Jean-Luc and I have had the opportunity to really focus on things together lately. As you might have seen in an earlier post, I was a little down on myself for not being able to get this critter to gait as well as I know he can after nearly a year together.
I wanted to "be there" but the truth is, we just haven't been focusing on that particular skill. Honestly, looking back through this blog, our journey had us working on just moving. We needed to find success as a team before I thought we were ready to find any kind of success in regards to honing skills.
February has rocketed us to new places. I have shifted focus to movement under saddle. Personally, I needed this. I needed to grow in confidence with Jean-Luc to get us out of a rut. So, despite my usually meek and chicken-like brain, that is what we have done. For roughly a week I tried not to care so much about Jean-Luc's body position, speed, or head carriage. Instead, I wanted to pay attention to my seat, stopping, and just generally garnering a feeling of confident control.
It may seem a little counter-intuitive because I didn't care as much about all those micro movements above, right? What I mean is that I wanted to be able to sit on my horse and know that he wasn't going to toss me. I needed to trust him - and that is just what I did.
Thankfully, it leads to some pretty deep revelations:
A. When riding a pacey horse, they're going to also not be able to turn quickly in any direction because their legs are on the same side of their body. If they try they'll likely throw themselves off balance.
B. I know little about bits, but the Korsteel Uxeter Kimberwicke Liz recommended we try is really working out for us.
C. This horse (and let's be real most horses) just want a leader that is sure of themselves and can lead. Allowing the tables to turn works in favor for no one!
D. While most people recommend working a horse slowly from a walk into a gait, for Jean-Luc and me, we had better success coming down from a pace into the gait. I would say that it is likely because he's a little hot in general? Not sure.
E. Which leads me to this simple truth, "most people" have an opinion. You can listen to them, but who you should really be listing to is your horse. If you can hear, and more importantly understand what your horse is saying, then you're doing it right.
Here in these two videos, though, I did meet some lovely people through the Facebook group, The Natural Tennessee Walking Horse. I am always amazed by how much people just want to help. One person, a trainer out NC, seemed to have a similar training preference as me and offered to analyze a few videos of us if I'd send them to her - sweet deal!
I sent them over and in the first one, she noted how "we're almost there," but that I was allowing Jean-Luc to toss his head anywhere and not tuck his nose. She, like many gaited trainers, recommended if I could just ask for a little "not cranking down on his head," but a little tip in his nose that he would lift his legs up under him more and hollow out his back.
I am also learning to sit on a gaited horse, so forgive me if you see some wiggling, and legs that look too far forward. The thing is, if I centered myself and almost rocked back some, it seemed as if Jean-Luc moved better.
In the second video, I feel a little out of control. I would say that it has to do with the fact that we were in a small ring and not on a straight path (gaited practice really is easier when you're going straight). However, check out the difference when I ask him to tuck his nose and keep just a little pressure with my hands. I could literally feel him pushing with his hind legs - a new feeling altogether for us.
Snow is in the forecast for the next few days, but I can't wait to saddle up and continue this work!
We did/ are doing a thing! After some adjustments to my saddle we went to work inside the barn tonight while the rain sprinkled down on the tin roof.
Note how far forward Jean-Luc is bringing his back foot. He also isn't moving the legs the same side of body together, but instead in a four-beat pattern. The gait starts in the back left leg. Watch as his back feel hit (ever so slightly) before his front. The head bob is also a dead giveaway that a horse is gaiting, because he is hollowing out the base of his front shoulders. He has to in order to properly perform a gait. Building those muscles in particular are difficult, but the foundation for which everything else grows.
According to the trainer I've been working with, these are the first signs to properly training the gait and getting rid of that pace. GOOD BOY Jean-Luc! He doesn't have much speed or control yet, and he still isn't all that smooth, but the progress we have made in the past two weeks can't be ignored.
Our number one one goal for the next few months is absolutely going to be locking that gait in and working on muscle tone. As I keep tweaking our work, and equipment, I find myself continually amazed at the education we are both receiving.
The other night I was able to ride a true gaited horse, Lil Bit, for a brief period of time. Experiencing his gait was pretty disheartening initially. He was so smooth, and honestly his movement was so foreign to me. I clearly did not buy a gaited horse, and I clearly have much to learn.
That said, I laughed all the way across the field - this is my first gaited adventure after all. After feeling how Lil Bit moved, I can absolutely see why people love it. Riding the "wiggle" must produce some wild brain chemistry, because I really could not stop laughing as we zoomed through the field. It didn't take long for me to become encouraged and happy that I have something to work on with Jean-Luc, too. I have faith that we will get there. We just need time. He's 13 years old and was never taught how to properly use his body. The amount of retraining we must do is extensive.
Besides, as my horseback riding rock, Liz, always points out, "I bought a horse with a good head." Jean-Luc is very smart, spooks little, and minus a few things as close to perfect as I could afford. As I have posted before, we are finally starting to have fun together. He is my 12-year-old self's dream come true.
Below is the longer form video of some of our lesson tonight. Watching it back makes me laugh. I felt like our gait was SO FAST, but it really isn't, it's just that it is a gait.
Do you have something that took forever to train your horse? What did it feel like once the finally started to learn? What was your breakthrough moment?
We all say it. "Man, work was rough today. I just want to go home and curl up in bed." That was absolutely me yesterday. Work has me more than a little twisted. While the exact details can remain a mystery, it suffices to say that my work is about as stable as our current political climate.
Also, I had a little something happen on Wednesday this week that made me have to start taking a medication that really does not agree with my life style. I can't have caffeine or alcohol for the next two weeks. As a person that drinks no less than 24 oz. of black, Mississippi mud-like coffee every morning ... this struggle is REAL!
I can't remember the last time I just didn't have caffeine; it's been at least three years. Let me tell you what I will never forget, though - the lack of caffeine migraine that replaced my simple morning ritual. I had many thoughts yesterday as I tried to focus at work, (specifically to never become a drug addict), but also, I did not want to go on this ride I had promised I would take earlier in the week.
You see, Liz introduced me to a very nice man in her office that, like me, needs a break every once in a while from the insanity that is work. I think most might agree that horses are (usually) a great place to seek refuge. Her coworker is a talented gaited horse trainer, but his horses aren't with him right now. In fact, they're many states away. I can't imagine what that must be like? He worked with his horses every day. They were his, and eventually his wife's life. Now, life has provided them both with other things to occupy their time, however, horses still hold a deep place in his heart.
I can relate. I remember what it was like, not so long ago when I'd do anything to just sit in my favorite four-legged chair for a few hours. Not having the opportunity to do so was tough. That is why, despite my utter discomfort and lack of motivation, I kept my word last night. I met Allen [names changed for privacy]out at the barn for a ride. After making my peace with my frustrations, I parked my car at the edge of the barn and went inside to grab two halters.
Lil' Bit is another gaited horse that we've been given permission for Allen to use. Lil'Bit also isn't the biggest fan of Jean-Luc. Yesterday was a good day for me to test my own resolve though because I simply wasn't in the mood to be afraid of their antics. Especially when it comes to a horse named Cody, and Jean Luc's best friend. That horse literally herded my horse away from me! Yes. I watched the snot look me dead in the eye and run away with his best friend (my horse) behind him.
Cody was just acting up more than actually threatening anything, though. He didn't even run far. When I went into the field to meet them, he just herded Jean-Luc back to the rest of the horses. After catching Jean-Luc, I tossed the second halter over Lil'Bit's head with relative ease. There were a few moments that made me nervous only because I was taking number two horse and bottom of the herd number nine horse, out together. Naturally, the rest of the herd surrounded us. They were confused by the dynamic I was creating and followed the three of us all the way to the gate. All in all, there was little excitement though.
Allen arrived at the barn shortly after 6 PM. I was swinging a saddle over Lil'Bit, as he parked his navy blue sedan. Allen and I made idle chit chat, bridled the horses, and lunged them in a few small circles before mounting up.
Truth be told, I was nervous. The day before, the horses had really acted up, but I just kept telling myself this was a different day. I was determined to be brave and stay calm. I knew Jean-Luc didn't like leaving the herd, but I thought maybe with Lil'Bit he would be okay. I was right.
As we crossed the little creek and made our way into the big field I noticed I was able to ride a pretty loose rein with Jean-Luc.
"This is nice," I thought in my head. Usually, when riding through that field we're a little bit of a mess. Feet go one direction my hips say to go another. Before I know it, often Jean-Luc is tossing his head and in total wild mustang mode. But not today!
Jean-Luc and Lil'Bit jockeyed some for who would lead, but eventually, Lil'Bit won out (he's faster). We made our way to an old gravel road and on the way there Allen explained to me where the gait originates on a gaited horse (back left leg in case you don't know). He went on to help me understand how to "feel" the gait. He honestly made me feel better about my confusion, explaining how in the beginning, it's very hard to tell the difference between a horse's walk and gait. If you push too hard, they will go straight into the pace - which is exactly what I was doing with Jean-Luc.
Once we hit the road Lil'Bit and Jean-Luc were able to walk side by side. This was great for me since all I had to do was mimic Allen's actions. Suddenly, like magic, the movement I'd been struggling to get for months now happened! Jean-Luc gaited! At first, it was so tiny and for such a short amount of time, I would never have known we were gaiting without Allen telling me we were.
"Pet 'em!" he reminded me.
I gave Jean-Luc tons of love on his shoulders and a big scratch between his ears where I know he likes it.
"That's the gait?" I said confused.
"That's it. You have to stay slow until he gets it. If he paces, let him commit to his mistake, then drop him down into the gait. The second he slows and does what you're asking to release the contact. That's his reward," Allen said.
Allen clearly has done this a time or two. In fact, at one point he even apologized for knowing so much and just not knowing where to start when it came to sharing his knowledge. That whole notion made me laugh inside. I literally had a professional, killer lesson, all for the outstanding price of ... ride this other horse.
Working on the gravel road was incredible. I can see why gaited trainers like having them. This road was basically flat and a few miles long. It was perfect for training. Before I knew it Jean-Luc stayed in a solid gait for nearly a mile.
Once I knew what I was looking for, I really started to chase the feeling of the gait. Getting Jean-Luc to perform it required constant focus, timing and various pressures from my thighs, calves, ankles, and hands. There was a sweet spot, and I was finding it.
"Look at your horse!" Allen kept yelling with excitement.
I can still remember how he said it. It was the kind of phrase that made you feel like you were accomplishing something special. Despite a freak storm, we walked the length of the road twice. Allen was thrilled to be there, and I told him how coming out and riding was exactly what I needed.
On the way back he started to tell me all the other things he could teach Jean-Luc and me (side passes, neck reining, spins, etc.). By the time we got back to the barn, we agreed this needed to become a regular thing. So, for now, we have a standing appointment Tuesdays at 6 PM. I am so lucky to have even received the smallest amount of gaited help around here. I can't wait to see what happens in the next few months!
I've said it before, Jean-Luc isn't a unicorn. Or, if he is, then he is only a unicorn to me. Yesterday, Jean-Luc apparently wanted to prove me wrong. He wanted the world to see him and his beautiful, self-made horn. So ladies and gentleman, here he is! I give you, Jean-Luc the unicorn!
Yup, after searching the field for nearly thirty minuets, I found my handsome devil with trotting around his head in the air. Something looked a bit, off.
"Your forelock looks lovely, who came out to braid...Oh my!" I thought to myself.
There he was. My man, plus 17 burrs allow smashed in his forelock. Honestly, who could anything but laugh? I brought him back to the barn, and didn't have too much trouble cleaning them out - but not before a few priceless photos!
Eventually, I was able to saddle up for a brief ride and work on Jean-Luc's gait. He still doesn't quite have one yet. He's very pacey - meaning he likes for his front and back legs, on the same side, to move at the same time. When I brought him home, I quickly realized Jean-Luc's never gaited a day in his life, and teaching it was going to take time. Furthermore, I've never owned a gaited horse, nor do I really know the intricacies that come along with it.
It's been a journey already, but after some help from a few amazing trainers (Ivy is my hero!) and locals, we're starting to actually muscle up the correct parts of our bodies and somewhat perform that smooth glide.
Here are a few very short sessions Liz helped me film last night. Watch for the 4-beat pattern. His back leg should hit before his front. Jean-Luc hits it only once or twice, then his legs start moving together.
Later this week I have a ride scheduled with a local gaited horse guru. He's fantastic and really knows his stuff. He's already worked with Jean-Luc and me once, so I'm excited to see if notices any improvements or what he thinks? Truth is, I won't be surprised if doesn't notice much. We've slacked a little on actually gaiting in the past few weeks.
So what about you? Do you have anything you're working on that some might call "too big for your britches?" How are you tackling them?
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.
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