When I played with Fosse on Sunday, I noticed that Zone 3 was a trouble spot. He seemed a bit unconfident with me driving from this position as well as unconfident even when I was just playing friendly game and rubbing him. I was surprised but then started wondering if I had taken this for granted just because I could win the 7 games with him. It occurred to me that this could be an alpha horse response, a prey animal tendency, something ingrained deep in his brain. After talking to my good friend Clare about this, and reflecting about many past experiences (even as far back as when I first acquired him) we concluded that perhaps with the alpha horse (and in this case left-brained extrovert) that this zone is a place of vulnerability--something he'd be reluctant to expose to not only predators but to fellow horses in the herd. His reactions may be innate to his character. What I find interesting is that when I ride him, he seems (or seemed perhaps) okay with this zone and my leg--but now I really wonder. I do believe this response can be overcome but potentially could be something that will need to be addressed periodically as he and I continually determine the herd dynamic and as I continually assert my leadership role. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
Whiskey on the other hand (right-brained introvert, low horse in the herd), who on the ground is fine with me in zone 3, most of the time, is very sensitive in zone 3 when I am riding and in fact, perhaps this is why he sometimes tries to bite my foot (maybe this is just one reason but a reason nonetheless). If I use the "My Horse Won't Go" techniques, I often skip the squeeze part as to Whiskey, it is rude and like I am yelling. This is not to say that I cannot apply pressure in zone three with my leg, I can and do. Does this make any sense? How very intriguing are the differences in horsenalities, responses to tasks, and potential innate characteristics.
What this brings me to is the importance of preparing your horse for what you want no matter what your level is. Let's not forget that just because you can ride your horse does not mean that you should. You should always play on the ground first, preparing him for the day's tasks (this playing is only as long as necessary and could be a few minutes, it could be an hour--it really depends on which side of the corral your horse woke up on). Be thinking about the horse that showed up and how you might connect with him not only for safety sake but for the sake of your relationship, for the sake of having fun, and because it is the natural thing to do!
This evening, I decided to work on the ground with both horses on using an indirect rein for hindquarter maneuvers from the ground (a great preparation exercise for riding and a great test for zone 3). Fosse was quite sensitive and a bit right-brained about it. I used a great deal of friendly game on zone 3. He did finally relax and we practiced only a until I saw even the tiniest change, I stopped and we did something else (played with the direct rein game--he was a bit concerned about my position in zone 3 but was responsive, played at liberty--all went great, played with the car wash obstacle--excellent progress here. Whiskey was also a bit right-brained at first but not too bad with the indirect rein exercise. Within 30 seconds, he was on task and finding success. Once he understood, it was a light phase one and movement, no biting, no emotional reactions. He and I also worked on the one-rein backing exercise--went extremely well and friendly at liberty--a way to keep the pressure off.
Overall a short but sweet play time this evening. Everything in my mind was useful and important preparatory exercises for riding in the proper position. I look forward to future exercises and preparation of zone 3 (among other things). So how are you preparing your horse's zone 3?