Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Comfort Zone Wars

We rode on the strip today. My plan was to continue to work on Steen's dislike of being out of his strip comfort zone bubble. My plan for the day was to do all of our easy work and all of our resting down the strip well past where he prefers to be, and all of our more demanding work and no resting up top.

I mostly managed to stick with this plan. Lately Steen's comfort zone issue has changed slightly in that he doesn't seem to mind going off down the strip at first. We actually get some good work done initially. Then it's like he decides he's done being down there, and his usual problems surface.

So we started out with some nice figure-eights and the walk and trot. Then we had a little rest and then he just wanted to go back to the top of the strip. Every time I let him walk in that direction, he'd put more energy into his steps and every time we bent away from home, his shoulder would lag.

I switched to working on teardrop shaped turns. I'd walk him straight along the fence, then sit back on my outside sit bone and  bend him gently into a sharp enough turn that he couldn't push through with his shoulder but had to engage the haunch and execute a nice turn. At least, that was the idea. Predictably, we were managing a nice turn towards the barn, but a slow, sloppy one away from the barn.

We worked on it for quite a while. Usually when Steen is not coming off of pressure, all it takes is one mild bump or tap to get him to shape up and try harder. Today this was not the case. He just pushed through my leg coming around that turn again and again. I upped the pressure slightly to no effect, then upped it more. Still no change. So finally we came through that turn and when he dumped his shoulder through again, I swung my foot forward and out and gave him a series of thumps on the shoulder, timing them with a couple of pops on the hackamore. These were finally successful in that they got his attention off the barn and onto me, but they also brought his energy up quite a few notches, and he went from putting no effort at all into turns away from the barn to rushing through them.

But that was progress as far as I was concerned. We kept working the exercise until we had at least managed a few acceptable turns, went down to the bottom of the strip and took a break. We watched Brian and Laredo for a while and Steen was content to chill out and rest. Today was our one year anniversary of owning Laredo, so it was neat to watch him and Brian work, and think back to those first awkward rides.


But as soon as we started moving again, Steen was again thinking about how he'd like to go back up towards the barn. I did some circles at the trot. It was hot and he was a bit low-energy. I took him back up to the top of the strip, but once there I kept him trotting, and even pushed him into an extended trot (something we need to practice more anyway), really asking him to move out and keep his energy levels up. I kept our pattern random, turning him at different times and places and continuing to ask him to put a lot of energy into his stride. This was challenging for him, both mentally and physically, but it wasn't anything upsetting for him. We stayed up there trotting around for several minutes, then I trotted him back down to the bottom and let him rest. He was happy to do so.

Overall, it certainly wasn't a bad ride. I was probably overly focused on the comfort zone problem. It's just something I'm going to need to keep working on. We've been riding out in this spot for four years now, and until about a year ago I always kept Steen up close to the barn because he'd go to pieces if we got too far away. As annoying as his current barn magnet is, I need to keep reminding myself how much progress we've made. It used to be I couldn't even get him to hold still in the spot he was standing solidly enough today that I could shoot a photo off his back. We also loped some nice circles down at the very bottom of the strip, which is something I couldn't even have managed in that spot last fall. So, we are making progress... one ride at a time.

Ride Time: 0:55
Horseback Hours YTD: 51:40

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