Sunday, February 8, 2009

Expanding my horse's comfort zone: Part 2

After grooming, turning out, and lunging my horse this afternoon, I decided to finish the visit with a little practice walking away from the barn.

When I moved to this barn, one of the things I really liked was the opportunity it offered to really expand his comfort zone. The property borders a narrow neighborhood street; across that street is a large field where we can ride, and on the other side of the field is a major trail that offers miles of trail riding opportunities.

Unfortunately, in four months at this barn I really haven't done much to take advantage of this setup I liked so much. Today was only the third or fourth time I've hand walked him out into the field, and I have yet to lunge or ride him out there yet.

Panama actually seems to be doing pretty well with the field though. He snorted at the asphalt a little today as we crossed the street, which cracked me up because that is FAR from the first time he's seen asphalt. (Though it might have been the crack running through the road that he didn't like — he seems to think he can't cross those unless I go first.) In the field he walked rather close to me, but he didn't try to walk on top of me like he usually does when he is feeling insecure and frightened.

We walked further today than we have before — probably about 50 feet out. Panama even approached and sniffed one of the VERY SCARY wooden fences that are set up randomly in the field. (The field is owned by a radio station, and the fences apparently enclose some type of broadcasting equipment.) I was so proud of him!

On our walk back, Panama tried to rush at first, but slowed down after I made him whoa and walked him in a little circle. He even stood quietly about 15 feet back from the road while a car passed, and then again about 10 feet from the road when a second one drove by. So really, the entire 15-minute walk transpired without incident.

In fact, the biggest challenge was moderating his grazing — despite the fact that it was dead and weedy, he was pretty interested in the grass beneath his feet. He learned pretty quickly that I didn't want him eating, though, and only tried a few times.

As mean as it sounds not to let him graze, I don't want him to start thinking of the field purely as a food source. If he gets into that mindset, I'll have a really difficult time getting him to focus once I start riding him out there. And since I always feel bad about hauling on his mouth to get him to pull his head up, I'd rather start teaching him now not to always expect grazing privileges out there.

My goal is to start taking Panama out in the field more often. As he gets comfortable, I'll start lunging and riding him out there, and gradually work him further and further away from home. Eventually I hope to get him so that he is comfortable crossing the field and riding on the trail without another horse to keep him company!

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