Thursday, April 16, 2009

Planning the Day

I think the lesson I learned today was that I need to be very careful in the order I work horses in and the thought preparation I need to do between different horses. The other day went so well, having the same general lesson for three different horses and one flowed nicely into another and I got smarter about what I was doing with each horse. Each one benefited from the work I did with the previous horse.

Today I had a different experience. I managed to salvage the day but I had to put some serious effort into it. The morning started out with a lovely short ride on Elly. Actually, it started with some lovely ground work with her, followed by a bit of time spent on the Mounting Block Lesson which had fantastic results (trickling down from the mat lesson and getting her four feet under her) and then some lovely riding. It was my first time back in the saddle this Spring and felt great. Elly was responsive and quiet...I saw none of the anxious uncomfortable horse that she can sometimes be.

So that should have set me up for a perfect afternoon. The next horse (pony) I chose to get out was Stowaway. He is the least clicker savvy of all the horses here and the most shut down. Having been a lesson/camp horse, he is pretty dead. It took many many targeting lessons to get any positive reaction out of him at all. I'm not sure he really gets it yet that he can actually do something to enhance the game, but at least there is a light in his eyes when he hears a click. I felt he was overdue for some time with me which is why I made him my second project of the day. But he is so heavy to work with- accustomed to being dragged around and having to ignore all manner of tactless handling- that by the time I was done with him, my handling had become pretty coarse. He did really well and I longed him for a bit and he was thrilled to get clicked for some trot work- it was great to see a little liveliness to his step.

So then I got Ande out and that's when I noticed the trouble. I was carrying over some of the heavy feel I had from Stowaway. Ande had been so light and positive the previous day, and I realized I had lost that. As I worked, I focused hard on what we had achieved, how I had achieved it and what that had felt like. I did get it toward the end but it took a lot of mental/emotional effort on my part. I think if I had taken a few moments before I pulled him out of his paddock, to mentally prepare myself...the way watching the DVD had inspired me...we would have had a smoother day together.

After putting him away, I turned to Percy and then Rumer. The farrier is due on Monday so that always gets me hustling to work on feet. I had a really good time with both of them yesterday and was hoping to build on it today. But they had both had been listening to me click others in the round pen next to their paddock and were very anxious to get their turn! I knew Percy could get antsy listening so I chose to do him first but oh boy was he a wiggle worm. He just couldn't contain himself waiting for me to give him something to do. Every move I made, he tried to figure out something special to do in response. Back up? Step over? Swing my hip around? Good grief he was all over the place and getting more frustrated each second because he wasn't getting it right! I finally froze in place and clasped my hands together at my waist: Grownups are Talking cue. He got it- phew, he seemed to say, I know that one! And it got him to hold still! I did a lot of Click/Treat for that because I knew he was really itching to move. I then proceeded to head down because I wanted to calm him down some more and he seemed to be OK now that he at least knew what I wanted and he was getting rewarded for it. That was fairly successful but he also took a swipe at my leg while his head was down- typical colt style but he hasn't done that in a long time and with just breeches on, I reacted a lot more strongly than I had during the winter when I knew I had a lot of cushion between me and any teeth! So I knew he was a little more stressed than I really wanted so I decided to give him something to sink his teeth into! I got out his loopie toy and let him pick it up and hand it to me about 10 times. By this time, he really seemed quieter so I returned to yesterday's cross-tying lesson. I ran a long lead through a tie ring on one side of the aisle and another through the other side and attached both to his halter. I did not tie either but just held them and played with pulling first one and then the other, C/T ing when he yielded to each. He remembered from yesterday so I dropped both leads, leaving them through the tie rings and began working with his feet. He was an absolute star for that (front feet only) so I called it quits for the day and considered it a good day to go from Mr Ants-in-his-Pants to standing quietly for having his feet picked out!

Then I cross-tied Rumer and we did more work with her feet. She made huge progress yesterday with her hind feet. Really relaxing her hind legs and letting me pick them up instead of snatching them up. Today we went through the same process but I was even able to pick them out without her pulling away. I did consciously let go of her foot any time she pulled away at all. My instinct is to want to hold on and not "let her get away with" pulling away. But she knows the game well enough now that pulling away and getting her foot back is no reward compared to getting a C/T! So that was another good lesson for me today.

So now, I know I need to get an emotional/mental frame of reference as well as an objective lesson plan before I work with each horse. And I need to plan the day so that each horse gets the best opportunity to do his best work.

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