Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Was in Charge

Well, I was in charge most of the time.

It was a cold, wet, windy Wednesday. Lately Wednesdays have been solo barn days for me. But Robin has been in the process of transitioning from her day job to being a full time small business owner. So she worked all morning and then came with me to the barn.

And as always, I was glad she was there. Sham and Steen ran right up to us in the pasture. It was a nice sight. Sham let me halter him with no problems and then led quite well to the indoor arena. But once inside it was evident that something was causing him trouble. He was very anxious. Head up, dancing around type anxious. This is not normal for him. It is a little normal for Steen, but not Sham.

I tried to calm him down with some ground work exercises, but he just decided to run some pretty big and energetic circles around me. I got dizzy following him. Robin watched and thought about what to do. The conclusion was the boys are hungry. It is tough transitioning from hay to new grass. And today was cold, so they probably wanted to eat more. So we decided to give Sham his afternoon chopped alfalfa/grass supplement a little early.

We gave him just enough to take his mind off his stomach, and it seemed to be enough for him to calm down a little. But it didn't fully calm me down, so I asked Robin if she would get things started again. I was glad I did, too. He was extremely energetic and still anxious. Better than he was right away, but not the calm horse I've been getting used to.

Thankfully his hyper-anxious state led to some hyper-awareness of us and our commands. We saw the best circle work and disengages and backs that we've seen from Sham. When I took over a few minutes later I was able to move his feet very quickly and effectively. I could get him to quickly trot/lope around me and get some very fast changes in direction out of him.

This is what led me to being in charge. I had never seen Sham lick and chew so much and desire to get near me for pets and rest. I did let him, but not always. I had to keep things productive, afterall.

But Sham is a smart, cheeky bastard sometimes. After a while (about an hour of solid groundwork), he started ducking out of the work and doing so in a way that forced me to move my feet ever so slightly to get him going. After a few minutes we would end up in the corner of the arena. Me somewhat frustrated that I wasn't competent enough in the exercises to continue them in the small space, and Sham content to rest a tad and know that he moved me.

It wasn't until I took a break and Robin did some work that it fully dawned on us what was happening. OK, not me, it was Robin who realized and corrected it. He, of course, hated this correction. And it was simple. It involved us marking a big X in the dirt and not moving from it. Sham would become reluctant to move, but rather than stepping towards the hind to drive him, Robin kept the pressure on from the front and continued to direct him with her hands. It took a few extra seconds each time, but eventually he would give in. The first time he gave in he went close to Robin and took a flying bite at her sweatshirt sleeve. Not good, but she spooked him out of her space.

We finished the day's work by revisiting yielding the forequarters (another maneuver Sham hates). We aborted the method we tried over the weekend and just went back to doing it how we know. There was some mild resistance, but all in all it worked quite well.

Sham is still used to being in charge, and he has a lot of tricks up his hocks. But the more I read about horses like him the more excited I get. Once I have firmly established myself as the leader, I should have an extraordinarily loyal mount and rewarding relationship. The super steep learning curve I'm on can get frustrating, but it is still an exciting challenge. And it's like no challenge I've ever faced.

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