cara, instructs me to start working with Chocolate in the corner of the pasture using two sides of the fence as a sort of chute. When Chocolate works against the fence, she can’t fly backwards and away like she can when I work in an open area. She also tells me to start using a longer line so Chocolate can have the freedom to make bigger circles. Today I’m working her with her bridle on over her halter.
As soon as I get Chocolate moving in a consistent circle at a trot around me, I ask Chocolate to go faster as soon as she is working against the fence. The first time, she lunges into a canter and bucks, tossing her head. The minute she comes off the fence, she pivots in to face me. She is telling me, “I’m DONE! You can’t make me!”
The fence approach, and then pushing her against the fence:
Getting her to move off at any speed is difficult, now that Chocolate knows what’s coming. I have to be careful not to ask her to speed up every time she approaches the fence because she quickly figures out that if she doesn’t get herself into that position she won’t have to go faster. She starts trying to stop or turn around as she approaches the fence line.
Can you feel her stiffness in this picture?
To counter-balance her desire to be away from the fence, I start letting her stop and face me when she is against the fence. If I make her work when she is against the fence and then rest when she is on the open side of our circle, guess where she ISN’T going to want to be? I don’t want to make this more of a struggle than it already is.
Stopping on the fence side of our circle:
By keeping Chocolate guessing, I hold her attention longer. All bets are off, and when she approaches that fence line she doesn’t know if I will ask to her to speed up or stop. When she looks to me to see what I’m going to do, THAT is where the respect comes in. If she anticipates what I’m doing before I do it, whether I actually wanted that or not, she isn’t waiting for my instruction.
Holding the canter as she comes off the fence is a baby step in the right direction!
Baby steps, every day. Every time I go out and work with her at it, she loses her stiffness which was part of the problem. The less a horse canters, the bigger of a deal it becomes. Cara Cagno, of CC Horse Training, likened it to an overweight person going to the gym; the more out of shape you are, the harder it is to get moving. Just by doing some every day, she loosens up. As she comes off the fence, little by little she holds the canter a stride or two longer every day until she can finally do a full circle without throwing a temper tantrum. As I’m able to start asking her to canter when she isn’t against the fence and pushing her to not stop, I also start asking her to stop and face me more randomly. Keeping her guessing, working in the corner now isn’t necessary.