Practicing draw felt like reinforcing drive…with Rock at the wheel

I did my homework this morning: S-turns (S-pattern) with Rock to encourage draw. But instead of a friendly draw, I think he was putting his ears back and driving me!

I know about “wipe that look off your face” and “don’t let him come to you with his ears back, send him out/back him up again until he’s polite and respectful,” but I’m not sure how to incorporate those into S-turns.

When Erin first taught him the S-turn, he interpreted it as a send, and got RBE when the pressure didn’t release and he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He figured out the puzzle and became, in the words of Ron Weasley, “bloody brilliant!” at the S-turns. I don’t want to put sends back into it and confuse us further.

But then on one turn he almost snaked his head. It wasn’t a strong movement so much as the thought of head movement, with a little bit around the ears and eyes and mouth. I felt it clearly and I knew I couldn’t just keep going without addressing it.

If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else; you have a 50/50 chance of being right. ~ Parellis

I drove him back in a yo-yo and went with him, trying to keep projecting my energy, and I used the stick to keep his hindquarters exactly straight. I tried to be particular and passively persistent until he had a good brisk back and the steering worked and we did almost a full circuit around the arena in various zig-zags. When he had two ears and two eyes on me and wasn’t bracing against going back, I gave him a rest. I am still learning to sense a more subtle brace than planting all four feet and sticking out his tongue, but he licked and chewed immediately at getting the breather, so I think I did okay.

As I write, I realize I am focusing on the positive and discovering that I did try and learn things. At the time, I felt ineffective, clumsy, unsure, and useless. Like I was just making things worse instead of better and stirring up resentment and “wrecking” the relationship. I kept remembering Erin saying on Tuesday that there was no relationship/connection happening at all when I first put Rocky on-line and sent him to a circle; I had thought she meant just at that moment, but today was wondering if she meant all the time. That he’s always subtly driving and I just didn’t know. I don’t think that’s the case, but during the homework, I would have believed it.

After the massive yo-yo, I tried more S-turns and still got ears back. However, I’m also not very far in front of him because I can’t run that fast (forward or backward, and I tried both), so part of that could be that he’s so close he can’t give me two eyes and see me. I don’t want to keep acting as if it’s dominance when it’s not, especially when it is dominance often enough that I get to practice that strategy too. Yet if I judge by the rest of his facial expression and not just ears, it’s dominance. (Sigh.)

He never allowed tension to develop in the rope — he kept it slack the entire time, even when I tripped over a cone and landed on my butt right in front of him. Nice to know that he won’t run me over.

At the end, I did a couple of driving game fore- and hindquarter yields, 360 degrees, which he did but not particularly enthusiastically. This was to see if the driving game worked and to let us end with something we’re confident with, keeping the belly of the rope on the ground.

I ended with a traveling yo-yo about 12 feet back to the cone and then a wait. And wait. And waaaaaaait. For him to drop his head, give me two eyes, swivel both ears forward, and lean toward me like “can I please come in now?” When that happened I invited him forward and he came with a fast walk and happy face, so we ended there and I put him back into this pasture where he could finish his beet pulp and probiotics and supplements in peace.

I’m not in good enough shape to jog backwards steadily for 20 minutes in arena sand, much less do wind sprints, so I ended up going in little bursts with only two or three turns each. Even when I was running 16-20 miles a week, Back In The Day, I was never fast. I tried to churn my legs fast enough for Rocky to get up some speed at the trot but if I did that, I couldn’t sustain very long AND turn AND manage my rope and stick. This is a problem that will resolve over time simply by continuing to practice running backwards towing a horse.

Meanwhile I have been feeling sad and deflated becauase I am not spending as much time with him as I want to, and here it is June and I have barely ridden him. It feels like years ago that I started the Freestyle patterns and he learned to follow the rail; it has been months. It’s partly the barefoot transition and not doing it the way I now, in retrospect, wish I had done (but that’s about moot as the guy is coming Monday to measure and roll-trim). But it’s partly just me. Not being provocative enough. Not giving him enough physical exercise in our play sessions. Not introducing new stuff or higher gaits. Not being able to apply the appropriate strategy at the right time. Diving too deep into the classroom instead of going out and making mistakes in the lab….

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