Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Dreaded Mounting Block

" Do I look like I'm ready to work "

Ever since I’ve known Dusty she has had issues with the mounting block.  I foolishly thought we had conquered this particular problem…until this weekend.

As you can see from the above picture I had to wait for the princess to awaken from her beauty sleep before we could even think of beginning to get some work done.  Notice how she’s spread everyone’s hay around to make a cushy mattress for her nap.  The princess and the pebble?

When her highness deigned the time had come for her to stand and come to the gate, I got her groomed and tacked and headed to the arena.  Well apparently, Dusty has decided she does not want to work for a living but should perhaps be a halter or blanket model in catalogs or a pin-up centerfold for “Play Stallion Monthly.”  Regardless of what she thinks, I think she could work a few hours a week and be gracious about it.

After adjusting the girth we headed toward the mounting block, I positioned her, put my foot in the stirrup and she swung her hind end out.  This was one of her old tricks that I thought we had cured.  Granted, my daughter is usually there when I mount to hold her and she stands like a statue.  I’m guessing she had a flashback to her younger days when it was just she and I tackling the mounting block.  Obviously, she felt it was her right to refuse my attempts to mount.  Again, I disagreed.

We tried standing still, praise, petting and treats.  Should work right? Wrong. 
We tried stand, click, treat, and good girl.  No good.
Circling, repositioning etc., all this went on for about thirty minutes. Have I ever mentioned how frustrating Dusty can be?

--An excerpt from a previous post to show Dusty’s antics when mounting:
One more, uh, incident:  the time Dusty cantered off as I was mounting; of course, I landed in the dirt. When my head hit the frozen ground, I bit down hard on my tongue.  While I was still lying there in agony, she came over and stomped on my foot. Nice mare.  I thought she was trying to help me get up, sort of like stepping on the tines of a rake. With my swollen tongue and throbbing foot, it was not my best day. With the limp and the lisp everyone probably thought, “poor thing, she must have had a mild stroke.”

So as I sat on the mounting block holding the reins, staring at her and taking deep breaths before I lost my temper, I reassessed the situation and thought about what I could be doing wrong.  Obviously, I couldn’t let her get away with this behavior because it could easily escalate into a battle of wills and I didn’t want to lose ground after she was doing so well. 

There is a little trick my daughter taught me that she learned from riding so many rank horses over the years.  It may not make all the natural horsemanship people feel warm and fuzzy, but it works.  I’m conflicted about whether to put it down because if used incorrectly you can actually flip a horse over, and nobody wants that.  I should also add that no horses (Dusty) were harmed while using this method.

Take the right rein and pull it gently into position for an ‘indirect rein of opposition in front of the wither’ (keep the hand above the mane; don’t let it cross the neck - very important) to flex the horse’s head slightly to the inside of the arena while simultaneously shifting the shoulder toward the mounting block.  If the hindquarters shift away from the block, move the rein into an 'indirect rein of opposition behind the wither.'  Once in position and standing quietly, let go again.  Take both reins in the left hand before mounting and maintain a light contact to prevent unwanted forward and back movement.

From the ground we walked circles with me on the outside holding the reins as if I was in the saddle, positioning her to the inside of the arena while spiraling out until we came close to the mounting block.  Then, without letting up on the tension, and keeping her head flexed, I parallel parked her next to the mounting block using the loose left rein to lead her up.  When she stood quietly, I petted and praised her.  Once she remained in position without trying to shift away from the block, I mounted.  She took off before I had my stirrups; no big deal, but not what I wanted.  We whoa-ed in the center of the arena and I dismounted. Then we proceeded to do the exact same thing again, this time with me putting my weight in the stirrup and removing it, putting weight on the saddle and removing it, over and over until she stood still no matter how much I tested her.  I mounted, keeping the reins ready on her neck in case she walked off, but she stood quietly.  I rewarded her, she got a treat and lots of praise and pets and we walked off calmly.  We did this one more time, called it a successful lesson and she was turned out.

The following day I took up the reins in the same configuration and instead of spiraling in circles we walked directly to the mounting block.  She stood quietly while I mounted, she waited for the cue to go and we walked off softly on the first try.  Dusty offered me the best ride I have had with her to date.  She trotted long and low, tracking up with strides that were controlled and even.  We didn’t ride for long - a few times around in either direction at the trot.  A loose rein for relaxation as we walked around the arena a few laps and then over the cavelletti once in each direction.  I dismounted, praised her and gave her a treat and we called it another successful lesson.

My thoughts on this whole experience: once she knew she couldn’t get the best of me she gave in and maybe somewhere in the recesses of her crafty mind she respects me a little more for not letting her get her own way.  Not everyone will agree with the method I used, but sometimes with a horse like Dusty you have to take the upper hand and do whatever works.  

Until next time

Quote for Today
A hot horse and a hot head don't mix.

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