Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mood Swings

Today Brian and headed out first thing. We took our coffee with us. We were at the barn by 7:00. I think I must be getting old or something. I used to wake up, roll out of bed, and hit the trails without food or drink or anything. Getting out there early felt a bit hard today. We're always up and going by 6:30 at the latest. We're just not usually driving anywhere.

But it was a good thing we got out there early. By the time we left the barn, it was 90°. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I rode Laredo today. He's been fidgety at the hitching post lately, which is new for him, so I made sure I took my time with tacking, spending a lot of time petting him between things he might find stressful. When he did fidget, I'd come back and move him around a fair bit before leaving him to stand again.

I wasn't sure what to expect on our ride today. I hadn't ridden him in a week, and he did try out bucking on Brian the last time he was ridden. He seemed distracted when we got to the strip, so I started with some extra groundwork. Most particularly, I worked on moving him forward and back. He can be sluggish about backing out of my space, so I worked on this until he got a bit more energetic about it. After that he was very focused on me, and when I let him rest, not inclined to look off at other things. I thought that was a good sign, so I got on.

The ride started fine, descended into being kinda bad, then moved through the roughness and into something pretty great. Lately I have been thinking about training in terms of building a horse's confidence. A few weeks ago, Steen got an electrical shock from a malfunctioning gate, bolted into my space and barged ahead of me. I mishandled the situation. Obviously, I needed to correct him. What I should have done was approach it from a positive angle, working to say, "You got scared and came too close to me. Let's work on finding ways for you to be braver, so you don't have to bolt into my bubble." Instead I came at it without much sympathy, having more of a, "I don't care if you're scared. You don't crowd me that way," attitude. It's a fine distinction, perhaps, but Steen is a sensitive horse. I made him go through the gate several times, and he did what I asked, but he was UPSET. In retrospect, I was too hard on him, and the next time we got near a gate he got nervous. He didn't come into my space again, but he did hesitate going through, then wanted to charge past me when he got past my sphere of influence.

It took about three weeks of me taking it easy on him, sometimes making him go through the gates he charged multiple times, but doing it gently and praising him for his efforts. Sometimes I just ignored him and gave him plenty of rope, letting him find his own way through. Finally, he's mostly over it again. But the whole thing made me feel really bad. It made me think about how important it is to correct a horse correctly. I'm noticing the more I refine Steen's training and his trust in me, the bigger an impact my mistakes have. And of course, the correct correction varies depending on the horse and the situation. It's so easy to get it wrong.

With Laredo, I think he's experiencing a little dip in confidence lately, which is surprising because he's learning a lot. But then, he is a teenager. So today when he got distracted, I tried to find ways to bring him back to me. Sometimes when I asked for a soft feel, he'd just zone out, chewing on the bit and staring at the horizon. When this happened, I waited. But if it started to feel like I was waiting too long, I gave him a nudge with my heel. Not a kick. More like a tap on the shoulder than anything else. He'd remember me, and give to the bit. I'm finding there's a fine line between giving him time to figure something out, and reinforcing the idea that he doesn't have to pay attention to me sometimes.

I'm not quite ready to relinquish my reins entirely on Laredo, but I did a lot of work trying to ride him with legs only. We're a long way from doing this particularly well, but I found if I let him make a bigger mistake and then gave him a bigger correction, he seemed to catch on faster. Whereas trying to micromanage him out of making a mistake in the first place just got him frustrated.

Late in the ride, I decided to try a trot. With the chips in his feet, we haven't been trotting much but today I wanted to know whether he was more or less sore on his soles, and trotting him seemed the best way to establish that. Plus things were going well, and I wanted to see how our work at the walk carried up a gait. So I pushed him into the trot, and it was great. I only felt him take two steps that felt at all tender, and they were extremely minor. He was also a lot more consistent in the gait than I've ever felt, and light to both my legs and hands.

Another thing I've noticed the last few days is Laredo is stepping out with his front feet and reaching a lot more. He had a bit of a stutter-step thing going for a while. I'm not sure what would have caused that to change, but I'm hoping its because his soles are toughening up. At any rate, it's a good shift.

So, all in all it was a better ride than I expected. I guess any day you can say that is a pretty good day.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 85:50

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