Monday, October 24, 2011

All Horse, All the Time

Sometimes my family accuses me of having a life that is All Horse, All the Time.  They do have a point, although I do have other interests and activities.  But Horse is pretty much the center of my life - feeding, turnout, bring-in, grooming, riding and just plain interacting.  I've recently been trying to cram in as much riding time as possible as the days get shorter and temperatures get colder - with no indoor arena, my riding time at some point will be cut off, at least for Drifter and Dawn.  The trails will be accessible for at least part of the winter, until things become too icy.

So I managed to ride all three horses two days in a row, and in fact have ridden all three on three days out of four, and Pie on the extra day.  Yesterday was the day for interesting/scary things and today we just kept things simple - there was rain overnight so the footing in the arena today wasn't perfect, which put some constraints on what we could do.

Yesterday, Drifter had to cope with the "scary, flapping white plastic bag that someone left on a post in the community garden" right next to the ring.  And Pie had to deal with the "child lying flat on a blanket, kicking his heels", again right next to the ring, in addition to the "black plastic bags covered street lights" on our trail ride with Charisma.  In the arena, I did an "easing up on" routine with both horses - did circles and passes by the scary thing at a distance the horse found comfortable, and then gradually came nearer with each pass.  They both did well - with Drifter, I'm always careful as we turn away from a scary object - that's when he tends to scoot if he's going to.  With a scary object like the garbage bags flapping over the streetlights (this had to do with a neighborhood Halloween celebration involving hay rides and scary tableaus along the trail over the weekend - how many of you encounter street lights on your trail rides, much less street lights covered with flapping garbage bags?), the best approach is just to glance and say to the horse - yeah, I see that and it's nothing to worry about - and just keep on riding down the trail.  Pie can certainly spook (and spin) when he's startled - time and miles will help with that - but once he's seen something, he's not going to spook at it although he may stare and sidle on by keeping an ear on it.  As long as I'm ho-hum about it, he doesn't worry too much.  Dawn and Drifter are both more reactive - if they see something scary, they keep thinking about it, although both are capable of relaxing at least somewhat - Drifter isn't really spooky just lacking in confidence, whereas Dawn is hair-trigger reactive.  I'm happy to let Pie stop and stare at things and think about them - he's not going to spook or spin or bolt at that point - with Dawn, I always keep her mind engaged and her body moving - if she does the "stiff as a board" stare, the spin and bolt are right behind.  Drifter is in-between - he's somewhat spooky, but also curious and willing to investigate things - at this point I let him look at things a little but mostly keep him engaged and moving.

Today, the arena was sloppy, so we kept things simple, and mostly worked on a big oval where the footing was a bit better.  Drifter's job was to move out at the trot and try to stretch down - he's still not quite right when I post on the left-tracking diagonal or sit the trot, whereas he's just fine if I'm posting on the right-tracking diagonal - it's the left hind that's the issue, I think - there's some stiffness or soreness there and although it's very subtle - it's almost impossible to see when he's moving at liberty and although he does warm up out of it to a large degree, he clearly doesn't lift as well when I'm sitting when that foot is on the ground.  He's happy to trot so I'm not too worried about it - I've discovered that a kiss or chirp is a very good secondary cue for him for upwards transitions.  I was very happy with his work today, and he coped well with the (still-flapping) white plastic bag.  At the end we did some nice trot/walk/trot transition work, with only a few step in each gait before the next transition - we did finally manage to keep a nice forward with no falling on the forehand or loss of momentum in the downwards transitions.

With Dawn, we were on the search for the elusive relaxation at the trot.  We trotted and trotted and trotted some more - mostly in the big oval with some changes of direction.  I encouraged her to stretch down without rushing.  It ended up being pretty nice, and I told her so - she wasn't in the "zone" but we were close and it was better than it's been.  It helped her a lot when I worked on sitting up very straight with my head up so as not to weight her forehand. To end up, we "played statue" - I asked her to stand completely still on a loose rein - this is very hard for her as she's Ms. Movement All the Time.  We managed a good long time - I think it was at least 5 minutes - where she did a lot of looking around with ears pricked - there was lots to look at - people working in the community garden, walking by, riding bikes and driving by - but by the end I got a yawn and her eyes started to close.  I praised her effusively and jumped off.

Pie and I worked mostly in the arena today, on basic softening at the walk and trot.  He was moving well and pretty responsive.  We also worked a bit on his tendency to bulge out in the body when tracking left - I think this has something to so with his left hind not pushing as hard - this shows up as well right now in his backing where instead of backing straight, the hindquarters tend to want to end up moving left.  We finished up with some short trail excursions and he stepped out with confidence.

Pie did have another minor digestive attack last night - the first sign is that he stops eating out of his Busy Horse hay feeder and stands with his ears back and eyes partly closed, followed if he's really uncomfortable by lying down and, if he's even worse, groaning.  Our p.m. barn lady saw him lie down in his paddock - outside, not in his shed, during a cold rain no less - and called me.  I asked her to get him up and lead him down to the barn and then observe him in his stall - apparently just that small amount of walking helped the gas to pass and he was fine after that and was able to go back out for the night in his rain sheet.

All horse all the time . . . I'll take that right now.

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