Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Refining Laredo

We managed a mid week barn trip for the first time in ages today. It was cold but sunny, and it felt great to leave town in the afternoon.

I rode Laredo. Before the ride, I worked quite a bit on his head/ear issue. It's basically reduced at this point to more of a grouchy reaction than a genuine fear response, and it's only triggered when you actually touch his right ear. This is vast improvement to what it was a few months ago (genuine fear reaction whenever anything moved towards his face or head) but it's still very much there.

The way we bridle, I usually slip the headstall over the horse's right ear first by reaching over the horse's forehead and guiding the ear gently forward with my hand and slipping the headstall behind, then doing the same with the left ear. This doesn't work with Laredo because as soon as you try to touch his right ear he starts the evasion tactics.

Today instead of just slipping the headstall on (which is possible if you are smooth and quick) I worked on helping him tolerate contact with that ear. I slipped the bosal over his nose and moved my hand with the hanger to his problem ear. When I touched it he started bending his head away and backing. If he backed, I went back with him. If he bent away, I bumped his nose back over with the bosal. I kept my hand on the ear until he figured out he could hold still, then waited for his head to drop a little. As soon as that happened, I removed my hand and the hanger strap and let him rest.

We did this a few times, and he stopped trying to back away after the first. Finally he allowed me to cup his right ear and guide it into the hanger without doing anything more than raising his head.

I figured that was good enough for the day. I put the hackamore all the way on, and we went to the arena.

The problem ear...

We proceeded to have a great ride.  I suspect part of the awesomeness came from the ear work. He was already in an open mindset when I mounted, and I could tell. He was both soft to the bosal and willing to move out.

I moved through as many exercises as I could think of. He was great with everything. After a while I started working on some lateral movement with him, which we just barely touched on with him last fall but haven't revisited since.

I thought it would take some tries and building up before I got anywhere with this, but he surprised me. I asked for a leg yield by picking up just the lightest pressure on one rein and asking him for a step over with my outside leg. I was very subtle with both cues. His immediate reaction was to give to the bosal and soften up front. Then he took a few more steps noticing the pressure was not going away. He couldn't bend because of the rein, so he stepped sideways. Just like that.

I dropped rein and leg and gave him big pets. We revisited this a few times over the course of the ride, and every time I could see him soften up and think about it, then make the right decision on how to move.

Later we worked on a walk, trot, lope pattern with Bear and Brian, and this was great too. The first few times we managed to get everything done, but each time we did the same pattern, Laredo got better at it. By the end he was just amazing me. Each time he knew we were approaching the part of the arena where we were going to make a transition, he got himself physically prepared. But he never once anticipated. Every single time, he waited for me to ask for the transition, then gave it to me.

We kept the ride short because I felt  like this was the most consistent effort I've ever felt Laredo put out in one ride, and I didn't want to work him past the sweet spot.

Ride Time: 0:50
Horseback hours YTD: 17:00

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