Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hand-walking my horse again

I haven't been doing great at keeping my New Year's resolution to spend more time with my horse, but today I was proud of myself: I only had about 20 minutes at the barn, but I went anyway, even though that meant getting fast food and eating while driving!

Since we didn't have much time, I decided to forego grooming (gasp!) and take Panama on a quick walk in the field. After my work to expand his comfort zone over the weekend, I decided we need to work on this more often. My goal is to be working on riding him on the trails alone by summer. Even if we don't get very far each time it'll be a nice thing to be working on when the weather warms up.

Today I just hand-walked him again. He's getting more confident and I think I may try lunging him out there this weekend if the snow we're supposed to get tonight doesn't stick. Today he crossed the road on a loose lead, perfectly relaxed until we got into the field. Then he noticed how many cars were parked right off the road there — mine, the instructor who gives lessons on the property's owner's horse, and the mom and siblings of the little girl who was currently riding.

The thing that startled Panama was that he heard sounds coming from the minivan. I don't think he is fully understanding yet that people can be inside cars. Whenever I call out to him from inside the car, he looks around like he can't figure out where my voice is coming from. So I think realizing there were people in the minivan was something of a shock for him: He froze, stretched his neck up as tall as it would go, and stared daggers at that van!

I let him look for a moment or two. He was very good and didn't spook, but when we started walking again I had to jab his shoulder with my elbow a few times to keep him from trying to lean against me as we walked. Once he forgot about the minivan he was fine again, but then four teenage boys jogged down the street behind us, so of course Panama had to stop and watch that, too. It was curiosity, though, and not fright, so I let him.

Ultimately we walked farther away from home this time than we have before, and he was fine with it. Way out in the field, I stood at his shoulder and encouraged him to bend his neck around me, as an effort to keep him focusing on what we were doing. He resisted at first, then realized what I wanted and turned his head into my chest. We were both quite content to stand and "snuggle" like that for several moments, gazing across the field at the late afternoon sun. It was a beautiful moment and I wish someone had been there to take our picture.

Only after the moment ended did Panama take an interest in grazing. (He hadn't tried once this entire time.) I let him munch for a few minutes and then tugged gently on the lead and said, "Head." He lifted his head right away. I was so proud! Hopefully by the time the grass starts coming in green, he'll be so used to not grazing much out there that he won't be too distracted by it.

We finished our walk back with a "Meet Mommy's car" session. I opened the door, let him sniff, and then swung it shut. Panama tensed but didn't jump, so I did it all again. That time he sniffed the door more boldly, and didn't tense at all when I shut it. We've seen rangers' vehicles periodically while trail riding, and it's hit or miss as to whether he's okay with that, so I decided getting him used to my car (any car) would be a good thing.

It was a satifying walk, and a good use of my limited time. I hope I get a chance to work with him on it this weekend too!



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