Saturday, August 28, 2010
Pony and Brego's Big Adventure... and my secret shame, revisited.
Day before yesterday I went out to work Brego and had something new in mind. Since Brego has been here he has lived most of the time in the barn paddock. he comes out to travel from the barn paddock to the temporary pasture, where ever that may be at the moment, and back. When i work him I close off part of the barn paddock and work him there. That has been his entire world. he isn't spooky, but then again he only encounters new things that I bring to him. It is easier to be brave in your own home in familiar surroundings. But I don't plan to just ride him in his paddock. In fact, I'd love to never have to work him in the paddock in any way at all before long.
I've been working him hard, not physically (though he has been working up a sweat) but mentally. Lots of transitions, starts, stops, turns. Working at getting the response to my requests to come second nature, without thought. I'm asking him to spend 45 minutes focused on me, denying his own desire to be a lazy clod and respond to me quickly, calmly and consistently. That's hard on an itty bitty horsie brain like his. Especially one with a wide streak of "OOOh!!! Look! A BUTTERFLY!!". He hasn't acted sour in any way, in fact he has had a stellar attitude. he seems to take some pleasure in getting things right and earning my praise. BUT I want to keep him fresh and sharp and engaged with me. Pushing him to the edge of his ability to focus every single day is likely to burn him out and that is something I REALLY don't want. I want a laid back mellow sort of lazy pony to putz around the yard on once in a while who enjoys the putzing, not a cranky overworked burned out pony who just does what i ask to get it over with.
So I decided that our training on thursday would be a trail walk. To be honest i had NO idea how he would act. Last year when I took him out back to a temporary paddock he was skittish and snorty and jumpy. And he would occasionally take it into his head to just bulldoze himself away from me. This normally happened during training IN the barn paddock... which is why I fenced off a tiny area to work him, so he COULDN'T do that, then gradually enlarged it as he came to "respect my authority". But he had done it a time or two out of the paddock.
Well, I made sure Tsu knew where i was going and that I was taking brego with me, tossed the mini horses hay, and put brego's halter on.
he looked at me like I had lost my mind, as if to say, "Seriously, we have to do this EVERY day?" *deep sigh*
He looked confused when I took him out of the gate. he looked even more confused when i lead him past the house and big barn and past the goat pen. Mary and Sparrow were screaming. SCREAMING. Brego didn't so much as turn an ear in their direction. He would grab a bite of grass when we stopped, then toss his head in the air and look around and sniff the air as he chewed.
Rosemary was on top of the goat hut and Brego snorted at her. She snorted back and all the goats started running around like Brego had come to set their house on fire. he seemed interested and amused for a while and then we walked on. I took him all the way to the back of my property (a half mile deep, through chest high grass and weeds and brush in places). I very quickly got him to understand that he could only graze when I stopped him and said "OK". As we got back near the woods he was starting to get a bit unsure. There were a lot of birds in the bushes along one side (where there is a row of barbed wire that my ex swore up and down he ripped out the first year we lived here. *rolls eyes* ) and he was clearly nervous about them but stayed calm even when they took off into the air.
As we turned to go behind the old hunting blind he was watching it nervously. I matter of factly ignored him and the blind. As we rounded the corner along the woods to head back toward home a rabbit burst from cover and took off about 2 feet ahead of us. It startled ME and I jumped. Brego jerked himself to his full height, eyes wide, leaning as far away from the spot the rabbit had jumped up from and snorted. As usual my reaction was to bark out "EASY!" He looked at me like I had lost my mind, then he tucked his face against my chest and took a deep breath, "Hold me, Pony, I'm ascared!" lol.
"You're fine, knuckle head. You were a good boy!"
We headed back home stopping to look at scary things (he was curious but didn't seem bothered at all) on the way back I took him on the motocross/atv track and we walked up and down several very steep hills. He seemed to enjoy standing on the top of the hill and looking off into the distance with far away eyes.
He didn't seem to be in a hurry to get back, and we moseyed our way through the yard, past the goats, and back to the paddock. Even with Mary and Sparrow acting like morons, running and screaming, he didn't seem the least bit rushed or in a hurry to get back to the barn. needless to say i was absolutely chuffed by the whole adventure.
Today when I worked him he was sharp, refreshed, and seemed to enjoy himself. I think the change in focus, having to pay attention to me but also getting to get out and go someplace new was good for him. And it was delightful for me. I thought about taking him into the woods, but after the rabbit I didn't want to push it.
So "trail walks" are going to be part of our training regimen from now on.
Now, onto the second part of the title of this entry... do you remember my secret shame, that I posted about months ago now? Well, I have been working on it even when he wasn't in work. Just a couple of times each week when he wasn't working, and for a few minutes every time i work him. I felt like we were making ZERO progress. If I held the lead in my left hand, the whip in my right, and ran SIDEWAYS while facing him I could get him to trot in hand in a big circle. He seemed to get the connection there between longeing and trotting in hand. But as soon as I tried to just lead him at a trot... same stupid running backwards foolishness, or skittering out sideways.
So my main focus lately in long lining and ground driving has been on transitions. walk, trot, go, stop, trot, stop, trot, walk, trot, stop. Etc, etc, etc. I have him pretty reliable on the long lines, and on the longe line I have walk to trot and trot to walk transitions down well... even if his whoa on the longe line is iffy. I even have a pretty good solid walk to trot transition when he is running around completely loose. I can step in the pasture, get his attention, have him walk in one direction away from me and say "T-ROT" and he will.
And still in hand he goes spastic on me when I just tug on the lead and say "t-rot" and give him a little bump on the lead.
So today I was doing the exact same stupid annoying frustrating pointless routine I have been doing since MAY, longe whip in my left hand, lead in my right, jogging along bumping on the lead while tapping him on the hip with the longe whip... when the excess line flipped up and wrapped around my left wrist. I had a sudden flash of last week's news story about the college girl who had her hand ripped off because a lead rope wrapped around it and the horse took off, and I shook the lead out, refolded it into my left hand and took off again.... but... I didn't think to put my longe whip into my left hand. I still had it in my right along with the part of the lead closest to his halter, laying along the length of Brego's body.
I asked for a trot and he immediately stepped up into an animated (and fast!!) trot! he pulled ahead of me, but rather than slow him down (and possibly risk making him think I didn't WANT him to trot) I used his momentum to just turn us in a circle, still trotting. Once he settled down a bit and I could keep up with him I asked him to slow to a walk. i smothered him with praise. Then i crossed my fingers and hoped it was not just a fluke. Same result, he dashed forward with the same energy he used to put into going BACKWARD. It was bit out of control, but by god it was in the right direction so I was NOT going to complain!!
And then it clicked. he looked at me, licking and chewing and with the funniest wrinkles above his eyes... and I looked at him, licking and chewing and with wrinkles between my eyes... and then with no whip at all, just the lead rope, I walked along the fence line, and asked him to trot.
And he did. Calmly, coolly, with perfect control. Like he'd been doing it all his life.
I almost cried.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let it stick next time i work him.
Oh, and they are all losing their summer hair like mad and getting fluff growing in from underneath. It may be almost 90 degrees today... but they say winter is around the corner. *sad face*