Aslan and I did a fun thing on the weekend - a play day at a ranch. Sadly the last one available since they sold their gorgeous property and are moving on in life. But I hope someone else will start hosting these.
A number of odd obstacles are set up in the arena. They range from balls, cones, ramps, teeter totters, cowboy showers, small jumps, barrels, ball pits and so on. The object is not to just get over or through the obstacles, but to work on communication, respect and confidence. There are also a number of exercises that can be worked on, not just "get over it". Can you back through it? Can you go fast from obstacle to obstacle without fear? Can you go over the obstacle sideways? Can you stop on top? Can you stop half way off? Can you listen to my body language and go in and out without pulling? Are you distracted by other horses?
The morning consisted of ground work, the afternoon consisted of riding.
Aslan was a natural at most of the course, since we have done soooo much groundwork and targeting. I'm also a very confident leader on the ground. The riding, not so much. Both of us lack confidence. I can become a passenger quite quickly if I find myself distracted or worried, which gives Aslan an opportunity to start thinking for both of us. Especially on a short trail ride. No one pointed this out, it was an epiphany. I also won't be doing trail rides with a lot of horses until we can get good with just one other horse or two other horses. I personally can't concentrate otherwise.
According to the host, Aslan was also being sassy to me when I would give cues to increase speed over obstacles or on the lunge. I personally interpreted this as personality/excitement, or if he reacted strongly, fear and a lack of confidence because I used too much pressure. She said, "no, he is being a stallion and challenging you." Yes I saw a few signs of disengagement from certain exercises (head tossing left/right, nose out counterbent and being slightly pushy despite being rebuked over and over) but usually he cooperated anyway. Obviously if I pushed too hard he would get really over reactive. So I figured it was all fear then. Nope, she said he was being a big sass and telling me where to go. She has experience with way more horses than I do, so I let her demonstrate.
She tuned him in using traditional horsemanship ala Jonathan Field. She expected Aslan to listen without challenge, walk beside her in a certain spot and not get ahead or behind or sass her off. It took her a good 15 minutes and he was sweating but finally relented. This is something I've tried to avoid unless he was being an obvious sass or acting unsafely. My version was also much shorter; I simply made a point, I didn't carry on to make him plead for me to stop.
A longer session of it seems somewhat harsh, but to be honest, there was definite change in attitude after that. I know that in +R we try hard to avoid -R or +P. Yet I noticed a few instances where +R was really not having an impact and I don't know what I am doing incorrectly.
For example, I would try really hard to reward him for good behavior, but results were always so short lived. Things like cinchiness, don't yank the farrier, or stay out of my space were the main things. He was very impatient and seemed to have to concentrate really hard to listen, but the second you relaxed thinking he was good, he was right back to doing what he wanted. I've practiced against the cinchiness for months, including buying better equipment, using targets, better food rewards and so on. But after this session, he didn't even make an effort to turn back and look at me. So I am thinking that some exercises were becoming all about the food instead of teamwork.
I'm not saying +R is inferior or lacking. By far I think it's right up there as a solid program; but rather I have a problem with my lack of understanding. I can only guess that a combination of intermediate skills with a strong stallion history clashed on for too long without address. So it was becoming a stumbling block in his training. Despite the tune in, he still appears motivated, and still enjoys positive reinforcement, but doesn't seem so brass and pushy. Though he is a tad "reactive" to me.
The good news is that we learned a lot, and I will have a new coach starting this week. She will help me with the +R so I don't muck this up again.