Monday, July 15, 2013

Dawn's Rehab Continues, Pie Update and Not Futzing about with Red

Dawn had several weeks off after the injury to her left hind, and we've spent the last two weeks working up to 30 minutes of vigorous, engaged, soft walk work per session.  So today was the big test - we did 5 minutes of loose rein walk work, followed by 10 more minutes where I was asking her to carry herself properly, with forward, engagement and softness, doing lots of figures, and then we trotted.

All we did today was trot 5 lengths of the arena - no turns - we walked around the corners.  She was willing and forward at the trot - I could hear her thinking "it's about time!", and felt perfectly sound on both diagonals.  If things continue to go well, we'll add more straight line trot work each session all week, and then start doing some big turns next week.

Pie's feet - specifically the left front - continue to do well.  He had no pulses last night and seemed to be walking slightly better.  He got one more gram of bute last night - he's very good for it and I don't even have to halter him, and this morning very early I hiked out to the far reaches of the pasture to give him one more gram of bute.  I checked his feet, and all four were cool with no pulses.  So far so good.  He's going to get most of this week off anyway as it's going to be very hot and humid - 90s with higher heat indices - so he can grow a little bit more foot.

Red and I have had a series of really excellent rides.  The day before yesterday, I rode him in the outdoor arena by himself for the first time.  This is more challenging than it sounds, as the outdoor is way across one of the pastures, several hundred yards from the barn, with no horses in sight.  He's been out there several times with other horses and done well.  By himself, he was very alert and forward, but completely responsive and soft in all our work, including at the trot and canter.  It was nice to be out there as the outdoor is somewhat bigger than our very small indoor, and he could move out a bit better.

Then yesterday we worked on eliminating the slight "hitch" in our walk to trot transitions.  Ever since I've had him, Red has tended to balk on the first, or first couple, walk/trot transitions.  He either tends to "ball himself up" - it's the only way I can describe it - he shortens his body and neck and loses his straightness - it's almost as if he's hitting an invisible wall - or alternatively, he springs into canter instead.  After the first couple of walk/trot transitions, this issue vanishes completely for the rest of our ride.  I think he came with this - either due to "more energy" meaning canter from his past training, or due to his hock soreness.  It doesn't really matter.  He's sound at the trot now, and his hocks are doing well.

So I decided to stop futzing around.  It's important, I think, with all horses, but particularly with a horse like Red who came with a lot of baggage and is also very sensitive, just to be very matter of fact, precise and direct about what you want, and don't accept anything less.  It's a matter of my making my intent clear and handling and riding him expecting him to be just the horse I want him to be.  It certainly isn't ask/tell/make at all and there's nothing harsh or punitive about it - it's about being clear in communicating my intent - this requires that I know exactly what I want.  This is exactly how all his other issues have just fallen away with continued handling, consistency and clear communication of my intent.  He's now perfect for hoof handling for both me and the farrier - when I got him, he would snatch his legs away and even kick or strike - he's pretty much perfect to handle on the ground and lead - he moves away on a touch, he backs away if I even hold up a hand, he doesn't run me over even if he spooks, he no longer head butts, pushes into pressure or nibbles or bites.  He ground ties, stands for mounting and stands still in hand or under saddle on a loose rein or lead without moving a foot.  He's just plain wonderful.

I pretty much decided that the problem with the walk/trot transition was me, not him.  I was futzing around.  I'd ask for trot, get the balk or the canter, and ask again, and after a couple of tries we were fine.  He's basically holding onto an old behavior pattern, and I've allowed him to. But that's not what I wanted - I want an immediate, clean, soft walk/trot transition.  I needed to make it clear and not accept any substitutes, just as I did with all the other issues.  It's very much like getting forward - from the first step in any gait, I want and expect the rhythm and implusion I've decided I want - nothing unclear and no futzing around.

So for our past two rides - it's interestingly only an issue indoors - I've been clear and consistent.  This means that as I mentally up the energy and change the rhythm to trot, if he doesn't instantly - I'm talking fraction of a second - softly step into trot I immediately go to a secondary aid (taps with dressage whip behind my leg) to get an immediate response.  (I don't up my aids, say by applying more leg, as that tends to lock up motion and also teaches the horse that that's the level of pressure you want them to respond to.)  By being clearer with him about my expectations, the problem is already starting to disappear, and I expect it'll be completely gone, like all the other issues, in short order.  And since I'm paying more attention and trying to be clear about what I want, this carries over into other things - his forward was much more immediate and consistent in our whole ride yesterday.

I love figuring out what I need to change about what I'm doing in order to get the best response from my horses - it's one of the delights of horsemanship.

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