March 23rd, 2019

Previously…

I finally found a day where all three things lined up – I didn’t have to work, I felt good and had enough energy, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous – so I took a good four hours Saturday afternoon to spend with Lady. I probably won’t have that much time for another few weeks, so it was definitely awesome.

When I had some extra time about two weeks ago, I just tacked her up and rode around the property for a little while. She was extremely uptight, very food oriented (it was just starting to warm up and she wanted the green grass) and basically acted like a jerk the whole time. I made the mistake of getting frustrated that time around, but it did make me realize that she’s basically had three whole months off and the weather is starting to warm up, so it was just the perfect recipe for her antsy and unusual behavior. She’s usually a mostly calm horse that gets a bit barn sour, but nothing that is too much to handle. Over the last four months or so though…

  • Her and her pony have gotten a new companion, changing all the herd dynamics…
  • She’s been blanketed and on grain all winter, keeping her more fresh than usual…
  • She’s been ridden on and off, sure, but it’s been nearly three years since I really insisted on good manners at all times, every time I’m with her…
  • All three horses are in the process of moving from the hay supply to the green spring grass, which equals ENERGY.

Yeah, so last time I rode, she was blowing through my rein aids, bouncing off my leg because obviously any kind of pressure means GO, and go FAST, and could not, no matter what I did, walk calmly or straight.

This time…

I started by going out, standing with her at the hay pile and scratching her withers for a minute before I haltered her. I also picked up her grain pan on the way out of the pasture so she was more than happy to go wherever I wanted to after that! I took her up to the front area, which basically serves as an extra-large arena whenever we aren’t using it for pasture, and let her have some time to run around to her heart’s content while I hauled her stuff out there too.

I spent somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours just hanging out in the arena with her, reading a book, grooming her while she grazed and getting her to “join up” and walk/trot at the same pace with me here and there. She started calming down and actually paying attention to me instead of running after the other two horses all the time. When she seemed sufficiently chill and relaxed, I went ahead and decided to saddle her up… and surprisingly I got that accomplished without putting a rope on her at all. Hmmm. She can be a bit girthy sometimes, but really she just anticipates everything and she’s associated our last few rides with tension and bracing and “having to work” or whatever, so that anticipation just turns into a whole lot of tension and not breathing when I start to tighten the girth. I can just push through it if I need to, but starting a ride with that kind of tension isn’t really something I’m interested in doing. Soooo… this time, I took it slow and only tightened the girth up enough to where I knew she couldn’t get the saddle off.

And then I took her halter off and went inside the house to eat some lunch and chat with my mom. I think it might have blown her mind just a little bit because I swear she stood in the middle of that arena with the most confused look on her face when I left. #win

I stayed inside for about twenty minutes and, of course, I watched her through the windows most of the time to make sure she wasn’t being an idiot. She did her share of running around and calling to her friends and also did quite a bit of grazing too, so it wasn’t all insanity. I found it very interesting though that just hanging out with her in a relaxed way like that was enough to take her focus off of the other horses, but once I wasn’t there, she went straight back to it. I guess that’s fair though… it would probably take several days of being up there alone to get her used to it.

Getting On!

When I finished lunch, I went back out and she still wanted to act like a lunatic for a few minutes before I could get her attention back. I did a lot of the same stuff as I did at first… looped a long rope around her neck and just followed her around until she started matching my pace, brushing her neck and legs, scratching her tail, etc. When she was focused on me again, I put her in my hackamore thingy, which has a set of reins and a lead rope all in one. I want her back in a bit before too long, but I figured this was another way to keep the tension and stress levels down. I grabbed my short stick/crop stand-in and started moving her around while keeping my body in different spots around her.

My theory here is… when Lady is calm and I’m walking her around, she tends to close to and behind me. She just simply is not as confident when I’m not in front of her. For a very very long time already, I’ve wanted to teach her to at least work in long lines, if not actually drive, so I figured maybe a little bit of work in that direction would build her confidence. So we went around for a bit, starting off with a really close lunging-type setup (sort of) and eventually I got her moving forward without too much hesitation with me walking along at her hip. Our steering wasn’t all there, but we were moving forward and reasonably straight. Another win in my books! That is definitely something that I’m pulling out in the future to work on again.

Doing that, in my opinion, really got her brain working, so I figured we could go ahead and see how riding went. I left her in the hackamore setup and made sure she would stand still while I messed around with her reins and stirrups. She used to be reasonable about not moving off as soon as I’m on, but we’ve lost that in the last year or so. That’s one thing that is very high on my list of things to fix ASAP because to me it says a lot about a horse’s overall manners. She stood still until I was in the saddle, but apparently my movement to get my other foot in the stirrup was too much and she decided to move off. I got her to stand until I was settled, but it was obvious that her energy was back up and she was not about to stand for any length of time. I didn’t push it because I had told myself we were not going to have any kind of argument today, so I let it go and went ahead with my plan of just allowing her to move. As much as I need her to stand still when I ask, I also need her to be in the right frame of mind if I’m going to teach her anything… and this wasn’t the right moment for that.

She was right back to wanting to chase after the other horses, and honestly, at first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it. My basic goal for the whole day was just to provide a lot of softness, redirect the excess energy, and not provide her with anything to brace against. If I could, I was hoping to get her to walk calmly on the rail without me needing to correct excessively. Simple enough, I think.

Anyways, we went around on the rail for a minute, but once we hit the first corner she broke into a bit of a frantic trot, which I’ll admit I shut down a bit too sharply. Definitely my mistake. She didn’t like that and then wouldn’t settle into a walk at all. I struggled for a little bit to try and get her focus back and not have her run away with me, but without forcing the issue at all.

It took me a few minutes, and I had to also get over the fact that I was trying to hold her back/steady for my own safety, which ironically was not working the way it was supposed to. Both my hubby and my midwife have instructed me to be extra careful, so I’ve got those voices in the back of my head constantly when I’m with the horses, making sure I don’t do anything to risk falling off. And maybe I’m the crazy one because it’s already a higher risk just handling the big animal, but I also feel like I know my horse and trying to keep her contained when she’s anxious is as much a recipe for disaster as going fast. In my mind, I guess I calculated how safe the ground was, all my past experience with her in this situation, my physical strength, and exactly how she had behaved so far. That’s a whole different discussion though. Anyways…

Once I got over my hesitations, I could understand that basically she just needed to move her feet. She wasn’t yanking the reins out of my hands, so I had at least basic steering. I put her back on the rail, asked her to move, and the next time she broke gait, I didn’t stress it. I let her follow the rail for a minute longer in her panicked little trot which quickly turned into a canter, and then I asked her to turn in a big wide loop. She was stiff at first but she did turn and just by keeping my hands wide and low (like some of those cowboy reining trainers, sort of) I was able to keep her on a big circle. She did her best dolphin impression, but stayed on the circle, and all it took was a light nudge to keep her moving – she likes to dolphin buck and then stop out of nowhere sometimes, so avoiding that was priority.

It took about four rounds before she slowed down and was willing to stop. I let her stand for a minute and then asked her to move out again. We repeated the whole thing the next time she broke gait… rinse and repeat five or six times, and I did my best to alternate the direction of the circles. I have to say that I was super proud of myself and of my horse. I didn’t allow my fears to get the best of me, I stayed calm, I felt safe the entire time, and it worked! She actually tried to be a good girl, she was able to bring her focus back to me and by the last circle repetition she was moving in a relaxed, reasonably balanced canter and no longer doing her little dolphin tantrums. Again, SO proud of her!

At that point, we had a nice little walk on the rail (just like I had hoped!) and she didn’t break gait! She did try to veer off the rail a few times, but we just looped around and came back to it. At this point I also felt comfortable asking her to stop and stand while I moved around in the saddle – simulating the mounting stuff. And that was enough for one day!

I hopped off, took the hackamore off, and then let her plod around the arena on her own – still saddled – while I put away the rest of her equipment, and then I took her out to the shed to untack and groom her before I stuffed her full of treats and turned her back out with her friends. Such a good girl!

One thought on “Finally Back!

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