Saturday, June 13, 2009

Making strides

My husband needed the car this afternoon, but I was able to get over to the barn to ride around late morning, after we walked the dogs.

When I arrived, the barn owner had the horses out in the next door property's yard, mowing the grass for him. (He owns both properties; he rents the house next door, and uses the pasture behind it, which I call the "back pasture," for the horses. The pasture on his main property is the "front pasture" because it's a corner lot, and has a side entrance that goes directly into the pasture.) That was all the breakfast they'd had yet, though, so I thought Panama might be a little cranky about being tacked up and ridden. To my surprise, though, he seemed fine with it, though he did keep an eye on the hay while we rode.

Our ride went really well. Panama was responsive and well-behaved, and I was able to post for longer periods of time without tiring. One thing I'm having to work with him on, however, is maintaining a steady pace, particularly at the trot — he tends to trot faster as we round the far side of the back pasture, and start heading back to the fence between the two pastures. He was doing it Thursday, too, so it wasn't just that his breakfast was waiting for him over there!

I think habits like these could be the beginnings of barn sour behavior, which I don't want, so I'm working on it now. Each time he did it, a gave him a series of really light half-halts, while saying "Eeeeeasy." He knows when I lunge him that that verbal command means to slow his trot (or canter), and sure enough, he seems to be responding to the combination of command and reins when I'm on his back. It'll be nice when I don't have to remind him so much, though.

Another thing we worked on today was getting him to go in a straight line down a certain side of the pasture. It may be related, but he has a hard time staying straight when heading away from the front pasture, particularly when we are riding clockwise. He tends to zigzag a bit — I think because he's trying to position himself so that he can see what's going on in the front pasture. So I made him go back and forth, back and forth about a half dozen times today until he was able to stay straight the entire length of the pasture.

The final thing we worked on was crossing the bridge. In the very back of this pasture is a wooden bridge that a previous tenant had built to train his horses to cross bridges without fear.

Training bridge for teaching horses to cross a bridge while trail riding

Panama has crossed bridges before on the trail, but I've never made him cross this one. My trainer did cross it with him a few times, but that was probably 6 months ago.

When we first approached the bridge, Panama got so far as to put one foot on it, but then he put on the brakes and backed up. I laughed at him and nudged him back to the bridge. We approached it perhaps four or five times, and each time he got a little braver — getting both front feet on the bridge, sniffing the hand rails, even scratching his face on them! The entire time I kept up a running commentary: laughing at him when he backed up (because he knows my laugh means everything is okay) and encouraging him to try again, and praising him every time he went forward.

I know some people say if they give their horses time to look, they will actually become more scared, but it's the exact opposite with Panama — he will mentally work through his fear if I give him the time to see that whatever it is won't hurt him. It was the same with the bridge. After approaching and sniffing the hand rails a few times, he walked right up and over!

And actually, he would have lingered at the top and looked around, but I kept him moving. The bridge isn't very wide, and I know from experience that it freaks him out when my leg brushes up against something. The last thing I wanted was for him to spook in that narrow space, as it would have been potentially very dangerous for both me and him.

Even though we didn't ride for very long, it was still extremely satisfying, as I felt like we accomplished a lot!



At June 13, 2009 at 8:28 PM, Blogger jane augenstein said...

Oh, goodie, you got to ride today!!! Sounds like a good ride too, oh, the bridge sounds like a good thing to work on. I need to make one for Gilly and Pokey to walk over. Gilly and I rode up an old abandoned road that cuts through our farm. It was a hairy ride, it goes up hill and is very steep in places and was really muddy and wet today. He did really well; we also worked on the road by the house on shoulder in. Boy, that's hard, for me anyway!! Hope you get to ride tomorrow too!!!
(LOL word verification is "dognoise" I had some of that today, Lucy and Gonzo huffing and puffing going up the steep hill!)
~Jane and Gilly~

At June 13, 2009 at 11:50 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Jane, I'm jealous of you being able to take Gilly out on the trail on his own. I've got to start getting Panama out soon -- but I want to wait until I feel confident that my legs are strong enough that I can sit a spook, and also that he isn't fresh from winter vacation when I take him off the property. Soon we'll start working on that, I hope...

At June 14, 2009 at 4:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good work with the bridge - taking things slowly is the way to go!

At June 14, 2009 at 1:06 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Thanks, Kate! I agree!

At June 14, 2009 at 9:01 PM, Blogger jane augenstein said...

Katharine, Gilly and I started slow too, we would ride here on the farm, the road in front of the house and finally up the old road. He likes to see new sights and isn't very spooky. Occasionally there will be a deer come across our path; he will put his head up and bob it up and down at the deer. What that is I am not sure, he stares at it intently while doing this. Is it a greeting? I have no idea, I have seen him do this with other animals too.

At June 14, 2009 at 10:51 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...


It's not as romantic as thinking that your horse is communing with other animals, but I think he's trying to get a reading on how far away the deer (or other animal is). It's our eyes looking the same direction that gives us (humans) depth perception, so horses and other flight animals with nearly 360 degree vision don't have that benefit.

I'm thinking I might ride him in the field across the street from the pasture on the weekend, if I feel I get enough riding in during the week. We'll start there and work our way across the field to where we can pick up the trail. Panama hasn't spooked in a long time, so I think he is becoming more confident and steady, but I still don't want to risk a setback by rushing him.


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