Longe line, cantering and emotional control

I had a fabulous training session today with Dragon, the kind of session that is addictive and leaves you feeling like the world has offered you the best of itself. Moments like this:

Dragon has always been very excitable on the longe line – he gets emotional when he is asked to move quickly, as many horses do, is very large, so sometimes becomes “tangled up” in his body, which, historically has created a fair amount of frustration for him. I would say both of us felt we would have rather avoided the canter on the longe if we had the chance. We have been working intensively on emotional control lately, shaping for physical balance, relaxed muscles, and even tempo. I have been ignoring extreme flight reactions or overstimulation, asking quietly for a transition downward. No marking wild airborne behaviors or loss of emotional control with yelling or yanking. It is the opposite of what a lot of traditional trainers recommend, mainly, immediately stopping the horse when they “misbehave” to “delete” the flight response so the behavior is not practiced. I did try this for awhile, but stopping a 1300lb horse is not  very safe for the animal’s neck and spine, since it usually takes quite a bit of force. The other problem with this is the main reason for the “misbehavior” was usually tension or fear, and a forceful, physical stop only served to up that tension and cause worse departs than before. So I tried ignoring the emotional behavior, shaping for calm, relaxed movement and took two weeks off of cantering while we built up a calm history on the longe. And today was our second day back at cantering, and he was able to offer his first immediate departs (cantering immediately on cue) and the most emotional control he has had to date in that gait. Lovely.

Longeing, lumping and splitting!

If you asked most horse people whether longeing their horse was a simple or a complex process, I bet most of them would say it is simple. The horse walks, trots or canters out on a circle at a pre-determined distance from the trainer in the center. But that would be a lumper talking. See, you can be a lumper or a splitter. A lumper takes an exercise/new behavior and looks at it as a whole and expects the animal to immediately grasp all of its parts. Because humans are conceptual thinkers, we don’t always immediateley see all the  individual components of a behavior the way we need to in order to explain it well. A good trainer is a splitter. A splitter looks at the finished behavior and breaks it down into all of its component parts so it is easy for the animal to understand and achieve. I’ve been working on longeing with Dragon, not just go in a circle however you like type-longeing, but move off immediately on the first cue, move off softly, maintain emotional control, remain attentive, have an even tempo, hold your body in a way that is healthy for you type longeing. It’s practically rocket science when you focus on it in this way;) And its enjoyable because you are really focusing on shaping beauty. Here’s just a short clip of a nice, soft walk to trot transition. He is relaxed and has a nice tempo, but his head is too low, which is causing him to be on his forehand/not properly balanced over all four of his feet. My click is for when he shifted that balance.