Monday, April 05, 2010

Monday on the Trail

My current plan for the summer is to ride each Monday with Jean and Schoolie. Schoolie is a 20 year-old ex-racehorse that first retired to the life of an eventer and has now retired to the life of a pleasure horse, but still has a whole lot of 'go' in him.

Unfortunately, today Jean got held up on some work so Steen and I had to go it alone. Before the ride I put a lot of effort into getting the scraggly remains of his winter coat off and was pleased at how he cleaned up.

I think he's finally no longer scared of cameras!

Already just a couple weeks of consistent riding have started to help him replace some of the muscle-tone he lost towards the end of the winter. He continues to be so pleasant and patient through the grooming and tacking process.

We then went on a 40 minute solo ride around the property. Things started out with Steen showing an impressive willingness to leave the barn. Then we continued to the "three hills" (as we will call them from now on), which is a grassy area encircled in trees that is quite rolly, each hill being steeper than the last. Steen doesn't really like this section. I can't decide if it is because he's been spooked a few times by animals in the trees or if he just doesn't like walking up and down the hills themselves, but today when we turned into that section his behavior tumbled from excellent to horrible. We spent the next several minutes 'discussing' whether or not we'd go the way I wanted.

Steen's desire to abort our rides prematurely is still the biggest sticking point with his behavior when we're out alone, and it's a hard thing to handle constructively. Today I was really thinking about a training idea we've been trying to apply to Sham a lot lately, which is basically make the right thing easy, and everything else difficult. So as Steen trotted sideways and balked and stopped and turned, I concentrated on correcting him firmly but not angrily and when he gave in, even if for only a second, releasing all pressure instantly and letting him walk quietly in the direction I wanted.

In spite of my best efforts, things continued quite badly for quite a while. We battled our way over two of the three hills, and I turned him back before the really steep one because I was afraid his antics were going to make him fall over. He wanted to trot on the way back, but calmed over time. We got to the entrance to the three hills, turned left, and meandered up a quarter-mile strip between two corn-fields. Again we had some directional disagreements, but they diminished steadily. When Steen would walk calmly for more than a few strides, I would give him a pat on the neck. He seemed to start putting two and two together. By the time we reached the end of the strip, turned around retraced our steps and once again entered the three hills area, he was calmer and more willing to go where I wanted. We went up and down all three hills with very little need for corrections, did another out and back on the strip and then called it a day. He walked like a very sane, happy horse for the last fifteen minutes of the forty minute ride, and that was honestly better behavior than I expected. And even more impressive, perhaps, is he did not spook the entire ride. Not once. Not even a little. That might be a first.

Back at the barn, he stood calmly while I untacked and groomed. I put him back in the pasture, gave Sham a few friendly pets, and left feeling pretty darn good.

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