Thursday, March 21, 2013

Needles and Flags

Last night we got an email saying the vet would be at our barn in the morning for anyone who needed vaccinations and teeth. Our guys had their teeth done in the fall, but we needed shots. We had to cram the barn in between two other things, but it was good to get out there.

We also had a new piece of equipment to take with us. We finally got around to getting a flag, and we were curious to see how the horses would react.

We brought all three in and turned them out in the indoor. I took the flag and walked to the center of the arena and waved it around for a minute. I was careful not to look at them or make it seem like I was driving them.

They all freaked out. It surprised me, actually. Our three are pretty quiet about most things, but apparently a flapping piece of fabric on the end of a metal pole is its own category of scary.

So I just hung out with them for a while, playing with the flag. Steen was the first to approach and sniff, but he left again after snorting at it once or twice. Shortly thereafter, Laredo got curious enough to check it out. After a few experimental sniffs and nibbles, he was cool with it, and a few minutes after that he was pretty sure the flag is a really fun toy. I had him chasing it when I dragged it around on the ground, and he'd let me touch him all over with it.

Bear, however, wouldn't let me near him. I could walk up to him if the flag was behind me. If I brought it forward, he'd sniff it, but if I moved it near him, he'd leave.

We put their halters back on when the vet was ready for their shots. They were all well behaved for their injections, and the vet took a look at Steen's leg. He commented several more times on what a nasty injury that was, and said it's looking about as good as we could hope. I mentioned the tightness and he said with the amount of trauma the leg went through he's sure there is a lot of scar tissue that will still need to break up and disperse over time, but in all likelihood it will be a temporary problem.

After the vet left, I approached Steen with the flag with his halter on, and he was fine with it. I touched him all over with it. He flinched once or twice, but never moved a foot. Bear was the same way when Brian approached him with the flag once he had a halter on. Completely not bothered. So that's an interesting little illustration of the herd mentality.

I put Steen back outside and got Laredo tacked up. We had our best bridling yet. I rode him without my spurs today. The way we ride, the point of wearing spurs is to use them to liven the horse to the point that you don't need the spurs anymore. I thought it would be good to check in and see what we could get done without them.

I had a good ride. We've been continuing to watch the "7 Clinics with Buck" DVDs, and he talks so much about life in the horse. I know the underlying problem to all our small challenges with Laredo is a lack of life, but he's not the sort of horse you can bully into liveliness. If you get too hard on him, he just shuts down even further.

Another thing we really lack is rhythm. His movement is inconsistent at all gaits. He naturally likes to go slow. If you hurry him up, he'll surge ahead, then slow down until you hurry him again. This makes it so hard not to nag him. It's easy to get into a habit of bumping him to keep his speed up, which just makes him dull.

So today after some warming up, I set out to trot some decent figure-eights. My goal was to get one full circuit during which I did not have to ask him to speed up. I posted the trot to make it very clear what kind of rhythm I wanted out of him. When he fell behind my pace, I asked him once with my legs to speed up. If that didn't work, I popped him on the butt with the end of my mecate. If I wasn't correcting him I just rode as quiet and smooth as I could.

At first he had a few sticky places where he wanted to drop off, and I had to pop him once or twice each circuit. The pops would startle him and a little and he'd surge ahead, which was fine with me. I'd let him come back to a nice pace and try to keep him there by posting.

It took about five minutes of solid trotting, but his attitude changed a lot during that time. He slows down when he gets distracted or starts thinking about other things, so this is as much about keeping his attention on me as anything else. By the last lap he was trotting a lot more steadily, and his expression had softened as well. We got one full figure-eight without me needing to speed him up at all, so we stopped.

The rest of the ride was really good. After the trotting, he was considerably softer to hands and reins. I moved him in and out of lope a fair bit, working on picking it up and coming out of it with more precision. We did a similar exercise at the walk where he'd get slow and I'd ask him to walk faster and if he didn't comply we'd jump into the trot.

Midway through I picked up the flag and used it to help move his hind and front separately. I was a little clumsy with it, but Laredo figured out what I wanted nevertheless.

First the hind.

Then the front.

By the end of the ride he was a bit tired but also in a really open state mentally. I didn't have trouble with him rooting or leaning on the hackamore, so hopefully we can keep him moving in the right direction. I will say Laredo is a good challenge for me. I've never worked consistently with a naturally low-energy horse, and it's certainly pushing me to find solutions I've never needed before.

After the ride, Laredo was in a great mood. Here he is standing like a champ while I hang up the hackamore and get his halter:

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 21:30

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