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Chasity is in such good condition these days that I felt I could skip a week before engaging in her formal lessons again. She does get manual abdominal flexion exercises daily when she is fed. The beauty of postural core strength exercises is that they stay strong after the initial introductory work. It has been five months of this kind of exercise for Chasity, so if her workouts are only every other week, they are enough to sustain her strong core strength in good equine posture. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are now symmetrically strong around her skeletal frame. I decided to start in the Round Pen to allow her to move out before engaging in the more intense lunging and ground driving in the open arena again. Her posture and movement were impeccable!
The “Elbow Pull” is now staying loose most of the time. This means she is strong and balanced in good postural self-carriage. Her movement is confident and fluid. She executes the turns on the haunches perfectly upon command. The transformation in her whole body and strength has been exciting to witness! Her attitude has improved by leaps and bounds as her overall health improved. We are still treating the infection she has that seems to be systemic and in her glands. Our approach will be to continue a regimen of antibiotics, then when it is done, take her off of them until it appears to be trying to return. Then we will resume antibiotic treatment.
Chasity moves beautifully and stands stock still whenever we are working on her. This is a marked improvement from the “Nervous Nellie” that first arrived at the end of March this year.
After doing a bit of lunging, we are now going to review ground driving in the Round Pen before we go to the open arena for more practice. I want to get her light in the bridle now, so I begin with a rein back. Then we proceed forward at a relaxed pace.
Chasity does a very nice “S” turn through the middle for a change of direction. I try to keep my contact with her bit as light as possible, giving her cues with no more than vibrating little fingers.
Chasity is responding well to the drive lines and is getting lighter in the bridle. She halts and rein backs easily upon command to receive her reward for a job well done!
After lunging Chasity and Wrangler individually in the Round Pen, we are now headed for the dressage arena where they will each get their turn at lunging on the lunge line and ground driving. They both lead easily alone, or together, and walk in sync with me upon request. Sometimes Wrangler gets a bit distracted.
Chasity is always on alert, but does not tend to be silly about things. She remembers her lessons well and is always happy to please. I start her with the lunge line shortened and this time she does not pull at all, but stays on the circle with her intermittent squeeze/release cues from my little finger as her outside front leg comes forward and into suspension.
As she circles, I slowly let out the lunge line. I will not ask her to trot until she offers to so so. I don’t want to force speed and sacrifice precision. She is now stopping consistently in a goos balance.
After re-tying the lunge line to the bit ring on the other side, I reverse Chasity, ask her to go the other way and she complies nicely. Again, I start with a short line and let it out gradually.
At the end of several rotations, I ask her to “Whoa,” stretch down and then stand still while I roll up the lunge line and prepare to put on the drive lines. My Ranch Manager, Chad, is ready to assist with the ground driving this time after her bolting in the previous lesson when I ground drove her by myself.
I do not want Chasity to think she can run off every time we get into the open arena, so I will set her up to be successful right from the beginning with the assistant this time. She can run and play with Wrangler in turnout later. She does not seem to mind at all and is all business about her ground driving. She completed the Hourglass Pattern in one direction, crossed the diagonal and did it in the other direction and then did a very nice halt and rein back to end the lesson.
Chasity stood quietly while I removed the drive lines and rolled them up. Then we went to retrieve Wrangler from his place along the fence. After Chasity’s turn, Wrangler got his turn at lunging on the lunge line and ground driving. Then we all headed to the gate together.
When you are consistent in the way you do things with every animal, it is easy to lead, lunge and negotiate obstacles with multiple animals because they all know what to expect and there are no abrupt changes to the routine to cause adverse behaviors. Training can be fun for EVERYONE!
I’m not sure, Augie, but it must have something to do with those two big donkeys behind us! MMMM…oats!”
“Hi! I’m Wrangler and this is Chasity! You’ll have your turn to lunge when we get done! Here’s how we do it!”
“Yeah! We’ve been doing it longer than he has…and we’re a team…even at the halt, eh Spuds?!”
“That was really fun!! Isn’t she just beautiful, Augie?!”
“Hmmmmm…oh yeah, Spuds!!!”
After having a week off, Chasity returned to her lessons happy, refreshed and ready to go to work. I decided to go back to the Hourglass Pattern and do more leading exercises followed by lunging on the lunge line and ground driving in the open arena. She had two weeks of lessons in the Round Pen and I was curious to see how she would do on the single line, and then the drive lines, with lots of space around her. This can often be a whole new challenge! She seemed very relaxed as she fell into the familiar leading pattern.
As we negotiated the Hourglass Pattern, she easily matched me step for step, even over the ground rails. I asked her for a downward stretch and she was completely cooperative with that as well. The exercises she has been doing for the past four months have really changed her body shape and her strength. The thick crest on her neck is greatly reduced and is no longer hard, but soft and pliable to the touch. It won’t be long before it is completely gone. She is moving symmetrically, is much more agile and is in great athletic condition!
She was in good posture and stepped over the dressage arena fence gracefully without losing her balance at all as we went to retrieve the lunge line. She then stepped over it again as we re-entered the arena to begin lunging on the lunge line.
I started her on a short line to give her clear directions about what Iwanted. I made sure to give a short squeeze/ release on the lunge line each time her outside leg came forward into suspension like I had during Round Pen lessons. This caused her outside front leg to come toward me and keep her on the arc of the circle around me without getting into a pulling match. Pulling this way would not interfere with her balance and cause her to bolt.
As she circled, with each rotation, I let out the line a little bit more. I continued with the squeeze/release cue in sync with the outside front leg coming into suspension. Then before she got bored, I asked her to “Whoa.”
I gave Chasity her oats reward and waited for her to finish chewing before I retied the lunge line so we could go in the opposite direction. I tied the lunge line to the snaffle bit on the side I pull from and then left enough excess to go under her chin and snap to the ring on the other side. This keeps the bit from sliding through her mouth.
Again, I started her on a short line and let it out as she was compliant and stayed on the circle around me, always giving the squeeze/release cues in sync with that outside front leg. The I asked for a “Whoa” and a stretch down for her reward.
Chasity waited patiently as I put on the drive lines, always sporting a relaxed and happy face! We began ground driving at a pretty good clip. She was enjoying the open space! I stayed in sync with her back legs, but I was having to take very big steps to keep up with her!
Then as sometimes happens…she bolted. I knew she wasn’t really scared. She just felt GOOD! So rather than engage in a pulling match, I just let go. She took off, first at a very fast trot, then a lope….
…and finally she went into a full-fledged gallop! She stayed strong in her new-found good equine posture throughout! She galloped to the fence and made a nice 90-degree angle turn into a trot tracking right! She was clearly enjoying herself while I just waited on the sidelines for this moment to pass.
It was clear to me that she needed to just run and have a good time for a little bit. I watched as she traveled around the perimeter of the dressage arena. I was impressed with her improved way of going. She carried her head a bit high and was not as flexed at the poll as I would have liked, but what more could I have expected considering the short time she had been worked in the “Elbow Pull.” Enhanced grace would come later!
I was impressed with her form as she jumped over the dressage arena fence! As she executed THAT move, there was more flexion over her entire top line. This was a great improvement to the sway back she had when she first got here! She evntually slowed down and began to make her way toward me.
Since she had obviously decided to go back to work, I walked toward her and gave her a reward for returning to me!
I gathered the drive lines and instead of walking behind her, I kept them short and walked beside her for more control. I did not want another runaway! She did give a half-hearted pull, but when she discovered that I had more control, she decided to comply as I concurrently led/ground drove her back into the Hourglass Pattern
I proceeded this way over the ground rails and then toward the next corner cone. As I did, I gradually made my way more toward the hind qaurters while making sure I still had her attention. She was a little strong in the bridle, but did as I asked. We did have to circle the cone to keep this control.
As she came around the cone, she got more tractable and straightened out so I could ground drive her from her hip. We were definitely making progress!
We turned around the next cone and headed back toward the ground rails in the center of the Hourglass Pattern. At the point where we would nromally halt and square up when leading, when ground driving, we halt and normally do a rein back instead. This time, however, I would be content with the halt. I made a mental note that next time, I would use an assistant at her head with a lead rope to help her to be totally successful in the ground driving before we went solo again. I would hate to perpetuate any bad habits. One occurence like this is acceptable, but to allow it to continue would be a major mistake! Longears learn EXACTLY what you teach them!
Donkeys love it when you keep things easy, fresh and interesting! Chasity has been doing so well with her lessons with Wrangler lately that I thought we could change things up a bit and add a LITTLE excitement to their routine by adding the mini donkeys, Augie and Spuds! If this is to be a safe endeavor, I will have to break things down into small introductory steps and make frequent evaluations as to what is safe to do and what might not be safe. I want them all to enjoy this time together with me! Seeing the mini donkeys in the Tack barn work station, Chasity is getting already started with a smile on her face!
First, I lunged Chasity by herself to see how she would respond in her “Elbow Pull” and to see whether she would maintain her good postural balance during this lesson. She did lovely at an energized and forward working walk! I was very pleased.
Chasity then bucked up her working trot and although she raised her head just a bit, she kept the “Elbow Pull” loose almost all the time…she is truly improving rapidly!
Next, I ground drove her and again, she did everything just right and maintained her good posture and balance…through the reverses and in both directions!
Chasity’s contact with my hands was steady and light, and she easily did her “S” turns through the middle of the Round Pen gracefully and accurately.
Chasity did a square halt and did the rein back much more easily that she had in prior lessons. She is making marked improvement every week! Yes, we only do these lessons once a week for about 20-30 minutes to get these amazing results!
Chasity and Wrangler always enjoy lunging together, but sometimes he will get a bit slow and cause her to raise her head behind him and put more tension on the “Elbow Pull” than she would do if he was not there. Wrangler spotted Augie and Spuds tied outside and did not want Chasity anywhere near them! That was when I made the decision that now would not be the right time to lunge FOUR donkeys together!
Instead, I tied Wrangler outside and introduced Chasity to Augie and Spuds…they liked each other, so I began lunging them all together! Chasity loved it!
The donkeys, large and small, tracked left and then did a perfect halt…all three of them! As they stood stock still, I rewarded them each one for a job well done!
Chasity surprised me by doing a perfect reverse and then walked behind Augie and Spuds to show them the new direction. Then they too, reversed and followed her obediently! I had to chuckle…who’s in charge here?! Wrangler just hid his face behind the post outside of the Round Pen, hoping no one would notice how left out he felt! Even though Wrangler was a bit miffed, they all had a very good time! At least he was not completely left out! Friends really LIKE to work together!
Wrangler is wondering why Augie and Spuds, the mini donkeys are here. He is usually worked with Chasity… just the two of them! Wrangler is big on being the center of attention and stands quietly while I put on his surcingle instead of his English saddle this time. He is sure something is up, but he doesn’t exactly know what it might be just yet!
Wrangler and Chasity are now getting REALLY GOOD at being led together and stay in sync with my steps. They negotiate the gate easily and obediently. This is how well things can go when you are clear and consistent about the way that you do things. The animals then know what to expect and can comply without anxiety.
I led Augie and Spuds to the Round Pen and tied them up outside so they could watch Wrangler and Chasity while they were lunging. I thought maybe I would be able to lunge all four of them together if things went well. When they have someone to watch, my animals learn to stand still when tied. They know it will soon be their turn.
Wrangler immediately noticed the mini donkeys and wondered why they were there, but when asked, I regained his attention to business. Chasity walked off to practice while I adjusted Wrangler’s “Elbow Pull.”
Wrangler stood quietly while I made some adjustments and asked him to flex at his poll to make sure it was not too restrictive. Then I sent him to thr rail for lunging. He went quietly forward in a nice working walk.
When asked, Wrangler and Chasity moved into a smart working trot. Chasity is getting better with her posture and will soon be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose throughout the entire workout like Wrangler does. It takes time to develop that kind of core strength in good balance!
I added the drive lines to Wrangler after successful lunging while Chasity stood by and watched. He was a bit hard to turn in his last lessons, but this time his turns were much improved. He stayed very light in my hands and moved at the touch of a finger. I made sure to use the verbal commands “Gee” (go right) and “Haw” (go left). It makes a huge difference!
Wrangler stayed calm as we walked around the Round Pen doing an occasional “S” turn through the middle to change directions.
Wrangler was much improved from his last lesson! I don’t “drill” them until they get it right. That would just make them tired and cranky…then they do not learn. I spend about 20-30 minutes on their lessons and quit when they have made an honest attempt. Wrangler came into a nice quiet halt and was rewarded.
Wrangler did a much better rein back than he had before and offered many more steps on a very light rein! I was extremely pleased with him! It was time to quit with him. I tied him outside the Round Pen so he could watch the others do their workouts…and learn to stay quietly tied… which he did!
Chasity continues to improve. We have cut the size of her obese, cresty neck by 70%. Her back is finally elevated. The spinal and abdominal muscles are much better conditioned and support her good posture. She has come a long way. She is submissive to the “Elbow Pull” and ready to begin her combination exercises in Lunging and Ground Driving. Chasity is happy that she gets to do these exercises with her “boyfriend,” Wrangler! He is her inspiration. They are so funny together!
Chasity executes the gate perfectly and then stops to pose for a picture with me. Then we adjust her “Elbow Pull” and make sure she flexes at the poll to submit. This self-correcting restraint will provide resistance if she tries to carry her head too high which would result in hollowing her neck and back, and thus, compromising her good equine posture.
Once everything is adjusted on Chasity and Wrangler, we pose for a picture. Then they both go obediently to the rail and begin work at the walk. I have added the reins to Wrangler’s bridle to keep him from carrying his head too low. That is not an issue with Chasity. It is not usually a problem with with Wrangler either, but it is in the nineties today and very hot. Wrangler gets very lazy in the heat!
They are both stepping out nicely and exhibiting a pretty fair “working walk.” After five rotations at the walk, I ask for the trot. They are both stepping well underneath their centers of gravity and Chasity is submitting to the pressure from the “Elbow Pull.” This means she is in better equine posture with improving self-carriage.
After five rotations at the trot, I ask them for a halt and they are prompt in their response. They are rewarded and then proceed forward and after one rotation, I ask them to reverse. It is the best reverse yet!
I am so proud of Chasity! She is really holding her good posture nicely for prolonged periods of time now, even at the trot!
Chasity is gaining a lot of core strength and power to her gaits. The halts are mostly square on the landing and do not need to be corrected. Chasity is finally learning to use her hindquarters properly and she is no longer getting locked up in the right hip joint. It is now adequately supported symmetrically by the core elements: muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissue. Her joints operate correctly and will not wear irregularly.
After five rotations at walk and then trot in the opposite direction, Chasity was finally ready for her first Ground Driving lesson! When asked, she walked off nicely.
I had Ground Driven Wrangler first, so Chasity got to see what this was all about. She submitted softly to the lines and remained “on the bit” as we walked along. She turned easily when asked to do the “S” turn through the middle of the Round Pen.
But suddenly, we had a “Donkey Moment” when she abruptly bolted toward Wrangler! I let the lines slide through my hands, hoping she would slow down…but she didn’t! I dug my heels into the ground to try to stop her, holding the lines with just one hand so I wouldn’t lose my balance. Wrangler just dropped in behind her at the walk.
Chasity was at a fast trot around Wrangler when he decided to help me by leaning his body into the lines. This put more pressure on her bit and helped me to get her slowed down…Thanks, Wrangler!!!
Once she had slowed down, Wrangler moved away and allowed me to turn her into the rail and ask for a reverse to the right. Chasity calmed down immediately and decided to comply with my wishes… thankfully!
Chasity was still full of energy, but submitted to the pressure on the lines as I walked behind her in sync with her hind legs. I slowly crept back up the lines with my hands and got a bit closer to her hindquarters
Then I asked Chasity for the halt and a few steps of the reinback…not too many steps at first. I rewarded her efforts with a handful of crimped oats. Her first time on the drive lines had gone very well indeed… even WITH the “Donkey Moment!” It’s always good to keep your sense of humor when working with donkeys and be ready to be VERY patient! Donkeys need to process things THEIR WAY!
Wrangler is really beginning to enjoy his time working with me and helping with Chasity’s training! I think he is also happy to have someone he can be with in turnout after three years of being by himself… although a gelding, he’s just too rambunctious to be turned out with any of the others! They definitely form groups and it is wise to pay attention to the groups they choose…mid-aged mules together, minis together, older equines together and donkey families together. Wrangler LOVES his new friend, Chasity! They both truly enjoy the workouts we do together!
Chasity follows Wrangler around like a puppy dog! She is also very enamored with HIM! After adjusting his “Elbow Pull,” Wrangler and I watch the bicycles going by on the road. I find that it is beneficial when they see something, if you just stop waht you are doing and look at it, too. Then, there isn’t as much of a fuss.
Chasity watches as I ask Wrangler to flex at the poll with an offer of crimped oats. This reminds him about how to take the pressure off the “Elbow Pull” and keeps him relaxed. Then all three of us pose for a picture before getting to work! All my equines seem to know when it is “picture time” and they always perk their ears! They are all a bunch of “hams!”
“Well, are we going to do a proper reverse?” I ask Wrangler. He promptly turns into the fence and leads Chasity down the rail of the Round Pen at a walk.
Both donkeys are stepping well underneath their center of gravity and do five rotations at walk before I ask them to trot for five more rotations. Chasity is doing much better about submitting to the pressure of the “Elbow Pull” and is able to sustain her balanced posture and self-carriage for longer periods of time now.
Chasity doesn’t “lean” on the “Elbow Pull” nearly as much anymore. Both halt promptly upon command, they get rewarded, then proceed forward again and do a perfect reverse together.
Again, we do five rotations at walk and make sure they are in a regular rhythm, cadence and are submitting nicely to the “Elbow Pull” before I ask them to trot. Wrangler has really good balance and posture and is always happy to lead the way!
Now Wrangler is going to show Chasity what Ground Driving is all about. This will help them both to learn how to stay in good posture while rein cues are being given. The result will be an animal who is exceedingly light in the bridle when you finally ride them. Wrangler executes a very smooth change of direction with the “S” turn through the middle of the Round Pen. Chasity follows obediently behind her “boyfriend!”
We track left for a while in the same form, then do one more reverse and after one more rotation at the walk, we come to a halt. Then I ask Wrangler to execute a proper reinback which he does willingly with no resistence at all. I just make sure to pull and release with the corresponding line as he takes each step backwards. He is then PROMPTLY rewarded with his favorite crimped oats!
When you are consistent, polite, respectful, reward for good behaviors, make sure tack and equipment fits comfortably and always do things exactly the same way, your animal will come to know what to expect and there will be minimal resistant behaviors, if any, because they will know what to expect from you and will act accordingly. Your time together will always be fun for everyone!
The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!
Roll needed another core tune-up today, but every time we take him out, we need to document everything in photos and video. Normally we would work in the hourglass pattern, but we wanted better pictures than just the arena sand and fences so we decided to do some ground driving today in the 5-acre pasture instead.
I had to tighten the reins that were tied up to the surcingle because he thought it might be nice to just lower his head and graze…that was not in the program!
He was light in the bridle and easily maneuverable. I was glad to be able to walk behind and see how his rear end was moving. It was VERY wobbly from both hips and could not walk a straight line.
He will most definitely need more chiropractic work and massage going forward. I think regular core exercises are in order, once a week in order to build up his rear end bulk muscle again. We did a serpentine through the trees …
… and then left the field along the fence line to help him to stay straight. That should help to stabilize the rear, but he IS a 26 year-old with a very bad start to his life for the first 18 years, so I need to keep expectations realistic.
He lacked impulsion for the first part of the ground driving, but was beginning to engage the hind quarters a bit more and that added enough impulsion for him to go forward in a straighter line than he did at first as he traveled along the fence line.
Although I had tightened the reins coming from the bridle, Roll still managed to lower his head sideways and grab a few blades of the taller grass on the way out!!! He cracks me up!
He did remarkably better on the gravel road back to the Tack Barn. I did have to keep reminding him to keep his body straight, which he did very easily.
When we got back to the Tack Barn he drove right in and parked himself, squaring up upon my request through the lines. What a good boy!!!