Today I tried something new with River and asked only for the walk. But not the usual mosey. I wanted the same walk she used yesterday whenever we were heading toward the hay bag. A forward, swinging, ground-covering walk.
My goals were to see if she can, physically, keep up the “power walk” with me on her back. Also to work on myself so that instead of pushing her all the time, I could do less and ask her to do more. That meant bringing my energy up, squeezing, and if she didn’t respond, tapping her haunch with my stick. I used Linda’s thunk-thunk game strategy but on the haunch instead of the shoulder (not on purpose, I just didn’t remember to use the shoulder, and we usually tap River’s bottom with our hands or strings anyway when we need to reinforce our squeeze).
I also practiced my energy-squeeze-stick routine so that I didn’t keep squeezing, or thunking, once she was moving. That’s been something I’ve been less conscious of than I want to be, that I keep squeezing or urging, instead of allowing her the responsibility to keep going at the gait I requested.
And finally, I added more cones to our weave, so that instead of 4 we had 6 (the last one up on the barrel and decorated with two flags). This allowed us to practice with more precision because we couldn’t afford to do a half-circle around every cone – we had to take a straighter line and just kind of slalom around each cone.
She enjoyed it! And she put effort into figuring out the gait thing too. When she’d “gather herself” as if to start trotting, I’d release my squeeze and stick and try to harmonize with her faster, more powerful walk. If she still transitioned into the trot I’d go along a few steps and then sink into a walk. She did catch on and start offering the power walk and maintaining it longer, as I caught on and figured out my timing. I also found that the weave gave us momentum except when we did the full circle at the end if we were going to weave down and back up (or up and back down) instead of just weave one direction and return to follow the rail.
All in all, a good learning session for us both. I think we were both happy to take a break from trotting and play with our patterns, and with our language, while seeking a walk that would actually get us somewhere even though we were only in the arena today.
Things for me to improve next time:
- Lift the rein to ask for softness, instead of holding the rein out to the side and pulling her nose around. (Bad habit and I caught myself too late all but … 3? 4? times.)
- Try the thunk-thunk on the shoulder instead of the hind end.
- Eyes up. (I was practicing “riding the line” for a few months and now need to get back to a more Freestyle savvy of looking up and out of the arena, and it’s been hard to get my eyes up! Hm, how interesting!)
- Be aware of my own core engagement so that I don’t expect River to stay in good form when I’m not in good form myself. Goose, gander, horse, rider…