Friday, May 6, 2011

He's back!

My good pony is back, and the basket case that I've had since our disastrous trail ride a week ago is gone.

We had a lesson yesterday.  I didn't want to work on cantering or jumping, because my butt is still sore from my fall — it feels like I've got a knot on my seat bone, which makes anything where I have to sit back (or any chance that my butt might hit the saddle, like in jumping — I'm not great at keeping my butt out of the saddle yet) rather uncomfortable.  So instead, we worked with obstacles and despooking.

It wasn't like the jacket desensitization I did with him our last couple rides, where I did it because I had to — he was acting like a basket case about that stupid jacket.  Instead, Panama was calm and ready to face our desensitization work yesterday.  As a result, we were able to get stuff done, to forge ahead rather than focusing on getting him over his fears — if that makes sense.  My trainer set up a barrel, one of those poles made out of a broomstick that stands straight up and down, and a plastic jug (which he didn't care about one bit on the ground, only when it was stuck upside-down on top of the broomstick).  We trotted around everything for a bit, and Panama had that nice combination of being relaxed yet paying attention.

My trainer had me leg yield Panama sideways up to the barrel, which was a bit of a challenge — he's been suspicious of that, probably because the first time I ever got him to do it, I then dropped a sweatshirt onto the barrel, startling him.  He handled it well at the time, but he's gone back to being very suspicious of getting too close to the barrels.  I think my trainer wants me to be able to pick something up off of one barrel and carry it to the next, kind of like a relay race, without him being upset about it, but I wasn't comfortable doing any of that yesterday.

Then my trainer started setting up the barrel closer to the rail, and having us go through the space in between.  Panama isn't a big fan of tight places when I'm on his back — he seems to know that the saddle and my legs take up extra room, but not how much.  Plus he's still a little scared about getting too close to those barrels.  But he was being very good yesterday, relaxed and engaging his brain instead of blindly following his instincts, so he walked through without too much fuss.  My trainer started putting my sweatshirt and her jacket on the barrel and the rail, changing where they were every time he's get used to it one way, and we're pretty sure one of his triggers is bright colors — he was more or less okay with my black sweatshirt, but her aquamarine jacket earned a lot of nervous stares from him.

My trainer also commented on how noticeable the change in him was the minute I dismounted — he's scared of very little if I'm on the ground, even if it scared him 2 minutes ago when I was in the saddle.  I think this probably has something to do with my reaction — I'm anticipating him being scared, and riding differently.  So yesterday's obstacle training was important not just as practice for him, but practice for me — I need to learn to overcome my instincts, too, and ride him like I'm not worried he's going to freak out.

We did all of this in the safety of the indoor arena, but I'm going to start taking him outside this weekend, and if he continues acting calm and relaxed like this, I'll work with him on the obstacle course behind the outdoor arena.  I don't know how much obstacle training like this really helps keep him from spooking, but like I said, at the very least it's good practice for me!



At May 7, 2011 at 9:06 AM, Blogger Leslie Wenstrom said...

In response to "I don't know how much the obstacle training does for him" comment: By doing these exercises, he will start to look to YOU for a reaction rather than going straight for the flight response. He needs to start trusting your judgement on "scary" stuff and you need to start riding more relaxed rather than waiting for him to react first.

At May 7, 2011 at 1:06 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Leslie Wenstrom said...

"...and you need to start riding more relaxed rather than waiting for him to react first."

That's what I was referring to. When I wrote up this blog post I was thinking of what we'd talked about, that how I'm riding is probably signaling him that there's something I'm expecting him to be scared of. While I think the obstacle training is good for making him think and possibly toning down his flight response a little, I was thinking it's primarily ME who benefits from the practice. I know it indirectly affects him, because when I ride better he behaves better, but I think a great deal of this is Kathy-training disguised as Panama-training. ;o)


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