Monday, February 2, 2009

The trials and tribulations of working with horses

Actually, to tell the truth, it's mostly just trials right now!! I do not get as much time in with my higher level horses, Koolaid and Silver, due to my schedule (which has recently opened up more though thankfully) and due to their location (outdoors, no indoor facility). I know I am a wuss but I hate the cold, particularly since frostbite and I have been very well acquainted in prior life. Silver and Koolaid offer many more tribulations than trials, but any new horse (particularly Link and Sonny) always presents those damn trials! I suppose that is what helps us grow though, so although I may gumble, I'll roll with the flow.

Feb 1

Today I tromped out to the barn (Link and Sonny) with the goal of doing a little groundwork with Link. I say a little, and only groundwork, because a) after our last session I felt Link needed more groundwork before getting back into the riding (though obviously depending upon how well our session went) and also because b) I wanted to get back in time to watch the Superbowl (lmao)! I would like Link (and preferably Sonny, if possible) on regular schedules though to prove my consistency to them and to earn their partnerships.

Note: keep in mind Link is a high-energy, highly reactive horse. We've experienced a lot of success in the past however he remains the most challenging horse I have worked with to date, just because he is so prone to reactivity and thus meltdowns. Under-saddle, if he has a meltdown, he is downright dangerous. Mostly our work thus far has been very basic, so we have something to build off of. I have to develop the basics first prior to asking for more - if I ask for too much too soon, he will blow. He is a very fabulous horse with a great mind.... but has a lot of past experience that has created a lot of reactivity in him, so it's patience patience patience! Recently he's presented a lot more energy as spring rolls around, increasing the challenge.

Of course, being a Sunday, there were other riders at the barn however no-one commented on Link's being an off-track Thoroughbred, so, of course, Link was in a spectacular mood. At least at first! I was a little disappointed though when he did not walk up to me as he usually does out in his pasture. I actually had to walk up and get him as he slunk away this time. Obviously we need more work on that partnership!! We whipped through our 7 games with my not asking much of him but a simple brush-up. I noticed though that porcupining and driving his hindquarters he let me know, via some intense tail-swishing, that he was not pleased with having to do as I asked. The same followed for asking him to go sideways - he did it with ease, but not without some irritated comments in my direction. All in all though I was very impressed. When I asked him to slow (trot to walk) at the Circling Game, he did so almost instantly, though on a smaller circle (say 16' diameter). Also, when I drove his front end around he remained cool and collected as he gave me a nice turn on the haunches. Next we also did some Touch-It with some standards temporarily left in the arena and we also did some Figure-8 pattern on the barrels. He was increasingly nervous and anxious passing by me with me on his right side (his off side) however and at the end when I asked him to halt by disengaging his hindquarters after one of the barrels, he promptly shot past me and gave me a solid kick to my left calf. Ouch! Not a trustworthy partner yet, obviously! He did it with a sort of fearful-defensive mentality of "I'll get you before you get me!" He certainly expected punishment however I ignored his response and quietly worked with him for the next several minutes, just to end our session on a good note. After the kick though he responded quite right-brained (ie. tearing around circles, etc) and also kept displaying signs of frustration towards me (ie. striking the air - albeit far away from me - with his forelegs and such). I felt it was vital to ignore him, remain quiet as possible, and to continue on as usual to prove to him that I was going to be consistently and passively persistent rather than aggressive towards him. Leading him back to his pasture afterwards, he was quite reactive as well. Consistency consistency consistency!!! I really need to continue to show him that I won't be fazed by him and that I will always be consistent, no matter what. Part of the right-brained reaction afterwards, I feel, is because he was convinced I was going to respond towards his kick as most others have - aggressively. Instead I ignored him and pretended it had not occured (though my calf sure knew it had!! lol). This is the tough part of working with a LBE with right-brain tendencies - breaking through those barriers and earning that respect and trust. You can never demand the respect or else you risk a rebellious response, and you have to be careful of that reactivity. If instead you focus on earning that respect, you can usually break through those barriers to a great partnership!! Headed out there Feb 2 as well, so we'll see if anything from today's session has sunk in yet.

First time I have ever been kicked by one of my own horses (despite over 20 years with horses), but I suppose there is a first for everything!

On anther note, I am likely to start working with Formiss once again (Check back to Nov 2008's blog Journal of Formiss for my work with the 5yo Dutch WB x QH palomino filly) by the beginning of March.

I will also likely take on a few other horses for training this year (mostly Quarter Horses). It will be so refreshing to work with some clean slates!! It's tough (though certainly rewarding) undoing someone else's work, such as in the case of Link and Sonny, before being able to establish your own foundation on a horse. It's nice to just be able to simply start fresh and just start building up right away. Also, I find Quarter Horses so much easier to work with than say your higher-energy Thoroughbreds and opinionated Warmbloods. The latter are certainly my favourites and I love the challenge of working with such horses, but it's just nice to be permitted to relax once in awhile!!

No comments: