Earlier this year I signed up for a year of the TRT Method. It's a system developed by Tristan Tucker that uses groundwork patterns to teach the horse to seek relaxation. If you haven't heard of it yet, there are lots of videos on Youtube you can check out.
I was looking for help in getting Cisco to chill the fuck out. I had a lot of issues with tension under saddle in the arena. Actually, it wasn't only while being ridden - he was tense in-hand or when turned out loose in there too.
We were mostly past the point of him barging into me with his shoulder when he wanted to leave the scary corners, but he was almost always on high alert. And he has always been a fast walker when being led - I would feel like he was taking me for a walk, not the other way around. Not in a bad way - more he was always on a mission type of way.
I had watched some of the free videos and started on a couple of the ideas in them. One was regarding leading. The horse was supposed to maintain the same distance behind you - like at least 7 or 8 feet behind you. You stop, they are supposed to stop, maintaining that distance. If they didn't, you would stand in the same place, use a "ssssshhh" voice aid, and create energy with the lead at the ground in front of the horse - not at the horse. The idea is that you create energy where you don't want them to be.
The videos were all taken on a different day than the post was written about. There were some distractions on this day.
This exercise had a huge impact on Cisco. It really got him paying attention to me, instead of things around him. We had many a discussion about staying behind me, and not to the side of me when he was trying to leave out of the scary end. I would lead him in and out of his turnout using this method, and anytime I feel he is distracted when we enter the arena I spend a few minutes on this leading, and it does wonders to tune him in.
The next thing to work on is a set of patterns that form the basis for everything else to come, including the under saddle work. The first part involves moving the hind end - having the inside hind step under and across into the outside shoulder, with inside bend through the body. The second part involves moving the front end. The outside front steps out, the inside front steps either in front of or behind the outside (if you have a horse who always wants to barge forward, you have them step behind. If they suck back, you would ask them to step forward). Again, you are looking for them to bend in the direction they are moving, in this case to the outside.
The first part is the part that is more of a struggle for Cisco. He would like to drop his inside shoulder and push it into me instead of softly bending through the ribcage. If he has any tension in his body, this is where it's going to show up. However it's getting better - he might start by dropping the shoulder, but after a few steps he becomes more supple and them generally maintains it.
The front legs he actually figured out much quicker. In the beginning, there were many times he tried to go past me instead of slowing himself down to step out and behind with the front legs. But then he started to get it, and it got really interesting to watch him put it together and be very deliberate about his footwork. I think that this exercise is his stronger of the two.
We were having problems on this day when I was on his right side. He kept trying to push past me. He's usually better than this on that side.
Instead of lunging before a ride if I sensed a bit of silliness, I started to spend some time on this groundwork before getting on. And it seemed to work - he would quickly relax and start to tune in. However I never really managed to get him to fully release and drop his head and neck. He wasn't full-on giraffe, but he never got to the point of his nose around his knees either.
Since this spring, there has been a marked difference in Cisco. He used to always enter the arena and immediately look down into the scary end and look for imaginary demons. That stopped. He stopped being overly reactive to noises, and has been coming into the barn, cocking a leg while tied up, and looking quite chill. He has also stopped being a pooping machine while I'm riding - previously we would have an average of 3 poops per ride. Now we are usually down to one.
I don't know if the relaxation in the arena is just a coincidence, or if it is due to the groundwork. In a very short period it has felt like a switch was turned and he just stopped being worried. So I haven't been doing the groundwork as much.
To do the groundwork adds precious time to my ride. Plus I have to haul a rope halter and lead over to the arena. Not to mention that I have to review the TRT Method modules online in my limited spare time to learn the next step.
But I'm paying for it. So I really need to use it.
This week I spent some time watching a few videos to work on the next steps. And it went much better than I anticipated. Cisco seems to learn best when you introduce something to him, make a bit of progress, then put him away. He needs to think about it and generally comes into the next session ready to try it.
On this night though, I threw a couple of new exercises at him. And it didn't take long before he was doing them really well.
The first one involved moving the hind end again. But this time, I would stand in front of him, and use the whip to move him. He would need to keep his head in front of me, and maintain inside bend.
Still a problem to the right, not bending through his ribcage. It got better when I left the whip on his right haunch to ask him to step more with it.
He figured this one out really quickly. I thought that he would be trying to get past me, and he did a couple of times, but then he got backed up (move the front legs out and behind) and he soon figured out his footwork.
The second part involved the monthly challenge. I am going to video it so that I can submit it, so I'll leave the description for now and post the link when I get it done. This one is a little tougher for me as I have to figure out my footwork and handwork, but again Cisco did really well with it. I thought it would be much tougher for him.
The best part about this night was that this was probably the first night that he really relaxed. Like ears consistently below his withers relaxed, and at one part through one of the exercises his nose was only a foot off the ground. The exercises seem to be working - he's becoming much more supple in his body, and is finding some awareness about his feet and his tension.
I haven't really worked on the under saddle stuff, but I think it's time to start. Off to watch more videos!