Saturday, February 20, 2010

Forward and Backward

On Saturday we woke up nice and early, and after our leisurely routine of coffee and breakfast, we headed off to the barn. It was super quiet when we arrived. Only Cathi, the owner, was there. We chatted for a few minutes and then Robin and I walked out to get our respective horses. The plan today was for me to give Sham a break from riding (it has become so abundantly clear that the bit/headstall is really irritating his long teeth, so no more riding until those are floated) and do some ground work while Robin got in a nice bareback ride.

When I entered the pasture Sham came right to me from the round bale. I gave him a little treat and went to put the rope around his neck so I could halter him. He slowly walked off, though. That was a first. I got some more grain out of my pocket and pursued him slowly. Again I could get quite close, but I had no luck with the rope or halter. And now he started running off with more purpose.

We got to see Sham, head of the herd, in full action. He is a rather smart fellow. Of course he is big and athletic and has no trouble staying away from me. But he figured that wasn't quite enough, so he started moving all the other members of the herd. It was particularly interesting to watch him use Leonard, another bay gelding, and Star, a red mare, as blockers. He continually placed them directly between himself and me. If I wasn't so mad at him at the time I would have been more impressed.

Robin was watching all this from the airlock with a very happy and passive Steen. She kept giving pointers, but there really was nothing I could do. I tapped out and let Robin have a try. She had a similar experience as mine. Though in time, her experience allowed her to get closer to him. But only closer, she didn't get him. Finally she came up with the bright idea to lure him into the airlock with some grain. This worked like a charm. And once he was away from the herd, he was back to his happy, relaxed, and semi-submissive self.

So, not a great start to the barn day. Once inside the arena I quickly made a mental check of all the ground work tools I had (yielding, moving hindquarters, stopping, backing, all the while being calm and assertive) and got to work on showing him that I was the head of the herd, and I wasn't going to make it painful either.

And he was pretty good. I could make him move and have him calmly stand. Occasionally he would stop paying attention, but a few quick disengages and the periodic pop on the butt brought him right back to me. During the course of our work he became more flexible and supple. He was responding particularly well to me turning into him. He still has a tendency to get his head out in front of me a bit, but he is yielding much more willingly, and I can turn more sharply and demand more. I took this as a good sign, and so we stopped for the day. We had a brief, non-threatening session of grooming, and I gave him some more food and put him back outside. No pain. At least I hope not.

At about that time Robin was finishing her very nice ride on Steen and said I could ride if I wanted. I threw a saddle on and climbed aboard. He was a dream. He is neck-reining so well right now, and I would use a little bit of leg if I wanted a tighter turn. We did a lot of walk-trot circles and figure eights. There was one semi-spook when some snow slid off the roof, but we both made it through. Those moments are good for both of us. Steen learns that nothing will happen to him, and I gain a little confidence in keeping my seat when a horse moves in a short, quick burst that I'm not really ready for.

So in the end Steen saved the barn trip for us. He was perfect, and we both had great rides. After we put him out to pasture we brought a few more treats out to Sham, who again came right up to us and showed no intention of running away (of course, he could clearly see I didn't have a rope). I'm really hopeful that after he gets his teeth done he'll resort back to being the willing fellow I've seen glimpses of.

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