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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Working with Merlin again.

I’m just starting Merlin again after very lightly backing him last summer.

Merlin was very nervous when he arrived here after a traumatic time at stud, then at a cattle market followed by the worst sort of dealer’s yard. He’s now confident about most things but when he does get tense he starts to rush everything a bit. As he’s quite short necked and carries his head rather high when he’s worried I want to try and get him really relaxed before I introduce a bit or I could see his head carriage becoming a problem. At the moment I think it would be very difficult to get him to reach forward into a contact and if he’s still getting tense without the bit introducing one now would only make things worse.

To begin with I’m leading him in the school in a head collar (and his saddle) and clicking him for walking alongside me with a relaxed head carriage and his head near my shoulder.

When he gets tense he hurries and gets a bit too much in front of me so I make a point of deciding where I want to go and going there, and if he’s too far forward and blocking me I just keep going and expect him to get out of the way (I have taught him a few steps of turn about the haunches to make it possible for him to do this).

This really made him think and encouraged him to keep in the right place so he didn’t have to do any complicated fancy manouvres to get out of the way! By the end of the session he was much more relaxed and quietly attentive and the clicks and treats were much more forthcoming.

I do have to be careful with my food delivery with Merlin as he’s quite ’mouthy’ but we had a session focussing soley on that and he’s getting much more thoughtful about how he takes the treats now. I just need to remember to keep an eye on it along with everything else!

Following on from the work in a headcollar I’ve re-introduced Merlin to a bit and started working him in hand to try and establish a nice, quiet, responsive mouth and relaxed head carriage.

Merlin has only had a bit in his mouth a few times before so he’s still quite ’chewy’ and uncertain what to do with it. I’ve done two sessions now working him in hand and he’s so small (13hands) that I can work with one hand over his back which makes life very easy! I just take up a light contact on both reins, as though I was riding, and him around the school. At the moment all I’m looking, and clicking, for are the moments when his mouth is closed and quiet and his neck is fairly low and relaxed, as he has a tendency to raise and contract his already rather short neck.

Merlin is picking this up very quickly and is already much more relaxed about everything. Clicker training makes mouthing SO much easier because I can explain to him EXACTLY how I want him to respond to the bit. It saves him from so much frustration and discomfort.

I’m a big Sprenger fan and I’m using a Sprenger Dynamic RS which is the bit that my Dales seem to like best (after the Portuguese Working Equitation Pelham which is their favourite of all).

I’ve also been getting him to follow a very light feel from the reins downward (head lowering using the bit) so that I can show him that I want his head lower when I’m working on things like halt and reinback, where he has a habit of throwing his head in the air.

He’s a lovely pony to work with and I’m very pleased with the last two days work. I just wish he was a hand or so bigger!!

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I am a clicker training addict and there is no cure - thank goodness!!!