10.09.18: Mr Toad's Wild Ride

Well, there wasn't a toad, but there was some wild, and some riding, but not completely together. The theme still sticks though.
Not having had any work since the last lesson three weeks prior and having been cool for the past week, Storm came out of the pasture keyed up. There is a new building going up on the edge of the field, and the sound of screws being ripped in with a power screw gun got him on edge from the start. He came down to the round pen nicely, and I headed into the round pen and took his lead off and hung it up just like normal. As I was hanging it on the fence to be sure it was out of the way, he thought about wandering away, but I turned to the center of the round pen before he could totally lose focus. I turned and faced him, and he waited for me to ask him to move off, and did so calmly to the right.
He didn't make it a full turn of the round pen before he picked up speed and began his antics. He cantered around the round pen picking up speed as he went, and began pulling off the rail a bit as he came around to the low side that is always a little bit more damp than the rest of the dirt. He hit the patch that holds the most water which was slippery from the rain a few days before and his feet completely flew out from under him. He slammed down to the ground on his side and I saw his feet over his back as the force of sliding downward rolled him part way over. He rocked his head up into a bit of a upright position, and sat there for a moment blinking trying to figure out what in the world just happened. He stood up, and stepped off with a bit more care than he had before. I was so thankful that he was not closer to the edge of the round pen where he could have risked getting his legs tangled in the rails.
One might have thought that he would have learned his lesson, but apparently not completely. He restrained himself a bit more, but was still wrestling with the pent up energy. Kirsten was pleased with the fact that he was restraining himself as much as he was. He was displaying all kinds of goofy antics trying to get the energy out. He was trotting really animated while throwing his head up and down and side to side, and was cantering and leaping and really pushing his back up into the air with all four feet off the ground. It was a very impressive display of athleticism for him to be able to pull those maneuvers in a small 60' round pen while running around as fast as he could muster in the space with the half slick surface. Kirsten explained that she was ready for him to begin working on canter, but if he wasn't able to manage with the surface then we would have to just let him work himself out and only focus on the trot. As it turned out he was keeping his footing well enough after the first spill that we decided to utilize the energy anyway since he was offering it.
The challenge is that going faster creates some anxiety because the only way he has known how to go faster is by using momentum, and in order to keep using momentum he needs to have adrenaline, and being on adrenaline is scary, which creates more anxiety. So we began to work on the same concept that we had previously with the trot. He was allowed to walk a lap, then I would ask him to trot, and once he got into the trot for a lap, I would ask him up into the canter and then leave him alone to sort it out himself. The first several times I asked for the canter he blasted off and over reacted to my cue. He was throwing lead swaps and massive leaps forward as he careened around the round pen. He attempted a gallop and quickly got reminded about that slick spot but recovered with only a clang on the rails to show for the attempt. That brought him back down to earth fairly quickly again. He then began to anticipate the I was going to ask for the canter once he started to trot, and would hurry up and canter. When I left him alone after he began to canter, he couldn't quite figure out what to do after that.
Eventually he calmed down enough that asking him to canter became a challenge. He finally slipped to the other side of the spectrum, and it was taking me getting after him to really get him into a canter. He had finally figured out in conjunction that he was allowed to come back to a walk as quickly as he wanted. His canter motivation went way down very quickly. We checked the pattern and asked him three times to make sure that he was really responding to the cues. I then asked him to stop and face me, and gave him a rub for a minute or so to reassure him again.
I asked him to step off to the left, and he moved off but with some reluctance. He tried to flip the other way, and I had to correct him and push him back to the left again. We repeated the exercise, this time with a bit less animation and anxiety. He was having good lick and chews that would last almost the full lap around the round pen. I began the game again once he was warmed up in that direction, and then asked for the trot, and finally the canter once he was able to hold the trot for a lap. He was finally beginning to wear down from the excitement, and was much happier to come back down to the trot and walk again. We tested him three times again to make sure that he had the pattern established before we moved on to something else. Kirsten recommended I stop and ask him to face me, and give him a rub before playing a little bit of 'stick to me' type of thing. He was allowed to stand still if he was focused on me. If he wasn't focused, I would move away and expect him to follow me. He quickly became very well tuned in and stayed right by my shoulder as I would walk around the round pen turning in different directions and making him keep up with me.
At this point, surprisingly, he had only been blasting around for a half hour. There was a time when that entire process would have taken the whole hour of our lesson. I was pleased that he was progressing to the point where he was able to work that energy out faster and more efficiently so that he was ready to be a willing partner. Kirsten suggested that we get him into the long lines again since he was focused enough to handle that type of work, but not quite focused enough to be able to handle being ridden (I wasn't super eager to hope up there after that anyway).
We moved over to the arena, and got ourselves organized to get into the long reins and it took a bit of reminding for him to remember how that deal worked. He began steadier and steadier as we progressed. Kirsten set us up on a figure-8 pattern and I settled in being able to maintain my distance and stay steady behind him even if he slowed down abruptly. The lessons with Jasper were coming in handy as I worked to guide him by shifting my location behind him to help him drift back out on the circle again or to make the turn around the end of the arena and set him up to cross the diagonal and maintain straightness through the distance. He was able to settle down really well and get to work, and seemed to be putting a good amount of effort into it. It felt really good to get back to something that we were doing more than a year ago when I had my surgery. In many respects Storm has come so much further since I got back on my feet enough to work with him. The connection between us has really deepened a lot, but at the same time, we aren't able to do some of the things we were doing prior to me being laid up. I feel good about it since we did start over in many respects, and I am glad that we were forced to do so because I believe it has helped fill in many of the holes that I wasn't aware were still there. These types of experiences only help me go back and make things better and stronger. The foundation can never be too good, and you are never done working on the foundation. Everything can always be traced to the foundation.
Tali seemed eager to be worked when Jim and I headed out to get her for the afternoon lesson. She came up the hill towards Jim and then greeted me when I approached with the halter and lead rope. She was pretty clean and not shedding much yet, so it was easy to get her all cleaned up and ready to ride. We ended up ready early, so we headed down to hang out with everyone by the arena and watch the rest of Beth's lesson and Kirsten riding Littlefoot for Holly. Once she figured out that I really wasn't going to let her eat grass while we waited, she was a really patient girl. Things wrapped up quickly, and so I headed into the arena to get her started.
I got her hooked up in the long lines and we settled in to work. She was doing better than she had the two months prior when we were last able to do any work. It had been too long since we had been together. She was doing better and able to stay more stable, and after a few laps in each direction to help her find her balance, Kirsten had me work her in a round figure-8 pattern to help her find her balance moving in both directions. Working on the circle in one direction helps her find stability, but being able to move back and forth between the directions smoothly really requires the horse be developed evenly and that they are able to shift their balance on the circle to maintain straightness. It was tricky to work out the pattern to being with. She was a bit rough, and I needed to juggle the lines as we moved from one direction to the other and I swung from being on one side, to behind her directly and then around to the other side as she moved out onto the circle in the opposite direction. Once we were able to establish the pattern, she was able to settle down into it, and I developed tracks in the sand so I was able to better gauge where I needed to shift and how far I had to move to help her find stability and consistency in the pattern. It didn't take her many repeats before she was getting easier to guide and was developing lightness in the pattern.
After we worked the pattern for about 15 minutes, Kirsten suggested that we get ready to ride. I un-clipped the long lines and straightened out her reins again and mounted up. She was content to stand still, which made me happy since it had been so long since we last rode. We settled in and started to work. I am not sure what expectation I had, but it must not have been met as I was becoming frustrated with how things were going pretty quickly. I quickly made the connection that with Kirsten's mare Prima she wouldn't go if you weren't in balance, where as with Tali, she wouldn't go if you asked her to be in balance! It was suddenly a struggle to keep her moving when I would ask her to shift her weight and straighten her body. Kirsten was able to step back and help simply things further. She basically took us through a lesson of Colt Starting 101, which was probably a much needed point of reference for both Tali and I. I suspect that Tali's history didn't include much really thorough training, and so being able to go back in and replace the foundation that she had with a much stronger balanced foundation would be highly beneficial to erasing the poor habits that she has had for so many years.
Kirsten began to ask me to identify where the ball was at any given time, and sit on the high side. The game became to do nothing more than simply to ride the wild ride, and follow the bouncing ball. It was like trying to ride a pinball machine. Sometimes the ball moves quickly, and sometimes the ball moves slowly, and you never really know when it is going to hit one of the bumpers and fly back and forth rapidly, or roll slowly along the table. Kirsten forced me to attempt to verbalize what I was feeling, and how I was finding things to sort out what was going on with Tali and where her balance was.
The additional challenge with Tali is that her neck tends to wobble so much, and often not in the direction that is congruent with where he weight shift is. She often throws crooked S curves into her neck, or will really blow out her shoulder to the point that getting her back in line again is a big challenge. With the horses I worked with in Florida the challenge was to take their neck off in the direction of the ball to help them find straight again. With Tali, it is an extreme challenge just to get her to keep her neck lined up with the center of her body. As we slowly worked wandering willy nilly around the arena, she began to find some balance, and her movements became less erratic, and she was able to hold patterns longer. I worked continually to analyze what I was feeling and sort out how to have an effect on the ball, and how to know when she shifted her weight correctly in response so that I could stop applying that effect. I have a tendency to get stuck in a pattern and not be conscious of the fact that she has made a shift in her body, and suddenly I will realize that she's moved on and the ball has bounced somewhere else, but I am still stuck waiting in the same position.
We really worked and improved for a while, and then slowly things began to get a little worse again. With Tali I know that's the cue that she's worn out and is starting to struggle through again. We stopped on a good note, and she patiently waited while I got down, and we headed up the hill to the barn again. I pulled the saddle off outside, and took her right in to get her dinner which was waiting for her. I was pleased with the lesson, and am going to have to experiment over the next month to see how far along Tali and I can get before we have another lesson.

Next Page: 10.09.22: Move to Balance