Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trading Doubt . . .

for trust. That was the focus of the afternoon. I had my training string caught, lined up and ready to saddle. I decided that today's original ambitious schedule was going to downsize, and I'd ride one personal horse, Moonshine, and work one for sale horse, Nic. I don't have a lot of doubt going on with the training colts, it's my own that need work here.

However . . . Nic and Moonshine are different stories. Nic is young and has seen a lot for his tender years. He is flinchy and tends to kick out at sudden movements. The darned stock dogs aren't helping that a bit, running in and nipping at tails, heels, ankles and hocks whenever I am not looking or too far away to bring thoughts of deterrment. Moonshine . . . she had doubts when I sent her out last summer, and she brought them right on home with her again. I really like my cowboy camp, but I think I have to not send out anymore. I bitch, whine and complain that the horses do not ride like they would if I kept them home and rode them, myself, and therefore, ergo, and all that, keeping them home and riding them is what I must do.

Back to trading doubt.

The cowboys are missing some pieces to the puzzle I want to build, but they are fearless and have that old school work ethic that is missing all over the place, including in me. Just this afternoon, I sat here at the computer instead of heading out to barn to catch colt, chest heavy weighted and came up with all kinds of reasons not to get outside and do my job. Come right down to it, I didn't get a ton accomplished. I have struggled, progressed and struggled some more with that fear that lives in the hearts of so many good horse people. Getting kicked a few weeks ago didn't help any, though that wasn't a riding accident, it was still a wreck of judgment, and I feel the pain of it, right this minute.

So, what does it take to get the feet moving, when the will is dead? Moonshine, the 16.2 hand Percheron/Arab cross, was of the most interest to me today, so I decided to start with her. I am auditing a dressage clinic next week, and am on the cancellation list. If someone falls out, Friday afternoon, I'll be taking her . . .

Most of my horses volunteer for the halter, want to be caught, and don't mind the jobs I ask them to do. That is, if I have done my work correctly the day before, if not, they tell me with their heels. She starts there. Hard to catch and high headed, that pretty black mare is much happier in the company of other equines than any human. I want to change that, and I know it can be done.

I let her follow Maxie, her Morgan buddy, into the barn and played the catching game in there, not really feeling up to tailing her around the seven acres she has access to, right outside. I rewarded her eye with release of pressure, walked up soft, stroked her tense neck and waited for her to lower her head. She's been mugged to be caught and it's left it's effect.

Grooming, saddling, I pay attention to the worry in her eyes, even though her feet stay still. I am guessing a casual observer might miss her concern. She stands like a rock for the saddle, a frozen rock . . . I moved her around a little and asked her to acknowledge what I was doing. Cinched slowly, as always. Untied her to bridle. If she had any saddling issues, I'd have untied her for that. Moonshine backed away from me, trying to point her nose up and away. I just walked with her, quietly, and waited for her to come down, halter looped loosely around her neck. I could just see her bolting through the barn door, scraping my good Crates saddle on the way out, and then the merry chase while I seek to recover it, and her, all in one piece. When her feet stopped moving, I stroked and petted her cheek, and face, worked the bridge of her nose, getting her to soften and lower her head. Then, I framed her face with the bridle, tucking the bit up under her chin. Worries there, too. I stoked and rubbed under her jaw, taking the fear away. She accepts the bit easily, still giving me the skeptical eye.

We did some groundwork out in the roundpen, using the plastic bag on the stick. This mare has had a lot of things done TO her, not so many done WITH her. I let her make the decision when she was ready to disengage her hip, and roll around to face me. Worked the same way from the top of the round pen, and some squeeze, but what I really wanted to do was ride. I had it in my head, we could work both of us. I wanted to work on posting, and two pointing, and figured she could just work on maintaining her trot, while I did my own thing, up there.

Didn't really get her as soft and relaxed as I wanted her to be, did some preflight steps which she passed, okay, and went to climb aboard. Halfway up, she's in motion. I have her head bent, so at least I knew what direction she'd be going in. Wasn't all that fast, but a stiff, hurried walk in a tight circle. I figured, I'd wait til she stopped, and continue mounting. She didn't stop. I kept thinking . . . three days, it rarely takes more than three days. I really wanted it to be her decision. Ribs started to hurt from leaning over the saddle, and I said, well, not this time, and helped her get stopped. Stepped down, did some more work. Now, at ANY time, I could have grabbed her up, swung up while she walks off and got on with the riding. It's how she's been mounted, I am guessing every time anyone has ever ridden her, including me. I wasn't going to do it. Did more hip yields, got her softer, more flexion, I look up, a little less worry and her head is not touching the sky now . . . Halfway up, more circles. This time, she does stop, and I get down. Next time, I am in the saddle before she steps off and I gather her up and we stand and breathe.

Tight, hard breaths, puffing harshly into the afternoon chill, tell me the worry isn't completely gone, or even really started to be. We are walking, with energy, or at least that's what I am trying for, and 'Shine is staying under me, but not always between my hands and legs. She's a lot of work to ride, heavy on the bit, and I know she knows what feel is but she doesn't know that I do, and isn't very willing to try and give me a chance to show her. I keep opening up opportunities to turn her, catching her big ole foot in the air and directing it before it comes down, releasing with all my might, any time she accidentally gives and softens. All of a sudden, I notice, even if she's still kinda concerned, my fear is gone, again. Wish it would stay away, but it never does. I am busy working with her, trusting that she isn't going to buck (never has) or bolt (in the round pen, where can she go?) and I offer her a loose rein, bring the life up in my body (hard to do when you are tired and unenthused, which for whatever reason I am, today) and she trots off. I didn't get a whole lot of posting worked out, I can sit her trot easily, am horribly out of shape and found myself taking the comfortable way out.

I did get some pretty decent 1/4 and 1/2 turns on the haunches and forehand. She never became super soft, but I found out that if I adjusted my ask to a really soft request, I had a much greater chance than if I fixed it up with a harder hold. Then she really braces, and why shouldn't she . . . seems a no brainer now, but it took me some bearing the weight of that head and neck in my arms to figure it out!

Okay, here's the cool part. Lining her up at the saddle rack to pull my gear, she went right where I asked and stayed where I put her, but with life and interest in those big dark eyes. She wasn't a shut down statue. I grabbed a soft brush, and went over that velvety black coat, her head level to me and tuned in to what I was doing. Pulling her halter outside, she stayed with me for some pets before I turned, left her there, and went back in the barn.

I sure hope not all the doubts that got traded today for trust, were mine.

No comments: