Saturday, April 07, 2012

May I Have Your Attention, Please

I watched a video on being productive as a creative in my field last week, and it had some interesting commentary on the brain and how it works. The major problem with how people talk about 'multi-tasking' is the entire concept is a myth. What we're really doing when we are on the phone with someone and we read the tweet that just popped up on the computer is switching our attention quickly from the conversation to the tweet and then back again. We are not physically wired to think about more than one thing at once.

Neither are horses, and I'm coming to believe this simple truth is simultaneously the most useful training tool out there, and the most frustrating reality of working with our equine friends.

Today there was this mini show for kids at our barn, which meant lots of strange horses hauled in, and lots of strange people hanging around. Brian and I got there early to avoid some of the chaos, and the horses were all dozing in the pasture. I'd never found Steen lying down before.

Tucked in on a grassy slope with Mo.

We got tacked up and into the treed lot before much really started happening. I thought we'd have a quiet ride. I put Steen's new boots on, and after a few minor adjustments I got them situated correctly. He kicked himself a couple of times just during groundwork, and the boots appeared to do their job.

I got on and we worked on walking circles. I think overall I am starting to see a change in Steen's ability to walk an even circle without needing constant input from the reins. When he loses the bend in his body, I am occasionally able to get it back with a nudge on his shoulder from my outside leg. So that's progress.

We transitioned up to trotting, and were doing great. Then one of the horse that had been hauled in got upset about something, and started calling. When I first got Steen he would call to other horses a lot when I was working with him, but this hasn't happened in years. Today, though, the more the other horse called, the more agitated Steen started to get. He began to try to turn to look at the barn and even called back once. Every time he got distracted, I'd ask him for a flex or a disengage or something. But keeping his attention began to feel like a battle I was not winning. I could just see him multi-tasking, which basically boiled down to going through the motions with me so he could worry about the other horse.

To make matters worse, a couple of weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday with pretty extreme vertigo. It passed over the course of the day, and I wrote it off to dehydration or something. But I had a milder case of the same thing today. As Steen began to get agitated the world started to wobble and shift in ways that weren't connected to his movements. Normally what he was doing wouldn't have been anything to cause me concern, but given how unsteady I was feeling, I swung down and tried to get his attention back from the ground.

It was hard. I made him walk circles, bumping him when he turned his head away from me, making him disengage and change directions frequently. We also did a lot of forward and back, forward and back. It probably took ten minutes before he was willing to stand quietly with his head down. My wonderful husband hiked back to the barn and brought back some food and water. I ate and drank and got back on.

The rest of the ride we continued with circles and attentiveness. Steen came back around to behaving pretty well. I got some more nice circles at the walk and the trot, some leg-yields and some figure-eights. I wasn't feeling steady enough in the saddle to try a lope though. He didn't seem to mind the boots, and they stayed in place throughout the ride.

Steen in his new boots. Hopefully they will get a bit dirty fairly quickly.

At the end of the ride, Brian and I worked a little on the routine. It's a bit challenging to do in such an irregularly shaped space, but we got a few decent runs.

Many hours later, I'm still a tad dizzy. So I don't know what the deal is. I think it might be a particular wine we've had a couple of times. At any rate, I hope I feel steadier tomorrow.

Ride Time: 1:40
Horseback hours YTD: 32:50

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