Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Horse training: Damage contol

Since my big fall off my horse Saturday evening, I've been a little stiff and sore — but it's quickly getting better. I was surprised how little I hurt Sunday morning when I got up, and every day has seen improvement. In fact, when I'm on my feet and moving around for an extended period of time, I hardly notice — it's only when I sit for a while that I stiffen up.

Sunday night, for example, I was feeling limber enough to crawl around under the dining room table playing "space ship" with my nephews, and last night I resumed cleaning stalls.

I also got back on the horse last night, literally as well as figuratively.

I knew I wanted to get back on Panama ASAP to ensure that Saturday's fall didn't remain his most recent experience of being ridden. I also wanted to reacquaint him with the mailbox, to hopefully undo some of the damage done Saturday evening.

When Michael and I first arrived at the barn yesterday evening, it was quite windy, so I was afraid I'd have to call off my plans. Luckily, though, by the time I finished cleaning the wind had died down just enough. I also knew Panama was in a pretty good mood, so I decided to go ahead and try it.

I mounted Panama at the base of the driveway, right outside the barn. We walked up the driveway to the street with Michael. Panama normally only walks up the driveway with another horse and rider, so he was a bit hesitant, and wanted to follow Michael. Unfortunately, Michael was rather nervous about the whole thing (he's so not a horse person!), and kept zigzagging to get out of Panama's way. I don't think he quite understood that 1) if Panama bolted it would be in the opposite direction, toward home, and 2) he was much less likely to bolt if he walked behind someone, because it makes him feel more secure.

With just a little bit of encouragement, we made it to within about 6 feet of the end of the driveway (and the mailbox). I had to push Panama a bit to go the last couple of feet, so I didn't push him any further, although I did make him stand there and face the road for several minutes. He kept trying to turn away and his entire body was tense, like he wanted to bolt, so after turning him back to face the road a couple of times I made him back away — I had the distinct feeling that if I just turned him, he'd immediately head home, and I wasn't done yet.

Once I'd backed him several feet away from the road — back across the invisible line into his comfort zone — I turned him parallel to the road and dismounted. Then I led him to the top of the driveway and made him stand there with me. He was a little nervous about the cars (which at this point had their headlights on), and I think he also knew what I had in mind, so he was hanging back a bit.

Once there were no cars on the road, I made him turn the corner onto the sidewalk — the mailbox is just barely around the corner, but the way it's placed it's not really accessible from the driveway, at least not for a horse. I showed Panama the mailbox and rapped on it a couple times, talking to him softly the whole time. To my surprise and delight, after several minutes of hesitation he did actually stretch his neck out and sniff it a bit! After snorting on it first, of course, as a warning to not try any more funny business.

Satisfied with that, I walked Panama back down the driveway about ten feet to where Michael was standing (it is actually debatable which one of them was more freaked out by the whole thing). I made Panama stand still so that I could remount, and then I rode him the rest of the way to the barn, with Michael walking beside us.

I don't think Panama is cured of his mailbox fears yet — that'll take some time. At the very least I'll probably have to repeat this a few more times over the next week or so. However, I think it was a great start!

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