So the next passage that caught my attention in the book was a session Mark had with someone at a clinic. Paraphrasing:
The guy came out leading a nice QH gelding. The gelding was standing next to the man, half-asleep. The man told Mark he wanted to work on the gelding's disrespect.
Mark didn't realize a horse could be disrespectful. Asked the man if the horse was being disrespectful right then. The man laughed and said no, but watch. The man moved to the horse's side and poked him in the ribs right in front of his flank. The horse pinned his ears, swished his tail and moved over. The man demonstrated a couple more times and pointed out the pinned ears and swishing tail as the horse being disrespectful.
Mark asked the man when he taught the horse that. The man said about a year and a half ago. Mark then asked how often they did it. The man said three or four times on each side every time they ride, and they ride about four times a week. The man asked again what he could do to make the horse not be disrespectful. Mark said, don't do that.
Mark went on to explain that the horse had it. The horse understood what the man wanted him to do, was willing to do it, but really didn't need to practice it any more. It would be there when the man needed it. The man was still confused, until Mark explained to him that it would be like the man learning one plus one equaled two every day from kindergarten to high school.
I think Mark makes a very valid point in this passage. Sometimes riders and trainers do things over and over again, as though the horse is suddenly going to forget what is asked if they aren't being schooled every day at the "Thing." Horses are smart. That's one of the reasons we work with them and enjoy their company. Once they've shown they understand what they are expected to do, then there is no reason to continue doing some of the mindless things we humans think they should be expected to do.
I haven't really focused on ground manners with Ashke, because he came with really good ground manners and he is always careful with me. When I need him to move over, I ask both verbally and with a touch on his side. He always steps away and has never inadvertently stepped on a foot. He never crowds, although he does prefer me to walk on his right side, which I find interesting because we horse handlers almost always work from the left. When he spooks, he is very careful to stay out of my space and although he has pulled back a time or two out of fright, he gives to the pressure and doesn't try again. The barn crew at both barns have said he is friendly and never gives them any grief. He doesn't fight being haltered and usually comes right to me when I come to get him, even when he is playing with the horse next to him.
The ground work I have done is working on obstacles, which I think never gets old. Asking him to walk past, over and around scary things will only help our trust level and confidence in dealing with whatever we find on the trail. I love working through obstacles and really wish there was a second outdoor arena that we could use for stuff like that. More importantly, Ashke likes doing obstacles. Yes, he does snort and spook and carry on sometimes, but then he works through it. I need to get PVC pipes and move the bending poles to the shed by the dressage arena so we can use them on the flat space where the western arena used to be. I also, eventually, want to get barrels so I can set up some of the obstacles they use for the obstacle trail rides offered. I think we would excel at that type of thing and it's a great way to spend time riding in the mountains.
So, then we move to riding. I think it is possible to over school your horse. I understand and appreciate the need for Ashke to learn the things he needs in order to be comfortable and balanced. I know that he needs to be able to canter on both leads. I want him to develop a smooth, flowing trot, because if we need to trot on the trail, I want us both to be comfortable. Schooling him in the arena is important. It's also important for me too, since I am still rehabbing my back and relearning to ride. (What I wouldn't give for my twenty something body.) I want him to be balanced at any gait, over any ground, going on either lead, in any direction, because those are the types of things that happen when you do trail riding. I would be less concerned with the balance thing, but with his recovery and rehab from almost starving to death, I want to make sure we work all of his muscle groups equally. I think coming back from losing so much muscle mass is much harder than working with the muscles you have as a juvenile.
Ashke doesn't mind riding in the arena, but he much prefers to be out. During the winter, riding in the arena is our only option unless it's the weekend and the weather is good. During the spring, summer and fall though, I prefer to ride outside and explore. I know Ashke prefers that too. I want him comfortable and balanced when we ride, regardless of terrain, which is why working on obstacles will help him on the trail. Cavelletti force him to be aware of his feet, to lift them when he walks over stuff, which incidentally strengthens his back. This will be incredibly helpful the next time we are on a trail that has tree limbs or actual trees in the way. Crossing ditches is a challenge we can work on, since it seems to be one of Ashke's kryptonite moments, and the farm has ditches. It also has a path down to the creek, where we might be able to practice creek crossings. (Rubs hands with glee). We have mountain hills to climb outside our barn (which now that I have boots for his feet, I'm contemplating doing again.) And there are a ton of rides we can do if we trailer out to them - Bear Creek, Vedauwoo, Red Feathers, Evergreen, etc.
So, my point? My point is that I'm not interested in doing the things that aren't going to 1) be fun for both of us, and 2) aren't going to really contribute to the overall success of our riding. If the exercise will help us go longer, go farther and go faster, I'm all for it. If not, then it's not really something we need to spend our time doing. If it's an exercise Ashke has figured out, then we don't need to continue to work on it.