Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Lessons Learned from a Narrow-Minded, Opinionated Cowboy
As some of you may know, I recently attended the annual Harry Whitney clinic down in Rogersville, TN, and as usual, my mind was blown countless times that week. I took Stormy and my mom took her mare, Charlotte. Stormy's biggest "issue" going into the clinic was her crookedness and that was what I wanted to address first and foremost. As a secondary problem, I wanted to address her lateral movement (such as leg yielding) because whenever I asked, she would brace against the bit, throw her head around, and grind her teeth. Of course, Harry pointed out that these two behaviors were related. He said that the crookedness I felt was due to the fact that her mind was EVERYWHERE else but here. And, whenever I picked up a rein to slow her or move her sideways, she had yet to let go of those other thoughts, so she tried pushing the bit out of her way. This, coupled with the fact that she hadn't been given much clarity to what the reins meant in the past, made leg yielding, and even just backing up, very confusing and difficult for her.
All week we worked on getting straight. Making a plan, and GOING with it. She is a very quick learner and strives so hard to please, so it didn't take long before she was carrying herself straight and letting go of those stray thoughts. She also learned pretty quick that the reins MEAN SOMETHING. When I pick up a rein to turn, she needs to wholly turn her body and her mind around that bend, not just check out mentally and drop her shoulder into the inside of the turn. By the end of the week she was thinking around those corners and bends with impulsion, understanding, and interest. Her back ups became much softer, and she began listening to my seat as well.
The first time I asked her for a leg yield that week, she responded by leeeeaning against that bit like no other. Harry called, "Get in there and bring some clarity to that for her! Don't let her lean against you like that!" So, I abandoned asking for that leg yield, and just asked her to back up and away from that pressure on the bit. Once she understood that, I asked for the leg yield. Again, she leaned. I got in there stronger with my hands asking for a back up until she dropped her head and softened up. I put myself in the position to ask for a leg yield, and when she felt the pressure from those reins, she understood their meaning and stepped over simply and softly. I released the reins and we walked off.
This goes to show that ever-repeated lesson of, it's not about the ________. In this case, it wasn't about the leg yield; it was about bringing an understanding about those reins to her. Once she had that, it was easy as pie for her to step over in that leg yield.
Now granted, this is not to say that every time I asked for that leg yield she gave it to me that easy. In fact, the last day of the clinic she seemed to have reverted back to her old habits of pushing through the bit, being stiff, and losing her focus easily. Harry helped me get her back on track, but it was frustrating to have done so well all week just to have those tendencies pop back up. But I was reminded that these animals aren't perfect, and we can't expect they change and never go back. Those habits were so engrained in her.
All in all, I was very proud of our work at that clinic, and even prouder of the work we've done since our return home. The first time I rode her, she was immediately motivated, energetic, and SOFT. She has continued to improve, and I couldn't be happier with my girl. My thanks is extended endlessly to that narrow-minded and opinionated cowboy, Harry Whitney.