So I realize that I haven’t posted much in the training and AOT category since we updated on Fiz’s month of boot camp with a professional trainer. So, here I am to give some updates. Here goes.
Let me just say first and foremost, since starting this AOT journey I have found a new respect for trainers who make a living out of caring for and teaching other people’s horses how to behave. It is, in a word, DIFFICULT. To elaborate on that, to care for a very large and complicated animal, and teach it to behave in an appropriate way no matter where you take it, is an undertaking not for the faint at heart. When we started this journey three years ago, I thought “It can’t be THAT hard.” Well, I am here to tell you now, that I was completely, in every sense of the word, WRONG. IT IS HARD. Very, very hard. It is time consuming, and at times, life consuming. You give up a lot. You work harder than you thought you knew how. You make difficult decisions, hell, you make EVERY decision. You lose sleep. You face challenges and you fight an uphill battle. You set goals. Sometimes you meet them, sometimes you work harder and try again next time. You have to be stubborn, determined, DEDICATED. You have to push through, even in the times where you feel you’re getting no where. For the sake of your horse and sometimes even your own sanity, you push through. On top of all of that, as an AOT, you still have to go to work at some random full time job. So in many ways, we have it even more difficult than actual trainers do, since they spend all day every day focusing on just the horses.
Anyway, off the soap box of how difficult the “trainer” role is, the last two months have been going pretty dang good. What Fiz learned at boot camp was a fantastic base for furthering his education and I can’t be happier with the results we got from spending a small fortune on one month. I talked about everything he learned in a previous post, so you can go back and read about it in case you missed that. We have been using the jog cart a lot more. So much more that the poor $200 thing is falling apart. I’ve had a slew of issues lately with that (do professional trainers have these same things happen, or is it just me?) Over the last month, the dash has fallen off the cart twice, the tug fell off the harness once, the traces can’t seem to figure out how to stay on (the keepers are messed up), and there was also one fateful morning of the tire explosion. Poor Fizzy has been more than patient with me and all of the crazy things. He keeps coming in day after day happy to work, also regardless of the oddball hours I show up to work him!
In using the jog cart more though, we’ve come up with some very clear signaling to help with our cantering problems. If you’ve been following our journey, you know by now that this horse is a difficult one to get “correct” at the canter. He anticipates the takeoff, then gets all mixed up, has a BIG takeoff, and if you get out of sorts as the rider, he gets out of sorts too. So we’ve been working on cantering in the jog cart hoping the voice signals and more work will help with his “mix ups” cantering.
Since one of the key things Fizzy learned with the professional was how to push up to the bridle and go faster without breaking into the next gait, we didn’t want to ruin that. So, whenever we ask him to move on and extend the trot in the cart, the whip always taps him on the top of his butt. The voice signal is always a cluck, and if you feel him getting off, a “whoop trot” is in order. He listens to that because we have said it enough he knows what it means. When signaling for the canter, I will slightly turn his head to the rail (this is by no means a big signal, it’s just a tiny bit) and say “ready…. CANTER” and then tap him on his HIP if he doesn’t take off cantering. The “ready…canter” tip came from one of Smith Lilly’s DVD’s on training, and the “ready” part is intended to prepare them mentally for what we are about to ask, and to separate it from a “Whoop Trot” very easily. 95% of the time using this method, he takes off on the correct lead. And since he’s so smart, he now tries taking off when I say “ready…” so I might have to drop that. However, I do my best not to allow him to take off before I ask him to by saying the word “canter”.
I’ve been riding him less, but when I do ride him, I ride harder, and I ask for more than I used to. Since we don’t ride as much, I can do this. If I were riding every day, I wouldn’t be able to ask for as much all the time, as that would cause issues such as back soreness, etc. It’s more difficult for a horse to carry a rider than it is for them to pull a cart, but pulling a cart helps build the muscle necessary to carry a rider more easily. You want to make sure you balance their workouts, the same as people do. Don’t make them perform the same tasks every day, or work the same muscle groups. They get bored doing the same things, just like people do. This can cause them to act out, so change up the routine and keep it interesting. Don’t be afraid to try new things.