Red Light, Green Light, TB Style.

Reason today after ground-work and a nice hose-down.

I’ll have to get you all a video of this so you can see what exactly is happening for your own eyes.

When I first got Reason the process of graining was simple.  I’d walk in, set the bowl down and walk out.  Later, when he lived in his stall with an attached paddock, I’d walk in, put the bucket on the hook and walk out.  But as time progressed, so did Reason’s expectations that when I’d walk in, the bucket would be set and he’d get to eat.  He’d get chummy.  The fact that I didn’t take action before he got “chummy” is a bad thing.  I should have seen it coming.  I didn’t.  But to be frank it was just a regular routine and I grained a whole barn full of horses in the process.  I also didn’t put forth my previously acquired knowledge that Ink, my food aggressive OTTB, gave to me – the routine, the diligence within the routine to maintain clear boundaries and rules at all times, is especially important, most importantly with OTTB’s who seem to flourish in clear routines with clear boundaries.  Ink’s food aggression disappeared once things where simple and boundaries were set in place.

My reaction with Reason was to send him outside of the stall.  He’d have to wait out in his paddock before he could come in to eat.  I grained him last, after I was finished working, so I could spend as much time needed to begin developing those boundaries and rules.  So it worked.  Reason would go outside, stand and stare in, waiting for the signal that he could come in.  Once he received the signal, usually me looking at him saying, “ok,” and then I’d turn, walk out and leave him be.  His reward was the grain and his private time to enjoy it.   He knew the rules and when he abided by them, he knew what to expect.  Simple.  Same thing every time, always predictable.  The issue of “chummy” flowed out the door.

Once Reason moved to his new home, a pasture space to share with his “woman” (aka my 27 year old mare who also accompanied Ink during his life with me, most notably during his chill time after the track), we had to address the graining process again.  A new place, new environment, new routine.  There is 2 acres of pasture to roam and I had to make sure we created new rules to accompany that.  – No paddock to stand in while I set up the grain in the stall.

In the beginning I’d walk his bucket of grain out, set it out in the field, usually over a pile of hay and wait until he stood somewhere patiently, but a comfortable distance away.  He couldn’t come up to the bucket until I signaled him.  The problem was Reason would get anxious; trot, or canter about wanting to run up to the bucket.  He wouldn’t come to the bucket, however I wanted to develop a secure and clear routine that yielded much better results.  I wanted a routine that gave Reason’s mind and thus body a place to be, so no matter what, he knew where he had to be at all times.  All new boundaries for our all new routine.  With that, I began incorporating signals.  With the use of my body and hands, I’d teach him, “red light, green light” (and the signal for back up just in case).

Once Reason was calm, standing still, I’d signal him to walk towards me.  I’d put my left arm out, waving him towards me.  I also used a high & low whistle, that was used specifically as a signal for, “come.”  Depending on how far he was from me, usually 100feet (guesstimate), I’d ask him to stop periodically.  I’d put my right hand up, lowering my left, similar to what crossing guards do with their hands with signaling traffic to “stop.”  I’d also use “ho” in addition, because I knew he knew what that meant already.  Slowly, patiently, he’d walk up to me, stopping and starting a couple times at my request.  If he didn’t stop when I asked, he’d have to step back as many steps that he over-did.  Calm, relaxed and respectful, all the time.   Once he was about 10 feet from the bucket, I’d ask him to stop.  I’d walk up to him, give him a pat and a “good-boy.”  I used that time to make sure he was with me.  (You know how you release the inside rein, or reins, to check if the horse is truly collected, not leaning, bracing etc?  Similar concept.)  He’d have to stand there – I’d know if he was really “there” or not.  Lasting only a couple seconds, if he showed me his respect through his willingness to stand patiently, I’d walk away, signaling his moment to go to his grain.

And with that, the TB version of “red light, green light” began!  It’s a predictable routine, with clear commands, obvious results and Reason really enjoys it.  I apply the concept to other areas now, including lunging.  I use my hands to “push” (energy) on the hind-quarters if I want him to move his haunches over (at the end of the line, I raise my hand at chest height, position my hand parallel to the haunches and push through my energy), or “push” on his shoulders to move those over.  He’s getting the idea very easy and is getting more and more responsive as time goes on. 

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Opening Doors, Long & Low.

Before the rain came, inevitably making the pasture too soft for riding or any ground work to commence, Reason and I were doing exceptionally well both on the ground and under saddle.  He was beginning to relax and I could ask for the canter (and receive) without much fuss.  A peaceful silence; just Reason and I crossing the ground, his hooves making soft rhythmic steps as we made our way over the grassy footing.  He would get a little stuck when I’d ask for the canter.  Occasionally throwing some hops, head tossing (though, not bad) in there like he wanted to go off in a full gallop where he’d feel most comfortable but felt contained by his understanding that I wanted just a canter, nothing more.  I like that he was willing to stay with me, I like that he understood my request, despite his certain ability to take my butt wherever he wanted. 

I try to keep my rein contact as light as possible, sometimes non-existent, to encourage forwardness as much as possible. Reason does get stuck at times at all gaits.   He’s learning about the gaits and how to actually work in them. Galloping isn’t the only way of travel.  Occasionally, I may have light contact with the mouth to secure a working connection when I ride (especially to develop a working relationship before I just ride without contact) but Reason, surprisingly (I thought he’d prefer some contact), likes little to no contact during the rides.  I plan to keep it that way and slowly bring in the hands as we venture into collected work later down the road.

I began riding him in western split reins, as I was able to really move my hands where I wanted, to seriously encourage openess and welcome forward.  I could have bought longer english reins, but I didn’t want the extra material to manage.  I wanted to have short reins that could go longer through the use of my arms.  Plus, when we eventually got into long and low work, there was less material he could get caught up in.  Simply put, it just made it easier for me as the rider to get to business and not worry about all the extra length.

I remember watching a western rider break some colts and watched how he would set his hands forward slightly higher and wider than where’d you normally see them.  On a loose rein the rider would do this to “open the door” to go forward.  The legs sit exsistant on the sides, light but there asking with some pressure to move towards that open door.  Reminding the horse that right nor left, is a door which is closed as well.  The reins further encourage the horse forward by creating yet another aid; by extending the arm a little further out, and wider, the reins are acting as another closed door, to furthermore tell the horse, to go towards the opening.  During our rides in the beginning I did this quite a lot where Reason would get sticky.  I did it to not only help him to know where to travel, but to set clear boundaries where he couldn’t go, to get his mind focusing on me and not what might be going on over at the other side of the pasture, or with the cows herding back to the barn (he intently watches the herd of cows move steadily back to the barn during feeding time and prefers not to be disturbed during this very interesting phenomenon).

As Reason has progressed in a better understanding on forward and would do so without issue, I began adding in long and low.  We only touched on it in the past and when we did, he’d get fidgety.  Many times, striking with his front legs.  Maybe it was uncomfortable, as his body was exploring areas it may have never explored before? So slowly I began to re-introduce it to him, only this time around, he immediately shouted his love and approval through his enthusiasm to stretch out.  I sponged my fingers between the reins, widening them and lowering them to ask him to stretch down.  I could feel his stride become more engaged.  He lightly balanced himself in a rhythmic motion and proceeded to truly enjoy the relaxation benefits of this work.  Effortlessly, without much encouragement from me, he carried himself around the pasture, nearly dragging his nose on the ground.  It’s a moment when you get such a good feeling, the moment of accomplishment as your horse travels happily in all sense of the word.  Ah, moments like that, are what riding and training is all about!

During EVERY ride, when I worked with Ink and now Reason, I begin, break and finish with long and low.  The mind and the body get a truly relaxing stretch that is perfect for beginning and ending a ride.  Not to mention a perfect stretch for in between your ride when your horse needs that break.  A horse that can enjoy long and low, is a happy horse!