Thursday, September 15, 2011

The 15-Minute Rule Revised

As I try to get back the joy of horses, I've been thinking about the best way to do this.  I've always been a person who has to "push through" to get through hard times - if I just wait for inspiration to strike, it never comes - I just need to practice whatever it is, on a regular basis, and let the joy find its way back into the practice.  I don't know if that makes any sense to anyone else, but that's how it works for me.  For me it's a little bit like faith - if I keep practicing my faith, even with doubts and worries and discouragements, the real thing is more likely to show up - if I don't practice, the real thing - faith, or joy of horses - doesn't have the space and time to show up.

So here's what I'm doing right now with the horses.  My shoulder is giving me some trouble - not the area where the collarbone was broken, right at the end above my shoulder blade - it's fully healed (with a large bump) and my range of motion and strength are good.  Where it hurts, after I've been active for a while, although interestingly enough, riding isn't something that bothers it lot - oddly enough walking is the worst thing - it hurts on my back between my shoulder blade and spine - sort of a dull throbbing.  I expect there are ligaments and tendons in there that got rearranged in my accident.

Doing a good ride on one horse is about all I'm up to right now.  I've always had the 15-minute rule, which states that even if you don't feel like working, just do 15 minutes - either you'll get 15 minutes of work, or else you'll feel like going on longer when the 15 minutes have passed.  Sort of a version of putting one foot in front of the other.  Yesterday Pie and I had a 15 minute or so ride that didn't start so well and ended up acceptable by the end.  It was very chilly and very windy and he was frisky and distracted - I got some head shaking and a few protest grunts.  We did some walk and trot work, and it was OK, but nothing to write home about.

Today I went in with a different attitude - I wanted to work with Pie for a more extended time - if you make real progress in 15 minutes that's enough, but just marking time doesn't do it and doesn't help the horse (and me) develop a work ethic or reach a place where the horse and I can feel good about things.  So today, my objective was to work for an extended period - an hour if I could do it - with some specific objectives in the work.  For the other two - Dawn and Drift - my objective was to spend some good time with them - if only a good grooming and/or a hand graze.

Pie and I had a very good work session today, despite the chill and the winds.  We started, after he was saddled and bridled (over his halter and lead) with a 15-minute hand walk on the trail, taking some paths we've not been on recently.  I'm on zero tolerance with him for any nudges, pushes, head butts or forging ahead - he's not to put his head into my space, ever.  He's doing very well with this, and there was little testing behavior.  We walked, we looked, we stopped and stood, we walked some more.  Then I took him to the arena, took his bridle off and tied him - I haven't done this in the arena before.  He fussed and pawed for a bit as I set up poles - there was grass just out of reach - but settled down.

I set the poles in an arrangement where one pole faced east (the center pole), one to the north (to the left), and one to the south (to the right), with gaps in the middle between the ends for walking through.  There were also four cones in a line down the length of the arena off the rail - with young horses I rarely use the rail as it can create the illusion of straightness when the horse is actually crooked.  Pie and I bridled up and I mounted and we worked hard for about another 45 minutes at the walk and trot - circles, straight lines, turns on the haunches, spiral in/out, leg yield and various figures involving the cones and also the poles.  The poles should help strengthen his stifles.  He tends to overbend to the left and not bend well to the right, and also leg yields much better to the right (left bend) than to the left (right bend).  I worked a lot on activating his hind legs - at the walk, cuing in time with the barrel swinging away to cause that hind leg to engage (forwards) or step under (sideways).  He was really doing it, although he did struggle with using his right hind - I think it's his weaker one.

I was really pleased, and was tempted to get Drifter tacked up and ride, but my shoulder was hurting so Drifter and I just groomed and hand grazed.  Dawn and I also had a nice grooming session too.  It was a good day with horses, and I needed that.

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