10.04.18: First and the Last

Having the first lesson and the last lesson was a terrific way to start and end the day.
I had hoped that Kirsten would be able to drive Storm a bit and then ride him to continue to move forward with building him up so that I can get back on. However, Storm had other ideas.
Not having been worked for six months and having no other job than being the boss of the heard heightened his focus on all the other boogy men lurking in the world. Add in a dose of cooler temps, blustery winds, and a couple hours on the grass each day, shake liberally, and the result is one 2000 lb giraffe necked bunny rabbit on a kite string. The wind was blowing, the horses were running in the other pasture, the boy scouts had been in the field, the deer were crashing through the woods, the tarp was flapping, the trees were squeaking, the wheel barrow was being dumped, and Storm was about to go OUT of his MIND!
Kirsten and I were sorting out where to begin, and finally I just asked her to take him because I knew that I couldn't handle his behavior in that moment. We already had the long lines on him and had one rein over his neck. He started to get antsy when she took him and she gave him a what-for right away to snap him back into reality and get his focus back on her. He struggled for the next almost 20 minutes to focus through all the scary things he was so worried about. Every time he would look away she would get bigger than what ever he was worried about. She had to get pretty firm with him to really snap him out of it, and repeatedly do so to really make a difference. The wheels in his head were visibly turning and there might as well have been smoke pouring out of his ears. It was no different than watching a child struggling to focus. The desire was there in his face, but all the distractions kept nagging at him. He would take quick peeks and then correct himself, the concern about her next move was very evident on his face. To have been able to hear his inner monologue would have been quite humorous I am sure.
She worked with him for a while until he got to the point where he could stand still and stay focused on her, and then begin to walk backwards and maintain the focus. She gave him back to me, and supported me through the exercise encouraging me to be firm when I needed to be, and making recommendations when I missed something subtle that he did. Once we were moving pretty solidly again, and Storm was able to maintain his focus even though he was slightly concerned still about the rest of his environment, she suggested we go to the round pen and allow him to blow off the steam in a constructive way. She identified the need to allow him to do that so that the pressure doesn't continue to build over time, and also in such a way that establishes more respect and gives him a reason for the movement.
I walked him backwards down to the other end of the arena maintaining his calm and focus, and then out the gate, and was trying to figure out how to negotiate the really tight turn into the round pen when he swung himself over, and lined himself up to be able to back right through the gate. I doubt he did it on purpose, but it certainly made it easy. I took the long reins off, and he started to move away from me, and Kirsten told me to send him away to define that his going away from me means work. He squealed and and surged into the canter.
I was pleased to see how much his canter had improved since his body and posture have improved. He was able to canter much more balanced on the tight not quite round circle than he had before. So now the game became there is no rest for the distracted. The one right answer was to stand facing me and focus on me. If his focus wavered, then he had to go move again. It took him a long time before he could even slow out of the canter, which was just fine, except that I was getting dizzy watching him. Finally he began to make a shift and slow down, and trotted for a while before eventually slowing to a walk. Kirsten instructed me that if he walked for too long, then I needed to bump him up again because the game isn't about relaxing, its about working or staying focused. Being focused at the halt becomes the relaxation.
We worked for a long time, past the point where Kirsten had to go on to the next lesson. He was doing very well, finally coming down and staying focused for a short time. She had told me before she left to count when he became unfocused and looked away, and not to give him more than about 10 seconds to look back and refocus himself, and to reward him when when he could stay focused. We went for several times where it didn't take him long to begin to settle down and find the right answer faster. Then he must have had a relapse and it took him forever to find the right answer again. He started to figure out that he wasn't allowed to walk for more than a lap, and would slow down to a walk, and then pick back up in the trot again after only half a lap. Finally, he slowed and stopped and turned, and was able to focus and maintain it for a decent amount of time, self correcting very quickly.
I was ready to quit by that time, tired of turning in circles! I took him back up the hill and sponged him off to get the dirt and sweat off of his coat, and then turned him out again. I noticed throughout the day that he napped quite a lot standing up in the sun. I suspect he was just too worried to lay down completely, despite the fact that he probably would have really liked to do so.
The afternoon wore on and we headed back out to get Tali ready for her lesson. She needed a really good grooming, and a vacuuming to make a dent in the dirt and hair. Unfortunately, it didn't look like it made much of a difference, but we had to do something. We finally got her saddled up and headed down to the arena. We were a little early, so I let her graze for a little while before getting her started to try to get some work done before our lesson actually started. The wind was still super blustery, and she was ok while grazing, but as soon as we got into the back end of the arena she just about lost it. I did get the long lines on her, and attempted to get started, but she could not handle being out in front of me with no support. I went back to the same lessons we went through in the morning with Storm, and she was much better with me out in front of her. The corrections she needed weren't huge, which was a good thing, and it was giving me confidence to know that I was able to shut her down and help her keep control of herself.
Once we were able to move, I started walking backwards, but quickly got tired of that, and transitioned into the hand walking exercise. She did fairly well, though she had her moments, too. She tried to bolt at one point when we were coming around the back corner of the arena (the scariest spot of all!) and I was able to shut her down, though it took some pretty big motion. She tried three times in a row, and each time I was able to stop her forward motion and continuing to walk forward. She would stop, and then as soon as we resumed the forward motion she tried again. Finally we were far enough out of the corner that she could pull herself together again, and we continued on with relative calm. We continued to work, and she was still struggling, though nothing as bad as she was before.
Kirsten was ready for us shortly after that, and she asked me what my plans were. I told her I wanted to ride if we could get to that point, but I wasn't sure if we could get her to the point where she could handle being ridden. Kirsten said that we'd just start out and see what we could do. She asked me to start her on the long lines and suggested that I work on the inside of the circle so that I could keep her more stable. I got her set up, and she just started trucking along quickly due to her anxiety. I was just praying she wouldn't go any faster because I wouldn't be able to keep up with her!
It took me a while to get organized so that I could effectively support her on the reins, but finally she settled down a little more, and that allowed me to be able to focus on guiding her correctly. Once I got organized she became more stable and slowed down and I was able to make fewer corrections that were not as extreme as they had been. We changed directions, and she struggled a little bit more, but slowly settled down again. Finally Kirsten suggested that I climb aboard. We brought the cooler over for me to use as a mounting block, and I got set up to mount from the right side so that it would be easier to swing my left knee over rather than mount up on my left knee. She stayed stable as I mounted, other than to set her feet up a bit more comfortably, which is a good sign.
Kirsten explained that she was going to walk in front of Tali to help give Tali something to focus on while I concentrated on staying balanced so that Tali would keep a steady course and not get so willinilly all over the place. She explained where I would need to keep my weight in order to help Tali find her balance. She tends to throw her weight away and then throw the ball out one side, so I would need to keep my weight down and back, almost pushing forward in the stirrups to maintain my balance, and then concentrate on which side she was throwing the ball out to so that I could keep my weight centered over that side to help her bring herself back into balance.
We worked on what kind of circle I could make, though it was an awful lot more of an amoeba than a circle to being with. Once we repeated the pattern for a while, I was able to anticipate her problems, and work to try to prevent her from falling into the circle and throwing me out of balance. I was able to really study what was working, and try to replicate that on each revolution of the circle. We were improving over time, and Kirsten observed that Tali was actually able to better find her balance with a rider than she is on the ground on her own.
We changed directions, and I had to reverse my weight balance to again keep her from falling into the circle. It took a lot of concentration to maintain my own balance.
We didn't ride for long, just a short period of time, but it was a lot of work for both Tali and I. She did very well, and tried very hard. It will be interesting to see her progress over time.

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