Walking a fine line

I’ve been away a week on vacation, and got back last night, so today I went to check on Dandy and put his ass back to work (or should I say, our mutual ass, as I work, too).

Dandy16Avr17-02I witnessed with pleasure that he’s put a bit of weight back on

I’m facing new challenges in the new place. Namely Dandy is concerned about two category of things. First, some livestock he’s never been exposed to before. Lamas, sheep (with lambs), spotted deer, geese, a cow… All of those are both fascinating and apparently potentially terrifying to him. He likes to keep an eye on them at all times, which is *not* what I want him to, since *I* want to be his constant focus when I’m around. Second, he’s not entirely sure about “the place”, itself. It’s a bunch of buildings put together, meaning a lot of doors, windows, pathways, hidden spaces threatening to “jump” at you at the corner of a wall, so he’s pretty much on high alert the whole time we tinker there, namely to get brushed and saddled, etc. Today after a very fidgety saddling up, I was leading him out of the covered prep space when he had a series of heart attacks. The wind was mildly blowing in a nearby tree’s branches and we passed a mirror that sent an unexpected and super scary reflexion. He jumped out of his skin, then twice as he got scared by the sound of his own hooves on concrete. That’s when I decided he needed help.

In this case, help is not pampering and cooing, help is moving the hell out of his feet at high speed and demanding that he circles around me, nose tipped in, bent at the ribs and disengaging his hindquarters on command. And yes, that involved a bunch of wild waving of the flag and even whipping his butt with it full force and handful of times, until he came to his sense and decided that I was way scarier than any “ghost” in the barn, and that he’d better give me his full attention. The split second I got that, all pressure was off, and the next thing he was walking a neat little relaxed circle, licking his lips in relief.

Dandy16Avr17-01Dandy post session and very, very sweaty

Next thing we worked under saddle in the nice and largish arena. I like this place a lot, it’s surrounded by tall pine trees on 2 sides, bordered by small buildings on one shorter side, and faces the sheep-lama-deer-geese-cow-etc pasture on its longer side. It’s not without its own challenges (horses grazing behind the trees, bunch of mess piled up in front of the building, and of course full view of the super scary baby sheep on the main side) but it’s roomy, sandy and I just like it. We started out by some lateral flexions (his attention was *fully* on the livestock at that point) to get his mind back, then we played “were-do-you-want-to-go”. Two spots were sticky so each time he’d either go or stop there, I just bumped him lightly but consistently with my spurs. We’ve been doing this routine long enough now that he quickly gets the message and starts using more of the arena. I let him chose his route and he very clearly avoided all the front part (which, interestingly enough, contains the gate) and getting too close to the longer side facing the “zoo”, especially at the middle, marked by an orange plastic cone. I had him trotting and loping on a totally lose rein anywhere he wanted, and he’d make tiny loops to stay in the one zone that he feels totally comfortable in. Gradually I started to take some limited contact on the reins, just enough to be able to influence his steering, and make the loops larger and larger, until we were roughly following a 2 yards inner limit from the fence, even going along the fence in some non scary parts. From then I alternated letting him go to shortening my reins, getting some collection and direction, than turning him lose when he did well.

As in all things, the more I worked, the “luckier” I got at getting better and better responses from him. At some point we were loping on and I must have changed my seat without wanting to or even knowing it, and he stopped dead in his tracks. My first impulse was to urge him on, but then I thought I had to be clearer in my cues, and just petted him for the good stop. We worked at various things and ended up with spins, yes, you read that well, actual spins. Sure, they weren’t fast, but I think I got a full revolution on each direction that was sound and proper. I’m so thrilled !!

During breaks he investigated “scary” spots, and ended up grazing a few blades of grass in previously really threatening places, so I’m hopeful than we’ll soon be able to concentrate on proper work for good. Next report, tomorrow !

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