I almost didn't ride today. I was planning to go to the barn in the afternoon, so that I could ride and blanket Panama afterward — we were supposed to get snow tonight, although it appears that forecast has changed. (I'm sure Panama doesn't mind having the blanket on anyway.) It started raining earlier and harder than I anticipated, and before long was sleeting, so I hurried to get out to the barn.
Panama was hanging out in the shelter when I arrived (the mares thought the weather was just fine, if that gives you any idea of what a priss Panama is). He came out when he saw me pull in, apparently a bit indignant that I'd let him get sleeted on before coming out to blanket him. He is usually a bit reluctant to trot with me when I am leading him, but today we had no problem with that — he wanted to get inside the building where we tack up just as much as I did!
After toweling him off and grooming him, I agonized for a little bit over whether to ride. I wasn't feeling much in the mood, but only one other person was there so I knew the indoor would be nice and quiet. However I was also concerned about Panama's mood — he was a bit restless in the cross ties, and with the wind and sleet, I was afraid he would be spooky in the indoor. It can be noisy in the winter, as the water dripping from the roof makes tons of noise, and since he hasn't heard those sounds in 7 or 8 months, I wasn't sure how well he would handle it.
Eventually I decided to get tacked up and at least lunge him — that way, if he was being good, I could just hop on and ride. Sure enough, he was nervous about the sounds and kept staring at the walls of the indoor, but he was still paying attention.
I also noticed that he was stepping a bit gingerly on his right hind — not enough to be considered lame or even kind of lame, but enough that I knew a small scrape on his fetlock was smarting just a bit. He got that scrape yesterday, when he performed an impressive hockey stop during a playdate with Spaghetti. He stopped in a flurry of sand and almost fell over in his haste to change course to follow his buddy! I felt all up and down both rear legs, and there was absolutely no swelling or heat in the injured fetlock, so I concluded that it was just a scrape. I decided to ride, and just take it easy.
We rode for perhaps 45 minutes, and I'd say probably 30-35 of that was walking, so when I say easy I do mean easy. We worked on a few things like bending, framing up, and just plain getting reacquainted with the various wintertime noises in the indoor arena. We also did serpentines and little circles, and worked on Panama waiting for me to ask
him to turn instead of trying to anticipate it. Sometimes he tries to make the next turn in the serpentine before we are even halfway there. I'm having to learn a lot of subtleties in leg pressure to keep Panama from turning too early or letting him fall in with his inside shoulder — he does fine when I give him lots of clear, constant guidance, but starts cutting the corners if I am not there with him the whole time.
Before I knew it, he had forgotten all about the drippy noises, and we had a new set of distractions to work on: lots of friends. The other person who was there when I started riding was the owner of one of his favorite mares, a stunning black-and-white pinto aptly named Flash. They have ridden in the arena together before so he doesn't feel quite as compelled to try for a meet-and-greet, but before long a young girl and her mare came in (I don't think I know either of them), and Panama was very
interested and distracted by a mare he didn't yet know. We circled at one end of the arena while the girl lunged her mare at the other, and Panama kept drifting in his circle to try to get closer to the new mare.
Almost as soon as the new mare left to get tacked up, one of Panama's favorite geldings came in with his rider. This gelding must send out some powerful "I want to play" signals, because Panama's excitement level goes through the roof almost every time he sees him in the indoor (only a handful of times to date). Today he showed some signs of improvement dealing with that temptation, though — I think partly because I'd already been working with him for a while on not getting distracted, and partly also because he is probably (hopefully!) starting to get used to the idea of maintaining his focus when Ricky is around. Put it this way: We were able to trot in the same arena with Ricky, and although it wasn't a perfect trot, I didn't feel like he was going to explode at any moment. We don't usually trot around Ricky because of the effect he has on Panama, so this was a big step for us.
It probably sounds like a very dull ride, and I suppose it was, but it was the little achievements that made it such a successful ride. Yes, we mostly walked, but I think it was a good reintroduction to wintertime noises in the indoor arena, not to mention good practice in focusing on me even when there are new and interesting horses around!
Labels: horse behavior