Thursday, May 15, 2008

Changes, Small and Large

Yesterday I fetched Steen from the new pasture. He seemed very happy and relaxed when I walked up, not grazing, just standing there in knee-high grass. He didn't make any fuss about following me in. I have figured out in the last week or so that part of his occasional balkiness had to do with the muddy down-ward slope he was often standing at the top of (the day the herd stampeded towards me I observed they all took the long way around to avoid the area Steen never wanted to follow me through.) Between the nice, level, dry and much shorter path to the barn and the fact that Jimmy can now go in the side pasture instead of the area that adjoins the barn and thus isn't a stressful barrier between us and the aisle, we made it to the barn with Steen in a calmer state than he's ever been before. This reflected in his willingness to stand better while I groomed and tacked him up.

Also, he'd apparently availed himself of the lake some time in my absence and had waded in at least knee deep. His lower-legs and hoofs were all squeaky-clean and he looked great.

The small change was I took a screwdriver with me and removed two of the tie-rings on the front of my saddle. While I am glad to have these rings as they will doubtless be very useful in the event that I start trail-riding, for arena work they just bounce and clang a lot. For now, they can happily occupy a hook in my tack locker. I tied up the back three rings with a leftover piece from the rope-halter a few days ago, so now the saddle is nice and silent.

The big change was after I had Steen fully tacked up I took him to the outdoor arena.

It was glorious. The ground has finally dried out enough to ride out there, the grass was freshly mowed. Since Steen has been turned out in a lush pasture for the last two days, he didn't have any interest in eating. The sun was out, the outdoor arena is significantly larger than the indoor one, and of course riding in it doesn't cause the air to fill with gritty dust. All in all I have concluded I will ride outdoors whenever the weather (and the state of the ground out there) permits.

That said, Steen was significantly less obedient outside than in. He was agitated at first, looking towards the herd (he couldn't actually see them, but they were clearly on his mind) and the other horses in a pasture across the street. At first, he didn't want to go in the direction that led him away from his perceived herd location, and I learned in convincing him to do so that he can trot sideways in a rather astonishingly fluid manner.

So, we walked and walked and walked and walked until he was in a calmer state of mind. Then we trotted a lot. His trot is much faster and he is much less inclined to listen to my queues outside, but he was still always controllable. Until I asked him to pick up the lope. That he did with less coaxing than it has taken in the past, but with the wrong rear lead. Additionally, he took off in a direction wholly different from the one I indicated, seeming to completely forget that I was on his back and theoretically running the show. He ran straight towards the fence and then spun in a near 180 to avoid running into it. Fortunately, my seat is still good even if I'm still a tad out of shape for riding, and instead of falling off I pulled him into a small circle until he cooled it.

However, after a moment's reflection I realized I can't blame him for the lope. I should have recognized that he was still too insecure outside for me to ask him to run and still pay attention. The more I get to know him, the more I can see that every aspect of his behavior is clearly tied to his comfort level. On days when we have a difficult route to the barn and he gets scared, he doesn't stand as well. Yesterday, he was agitated by the new (and significantly more complicated) outdoor environment, and this continued to reflect when we went back inside. He didn't want to relax while I brushed him down.

So, the bottom line - he's still adjusting. But I'm excited to have the outdoor arena to work with because I think it will actually help him to adjust faster since he'll be forced to encounter more variables outdoors. I just need to stay tuned in to him and not try to do too much too quickly.

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