Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter at the Barn

Today Brian and I logged some more good hours with Sham. Our main focus was emphasizing the concept that Sham needs to stay in his own space at all times, particularly when led. We started with groundwork outdoors, and at first were able to get some very calm leading and good yielding from him. Then there was a brief period of back-sliding during which Sham really, really wanted to crowd into Brian and barge ahead when asked for a right turn. We worked on refining our rope-swirling technique, which continues to be very useful. After some more practice and reinforcement, Brian was able to begin to teach Sham that his line is several feet away from Brian's line. Things progressed into lots of calm leading, interspersed liberally with calm standing. Then we went indoors.

Inside things stayed quite mellow and there was some really great progress with the tie-stall. Once again the swirling rope just really seems to be the trick with Sham. He's such a confident guy, it doesn't make him nervous at all, it's just a very precise way of setting boundaries for him. When he was in the tie-stall Brian would groom him and I would stand in a relaxed attitude by his head. If he tried to sneak forward, I'd just gently swirl the rope and he would subside into standing. For him it seems to be a constructive way of saying, "Stay out of this spot."

We groomed and tacked in three stages, taking breaks to walk around the indoor arena and then return to the tie-stall. These forays into the larger space helped keep Sham's stress level at record indoor lows. By the end, the corrections he needed from me to stay put were few and far between indeed.

Although we saddled him in the tie-stall, we took him to the indoor arena for bridling. As with the halter, we want to teach him to accept the bit, not feel forced into taking it. Today he only raised his head a little, but let me slip the bit between his teeth without ever moving his feet to attempt escape - doubtless a good sign. We left the reins off again to continue getting him used to the idea that things are no more scary or painful than usual when there is a bit in his mouth. Then Brian climbed on and we continued our leading exercises with me on the ground and Brian on his back. Sham did seem a bit more nervous with the bridle on and a rider in place, so I slipped the bridle off again and then we just walked around and kept up with the same work we'd been doing all day. Soon Sham was relaxed again. Once he was leading nicely, Brian dismounted, and Sham got to call it a day.

So, we're probably taking things even slower than necessary, but given our early set-backs it seems worth it to put in the time now to make sure we don't push past Sham's comfort level. Today we worked with him for over two hours, and that time included lots and lots of very relaxed moments. I think we made good progress teaching him not to crowd and allowing him to relax indoors, and as those are really his two main challenges, I'm hopeful we'll be able to move past the 'remedial' lessons before much longer.


  1. Good to hear that things are going better with Sham. It's always nice when you're able to actually "do" something with your horse.

    I dunno if it makes sense for Sham, but would riding in a rope halter for awhile work? You know about Tranikla's aversion to bits; he does really well even in a nylon halter these days (I have a sidepull for "real" riding, but don't use it all that often). Might be a way to get him back into riding, but without anxiety about bits.

    Sounds like things are going pretty good with Steen too, so grats on progress with both of them. :)

  2. Thanks! :)

    Yeah, hopefully our persistence will pay off with Sham. Getting to know a new horse is always difficult. They are such distinct individuals...

    And I do well recall how much better Tranikla is with a rope halter than a bit. But then, when I tried to ride in a rope halter on Steen, he bucked me off... We'll keep trying different things. Sham doesn't actually seem to mind the bit, he's just convinced he still has a sore in his mouth. My hope is that once he figures out otherwise, he'll calm down. But if not, we'll keep exploring our options. :)

  3. Different horses different tactics I suppose. I *thought* Tranikla would probably run/buck/ignore me when I first started riding him with a halter...but instead he did really well. Find what works and stick with it, I guess.


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