Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Steen the Irritating

On Monday we rode again on the strip. I went bareback and Steen started out being very good, but over the course of the ride his behavior sort of devolved. The main thing he was doing was wanting to jog. Constantly. Any time I tried to put him down into a walk he'd just keep jogging until I made him lurch around in little circles for many, many rotations. Then the moment I let him go straight again, he'd start jogging again.

I don't know why he does this sometimes. It's not like he's trying to run away. He just shifts into a smooth little jog and refuses to come back to a walk. It drives me absolutely crazy because I can't figure out why he does it or how to get him to stop. On Monday it really hit a nerve for some reason, and I found myself rapidly losing my temper. Getting mad at a horse is pretty much always counter-productive, so I hopped off and did some groundwork on the mecate and then stood around fuming for a while, letting Steen graze while Brain finished up his ride.

After Monday I realized I need to find a more systematic way to address this problem. I am sure the breaking into a jog unasked problem is related to the general sluggishness of stopping problem I've always had with Steen. Up until the last six months or so, this was also combined with a refusal to stand problem and tendency to walk off after I mounted problem. I can console myself with the knowledge that these other two problems have disappeared, at least.

Still, Steen is well past the point that these are acceptable habits for him to have. I spent some time thinking and reading over some of my favorite horse books and came to the conclusion that there are two problems here. One is that Steen is very bad at downward gait transitions, and the other is that I get mad at him for being very bad at downward gait transitions. So I need to find a way to logically address his behavior, and also not get angry.

Today Brian and I rode in one of the pastures because they are making hay on the strip. I rode bareback again, and had decided to revert to the old one-rein-stop training method. I was also determined not to lose my temper.

Things started off well. Steen showed a lot of willingness early on, and we worked on walking figure-eights for a while. Then I asked him for the trot and we spent a while alternating between jogging a figure-eight, then walking one. This went mostly pretty well, with only a few attempts on his part to jog when I didn't want him to. Each time he picked up the jog unasked, I gently bent him into a circle until he came to a full stop and then asked for a flex, then let him stand a moment, then returned right back to what we were doing before.

This worked quite well for the majority of the ride. It wasn't until about 45 minutes in that his behavior started to deteriorate. It was hot and I think he just decided he was pretty done. At that point he got a little testy about which direction he wanted to go and his stops and downwards transitions got markedly worse. His frequency of trying to jog unasked also increased considerably.

I just stuck with my strategy. I think the thing that gets me about this particular behavior is it is so irrational, and he will take it so far. He is capable of continuing to jog with his nose bent and touching my knee, and he will do this for four or five rotations of a circle sometimes. But I stayed firm but calm all day, and by the time we hit an hour of riding, he had improved again. I rewarded him by getting off and giving him a little bath to help cool him down.

So, I think I am going to stay focused on this for the next few weeks and really concentrate on trying to get this behavior ironed out. After today, I'm hopeful it is possible.

Horseback hours YTD: 31:10

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