Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A New Student

Last week, we had a cold snap. Like, highs-in-the-single-digits style cold. While I'm way hardier than I used to be, I find temps that low hard to be comfortable in.

Nevada says, "There's ice in my forelock? Really?"

Still, I had to go to the barn on Friday because I had a lesson to give. Last weekend, a woman who boards at our barn, M, asked me if I'd be willing to teach her how to do some groundwork with her mare. So I put on approximately every warm garment I own, and tried to pretend the thermometer didn't say 5°F.

M's mare is a 15 year old rescue horse. She's an Arabian, and sweet but a tad standoffish about people at times. She lives in the pasture with our horses, so I know her a little. The trouble her owner is having with her is mostly minor stuff, but it's the sort of behavior that can grow over time into real problems. The mare can get pretty fidgety during tacking and grooming, and has lately started to move away from the mounting block when M goes to get on. When she's fidgeting, she doesn't have a lot of care for where she's putting her feet or who she's bumping into.

As far as M knows, the horse hasn't ever had any real, systematic training. But she's overall pretty quiet, and (like all horses) just wants to get along with her people. M has had horses before, but she's never done much training. She's seen us working with our horses and wants to learn to do some of the things we do.

For the first lesson, I had Steen with me. I started off by showing M some basic ways to move the feet. Then I had her try them on Steen while I got a feel for her horse, Loretta.

Loretta is super responsive. It didn't take much pressure at all to get to her feet. The bigger challenge was getting her to focus, and getting her to stop once she started going somewhere. Like many sensitive horses, she's a bit nervous. All the things she does seem to come from a feeling that she needs to stay aware of her surroundings and stay ready to evade any threats. Early on, she was spending a lot of time looking all around the arena and very little time looking at me.

Since Loretta is fidgety, M has gotten into a bit of habit of holding her on a short lead and trying to prevent her from moving. I explained how this strategy backfires, because a nervous horse is only going to get more nervous when it feels confined. We worked on different ways to let Loretta move when she needed to, but asking her to do something productive with her energy rather than just letting her decide where to go and what to think about.

After having M practice some things on Steen, I gave Loretta back to her. M practiced some more, and I gave her some homework. By then we were both thoroughly frozen, so we called it a day. But I ran into her yesterday, and she said she's been practicing and is keen to learn more. So I'm excited to see how things progress over time.

Meanwhile, all our horses are holding up pretty well, in spite of the crazy cold. Brian's been getting on Nevada with more consistency lately, and she's been growing, too. It's fun to see her start to seem more mature.



Horseback Hours YTD: 07:15

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