Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More lessons

Shar and I hauled our ponies to C's place for another lesson on Saturday.  However, this time someone else would be joining us, so instead of working on no-stirrup exercises in the round pen, we headed straight to the arena.

Oh wait, let me back up.  I bought a saddle sight unseen (and untried on the horse), because it's identical to Shar's model, and we'd tried her saddle on my horse and it seemed like it'd fit.  It arrived in the prior few days, so I showed up early, got Arya out, and put the saddle on her and switched the stirrups over and such things before we loaded up.  Arya was kind of antsy, swinging her butt around and stuff.  At one point, she ran her rear end into the ATV sitting nearby, freaked herself out a bit and swung her rear end the other way quickly, dislodging the saddle, which then banged against the trailer.  Another time, she swung her rear end right into me which is NOT okay, so she got a pretty hard WHAP on her rear end for that.  So yeah, going into the day, I could tell she was a bit antsy.

We were also taking Shar's new foal with us so he could get a nice warm-water bath (Shar has a wash rack, but it only has cold water).  We didn't want Arya to be able to squish him (on accident--she's not mean enough to do it on purpose!), so Flash and Ash (the baby) went into the front of her stock trailer, side-by-side, then the divider was closed behind them.  Arya went in the back, and while she had a space that was plenty wide, it squished her in there lengthwise.  :-)  She survived.

We arrived, unloaded the horses, and called C over to take a look at my new saddle.  Well, turns out it doesn't fit. At all.  Shar and I knew we weren't experts, but didn't really know what to look for, apparently.  Luckily, I got a good price on it and will be able to sell it easily.  I didn't have a chance to switch the stirrups back, but luckily I thought ahead and attached stirrups to the old saddle after taking the ones I like off.

Anyway, so we headed to the arena, and C showed us some exercises to do with our horses with the obstacles set up there.

First, I took Arya to the set of ground poles.  There were three or four poles in a row (plus poles and cones along the side to keep the horse concentrating on going across the poles instead of trying to shoot out the sides).  C recommended concentrating on controlling one foot at a time on the horse--work up to the point where you can get them to stop with just one foot over a pole, then two feet, then three, rather than just rushing right over all the poles.  Then try backing through them.

It's harder than it sounds to get a horse to stop after it has just one foot over.  They really really want to at least get a whole pair of feet (fronts or backs) over at the same time.  So we worked on that for a few minutes and I eventually got her to stop between each foot.  Backing up was another adventure--she kept turning her head around to look at where the poles were in relation to her feet, and was really worried about stepping on them (they roll a bit) at first, but she got used to it and I could tell she was really using her brain.

Next we went to the barrel squeeze.  There were two barrels, both laying on their sides, with a two-foot-wide (or so) gap between them.  The idea was to first lead, then "send" the horse through the gap.  I let her have a good look/sniff at the barrels, then led her through.  No problem.  Led her through again.  Good job.  Then tried to send her through.  Not nearly as successful.  C came over to help me, and had me first lunge her in a circle away from the barrels to get her into that frame of mind.  We talked about responsibility--it's Arya's responsibility to maintain the gait I put her in, whether under saddle or when lunging.  She, of course, wanted to slow to a walk when I asked her to trot.  So first we worked on just getting a few circles in a row of trot without her dropping to a walk (and without me working to maintain the trot--let her make the mistake THEN correct it, rather than constantly nagging at her).  We did okay at that, and moved back to the barrels, and she went right through them.  Good girl!!

Then we went to a single pole to cross that was about 6-8 inches off the ground.  This was even harder for her to wrap her mind around stopping partway over it, especially with only one (or three) feet over it, but we worked on that.  I didn't make her back over that one.  She's still working on figuring out what her back feet are going to do.  It was funny, when we'd be standing over it with one or both front feet over it for a minute or two, and then I'd ask her to continue.  You could almost see the wheels turning in her head--"Okay, I gotta remember to lift my back feet up now, because I'm pretty sure that pole is still there that my front feet had to get over.  Remember to lift them up.  Okay, there I go.  Got it!  Yay, me!"

Then we moved over a pseudo "bridge" made of five or six railroad ties right next to each other.  Some people make bridges as trail obstacles, but they're usually a deck-like bridge made of lumber, so they have a hollow sound when you cross them.  The idea with this bridge was simply to get the horse to get onto it, then down off it on the other side without rushing.  Once again, easier said than done.  Arya pawed at it a bit then dutifully mounted it with both front feet.  She crept up to the edge (hind feet still on the ground, but that's okay, we're not performing circus tricks here).  When I asked her to go forward, she rushed forward, getting her back feet up on it, and down off it again all in one fell swoop.  Nope, not how it was supposed to go.  Try again.  And again.  And again.  C gave me some pointers, and I eventually got her going over it in a fairly controlled manner.

Arya practically sleeping on the railroad tie "bridge"

Next we moved to a couple of poles that had one end resting on the ground and the other end up against the side of the arena, like a ramp.  The poles were set just about a horse-width apart.  This could simulate getting into a straight load trailer or other narrow spot.  Once again, Arya wasn't sure at first, but gamely stepped forward each time I asked, and back out nice and straight.  Easy peasy.

It was about then that it was time to mount up.  While I was getting ready, Shar had a pole with a lead rope attached to it, and was practicing dragging it while leading Flash.  He didn't care at all.  When the pole got near Arya, she ... "freaked out" is too strong a term.  Just expressed surprise that it could move, maybe.  And I suspect it was more about the snake-like lead rope than the pole moving.  I showed her both objects, let her sniff them, then moved them around near her feet.  No biggie.  I dragged the pole right across the fronts of her hooves, and she didn't care.

After mounting, C started dragging the pole on foot and asked me and Shar to ride our horses behind it, then next to it, and eventually across it while it was moving around.  Arya did great.  She's really pretty good about "scary" stuff, and that hasn't had anything to do with why she's bucked.

Then we were supposed to start trotting around the arena.  Some folks were working on transitions--walk, trot, walk, halt, walk, trot...  I was just trying to get Arya TO trot.  Ugh.  She doesn't much like arena work (plus she'd already been mentally taxes, though not physically), and she was distracted by the wind, which moved the nearby hot walker, and the other horses, and she tried avoiding the mud, and and and...  She just didn't want to work very hard.  So I'd get her to trot, she'd trot a few steps, weaving around puddles as she went, and if I used any rein at all to steer, she would also slow to a walk (maybe she was pretending she thought I was using the one-rein stop?).  Even if I didn't steer, she'd slow to a walk after a few steps.  I'd whap her with the whip, and she'd trot a few more steps, if she felt like it and we weren't near a puddle.  I'd post, while squeezing with my legs on the "down" beats.  Then she'd walk again, and I'd squeeze and whap, and she'd trot.  Maybe.  And on and on and on.  There was no working on whatever exercises the others were working on.  We trotted over the poles a few times, which mainly worked because that was the path of least resistance, puddle-wise, so she went fairly willingly, though she always slowed to a walk when we reached the poles.  Definitely need to set some up at Shar's house...

So while the first part of the day had gone well, the last part was not so successful, and after a while I pretty much gave up and just let her walk or even stop altogether.  My legs were tired!  (Plus I was fighting off a cold, so just wan't feeling in top shape myself.)

I think I'm gonna stick with just the two-person lessons.  Adding even just the one extra person seemed to really cut down on the help from the instructor (not her fault!).  Or maybe it was the arena environment was more distracting than the round pen.  Plus in the round pen lessons, we were more focused on exercises and riding position rather than what the horse was doing.  Maybe that's it.  Who knows.  I just felt like I got a LOT more out of the prior lesson than this one.

After the lesson, we tied the horses up and fetched the little guy.  He got a bath with a LOT of scrubbing by Shar (I just held on to keep him from wandering off--he didn't need MUCH holding, because he seemed to enjoy it quite a bit).  He's so stinkin' cute, but due to some health issues he had prior to moving in with Shar, he had a lot of poop/mud crusted on, and he had some skin conditions that are mostly better now, but he still has a lot of flaking skin and such that Shar was trying to scrub off.  She didn't get him 100% clean, but I bet he felt a lot better afterward.  We lucked out that it was a nice day, so we found a nice sunny spot for the kiddo to eat while he dried off in the sun, then we bundled him up good (fleece cooler plus regular blanket) for the ride home.

We tried squeezing Arya and Flash into the front of the trailer together (it rides a lot better with the majority of the weight in the front) and putting the baby in the back.  Poor Flash.  Arya does NOT get the concept of allowing others their personal space.  She was jammed in lengthwise, once again, but could stick her head into the manger area, so it wasn't THAT big a hardship.  Or shouldn't be.  But she thought she should stand in the middle of the trailer, horizontally.  So there was quite a bit of room to her left, and the same amount of room on her right where Flash was allowed to stand.  But not breathe.  We scooted her butt over, and she moved right back again.  Poor flash.

Meanwhile, the lucky baby had the whole back half of the trailer all to himself.  He probably thought that was pretty awesome.

When we got back to Shar's house, we started unloading the baby, but Arya threw quite a fit.  She was kicking at the divider (luckily it was there, so she wasn't actually hurting anyone but herself!) and making quite the ruckus.  We unloaded the baby.  Then tried to unload Flash so Arya would have to just sit in the trailer all by herself rather than getting off the trailer as a reward for her fit.  However, she started kicking and trying to back out (though she was tied) when Shar tried to get in there to get Flash out.  It would have been fairly unsafe even if she'd been well behaved, just because of the cramped quarters, but it was really unsafe with Arya throwing her weight and hooves around like that.  Shar managed to get the side door open (meant to be a human exit, or to check on or feed the horses without having to unload them) and untied Flash, and let him unload himself, basically (her husband and I were both nearby, though I had the baby).  Meanwhile, Arya kept throwing her fit, nearly reaching the back of the trailer with her hind feet.  So Shar tied her up shorter and we went about our business with Flash and the baby, letting them graze on the nice green grass, etc.  I unloaded the tack out of the back of the truck, all while very carefully ignoring Arya.  She fussed when I walked by the first couple times, then seemed to get that I wasn't going to pay any attention to her, and was quiet for the last few trips.

When I unloaded her, I also made her back out.  I'm so mean.  :-)  She did great at that, and I turned her out in the pasture, giving her a few face rubs in the process to show her I wasn't holding a grudge or anything.  But yeah, she was kind of a stinker all day.  Ugh.  I think the mental exercises are good for her, and she was actually on her best behavior while we were doing that sort of thing.  We should definitely create some of that stuff at Shar's place.  But next lesson (which unfortunately won't be for a while), the instructor is going to ride her for a bit, both to let Arya know she can't get away with stuff, and to show ME that she won't blow up if you get after her.  That'll be interesting.  :-)

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