I can't believe this, but... I have an arena!!!!!!!
Anyone who has been to my place knows that I have five acres on a hill. The only two level spots are just big enough for my house and my round corral. Everything else is on a slope -- and it's not a slight grade, either.
For most purposes, the slope is fine. It's the reason we have a beautiful view, and the horses (not to mention the people) get great exercise trudging up and down it all the time. But for training? Ehhhhh, not so much.
You might recall that I'm using the Downunder Horsemanship (DUH) Method to train Bellalunaa and Ledger. I managed to get a good start on Bella with just the round corral and trail riding on the canal banks, but let's face it: there are some DUH exercises that you simply can't do in a small corral, on a narrow dirt road, or on or a slope with questionable footing.
So, after about 16 years here, I finally did it. I hired someone to level part of the pasture for a 90 x 120-foot arena. It was quite a project!
It's hard to tell from the photos, but that's about a 12-foot carve-out at the top of the hill and nearly that much of a drop-off outside the arena fence on the downhill side. Wowza.
But let me tell you: Game. Changer.
It has only been done for four days, and our summer afternoons are too hot to work horses hard, so I've had time for just two training sessions in there with each horse.
Prior to the arena project, Bella had progressed to Intermediate riding and groundwork exercises, but to get there, we had to skip or half-ass a few Fundamentals. Now that we have proper facilities, I'm taking her back through everything.
Predictably, I've found a few holes -- most notably, sticky feet. Not outright refusal to move forward, but sluggishness. Especially as she gets tired, Bella gets grouchy about being asked to move out. She's even crow hopped a few times when she thinks it's time to quit cantering during the Cruising Lesson.
Sigh. It's always disheartening to have a horse come along so well, then have to go back and patch holes. At least, that's my initial, emotional reaction -- but not a particularly helpful or necessary one. I'm reminding myself that this is a normal part of the training process and there's no shame in taking as many steps back as necessary to build a stronger foundation. Refusing to move out, even to the point of crow hopping? Spotlight on R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
For the record, I did ponder whether this issue could have a physical origin. However, I think that is unlikely. Bella has been in regular work plus hilly pasture turnout for months, and I think her fitness level is appropriate. Her back isn't sore. Her legs remain cool and tight. She is sound and free-moving both under saddle and at liberty. I'm pretty sure this issue is all about attitude.
I spent some time thinking it over, and I figure groundwork is the place to start. We'll do a bunch of Lunging for Respect I & II, with a particular focus on moving out NOW when asked. (Throwback to the Bucking a Bad Habit NWC video from March 2012!) Bella knows this stuff, but it's obviously time for a reminder.
It's also a good reminder to me of the importance of continuing to review and build on groundwork, including lots of backing, bending, yielding, etc. as part of every session. It's so easy to get lax on requiring snappy responses, especially when I'm in a hurry or feeling worn out by the heat. But you know how horses are...always learning...and whether they learn the right thing or the wrong thing is up to us.
Ready, Bella? Let's make it right.
Want to know what happened next? Go to Respect By Any Other Name.
Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog explores the mental, physical, and technical aspects of being a better horseman, athlete, and human.
The Sweaty Equestrian