Friday, May 23, 2008

Forward Motion

Well, it has been quite the week for Steen. For one thing, he officially turned eight yesterday. For another, it appears his bucking days are over.

It has been very handy having Meryl here at this juncture. She's had something I've lacked for the last six years - her own horse. And not just any horse, but Jak, who Steen's personality resembles in many ways. She has been an indispensable help with this. Fearlessly, Meryl went out to ride Steen on Tuesday alone since I could not go due to my two jobs that day. Since he performed so beautifully indoors on Monday, she took him outside only to discover the bit alone didn't render quite as thorough a transformation as we'd hoped. In short, after behaving quite well for a while, he tried to throw her in precisely the same way he threw me after she didn't allow him to go to the part of the arena from which he can see the rest of the herd. She was ready for it though, and gave him a hard pop in the mouth in return for his buck. She then spun him in a few circles and managed to get him to walk like a civilized being around the arena a few times, then took him inside and worked him thoroughly.

On Tuesday night I talked to the trainer at the barn where I work about the problem, and he suggested a hard longe session before riding and then very harsh reprimands for any bucking attempts. He is not a heavy-handed man with his horses, but it is undeniably true that bucking isn't really something that a person can work a horse through with patience without a placing themselves in a great deal of danger.

So on Wednesday Meryl and I went back to the stable. We gave Steen a good round-pen workout using the yielding techniques I used with him before, then took him to the outdoor arena. I got on. Fortunately, Steen doesn't buck until he's worked himself up to it in a very specific manner - attempted refusal to go in the direction you want because he wants to go look at the herd, following by side-passing when you try to make him. My strategy involved nipping the whole process in the bud. Whenever he tried to refuse my command to turn, I spun him quickly in tiny little circles. Since he didn't want to do this, it required quite a bit of hauling on the bit.

It took perhaps ten minutes. He would submit going one direction, but then challenge me on the next, or when we cut across the middle of the arena, or looped around a barrel. However, by the end, he'd had enough. He stopped fighting. We went all around the arena, turned in every combination of directions and at every different point I could think of without any fuss at all.

I got off. Meryl got on. He never challenged her at all. She walked all over the arena with him and he never tried to turn without her cue.

We decided to leave it at that, took him inside (he stands beautifully when tied now), rubbed him down and turned him out.

Yesterday, we went again and had a very different kind of experience. He seemed happy to see us and was good while we groomed him. He did try to pull one hind hoof away from Meryl when she picked it, but she slapped him and he was so thoroughly sorry that he actually picked the next one up and held it for her until she got to it. Then we went to the arena, and I got on. He was nervous, clearly fearing a repeat of the previous day's circles, but since he never challenged me, he never got the spins. And he was beautiful. He was so totally tuned in to me, it was amazing. He relaxed over the course of the ride, never showed the slightest interest in the herd, though he could still see them from that one part of the arena, and did everything I asked quickly and willingly. I walked a lot, trotted a lot and even loped him for the first time in the outdoor arena. He was great. Meryl rode, and he was equally good for her.

So, with any luck, the battles are behind us now. The best thing about Steen is that he is very fond of people and genuinely seems to want approval. He was absolutely basking in all the love and pets Meryl and I gave him after he was so good yesterday. Inversely, he takes reprimands to heart. Now that we are clear on the exact status of our relationship, my hope is that the problems will be fewer and farther between.

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