Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Full Arena

This morning Brian and I went to look at a house. It was a small acreage about 20 minutes outside of town. It had an indoor arena and the land was already nicely set up for horses. On paper, it looked kind of amazingly perfect for us. In person, sadly, the house was ... not somewhere we'd want to live. But the land was awesome. For a few minutes we wandered around fantasizing about having our horses in our own back yard.

Because of the house visit, we were later getting to the barn than usual. Everything was quiet when we arrived, so I started with Piper. We brought her and Laredo in and turned them out in the arena. Piper is starting to get the idea that this is fun time, not scary time. Laredo was in super play mode, bouncing around and kicking up his heels. He's hilarious when he's like that.

Again, I did some liberty work with Piper. Even though I hadn't done more than pet her a few times in two weeks, she seemed to pick up right where we left off. When I put the halter back on, she was soft in all her yields. She remembered her backing lesson from the time before. I was able to ask for her hind and if she tipped forward a little, I could just shake the rope lightly and she'd rock back.

We then did some flag work. She's getting better both about yielding to the flag and accepting its touch when she's moving without getting stuck. She did have a few distracted moments. Her two BFFs in the herd still call for her the entire time she's gone. She never calls to them, but she did respond a few times. When her attention completely left me and stayed away at on point, I upped the speed of our work, asking for faster disengages and moving off with more life after a change of direction. She's got enough of a vocabulary for what we're doing now that we could accomplish this without upsetting her, and it really calmed her down.

I then practiced driving her between me and the arena wall, which she had no trouble with at all. In fact, this was some of our best work. She was soft and willing and settled, really focused and even enjoying herself, it seemed. We also backed circles off the halter for the first time. They were sticky and slow, but not too bad.

I was just thinking I'd put my saddle on her again when the arena door opened and four strange horses and riders came in. It turned out they were a group who'd trailered in to use the arena. Things were already on the full side, (I had Piper, Brian was on Laredo, plus there was another boarder on her horse), so we were up to seven with the new arrivals. Our arena starts to feel crowded with three, so it was tight quarters.

Piper, of course, was initially captivated/worried about all the new horses. And suddenly I didn't have any space for moving her around. So I worked on smaller, more contained ways of regaining her attention. At first she was trying to keep an eye on all the new horses at once, but I just rattled through different ways I could ask her to move without taking up much space. Within a surprisingly short amount of time, she was with me again.

After perhaps ten minutes, I had her back to a very settled place. At that point I decided to quit, so I took her outside and got Steen.

Steen actually had a bit of a bad day on Tuesday. There were snow mobiles and gunshots around the barn that day, and something about that combination of sounds really got to him. He got more agitated than I've seen in years. It was actually interesting, because he didn't act on his anxiety, but I could feel it. When the first round of scary sounds happened, his head popped up high. His heart rate increased until it was hammering so hard I could feel it through the saddle. But he didn't move, and he was soft when I reached for him. I rode him a while longer, trying to be supportive and help him get his mind off the noise. He did everything I asked. Then I got off, and he was a little restless in the tie arena. I took him back to the arena and did a little bit of groundwork, and he was able to let go of his anxiety pretty quickly.

Still, leading him in today I wasn't sure if any of that would carry over. But I tacked him up and he was  solid. I went into the arena and he was absolutely with me. All sorts of crazy stuff was going on. There was a kid on a horse that was all over the place for a while. Then the kid got off the horse and switched to climbing around on the arena fence, throwing things, jumping around on the hay and otherwise being an agent of chaos. At one point two of the four visiting horses spooked each other massively. Both riders were pretty out of control for a minute. Steen didn't even look at them. We just tooled around, doing our thing. It was honestly like all the craziness wasn't even going on. I actually had that feeling I get from Steen sometimes after he's had some time off -- it's like he's really happy to be working again. He wasn't just going through the motions like he sometimes will in the indoor arena when we're both a little bored and we've been stuck inside for months. He was motivated, and into what we were doing.

So, as much as these kinds of random changes of plan can be irritating when they surprise you, I try to look at them as opportunities to grow our horses' confidence. I was very pleased with how both Piper and Steen handled everything. Laredo and Nevada did super well too. These are, in theory, precisely the kinds of unplanned events we spend so much time trying to prepare our horses for. It's nice to have affirmation that it's working.


Horseback Hours YTD: 13:35

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