Riding a Nervous Couch

That’s the way I described it to L, anyway. This happened today:

How did it happen? Well, I repeated last weekend’s exercises, and he was totally okay with all of it. So, when I was up there, I let him have his head…and he didn’t explode. He stood there and allowed me to fuss about on his back, including swinging my legs on both sides. So, when he stepped off a bit, and didn’t immediately start pogo-sticking, I decided to go with it. We had a nice little ride, though he is much more comfortable when we aren’t actually moving. Once forward motion is added, he can keep himself composed for a few strides…but then it takes a couple of tight circles to help him back down to Earth. He gets tense, throws his head up, and powers forward. That will just take time and repetition to help him through. We’ll be working on softness and flexibility through the bit starting tomorrow. He’s great with it on the ground, but because he’s so unsure under saddle, he’s bracy and tends to try and blow through my hands. I have no interest in moving to anything other than a Myler curb bit some day in the future, so softness is a must.

Even when he did get quick and pacy, he was not uncomfortable to ride, which is encouraging. Being up on top of him is so strange — his neck is WIDE. The only other horse that I’ve ridden that’s had a neck this chunky from the top is my friend K’s stallion! Hence my comment to L — he’s a damn couch!

It was maybe a 20 minute ride, including me getting on and off a few times to reiterate the fact that mounting does not mean kaboom! time. I highly doubt I’ve seen the last of his fireworks, but it was VERY encouraging to have him move off without any today.

I’m not 100% ready to say we’ve moved on to working on stuff under saddle just yet, but we are certainly getting to that point. It also doesn’t mean we’re done on the ground.

In other news, a very kind friend has let me borrow her lens for a little while so I can use my real camera again. I did just that today 🙂

Dos and Don’ts

Do give you horse snuggles.

Don’t give your horse snuggles when you’re recovering from the plague, can’t breathe, and it’s shedding season.

Bad things happen.

Like a mouthful of fur that leads to a fifteen minute coughing fit.

I’m not as smart as I like to think I am…

Steps in the Right Direction

I house sat again this past weekend. I honestly love this part of my “job”. I’ve been house sitting for five or six years now, and it’s always something I’m happy to do. Most of my “clients” these days are up north, so it means closer to work and closer to the critter. It also means a little mini-vacation of sorts. I love my current living situation, but sometimes, it’s really nice to be “alone” for a few days! I actually head back up north on Thursday for another client. Of course, now that I’m sick, I just want to stay home and hide in my own bed. Obviously, I’m never satisfied 😉

Anyway, it’s meant I’ve been able to see Image the past few days in a row.

After last weekend’s success with me being able to get my full weight on his back, there were a couple of things I wanted to experiment with. First of all, my fantastic and far more knowledgable aunt made a suggestion at Easter dinner that stuck with me. With the addition of our makeshift around pen, it made executing said suggestion much easier.

When I realized last weekend that he was not comfortable with things “flopping” on his off side when I was over his back, we began working on that. Thursday, I worked him in the round pen. He transitioned beautifully from medium gait to canter in both directions with little encouragement, and was tuned into my body language. Once I was sure he had his attention fully on me, I haltered him, and worked on his flexing response. Oddly enough, his worse side is his left side. I tend to find horses are stickier on their rights, as the norm is to do everything from the horse’s left. Once I was getting a nice, fluid flex on both sides, I dragged the mounting block into the round pen. I stood on it, flexed him toward me, and gently used the end of the line to tap him on his off side. I immediately got a tense horse who moved away from me. So, I sent him off and moved him around me and the block with a lot of energy. After a few revolutions, I asked him to whoa and had him come back in to me. Moving = work. Standing still and relaxing = reward. I repeated the exercise again. It only took a few times of me sending him away from me when he chose to move off on his own for him to “get it”. Smart pony is smart!

I called it a day there, and made an attempt to clean him up. Black pony is a dirty pony. Hair is coming off of him in handfuls now, which is wonderful. I can’t wait until he’s slick and shiny!

Friday was a lot of the same. He remembered his lesson well, and I was able to get relaxation out of him much more quickly. I also worked with him with a saddle on. After I was able to stand on the mounting block and tap him with a decent amount of energy on his off side, I flexed him in, boosted myself up into the stirrup, laid over his back, and repeated the exercise. The new sensation had him flustered, so he got sent off around me each time until he stood calmly.

“I was good. Now feed me, kthxbai.”

Saturday was mostly a goof off day. I threw his halter on, pulled his bridle on over the top, and we went for a walk. The trails have melted nicely…and there is a LOT of water in the two water crossings we have. I wondered what his reaction to water would be. I probably shouldn’t have worried. He marched right up to the edge, blew some bubbles, and pawed for about five minutes straight. I allowed him to go in, after thinking he was just going to stand there and splash. He had me duped, though:

That cold water touched his belly and he sprang right back up. Neener!

We then spent some time hanging out in the clearing, where he grazed a bit on some grass and thoroughly inspected my lap and phone when I sat on a stump.

We wandered back home where I tried, unsuccessfully, to clean him up a little. I don’t think he’s going to be truly clean again until it warms up enough for me to scrub the hell out of him with some shampoo. Poor horse ain’t gonna know what hit him!

Sunday rolled around and I did a bit of everything with him in the morning. The ring is finally useable again (woo!), so I lunged him a bit, working on voice commands for gait changes. He’s still having issues with coming back down to a walk, but will gait off (be it a pace or a rack) quietly, pick up a canter, and drop back down to a gait. Walking is slowly coming to him…he just has a lot more get up and go than he knows what to do with!

I had saddled him up, and wanted to ground drive just a bit to see where his head was at. Well, he was pretty muh perfect. We zigged and zagged all over the ring, stopped, backed up, went in circles, racked off, and dropped back down without a fuss. No head tossing, no nervous dancing, nothing…just a calm critter on the end of the lines. Good boy!!

With him being so good, I wanted to work on the previous lesson. I positioned him next to the big mounting block, flexed him in towards me, stepped into the stirrup, and leaned over his back. I patted his off side heavily, talking and praising him the entire time. He seemed bored. I like bored, right now. Bored is good.

I did this a few more times, and decided to kick it up a notch. I feigned swinging my leg over, like I was going to get on. He lifted his head momentarily, but that was the extent of his reaction. So, with this, I finished swinging my leg over, and gently lowered myself into the saddle.

He tensed briefly, but offered no real reaction. I was up there for maybe 30 seconds, tops, before getting back off. I dismounted as fluidly and quietly as I had mounted, and released him. He stood there, licking and chewing, with the gears turning in his head. I rubbed his forehead and praised him profusely for being such a good boy.

As for me? I had just sat on my horse and nothing bad happened. I cried like a fool into his neck.

The rest of the day was full of the other girls at the barn riding. I played photographer (with my 50mm, for the most part…sigh) while Image snoozed next to me in the ring. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that I turned him back out, and he was more than happy to spend the day chilling out with me. I then helped L shovel out a paddock, returned back to the house, and realized that I felt like death warmed over.

Oops.

So, it’s Monday night now and I’m probably going to be down and out for a day or two. Nasty fever, really gross cough, body aches, a sore throat and a headache usually mean bad things. Sigh.

However, I sat on my horse this weekend. We have a very long way to go, but these are certainly steps in the right direction!!

Success

I have a lot to write about, but right now, I’m exhausted and coming down with a cold/flu/virus of some sort that has sapped most of my energy. That didn’t keep me from going to the barn today (especially where I’m house sitting up north), but as I’m coming down off of the “barn high”, I’m realizing that maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea.

Regardless, I wanted to share that after six solid weeks of ground work, I sat on my horse today. He didn’t explode. He didn’t spin away. He sat underneath me, and though he tensed briefly, there was no panic in his posture. I was on top of him for maybe 30 seconds, but that was 30 quiet seconds that we hadn’t had before. I got off, and cried into his neck, because I was so proud of him.

More later, once I’ve forced myself to eat something and crawled into bed.

I yanked my 50mm f/1.8 out today. It’s a difficult lens to work with and it’s not very forgiving, but I really loved this shot 🙂

Yoga Balls, Tarps, and More!

I may have tormented my poor, unsuspecting pony yesterday.

Friday night while I was at Wal-Mart grabbing an Ethernet cord, one of those huge blow up yoga balls caught my eye.

Hmmm.

It was five bucks, and quite frankly, it was five bucks well spent! I blew it up part way, brought it to the barn (where L promptly rolled her eyes at me), finished blowing it up, and gleefully chucked it into the front paddock. The boys all flagged their tails and skittered off. Gus was the only one who went and inspected it, providing us with a few minutes of entertainment as he huffed and snorted around it.

I was itching to get Image out and play with the ball one on one, but unfortunately, a bit of a situation with a rescue pony was unfolding and I wanted to wait until he was gone before attempting to do anything. When Image left B’s, he honestly didn’t seem overly concerned about the fact that he was leaving Murray behind. Poor Murray, on the other hand, was calling and calling for his buddy. I haven’t actually seen him express any fondness for another horse until today. He really did like this little pony, and was a bit distressed when he left. He called a few times and watched as the little stinker was loaded up. I felt bad, but at the same time, that’s life at a boarding barn. He’ll get used to it and I can’t let it turn into a bigger issue.

So, I pulled him out of the paddock and put him into our makeshift round pen. We did some work in there, where I kept his attention with frequent direction and gait changes. Once he was truly focused on me, I went to hunt down the yoga ball, which had blown alllll the way into the far back paddock. Crap.

As I was picking my way across the slushy, muddy, gross mess that is the back paddock, I heard a horse whinny. I turned around, and Image was standing at attention, watching me go. He called after me three more times. Hmm. Not sure if that was because we had just spent thirty minutes working in the round pen together, to the point where I had him locked onto my side again, or if it was residual from the pony leaving. The mushy side of me melted into a puddle of goo, ’cause my pony was calling to me and it was adorable. The other side of me knew that it probably had way more to do with the fact that his pony buddy had left and he was a bit out of sorts.

I retrieved the ball and bounced it into the round pen. Image dodged out of the way and eyed it with disdain. I quickly fetched his rope halter from the fence and began dribbling the ball toward him. Honestly, I was expecting more fireworks than I got. He danced away from me once or twice, but quickly figured out it was nothing worth getting worked up over. I was even able to balance it on his back, and gently bounce it off his sides and rump. I was laughing hysterically by that point. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to get out of the situation with his dignity in tact. Poor, tortured pony 😉

L came out and grabbed her two year old Quarter Horse, Radar, and we proceeded to tack up in the barn. After a little bit of ground driving (where I am finally see the “okay, I got this!” relaxation that I’ve been looking for), I played on the mounting block. I wanted him to be used to flexing all the way around when I go to mount, so we practiced that. I pretended I was going to mount with my foot in the stirrup, and I got not response. A+, pony!

I then pulled the saddle off, and leaned over his back with his neck flexed around. Again, no response. I bounced up and down on the mounting block. Nothing. So, I took a breath, and boosted myself onto his back, lying on him on my stomach. He tensed briefly, but did not offer any sort of reaction. I balanced myself there, my weight on his back, for a moment or two, before stepping back down. I repeated this a few more times and the only reaction I got out of him was when I accidentally spooked him with a pat under his belly. Oops. We’ll work on that later, because the fact that I was able to have my full weight on his back without him getting upset was enough for me. Good, good boy!

After all that work, it was time for a bit of fun. Image has a “thing” for big snowbanks, so after watching L take Radar bounding through the snow, I “sent” Image up one of the banks. He didn’t hesitate and gleefully bounded up, over, and back down.

I was prepared to call it a day there, but then L, who I adore, decided it was time to drag out some tarps, grain bags, and a kiddie pool. Image watched from inside the barn, his ears pricked with interest (but no fear!)…so I threw his rope halter back on, and outside we went! Soon enough, he was wearing the tarp like a dress, had all four feet in the kiddie pool, and had a grain bag rubbed all over him. Brave pony is brave, because I only got a dragon snort out of him once.

Image in his tarp dress. 😉

I gave him a good grooming after that, because he was a dirtball. Lots of currying later (which he thoroughly appreciated), I had a soft, shiny horse again. He stood quietly in the cross ties while L and I wrestled with Radar, who was being entirely uncooperative about being clipped, despite having been clipped before.

I turned him back out and spent the next hour helping L around the barn — moving the bunny from inside the barn to outside, and beating the ever loving shit out of some ice that needed to be removed. It was honestly kind of fun to slam a hammer into solid ice without holding back…sure got my frustrations out!!

Another really productive day. Getting through to him when he was distracted by his little pony buddy leaving, and having him switch his attention to me was really rewarding in itself. He was calm and relaxed through most of what I asked him to do, and even when he did get tense, I was able to talk him back down. Most importantly, I was able to have my weight on his back without an explosion. That was a really huge deal, because what seems to trigger him when you get on is the weight on his back.

Little steps forward. That’s all I’m looking for at this point!