Monday, August 29, 2011

Pie and I Work the Trail

Pie and I had a good work session yesterday, involving the trail.  It was our second solo outing since my accident, and although we only went a quarter mile or so from the barn, we were out for about a half hour of solid work.   We started out by walking down the trail away from the barn - the trail runs along the edge of the pastures and next to a pond.  My objective was for him to stay "with" me - I checked in with him (by "addressing" him by lightly taking up contact or laying a rein on his neck, and then asking for him to do something - take a step towards the side or slow, say) every 10 or so steps.  If he stopped being "with" me or his head started to come up - a sign of tension - and he didn't come back to me immediately when I "addressed" him, my job was to give him some direction and leadership to regain his attention and focus.

As we got a ways from home, Pie's head popped up and he started scanning for the other horses - he wasn't with me anymore.  So we started doing some work together so we could both regain our focus and connection.  We did circles - the trail is a wide crushed limestone surface with grassy edges, so there was enough room to turn in a tight circle.  We did serpentines.  We did frequent changes of direction, sometimes involving turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches, and worked going both towards and away from the barn.  We backed and then stood still for a few seconds before moving off at the walk again.  Then we resumed walking along.  When his attention started to leave me again, we did more of this, and added in some transitions, using halt, walk and trot and combinations, and added serpentines at the trot to the mix.

We did lots of traveling in both directions, and kept reversing directions, gradually working our way farther along the trail.  The more we did, the better he was able to stay with me when we resumed walking along.  We did the same thing as we went back to the barn - he tends to get a bit more distracted as we come closer to the barn, but did very well.  There was one startle-spook - the type where the legs splay out stiffly in all directions for a second - but he instantly relaxed.

Short but sweet - very good Pie!

We had one odd thing happen when I was leading him in from the pasture.  He was crowding me slightly and I turned to ask him to back a step out of my space.  I use a variety of noises or hand gestures to ask horses to back away from me, and this time I hissed - "sss".  You'd have thought that I'd insulted his mother, or that he was someone's aged, very prim and proper grandma who heard the baby of the family say the "f" word - he glared at me, his ears went very flat and his muzzle wrinkled up in what looked like disgust and anger.  I immediately stopped hissing at him, asked him to back in hand (moving into his space deliberately after his hostile facial expression), which he did perfectly, and then asked him to back using hand gestures - he was perfectly compliant and back to his normal (somewhat grumpy but not angry) demeanor.  I'm not entirely sure what to make of this - he can be crabby and will pin his ears sometimes - I always make sure to never take a step away when he does this and that I get an ears up that I can reward before I move away.  I certainly don't need to hiss at him to ask him to move out of my space - I can use other sounds (I tried some and he didn't have the same bad reaction) or hand gestures.  We could work on it, but at this point I'm inclined to leave it be unless the behavior shows up again outside that specific context.  Don't know if that's right or wrong - I expect there's some history or a bad experience there to trigger such an extreme and unexpected response.

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