Thistles and Circles

I wasn’t at my best yesterday. Wound up (for no apparent reason) but the horse felt it, I think, as she was fidgety and spooky again. My vibes were pressured and, though I told myself to remain chill for the horse’s sake, I’m sure I transmitted some of my annoyance. So I didn’t do well. But at least I was aware of it, and endeavoured to keep the questions I asked of her small. We just went down the lane again, bit of roadwork to slowly toughen up those feet and legs. 

But I did do one thing well yesterday. Walking from the bus stop to the yard I noticed that the thistles have started flowering, so I gathered some for Skye. I think she’d never had them before, judging by her expression. She liked them though. My childhood pony, Freddie, used to love them. During late summer, he’d eat thistleheads, pondweed, and all manner of other things, and he always got especially glossy and muscled then too. Though there is plenty that can be toxic to horses I do think we restrict their browsing and grazing too much. Rich pasture and clover is not good for them really. And my plump horse has access to plenty of clover right now! I’d sooner she were out on some scrubby hills. Alas, this is the West Midlands not Northumberland, so it is what it is. For now. 

Today I did better. Horse was gentle as a lamb, as is her default setting when anxiety is removed, and we had a good session in the arena. It had been raining, so the sand was easier going. Did some leading, lunging, then free-following. Bits of backing up interspersed as usual, though I’m trying to be lighter in my requests. The number of steps and quality we get is variable and isn’t improving right now, so I figure I need to be less annoying in my requests and reward smaller tries. Give her a chance to respond to lightness rather than my usual heavy-handed human ways. 

She did great with the lunging. Only did about 10mins, but I reckon that’s plenty for a horse just coming back into work. Her walk is lovely and her trot isn’t bad but it isn’t good either. She just needs a bit more core stability and mental relaxation, then I think her back will release and allow for a lovely posture in trot. Though she needs the exercise, I’m not going to have her running around in a low quality trot as badly done circles are too hard on the body and I don’t want to damage her. 

So, all we did today was a few transitions and short bits of trot (no more than a circle at a time) to get her happy with the concept. She was improved even just from the other day when my instructor-friend helped. Didn’t try to pull off the circle, didn’t turn in to avoid the work… She did turn in at halt, ears pricked intently, but I can accept that for now. She halted and stayed out on the circle, after all. For a horse that loves to cling to your shoulder, that’s brilliant progress. She’ll halt with her quarters in line soon enough. We changed direction a couple of times, then chilled. And with each change of rein, a little reward and gentle words. 

Then a bit of free-following. As I’ve said before it isn’t “proper” liberty yet, but it’s a start. It’s mostly just a question of her being focused and responsive. There’s no punishment or escalation of negative reinforcement if she doesn’t come with me, only positive reinforcement when she does. She’ll follow, halt, back up, and stand to be stroked all over. She’ll focus on the job as she understands it (of sticking with you), but she’ll also lift her head and watch the world go by which I’m happy about. She doesn’t shut down. It would be too heart-breaking if she did, no matter what method of operant conditioning you used. I think she quite likes the arena now, she knows what’s expected of her there and she knows that it always ends well. 

Whilst in there, a friend brought her cob in to practice a bit of leading. He’s an historic bolter, shall we say. It pops up occasionally, but he’s really very good these days and she’s done a wonderful job with him. He’s also a favourite of Skye’s but, aside from a little hello that we allowed, she didn’t falter once from focussing on the task at hand. Friend said she didn’t think Skye could have ended up in better hands and I’m childish enough to have been deeply pleased that she thinks so. 

Friend’s cob has just had a McTimoney visit (same lady who will be looking at Skye on Saturday) and I loved that the conversation apparently included positivity about the merits of hacking, walking, and straight lines! Ah yes, a woman after my own heart, perhaps. I’m hoping she’ll approve of the slow work we’re doing with Skye, and I’m also massively curious as to what she may find. I hope, at the very least, that Skye will enjoy the massage aspect of it and that I can watch and learn where her sore spots are. 

So, a mixed couple of days, but right now I’m feeling wonderfully pleased and hope my horse is too. I think she’s finding some of the work boring, so I need to think on that… But I hope that overall she goes back to the field each time thinking, “yep, I did well there, conned the human out of many treats and felt confident and strong in my body!” Or something similar but more horsey, haha. 

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