Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Search of Softness From the Inside

We've had an extraordinary run of weather recently - it was actually in the mid-50sF today and I spent a lot of time outdoors without any gloves - pretty amazing in this part of the world in mid-January.  Reality is returning tomorrow and tomorrow night - we're supposed to get 6 to 9 inches of snow with winds up to 30 mph and wind chills near zero - that's more normal.

I managed to get in some nice work sessions with Drifter and Pie.  Yesterday, after our debacle of the day before, Pie and I did some in-hand and ground work in the arena.  I'm in search of relaxation in the horse - that softness from the inside that gives horses the capacity to deal with unexpected events without losing their minds - Pie isn't there yet, and part of the program is my relaxation as well.  We some softening work with the halter - head down and backing as well as head lowering combined with slight lateral flexion - these postures help with relaxation.  We also did more lungeing work - he's pretty much got the hang of it at the walk.  Today we continued with the same work, and his lungeing is improved in both directions - I can even have him move ahead of me in straight lines now.  We're ready for trot work now.  I also bridled and saddled him, and after doing some in-hand softening work with the bridle, I rode for a bit at the walk, again focussed on getting vertical and lateral softness to help him with his relaxation.  Although he was distracted at points, he did very well - I have him a new bit - the Mylar single-jointed snaffle that Dawn usually wears - since the ported snaffle was giving him some problems.  With him, with his tendency to stiffen his top line and travel inverted, I'm wanting to improve his top line relaxation and the relaxed "hang" of his head.

Then Drifter and I had another lungeing session.  My objective was, in one direction, to have him be able to walk out nicely on request from the halt, take up a nice forward trot on request, and then come back to a nice walk off my body language, without resistance or fussing.  Easy and not requiring a lot of energy from the horse, right?  Of course it took some work to get there, although I think he's getting the idea of what I want.  He has a number of ways of displaying resistance - he's Mr. "I'll do it if I want to but otherwise not" - if you take on a seriously spoiled horse you can expect this sort of thing - ranging from the dramatic - "I'm out of here" scoot and bolt (usually in response to my asking him to continue to move out after an attempted cut/face in, to the "I'm stopping and rearing - notice how big I am" to the "I'm going to cut in and kick out if you let me" to the "I'm trotting but notice that I'm sucking back" to "I'm going to stop/change direction if you don't do anything about it" to the "see my 'chess head'" (he does this thing where he raises his neck and tucks his head way in, which has a defiant edge to it).  They were all on display today, but we just worked through it and 45 minutes later we had a lovely walk on followed by an excellent trot followed by a nice fluid walk, repeated several times (we'd had parts of this earlier but I wanted the whole package without any resistant behaviors).  I'm pretty sore in the arms, shoulders and upper back after his scooting/bolting shenanigans, and I expect he's tired too.  I was just persistant in asking for what I wanted, without being dramatic about it, and was delighted that we got to such a nice finish.  I'm hoping that as he understands how easy it is to do what I'm asking, that our sessions will become easier - he's no dummy and should be able to figure out the easy way out (that isn't his old easy way out involving intimidating people into letting him do whatever he wants).

In the case of both horses, this work involves filling in holes that I had blown by previously in my eagerness to just get on and ride.  I'm expecting the work to pay long-term dividends for both horses - there are moments that aren't pretty but there's on the way to something better.  With the weather taking a turn for the worse, it's good we got in these work sessions.

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