The basic ingredients:
- Speedy: hasn't been ridden in 2+ years, didn't like riding much for years (bucking, pulling against the reins, laying down with rider and all)due to back problems that were eventually solved, but it wasn't his favorite. Welsh sportpony-type, 1,38 m high
- Miriam: hasn't ridden horses in 2+ years, never liked it that much because I didn't like using pressure, reins and bits on horses that didn't really like riding either. 1,66 kg & 1,75 high
So we're a great team!
I've started playing with Speedy from the ground february 2010 and about two months ago I started wondering if riding wasn't a possibility either? Not really riding
riding, but more using it as a variation on groundwork, practising stuff from above that we traind from the ground before. I'm keeping a more elaborate Speedy diary on a Dutch forum (sorry guys, but his owner is over there too and it's nice if she can read along too), but as I'm now experimenting with riding for the first time ever on the AND way, I could finally post a topic in this Riding forum as well!
This is what we've been doing the past weeks - all thoughts and ideas are welcome - also on the question if I should ride a pony of Speedy's height, because that's been a big question for me. Session 1-5
I was puzzling with the question if I should ride him with my weight/length and thought Speedy would probably give me the feedback I needed. The first five times I sat on him with cordeo (just sitting for about 2, 3 minutes), Speedy was quite clear in his feedback: he couldn't stand still, just walked back, made angry faces, kicking with his hindlegs at my legs
and started making tiny, 10 cm bucks. Nothing that would hurt me, but I got the point.
So I started thinking: If my weight was the problem, I thought maybe a sheepskin as pad might help? It didn't. So I started wondering about what it might be that bothered him exactly and decided to study the area I used to sit on - my area.
I had been sitting in a relaxed/curved back/Hempfling-like position that Parelli calls 'sitting on your pockets'. When I reenacted that while sitting on a chair on the upper half of my hands - OUCH!
Where other people apparently have seatbones, I have nasty spikey pointy things!
Another thing was his reaction to my legs. I realised I needed to desensitize him to human legs flapping around his belly, but more important: he needed to learn that human legs flapping around pony bellies are fun!
So the next groundwork sessions every time I clicked and started patting his belly in a very enthusiastic way while I gave him his reward. He first thought this was really weird,
but soon accepted it and the funny thing is that when we're doing groundwork, for example during an energetic passage, if I pat/'slap' him on his hindquarters with my hand, he instantly relaxes and comes to a halt. Session 6
During a session the last week of May I wasn't thinking of riding as I didn't have a cap or halter, and I had decided that maybe a halter would be a bit safer if Speedy continued to buck. However, after doing our groundwork I decided to go and have one final try - if he didn't like it, that would be it. So when I got on with nothing but the cordeo I felt a bit deflated (Speedy would probably start bucking again and I would reward and then get off) and decided to try and sit a bit more tilted forward, more like with a straight/hollow back (not really, but you get the point), more like the 'three-point seat' of the classical dressage (your seatbones being two points, the front of your pelvis the third), kind of sagged in that position - and no protest!
So then we could finally start experimenting with riding. We tried walk and halt for about three minutes
and then stopped again. Session 7
Next time I was sitting in the same posture, but way too tense as I was afraid I would slip back in the old posture and Speedy responded by bucking again. I asked him to stop, rewarded him and then got off again.Session 8
First real ride ever! I got on with the cordeo, found the right relaxed upright position, focused on belly-breathing to keep myself loose and relaxed and then we walked! We have a lot of tyres lying around in the paddock and Speedy walked towards one of them and placed his foot on it.
Good pony! We walked to another tyre and then Speedy found his way to the paddock fence and we followed the rail for one lap while we practised walk/halt (not that well, but it's a start) before I rewarded him Big Time. Session 9
When I got on I was too tense again: I was sitting in the right position, but I was clenching my things too hard and Speedy started walking back again, looking evil and threatening to buck - and I decided not to ask for a halt and get off but instead relax my seat and see what would happen. Speedy came to a halt, accepted his reward gracefully and then we walked around a bit, moving point-to-point from one cone to the other and touching it for a reward.
Next challenge: finding a common language for which side Speedy could collect his rewards!
I thought it was a good idea for our straightness to reward with me holding the food next to my right knee the first time, then next to my left knee next etc. However, Speedy was holding his head at the wrong side most of the time.
First I tried tapping on his shoulder the side the food was, directing him towards it with the cordeo and it all failed.
Then I remembered desensitising him to the leg by patting/pusing him against his belly whenever I rewarded him from the ground, and thought that maybe I could use that now as well: if I held the food to the right, I would push my right lower leg against his belly. And that worked! It was even better as in order to reach the food while I held my leg against that side of his belly, he really curled himself around my leg and swayed his ribcage away, just as horses are taught to do in dressage, so I wanted to see what would happen if I held my leg in place when the treat was finished while asking him with the cordeo for a turn. Speedy thought for a few seconds, gave me a nasty look, swished his tail and then turned his hindquarters away!
So we practised some turns and then got off. Maybe we rode for about 5 minutes, but still it was the longest ride so far. Session 10
Yesterday: After we had done some groundwork I asked myself if we should ride a bit too or not. Well, the reasons not to were clear: I didn't have my helmet with me, Saartje the Shetland pony had sneaked her way into the paddock as well,
and I had left the cordeo in the stable and had no tack/tools whatsoever - and I had just decided that the next time I would ride I was probably going to use both cordeo and halter in order to be able to explain Speedy more about directions when walking. So as I didn't have any of that with me, of course I got on and for the first time ever sat on a completely naked Speedy!
Up until now I had done quite a bit of (ineffective) steering with the cordeo, that's why I had wanted to use a halter as back-up. However, now I didn't have anything with me and just had my seat and legs.
First problem: walk. I couldn't move the cordeo forward for walk now, and so I carefully closed my lower legs around his belly. Speedy looked thoughtful for a moment, then accepted it as cue and walked forward!
Next challenge: halt. Speedy had up until now ignored my voice&cordeo cues and now he ignored my voice cue as well.
So I started laughing and just snapped my fingers (from the ground our touch-the-hand-cue) for the fun of it. Speedy's response: 'What? Where? What should I touch??' Yay, we had a cue (well..
) for halt!
Final challenge: changing directions. For now I was simply lifting along with Speedy, but he was the one doing the directions and stuff and I didn't have a cordeo to turn or anything (not that that worked that well before either, but still, it felt like I had at least some control). Then I treid what I did the last time again: after a reward keep my reward-leg
in place - and Speedy turned around it.
It was so cool to sit on Speedy completely at liberty!
It also was quite a good lesson for me as I was still thinking very traditional in how I gave my cordeo cues (Ãf he doesn't respond, enlarge the cue untill he does). Now I was completely helpless in a way and really had to experiment finding new ways to communicate with Speedy that weren't based on upping pressure, but simplu finding the right cues for him.
Of course we aren't really riding yet, now about 80% of my cues resulted in Speedy doing something that I meant and it's just in halt and walk, but I'm quite happy with it (and will probably drop like a log once we start trotting
) but I'm so happy if I look back at where we came from!