Despite the gorgeous fall we’ve had, there’s no ignoring winter is on its way. The days are getting stupidly short, the air is noticeably humid, and mornings are chilly. Horses are putting on their big coat, and thanks to now “working” one day a week instead of four, mine has also worked up a remarkable layer of fat. He looks like Manny the Mammoth in Ice Age…. And of course, like all overweight folks, he’s a little reluctant to run around, at least for extended periods of time (not that I blame him).
So basically our working sessions have been going from hardly proper, to bad, to worse. The day before yesterday I got so sick of having to beg him to go forward that I literally hopped off, grabbed a lunge line and whip, and went at him from the ground for a few minutes before he took me seriously and I could climb back on for some barely decent schooling. At the end of the session both of us were dejected and more rather frustrated with each other. Not my idea of fun….
I mean, check out that gut !
So today I decided to take a completely different and original approach at our still current “scary spots” issue. Instead of working hard in the “easy” part of the arena, and resting closer to the dreaded spots, I chose to grab the bull by the horns so to speak, and work right *within* the problem zone. Of course, there was a teaching dynamic to it, with a very specific use of pressure (body energy, voice cues, lunge whip if needed) and release (removal of body language, cues and whip, softening of posture, etc) along the course of the circle. Travelling towards the comforting (and magnetic) center of the arena, pressure ON, travelling towards or along the scary outter parts (rail area), pressure OFF. All breaks were given either standing along the rail, or further from it but facing towards the outside of the arena (extremely scary parking lot with numerous opportunities for spooking).
Proper timing is a pretty sharp tool. If you get it right consistently, the wrong thing becomes difficult, and the right thing easy. With a little work I had a focused and polite horse who went when asked, maintained gait, changed direction on cue, stopped at the whoa, and minded me the whole time rather than minding imaginary “ghosts”. Once he seemed both compliant **and** relaxed, we parallel parked along the fence and I could ease off it onto his back and spend a minute doing lateral flexions and disengaging the hind, bareback and in a mere rope halter. He felt warm, soft, and very, very quiet.
Do I plan on doing it again ?
You bet I do. Walking him back to his paddock he was easy going and confident, and stood for a bit of scratching before I left. Short days and limited opportunities to visit him make this kind of session even more relevant, and chances are we do quite a few of them this winter. Stay tuned for further reports !