Thursday, April 14, 2011

Psycho pony!

Today I was supposed to have a lesson, but it turned into a training session with lots of groundwork instead of riding.

I think the fault may be partly mine.  I wasn't paying attention to the weather, and it rained and snowed last night.  Poor Panama was stuck without his blanket and not much of a winter coat left.  When I arrived at the barn this morning, he was in his shelter — I think he was probably cold all night long, since he doesn't usually hang out in the shelter unless he's trying to get out of the weather.

Being cold tends to make him tense and highly reactive.  While I was grooming him, I noticed pretty quickly that he was jumpy.  It also probably did not help that a horse was in the next set of cross ties, getting shod, and the farrier was making a whole lot of noise while he worked.

Anyway, when my trainer arrived, she watched as I had numerous problems with Panama, first getting him to stand still so I could finish tightening the girth, and then getting him to settle once I mounted.  Water was running off the roof of the indoor, so there was a constant dripping, which had him more concerned than he usually would be.  He humped his back when I asked him (ever so gently) to move forward, and then jigged nervously several times as we started our first lap around the arena.

"I'm getting a lunge line," my trainer said.  "We're doing groundwork today."

I don't know if she thought I couldn't handle it, or just didn't think it was worth the risk.  For the record he was starting to calm down by the time she came back with the lunge line, but I knew we probably wouldn't accomplish much along the lines of cantering and jumping, even if he did settle down a bit.  I hopped down while she pulled a couple of barrels off the rail and set them up on their sides, end to end, with about 3 feet of space between them.

First she lunged Panama so that he had to go between the barrels with every lap.  He had a really hard time with this at first, and invariably froze as he approached, then bolted through in a panic.  It took a while the first direction, but eventually he walked through calmly, so she praised him and changed directions.  The second direction didn't take quite as long to get a calm walk-through.

Then she pushed the barrels a little closer together, and a little closer, until he started jumping them on his own.  Once he did that, she pushed them all the way together.  He did pretty well jumping them, except for one time when he got one foot over the lunge line and then panicked.  My trainer had to drop the line, and he bolted around the arena for several minutes while the line "chased" him.  Finally he stopped next to me, so I grabbed the line and started to reel it in.  At the first slight pressure on the back of his fetlock, he calmly picked up his foot, and put it back down on the other (correct) side of the line.  Too bad it took him several minutes of panic before he remembered to check in with his brain!

After half an hour or so of lunging, my trainer decided to call it quits.  While we were standing there messing with him, though, as we finished up, he had a severe meltdown over the line getting caught on the saddle.  So my trainer did a little desensitization work by looping the line behind his butt while she lunged him.  At first he did nothing but buck in circles around her — huge bucks that actually flung sand up, he was digging in so hard.  Finally, either because he figured it out or just was too tired to keep fighting it, he stood still and let her rub the lunge line all over his hind end, albeit with a rather harassed look on his face.

He was pretty sweaty by this point, and it was still cold, so I toweled him off (which he enjoyed more than usual, half-closing his eyes and dropping his head to show how much he liked it) and put his cooler on, then took him for a walk around the property.  We walked some of the obstacles in the field behind the arena, working mainly on that puddle he refused to cross yesterday, and when he was cool enough I put his rain sheet on him and returned him to his corral.

It's been a while since I've seen the panicky, super-reactive side of Panama.  My trainer was pretty matter-of-fact about it ("oh well, that's just Panama"), but he's been so good for lessons the last few months that I was really surprised.  I really think being cold all night had to have had something to do with it — it seemed like too extreme a mood to be just a reaction to the change in weather.  Hopefully it won't have lasting repercussions — I'm worried that some of the behavior will spill over into the next time I ride him, which with any luck will be tomorrow morning!

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