Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bad Boyfriend

So the best way to describe Pilgrim and I at the moment is like that bad boyfriend you had when you were younger that you just couldn't get rid of. You know the one, you cried and fought with when you were with him but cried when you thought of leaving him and told all your friends how wonderful he really was....he was just misunderstood. Well, that's kind of Pilgrim and over the summer we have had an on again, off again relationship. Things got so bad at one point I even had drafted an ad to sell him, but couldn't eat for two days and cried and knew I didn't really WANT to sell him, I just wanted to FIX him. (Cuz you can always fix those bad boys) I did make an important decision and a few realizations.

1. It was time to commit. No more excuses. I haven't been consistent in working him due to overwhelming schedules, but reality is if I REALLY wanted to work him I would find the time. So I decided the only way to fix our issues was to ride, and ride a lot!

2. Admit I'm lost, which is a big part of my frustration. Dressage is totally out of my element...which I love and is why I want to learn. But I can't learn on my own....I need Help! I love Heather but I can't rely on her generosity (besides she's as busy as I am) to help I need a trainer. 

3. Completely re-think everything I'm doing. It isn't working. Dig into everything I know about training and behavior and Pilgrim's personality and try to find a way for us to work together. 

4. Don't expect perfection. This is a hard one for me. Right now I need to be happy with small wins and stop focusing on everything being right. Not getting disappointed when we great forward moving trot work but he wasn't on the bit. I believe a lot of our problems right now have stemmed from me just focusing on fixing everything that was wrong all at once and not just working on small things.

I've been riding Pilgrim everyday for the last week. I've kept a training/riding journal so I can look back and see our progress and see patterns in his behavior. I've also contacted a dressage trainer about an hour away that was recommended to me and we are planning for me to trailer Pilgrim out and take a lesson and let her ride him and see if we can figure out what's going on and make a plan. It may be sending him for training or trailer out every week and ride with her. I have to nail down my schedule this week and make a plan for which day I'm going to get out there. I'm excited and looking forward to it.....and a little nervous too.

With our rides, I started slow and short and each time extending our ride and adding in different things in short bursts. Once he is doing well, the next ride I ask for longer sections of what I asked for before and add short bursts of something new. I also have started completely ignoring any bad/naughty or avoidance behavior. This sounds ridiculous I know, but when I try to correct the behavior, Pilgrim learns to plan for this and it just gets worse. So I am using a behavior trick I know from dog training. Don't appears to be working. We have made huge steps in progress this last week! So what I am doing is ignoring the behavior (instead of circling, yielding hindquarters, making him work harder, etc) and just trying again. Once he gives me what I want I reward him by releasing the pressure of asking him to do it and rubbing him. Once he consistently and quietly does what I ask I then can ask him to do it for longer periods. If he does anything naughty, I just ignore it and ask again. For Pilgrim....this works like a charm. He has learned he gets no reaction at all from me, negative or positive when he acts up and gets rewarded (which he craves) for doing the right thing. I have already seen most of his bad behavior completely go away and I am successfully able to walk, free walk, trot, long and low trot, and canter him easily and with him offering to remain on the bit more often. He is softer and more relaxed and I can feel it through his mouth and his back. We still have moments of bracing and tenseness, but much less and when he is I have found that asking for lateral, haunches or shoulder in seems to take his mind off it and put him right back to work.

So Pilgrim and I are seriously dating. We will see how it goes, if he continues to fix his bad boy ways I may even be ready to settle down! =)

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