Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recent Rides: A Brief Update

Lest this blog wander too far from its intended purpose, I have to give you a brief update about Annie's progress:

First, I HATE burdocks. Annie has a particular knack for sticking her head directly into them, and also hates having her mane and forelock messed with, a combination that makes us both very unhappy during fall. I know, I know, if I weren't so lazy about pasture maintenance... Annie now has a ridiculous haircut, because I just couldn't get all the forelock burs out without some collateral damage.

It's a bur-icorn!

As for riding, Annie and I have been riding for short distances, but fairly frequently. We don't go more than 1-3 miles, walk and trot under saddle, but I usually lunge Annie for at least 20 minutes before a ride. She's doing much better about traveling straight and listening to subtler leg cues. Twice now, however, she's started to move during mounting-- something to keep an eye on. A horse that walks off while you mount is super annoying.

Tonight was our first ride in about 6 days (I've been at a conference). Foolishly, I didn't do any groundwork with Annie before the ride; I was too excited to get into the saddle. A six day vacation, no lunging, no groundwork? What was I thinking?! She was fractious, energetic and a bit spooky. It's unusual to see Annie upset; it's sort of like a mean Golden Retriever. It just doesn't happen much.

What made matters worse tonight is that Annie has become convinced that there's a CORN MONSTER.

The farmer who rents the crop land on the farm hasn't harvested the corn yet-- so the dry stalks surround both sides of our road in a quaking, rustling mass of DEATH. The merest hint of a breeze makes it sound like there's an army of evil dire-rats coming towards us. A full-blown gust really spooks her-- and I don't blame her. The corn does start to look alive and malicious. We made it past the gauntlet into more open roadway, as we have every time for the past few weeks, but it was unnerving because we hadn't prepared well enough. At these times, I'm extra glad I'm wearing a helmet.

On the way back home, it got pretty dark (damn Winter) and a combine started up behind us as we entered a wooded part of the road (dark, more rustly noises). I made it about a quarter of a mile in the saddle before I had to dismount and walk her home. She was just really nervous, not naughty, and I probably could have stayed on-- in fact, in my teenage years, I would have. Now, though, I'm cognizant of my own mortality, and of how much things can really hurt. I don't even want to think about bolting home on a dark concrete road at top speed, around a blind curve.

My helmet-- a lifesaver.

Therefore, Annie and I walked. That didn't mean she got out of work, however. Any time I felt she was being unreasonably forward, I made her whoah, back up, and start again. I always want a horse to follow at my shoulder or just behind it; when they're very frightened, I make allowances and let their head move forward, but under no circumstances do I allow a horse to walk so far forward that I'm walking at the base of their neck or at their shoulder. I've been knocked over more than once making that mistake, when a horse reacted to something.

A horse WILL avoid running into you if at all possible when it spooks, but if you're dead in the way, you can become a pancake pretty quickly-- your own safety is the best reason to teach good leading habits.

Good! Nose at handler's shoulder.

Okay-- horse rather too forward.

Future human roadkill.

If Annie didn't whoah or follow nicely, I made her circle, and circle again, until she was calmer. We stopped several times just to stop and stand, despite the distractions; I think this is one of the most important, least-taught skills a horse should know.

When we got home, we headed directly down to the barn-- and then at the last second, we turned back. I made her do a couple of circles and figure eights, then stopped and stood again for a while. THEN we went "home."

The message you want to send is that being back at the barn doesn't mean an end to work or obedience, being scared is okay but being naughty is not, and that you expect good manners all of the time.

I was disappointed in our ride tonight, but it was my own fault due to lack of preparation-- and I did manage to teach some good lessons during it.

As for my own training program, I woke up extra early and power walked two miles before work-- and then had ice cream for supper.


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