Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Concerning Circles

I have this idea that if could ever achieve even a modicum of mastery of circles with Cricket I would be somewhat of a horseman.

And not just will she send, will she stay out, will she come back.  I mean rhythm, cadence, tempo, impulsion, obedience, flexion and maybe a little exuberance.

Cricket on a circle is the picture of resignation.  She puts forth only as much energy as it takes to create motion in a sort of forward direction.

Nothing I have done has produced consistent results.  I've tried psychology - do less to try and cause her to want to do more.  After awhile she realizes she can just do less.  I've tried playing a game - come here so I can tag you.  That will get her energy up but only in short bursts and it's pretty easy to cross the line into offending her.  I've tried leaving her alone and rewarding her when she offers more.  I've tried a driving circle game.

But fundamentally, I saw no purpose in the circle game.  And neither did Cricket.

Sunday night, I asked my friend Kathy to watch our circle game.  At best she might see something I was missing; at worst she could at least commiserate with me.

So I just played while Kathy watched.  Cricket did her poky little trot.  Her canter was barely a canter.  It was more of an "un-trot" - four beat, stilted and just crap.  Her walk was not easily distinguished from her halt.

Kathy and I chatted about it.  She has some similar issues with her LBI TWH mare.  Kathy suggested using raised poles on opposite sides of the circle to see if the pattern itself could cause Cricket to move better.

I put two ground poles on Rail Razers and sent Cricket on the circle.

It's almost embarrassing how un-athletic she was about these little poles.

To clear the poles in stride, Cricket needed to be straight on the circle.  Which she wasn't.  Hmm, how interesting!

So I left her alone and she started to figure it out.  And she started to move forward in a lovely energetic trot.  All without me asking.  I rewarded the trot and then asked her to go again.

On the right circle, she offered the canter and after a few laps, she adjusted her stride and balance and was doing the most beautiful free, flowing canter.  She was taking the poles in stride and she was just relaxed.  I cannot count how many circles she did - isn't that cool in and of itself?!

To the left, she was a bit of a hot mess.  She kept falling in on the circle and loosing the arc.  She was bunny-hopping on her hind legs instead of reaching into her stride.  I had to use some driving on the circle to encourage her and help her understand what I wanted.  Physically, she never got it as well on the left as on the right but mentally she was trying her heart out.  I rewarded her for a good try and called it a day.

So now my quest is to find ways to turn the circle into a "maintain gait" puzzle and build her both mentally and physically.  I was so pleased with how well she worked to figure out the game and this might be a way forward.


Tina said...

I will, of course, have to try this. I still cannot exactly see how it works and I guess I cannot imagine my horse putting in MORE effort to go over poles, but will try to "have faith"! Thanks for posting - love the new header!

Lisa said...

To tell the truth, I didn't see how it would work either. But when Kathy suggested it, I figured I'd tried everything else . . .

At first Cricket just sort of plodded her way through it. But it wasn't comfortable because she'd have to do weird things to adjust her stride to get over the pole. And it's no fun hitting your ankles on solid wooden poles.

I gave her a big release and reward the first time she moved into a forward, working trot and cleared the pole in stride. After that, it was actually her idea to canter and I just left her alone to see what would happen. At first, she'd canter to the pole, drop to trot and get over it and then canter to the next pole, repeating the drop to trot. After a few circuits of me just leaving her alone, she adjusted her balance and stride and just cleared each pole in stride and it was BEAUTIFUL!

I honestly couldn't believe that she was putting forth more effort to deal with the poles. But I think there was some purpose to the circle and it was mental challenge as much as a physical challenge.

Whatever it was, IT WORKED! I'm going to have Kathy help me set up a series of trot poles on opposite sides of the circle so I can work on her left bend and see if we cannot free her up (without having to spend whopper dollars on the equine chiro)