Friday, February 4, 2011

Prince Goes for his First Trot!

Prince is a gorgeous 4 yr old Gypsy Vanner that I have been working with since December, 2010. Before Prince came to me, someone else tried to start Prince under saddle.... she was able to sit on Prince but never able to advance to walk... instead just to a bucking spree and eventually it resulted in a broken hip for her. Needless to say she was scared of the horse, gave up, and sold him to my current clients.

I spent a lot of time doing ground work - building Prince's trust with desensitizing, but also developing communication. I taught him sideways from the ground, w/t/c on circles, going over jumps, backwards figure 8's, etc all from the ground. We did this all with the saddle on - that way he got very comfortable with the feel of the saddle and the stirrups dangling at his side. Being able to communicate with each other on the ground meant that Prince became to trust me as a leader - not an easy task, but over the last couple months we developed a huge amount of trust together.

When I first sat in the saddle on Prince, he felt like a tense bomb ready to go off. He was so incredibly nervous - I couldn't imagine asking him to walk forward when he wasn't even comfortable with me sitting there. It was easy to feel how the previous 'trainer' would have ran into such problems - Prince was very tense, and asking a very tense horse to go forward usually means you get a lot more energy and movement then you might want!

Because he was so tense, I practiced a lot of getting up and down from the saddle, and just sitting in the saddle waiting for him to take a deep breath and relax. It took some time, but he is much more relaxed and I can easily mount up from both sides and take Prince around the ring at the walk. He also is very good at steering, halting, and backing up.

For his first trot, I had an assistant lead me. This is because Prince is a very nervous horse, but he finds a lot of comfort and reassurance when someone is on the ground. To start with my assistant had a lead rope attached to Prince's rope halter, and he ran with me at the trot. We did just a few steps of trot to start with, and then we worked up to longer stretches of the ring. I practice both sitting trot and posting trot, and it was a pleasant surprise that Prince stayed quite relaxed and calm.

Next came the assistant letting me off the lead rope - and I have to admit I was a smidge nervous... I took a few deep breaths and tried to relax. Horses can sense when you are nervous which will make the horse nervous, so it is so important to stay relaxed and confident. Our first trots offline were trotting toward my assistant. We did just a few steps and worked up to long sides of the arena. Prince was quite relaxed and being extremely great!

One big key to my success is that I always allow Prince to stop or slow down if he wants to - this is because I am so happy if Prince decides to stop or slow down if he gets nervous, instead of take off bucking. I want Prince to know he will never get in trouble for feeling nervous and wanting to stop. I simply gently correct him and ask him to keep moving, but if he feels tense I will allow him a few moments to relax first.

Yesterday was my third time trotting on Prince, but the first time trotting on him without having an assistant on the ground for comfort. Prince was incredibly relaxed! I just did a couple trots and then to reward him I dismounted and took him for a walk. I am so happy with the progress he is making - although it can be frustrating that progress is much slower with a horse that has 'trust issues', it is so rewarding to see those issues be overcome!

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