Friday, July 17, 2009

Figuring him out

I tried a new tact to conquer the spooky end of the arena last night.

Longing first! I tacked up and took that big booger to the arena and made him work on the longe line in the scary end of the arena. He did a little big of spooking and snorting and trying to bolt, but much less than he did the other night. I think I ended up longing him for about 15 minutes before he worked all the snort-n-scoots out and settled down enough to put his mind to work. We worked over trot cavalletti and a 12-inch log just to get his mind thinking about something other than the woods. We did spirals in and out, direction changes and pace changes on the longe and once I got his brain engaged and thinking about work and not boogeymen, he was good.

I don't want to have to longe him before I ride EVERY time, that would be horrible, but I will definitely do it from time to time. I may even longe him before riding for a week or so and taper off to every other ride, or every third ride, just to keep him on his toes.

I got up and we had a pretty good session. One half-hearted snort-n-scoot at the scary side, and that was it.

We worked on walk/trot, trot/walk/halt transitions. I hope, hope, hope I don't ruin his upward transition because it's pretty darn near exactly what it should be. He really lifts himself up into the trot, I can see and feel his entire front end lift up and launch into a really powerful, forward trot. Yes, he's still unbalanced and no, he's definitely NOT on the bit, but that all comes with time and muscling.

Downward transitions from trot to walk is eh. We dribble down and sometimes he fights it a bit, tossing his head and grumbling about it and falling on his forehand BIG TIME. But, step by step, right? Our transition from walk to halt is dead on. The transition from trot to walk is getting there. I do believe most of his resistance is my fault though. Because he does have such a HUGE, powerful trot I'm finding it physically difficult to give him the proper cue and slow him down with my body and abs while keeping my butt IN the saddle during the downward transition. More Pilates and weight lifting for me! I think that as I fix ME, he will find it easier to hear and understand me and will be able to respond better to that particular request.

His steering is still sticky but improving. At one point, while we were trotting and working on getting a downward transition on a circle, he decided he was going to toss his head a bit and throw a bit of tantrum while ignoring me...and he just about ran into a danged tree because he wasn't looking where he was going. And I just about let him just so he could knock some sense into his silly self. That tree came up FAST and he spotted it and decided to stop tossing and LISTEN to me instead of smacking his head into it. The beast!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Boogeymen

I really wish I knew what he sees when he stares into the deep, dark, unknown depths of the woods on the west side of our riding arena.

The way he acts you'd think he's spotted a pride of hungry lions or a family of boogeymen just waiting for him to get close enough so they can snatch him and turn him into dinner.

I spent Tuesday's ride on Gabe just getting him to go to and remain at that end of the arena. It was an evening of wide eyes, perked ears, loud blowing and snorting, and of course, my favorite, tucking the butt and bolting away from the ever-so-scary woods.

What a brat. Years ago I would have gotten frustrated and angry with him and probably gone to extremes to get him to get over it. Fortunately age and experience has taught me that's the LAST thing I want to do with a horse who has gotten it into his head that something is BAD BAD BAD! We did a lot of "do-overs." Bolt and run as we are walking away from the scary woods? Huh. DO OVER! Pop your shoulder and contort your body so you don't have to go to that end of the arena when requested? DO OVER! Bolt again as we are doing a circle near the scary end of the arena? DO OVER! Many deep breaths, do-overs and re-focuses later, we worked at the spooky end of the arena quietly without a bolt or evasion.

Then I got off and called it good. Always end on a good note, even if it's a very basic one, such as working near the woods.

And it only took half an hour! :P Through all this I have gotten very, very good at recognizing when he's gonna lose his everlovin' mind and bolt. I can really feel him tense up just a bit right before he thinks about it and if I recognize it for what it is in time, I low, loud NO!, a grumble or an ACK! from me refocuses him and pretty much prevents the bolt.

Some days, it feels like we are back at square one and he thinks he doesn't know a thing, especially the knowledge about going forward and turning. That is SO frustrating.

Other days, he's golden and he seems to anticipate my every request with effortless grace and forwardness. Those are the days I enjoy most.

Those other days? Those are the days I threaten him with a Frenchman's fork.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trail Ride #2 and tantrums

Ooh, I've been such a blogging slacker lately. Summer and extra work at work and all that business keeps me busy enough that the blog sometimes has to take a back seat.

But, I do have a bit to update.

Took Gabe out on his second trail ride over the weekend. We were out for about half an hour, maybe 45 mins., and he was fabulous! The scariest encounter on the trail was the trees branches smacking against my hard hat. Scary stuff! Scoot and snort and look around for the scary thing. I started grabbing every branch I could reach and smacking it against my helmet, against him when I could and shaking the trees as much as I could. He was pretty darn desensitized to them within 10 minutes. Good boy! I'm sure I looked bizarre smacking myself in the head with tree branches, but hey, it worked and I achieved my goal.

You know how each horse has it's quirk? Calypso likes to get in one really fast head-in-the-air trot around the ring and acts a little ADD before she'll settle down and work. Chief drags butt for the first five or 10 minutes of a ride before he resigns himself to work and picks it up.

Gabe...well, Gabe acts like a spoiled brat. For about 10 minutes, sometimes 15, at the beginning of our ride he acts like he doesn't know a thing and he throws a little toddler tantrum. It's almost like he's saying "Make me!" He crow hops, refusing to go forward, tossing his head around and squealing (yes, he squeals, just like a girl!), forgetting how to turn, refusing to go to the woodsy end of the ring, etc. He can be a complete shit, with his ears forward the entire time like he's really enjoying himself. It's like he's testing his limits and feels the need to test me just to make sure I really AM going to make him work. Then it all stops, like a switch turns off, and he's golden.

What a nut. I don't let him get away with much, but so far I'm not really fighting his need to be a moron, let off some steam, behave like a baby, I work him through it, wedging my way in there and asking for more and more and keeping him too busy to act too silly for too long until his brain clicks. Some horses need to be longed to take the edge off before a ride, Gabe needs to test his limits and push my buttons. He's not trying to get me off and he's definitely not hurting, he's just being a big goof. I've come to expect no less from him! *grin*

He is definitely a fun horse and really enjoys playing. He's popped several balls (he kneels on them or bites 'em until they deflate, then he plays with the flat ball.) So, I found these balls designed for horse play and I think I'm going to save my pennies and get him one. If you click the link, make sure to watch some of the videos...those horses are having FUN! And I really think Gabe will too.