The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 2:22 pm 
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The downside of training a highly energetic pony is that sometimes he explodes. 8)
Yesterday we had quite stormy weather and Speedy came from the wet and slippery pasture where he had been in for a week into the arena with nice, firm sand. I already felt when we entered that this might be one of those days, so we started with ten minutes eating hay together (well not me ;)), then played together with a bit of collection (he was a bit absent minded, but nice), and then he pushed past me to the hay. I lifted my hand and pointed at his head (our cue for move out when lungeing at liberty) and he took off, running around the paddock for minutes on end, running in circles, weaving throught the jumps, bucking, following the rail, really making the most of it.
Three or four times he trotted towards me again, which normally I don't mind at all, except that I didn't want him that close when he still was so explosive that I pointed out with my hand, and he took off again.
After about ten minutes of being Speedy Gonzales he started to trot, then stopped, I walked up towards him rewarded him for stopping and then we resumed our training as a cooling down.

So my question isn't what to do with your horse when he runs wild, but actually what you do while your horse is running wild, having his own party?
Because I get bored. I'm not chasing him and I don't want him to feel chased so I don't want to move along with him, I''m simply standing there, and after a while I started filling holes in the ground, re-arranging the jumps in the arena, collecting lost hay and putting it on the pile and picking weeds, while in the meantime there's pony running around, reconnecting with his inner Arabian. 8) We must have looked quite odd. :roll: 8)
So what do you do on these occasions? Start doing your own stuff or watch him or wait in silcence untill he gets interested in you again, or do you try to keep a connection by moving along with him, or something else?
All inspiration is welcome! :sun:

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 4:24 pm 
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That's an excellent question and a timely one at that. I had a similar session two days ago and it looks like the current weather will present me some more ;).

With Mucki I mostly try to harness that energy. (I just realised that 'harness' is a stupid term to use with a horse :() Well, I try to use it as it gives me access to some high energy exercises which otherwise are very difficult to get to.
The problem with that is that it can escalate quite easily. Like I ask Mucki to do something, Mucki refuses and/or goes into opposition, I don't want him too close with that kind of energy and so.
Another problem is also that often Mucki does not want to leave the herd on such days. So the best option of course is to play among the herd.
Since being away from the herd and still keeping control of our emotions (mine as well as Mucki's) is still on top of our training list, I do take him to the arena regularly, even if his mood is not for it :sad:.

In the arena I usually try to match his energy level. Before I removed myself and waited until Mucki would calm down. It didn't feel right and it didn't help Mucki at all in his excited state. So I switched to being excited myself, but in a productive, controlled way. That's what I want Mucki to mirror.
My reactions depends on whether the wildness is more of a playful nature, or if it comes from a state of anxiety. If it is playful, than it's rather easy to participate somehow. It's more difficult when Mucki is somewhere between letting of steam and being anxious to return to the herd.
I invite him to do exercises with me then, sometimes I even demand them. I alternate between waiting for his initiative to tune in with me and keeping him occupied with request so he can't mentally drift off completely.

I know that I am not exactly where I want to go with this, but it definitely feels better than letting Mucki work it out all alone. I can now bring him back to his attentive, calm state much quicker than before. And what's almost more important, I can train myself to cope with Mucki being in his defiant mode, which can be quite frightful sometimes ;).

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 9:00 pm 
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:funny: Ah, it's so good to find a fellow struggler! :green: (I guess thats the entire point of the AD-forum :funny:)

Yes, I'm still in doubt too on what to do. I guess I always keep his past in the back of my head, and when I started training him he was very set against working with people (well, he was a really nice pony untill you asked something from him). For example, during lunging when he would come threatening towards you and hint at rearing, or more often turn the hindquarters in and threaten with a kick. And as he's extremely sensitive when it comes to feeling pressured, he would respond like that quite a lot - even while I didn't have him on a lunge line at all and all I did was just stand there.

So when he is running around on his own, I don't want to accidentally put him under pressure by becoming energetic myself as well. (because if he's running along the fence and I move towards the fence, he actually seems to see that as if his path is getting squeezed and speeds up even more in order to fit through the gap)

And another thing is that I don't know why he runs like this: is he just happy to be out of the mud and being able to run again and does he simply like to play racehorse every now and then (because we don't do that stuff when training really, we do canter, wild play etc, but not playing racehorse)? Is it anxiety, or did the initial running itself take him over and he can't snap himsef out of this? Sometimes I do snap him out of it (I just ask him to come back to me by snapping my fingers or go and stand along the fence), but then often he remains very jumpy and on his toes. You can really feel that in his mind he's not there, and eventually he'll run off again, so I'm not sure that that's what he wants/needs either.
My mother was there by the way and she said she thought he looked very happy and smug, especially the times he came back to me, all high and mighty and then let himself get chased off again with a tiny wave - she said it looked like it was a game to him, but I don't know. I find horses who are running around on their own very hard to interpret

So nowadays I just let him run it off and then when he's done, ask him to come along and train again and then his energylevel feels normal again, although a bit tired 8) (and of course I feel very guilty because he's breathing hard and sometimes even threatens to sweat :roll: ).
By the way, I guess a difference between Mucki and my own mucky monster, 8) is that Speedy always is energetic and high strung and a tiny bit explosive (and a tiny-tiny bit scary), so we already have easy access to our wilder stuff during the regular training and I don't need to use these extremely explosive states to get access to the more energetic stuff. If Blacky would get in such a mood however, I would jump right on top of it - finally we'd get some action!! :yeah:
While with Speedy (and less of with Sjors) I'd sooner think: 'yeah, hmm, you know what, calm stuff is a lot of fun too! - and let's widen the distance between us a bit, shall we, just for the fun of it?' :roll: Because I always very aware of the safety issue: Speedy is a pony who is very hindquarters-oriented and for him running off on these days is often combined with a buck and a kick in whatever direction - and I don't want to be on the receiving end.

Actually, now that you describe your approach, I think that that's what I would do with Sjors in these circumstances. With him I always feel like running like that stems from anxiety and after a few laps I stop him and use exercises like Spanish walk (still energetic but controlled) to draw his mind back in, and he responds really well to that (and the foodrewards :D )

But anyhoo, 8) that leaves me stranded in the middle of the paddock, bored out of my mind because I want to do stuff together and feel connected and not be in doubt of why the pony is doing all that crazy stuff out there on his own and already feeling guilty about it in case it's my fault. :roll:

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 5:18 am 
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I have had some of the best play ever when I have managed to channel that really high level of energy they get when they are really excited. Poppy did her first rears one day when she was charging up and down the fence and I called her around me and she went up instead :). It has been much harder for me to get Bears attention when he is really excited - I'm pretty sure i have a video of me playing with him a little when he was running the fence with the horses next door. I'm on really slow internet at the moment so I can't tell you which one it is.

I find that they can do some really amazing things on these days, they are so wound up and superfocused, they collect without really thinking about it and it just comes so easily. Even if they don't do the same moves later, I know that they know that they can do it and it usually comes back eventually during normal play.

Of course there are still days where I can barely get their attention, and they will run towards me and then something distracts them and they hurtle off :). Thats when I just get the camera out and take pretty pictures and enjoy them having fun :P.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 8:32 am 
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Marina wrote:
I find that they can do some really amazing things on these days, they are so wound up and superfocused, they collect without really thinking about it and it just comes so easily. Even if they don't do the same moves later, I know that they know that they can do it and it usually comes back eventually during normal play.


Same here. :) Therefore, I also try to use as much of that wild energy as I can. On the other hand, I can only do that when they are focused on me, because otherwise they are distracted and also don't pay attention to where I am, which can be a bit dangerous, because Titum and Pia often kick when they are excited (Titum when he runs off and Pia directly kicks at me, probably for the fun of it), and Summy leaps into the air with all four feet so that his frontfeet are at the height of my head.

Therefore, to get the benefits of the wildness and still give them room to do what they want and only be with me for as long as they can focus, I just stand in the pasture so that they know I am available. Every few times they pass me, they stop to collect a treat. Sometimes it's really just that - grabbing their treat and then cantering off again - but sometimes they stay for one or two exercises before they run off again and sometimes for a whole training. I try to make sure to leave the door open for running off, so to speak, which means that after each exercise with a strong focus on me and my body tension (e.g. the levade or passage), I completely drop in my tension for a moment, which kind of ends the conversational act and sets them free to decide whether to initiate a new one by themselves or do their own thing. This is to make sure I don't keep them with me while actually their mind is elsewhere already, and at the same time it guarantees that they don't experience situations where they have to stop talking to me and "overcome the connection" in order to be able to run.

Concerning their emotional state when running wild, for my horses it seems they are happy and excited in these moments, with all their bucking and squealing in canter. But even if my interpretation is wrong, it does not matter that much to me, because whether they are happily crazy or scared of confused or whatever, my role remains the same: I am the one standing there and being available for doing energetic but focused work, so if they feel they can use that during their current state - be it to regulate their emotions down a bit or get a challenge or whatever they want in that moment - they can come and take it. If they feel it's not useful for them, they just do their running without me and that's fine as well.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 12:27 pm 
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Interesting! I guess we actually have a similar approach in unfocused high-energy moments - except that I'm getting bored with the waiting part. ;) Like you I'm simply waiting for Speedy to return so we can do things again, but I also have the request that he returns in a somewhat calm and human-friendly way (instead of in a canter or high trot and then landing in a sliding stop right in front of my toes).

But I like your idea of continuing the training after a run by alternating high-energy exercises with pauses so that the horse gets the time to focus on you again and isn't overwhelmed by his exitement combined with your energetic cues/bodylanguage. That would solve my problem of not wanting to heigthen his anxiety, but at the same time feeling the need to do more energetic stuff too in order to have a way for him to blow off steam.

Hmm, I can't wait for another stormy day to try it out again! 8)

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 22, 2013 9:53 am 
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Miriam wrote:
Hmm, I can't wait for another stormy day to try it out again!
Well, I had a stormy one yesterday :sad: . Not in terms of weather though (that was nice and calm actually), but in terms of Mucki's temper!
I led him up to the arena with caveson and lunge line on. The way up there he was rather OK, getting a little bit more excited the farther we left the other horses behind. But that is not unusual and usually no reason for concern.
The was someone loading hay bales right in front of the arena, which Mucki took also quite well. But when we entered the arena, I felt his unrest rising. It is there that I often set him free and close off the arena, so he can walk free. He wanted that yesterday as well, as he wanted to see the herd from the one corner of the arena where that is possible. I didn't let him, as that is something I like to work on right now - and that was when he got very confrontational. Rearing at me, kicking at me, trying to run off :sad:. I had a hard time keeping myself out of harms way while at the same time trying to calm Mucki down.

Now I could have let him off the lunge line of course, but that's exactly the point I am working on right now. What to do when a horse wants to run wild while on the lead rope? That's an ongoing topic for me and Mucki - especially since last winter. And I still have not gotten to the point where I feel that I'm making any significant progress. I thought I was, as in some situations I had very much control of him during summer, but yesterday was a bit of a setback again.

Any tips from you wild horse handlers? I suspect that I may react too confrontational myself when I am in the situation - simply out of fear and tension. That combined with Mucki's strong character and quite explosive reactions make a challenging mix for me... :roll:

P.S. of course, once we calmed ourselves down again (which took about 20 min I guess), we had a very, very good lunging session, which ended the whole episode very positive I think. The question is, will that be enough to make Mucki's reaction less confrontational and extreme over time?

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 22, 2013 11:02 am 
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Volker wrote:
Now I could have let him off the lunge line of course, but that's exactly the point I am working on right now. What to do when a horse wants to run wild while on the lead rope? That's an ongoing topic for me and Mucki - especially since last winter. And I still have not gotten to the point where I feel that I'm making any significant progress. I thought I was, as in some situations I had very much control of him during summer, but yesterday was a bit of a setback again.

Any tips from you wild horse handlers?


When Summy is explosive but I cannot set him free (e.g. on a walk), I make sure to be very demanding, and at the same time very positive and non-confrontational. I put myself into a mindset that is less like "I have to control the horse" but more like "We have to fulfill an extremely difficult and dangerous job together now, and we will only have a chance if we coordinate our actions in a very precise way".

With demanding I mean that I am asking for exercises at the highest temporal frequency I can - or actually not exercises but movements, with the difference being that the latter are less categorical and therefore cannot be anticipated or planned in advance but the correct reaction can only be read from my body language. I ask for only one or two steps of everything, then immediately interrupt and reward while already asking for the next thing. This next thing needs to be unpredictable and the opposite of what I had been asking before. This is to make sure that the horse cannot plan a whole sequence in advance but has to stay with me mentally in order to manage. I also make sure to be very tense, precise and flexible in my body language while doing that, trying to balance the needs for keeping the signals small enough for the horse to find it hard enough to read them, and at the same time being very clear and triggering an immediate reaction without much need for thinking and interpreting.

However, for me the positivity and non-confrontational aspect is at least as important. This concerns both the feedback I give and the way in which I am asking for things in the first place. Concerning the feedback I guess it's rather obvious, I reward any little step and do that in a way that is as snappy as the way in which I am asking for the movements themselves: short and happy, a bit like firing treats at the horse. :)

In terms of asking in a non-confrontational way, I observe the horse's reactions to my requests as closely as possible and if I feel the slightest resistance, I try to immediately but fluently change my cue into the opposite of the thing he is bracing against. For example, when I shift my hips towards the horse's frontquarters to ask them to move away and then I feel that he is going against this (either by looking annoyed or not moving or even moving towards me instead of away), I change my movement in a way that now it is asking for a backwards step. Most likely, the horse will be surprised and react immediately, even if it's just a weight shift. I immediately reward this and then ask for a step towards me, interrupt and reward very happily at once (so by now the horse has had two quick successes in a very short time), and then I try the original thing again, asking the horse to move his frontquarters away. Importantly, I do this as 'just another exercise' to continue the series of successes, not with a mindset of showing him that it's me who is calling the shots.

If this does not work either, I don't directly ask for the difficult movement anymore but incorporate it into other things we are doing, for example by asking for that step away from me while we are walking forwards, so that the horse has already initiated a movement and only has to adapt it a bit (with the amount being chosen by me on the basis of what I think will be okay for him and not result in any bracing). Usually they are much less likely to go against something if they are already in the process of making a movement than when they have to start a movement which isn't their favourite from scratch.

Actually I love these situations. They may be a bit military-like and often my legs are shaking and I have a headache afterwards from all that focusing and trying to act so precisely. But afterwards I often feel that both the horse and I are so relaxed and tired and connected. As if we had been on a mission together and managed to ward off a danger so that now we can feel safe again. :smile:


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:49 pm 

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the question "what to do when the horse wants to run wild but I don't want him to?"
- one of the most important things for me is to work the horse at a distance - the length of my leadrope (long, about 5 meters). I usually make sure I can stop him and "hold" him in place with just body language - and from as far away as possible, also with as small movements as possible. It's not about "cutting the horse off", it' about quietly taking control. Hard to explain :) - again, this is Klaus Hempfling's way, so maybe his videos would explain better...

This is a very dominant move though, perhaps not fitting into your philosophy Volker.

I think you have mentioned looking into the work of Dr Andrew McLean? He would suggest a technique called overshadowing. -which is basically what Romy described. You ask the horse to do something else, as he can't be distracted and working with you (in focus and lightness) at the same time.

This is a very powerful tool. The important thing is to ask for stuff the horse knows for sure, and repeat the exercise until the reaction is light and prompt. Because when it's anything but light and prompt, it means the horse is under the control of it's environment. For me, I often use the most basic exercise of walk forward/halt/back up - and so on. few steps each. I use negative reinforcement for this and make sure I stay in the horse's comfort zone to start with - begin the overshadowing before we really get in trouble, before the pressures have to be stronger. I don't leave "the safe spot" until the horse is light (and this also means calm), then advance slowly and keep checking the horse is still light. At the moment he gets distracted - I repeat the previous step.

I am sure Mucky appreciated the calming down at the end of your session yesterday, and things will get better.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 22, 2013 10:40 pm 
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@ Volker: Tough luck to get confronted with this behavior twice in such a short time!
By the way, yesterday I also ran into a reason to stop the running around early, at least when it comes to Speedy, because yesterday (two days after he had been running around like a maniac for ten minutes and I let him) he was a bit stiff. 8) I guess he felt that he had used those muscles for a change. ;)

What you could do if you really want to shut the running down/make sure you are getting attention instead of the herd, is something I've seen Hempfling do when there was a mare in one roundpen and a stallion was led into the other. Of course the stallion when for the mare straight away and was totally obsessed with her, showing his best moves etc. Then the student was told to enter the picadero of the stallion. First she walked around in the picadero that was on the opposite side of the paddock while the stallion was still flirting and ignoring her. Then she started moving towards him using bodylanguage and her whip in order to put the message across to the stallion that now she wanted to stand in the mare-corner and claimed that as her spot. The stallion of course still tried to come in, but was sent away again untill he started rolling in 'his' part of the picadero and she gave that corner to him again by walking away.
The result was that she controlled a source of interest and made it hers for a while and then let him regain access again (which is actually just the same as Carolyn Resnick is doing with the access to food with food-driven horses, horse trainers are less unique then they think ;)), and that way the horse started focusing on her, which sounds like a good thing for you and Mucki if he's so herd-focused, even in the arena.
I'd actually rather do that in an arena than in a picadero, which is very small and quickly becomes a pressure cooker. And a good thing about closing off a corner or even a half of the arena like this everywhere you go, is that you also turn the brainless running around into brainless running around but still checking where the human is. 8)
And of course when he enters politely, you give him a reward!

As Speedy's running around isn't about trying to stay close to a herd, but instead about running around, (a simple mind is a joy forever :funny: ), when I want to stop him from running I simply walk around next to the fence, or stand at B or E, and in that way change his pattern from just running around into running around while using the brains in order not to collide into Miriam. Then he still is free to run as he wants to, but the focus is on us and our interaction again, and that often turns the running in doing wild stuff together again (after which he still might run off again,see above, but this is how I usually turn the focus back to me and therefore us).

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:10 pm 
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Very interesting topic. I have a very herd driven mare who absolutely hates losing sight of the herd and it is something of an issue in our play time, I will get about 15min of her beautiful attention (or more on a good day), but should the herd disappear out of sight or call for her, she turns into a fleeting, panicked thoroughbred. She has on one occasion barged me right out of the way...any tips?


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