Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall comes to the barn

It rained nearly all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Today the weather finally broke, and it was partly sunny and dry all day, if a little cool and breezy. It felt just like fall.

In the evening (what there is of it these days) I went out to the barn, and the feeling that fall had come was even stronger there. The horses are slightly fuzzy from the cooler weather — although as usually Panama is considerably less fuzzy than the others (and that's without any blanketing, as I don't blanket until it gets down into the teens). The pastures are a little damp from three days of rain, and since the barn owner harrowed them to help them dry faster, it smells of moist earth at the barn.

After nearly a week since my last visit, Panama was pretty glad to see me — he even left his hay to come greet me, and that almost never happens. When I tied him up and started brushing him, though, I quickly found that he was a bit jumpy — probably from the abrupt changes in weather, which always seems to affect him that way.

I did a fairly quickie grooming session and tacked Panama up, and we rode for what little daylight we had left. I started out alternating between posting and two-point — I'd been reading an article in an old issue of Horse Illustrated that talked about that as a good way to perfect your posting. Reading the article and looking at the pictures, I immediately realized what my problem is with posting — I'm too vertical in the upper body, and as a result I'm trying to post too high. Alternating between posting and two-point is supposed to help you get the position right, and I did find that it helped quite a bit — but so did finally recognizing what I was doing wrong.

After a little bit of this, I started to get hot — I had layered a bit too enthusiastically. I tried to park Panama next to the practice bridge, so that I could lay my coat on one of the hand rails, but he was nervous about something over by the trailers. Sure enough, when I listened I could hear something scurrying — or rustling. I have a feeling it was the tarp that one of the boarders has been keeping thrown over one of the trailer doors.

Anyway, I circled Panama around the bridge and into the open, since I didn't want to box us in, just in case he freaked out about the coat dropping. I've done this one before, and he was fine with it, so I just took the whole thing slow — but when I tossed the coat to the ground Panama leaped sideways.

(Interestingly, I immediately went into my two-point as he spooked sideways. Hmmm. Perhaps the lessons are paying off?)

As he usually does, once Panama had jumped sideways he stopped panicking and came back to me. I walked him back to the coat and let him think about sniffing it. It took a couple of approaches before he actually would, and then we worked on walking by it until he didn't shy to the side anymore.

Once he seemed to be growing comfortable with it on the ground, I dismounted and retrieved the coat. Panama was wary but sniffed it while I held it. I shook it; he was fine. I dropped it, and he jumped, but not away from me.

We worked on this for a little while, until he seemed okay with it. Then I put the coat back on, remounted, and rode him around a little more before stopping him at the other side of the pasture to take off the coat again.

He spooked again — smaller, but still a little sideways leap.

So I dismounted again, and we worked on it some more. We did this a few times — groundwork, remounting, dropping the coat — and although he was tolerant of the coat when it was on the ground, or I was holding it, he still was having a hard time with the dropping part.

Suddenly it occurred to me that none of my desensitizing work was on his side — it was all head-on, where he could really see it and feel comfortable with it. So when I held the jacket out to the side before dropping it, that was different.

This was my breakthrough. I stood at his head and gently swung the jacket beside his belly. He sidestepped. I swung the jacket two more times — short swings — and the third time he leaned away from it but didn't move his feet.

I praised him like crazy.

And he got it.

After that it was a piece of cake. I swung the jacket, he was fine. I even was able to reach out and drop the jacket next to him, to simulate where it would fall if I were mounted — he twitched the first couple of times, but every time he improved I praised him and petted his neck. He got to the point where he didn't jump or lean at all.

Unfortunately, by this point we didn't have much daylight left, so I didn't want to get back on and try taking the jacket off from the saddle — if he spooked again, I wouldn't have enough daylight to start over. I wanted to end on a good note, so I called it a day.

It's too bad to give up riding time like that, but I believe in taking advantage of every opportunity to make him into a better, more solid horse — and the jacket thing was definitely an opportunity.



At September 25, 2009 at 5:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you for changing your plans and working on what came up - it sounds like it really helped him!

At September 26, 2009 at 6:27 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Sorry, Kate, I forgot to respond to this. Thanks! I think it did help him. In general I like to always stop and work on anything that comes up, but I always feel a bit guilty for neglecting my training. ;o)


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