10.11.13: Paranoia and Distractions

The weekend visit from Kirsten ended up being a little bit different than usual when the schedule was so full that Kirsten actually taught my lesson on Sunday morning rather than Saturday. All day on Saturday I had moments of panic trying to figure out what time I needed to get ready to ride.
Sunday morning started out like my Saturdays usually do, and we headed out for our bright and early (and chilly!) 8:00 lesson. Storm was hanging at the gate watching everything going on as Nancy prepared the morning feed for the couple of horses that need a little extra meat on their bones. I got everything ready and brought him in and did a quick groom (thankfully the dirt I saw before seemed to have disappeared) and we got him tacked up quickly enough. He was a little squirrely when I put the saddle on again, so I am going to have to work on practicing that more often again.
We moseyed down to the round pen, and he became a little concerned as we got there. I got him in and took off the lead rope, and he ended up wandering away from me rather than standing with me (probably due to my errant cluck at the wrong moment). I sent him off with a gentle suggestion since he left me at that point and he took off into a fast trot with his head in the air, and then slipped into the canter after half a lap. He ran with his head in the air for a little while as Kirsten and I chatted about where this behavior was coming from and what was going on. We discussed the fact that he is so inconsistent with his progress, and that it seems that we'll rock along just fine for a while and then something happens that sends Storm into worry mode and we have to take three steps back in order to start regaining ground again. She helped me work out how to work on his mind and make sure that we were focusing on quality of his work rather than his reactions time spent doing physical work. As he calmed down we gave him time to walk before I started asking him to trot again, focusing on making sure that the trot he gave me was of a balanced quality, rather than simply taking off into the trot. Storm was really thinking hard about the process as I focused on pushing him forward from behind to help him find the trot from the pushing position, rather than pulling from the front. He experimented with the changes and began to be able to offer some nicer movement, and lighter steps. His neck finally relaxed and became loose again, and so we gave him a moment and then changed directions.
I was thrilled that he took my suggestion to move to the right with the ultimate lightness, and was able to begin working with the exact same quality that we left off from the other direction. He was able to make quite a bit of progress in finding his hind legs again, and maintained his level of calm.
We were just discussing taking him to the arena to work on the long lines when all of the sudden two people began riding bikes down the hill along pasture 3 at the other end of the arena. The trouble was that their brakes were squeaking super loud, and Storm just about lost it at that point. Kirsten immediately switched gears and we went to work to get his attention back. She quickly began explaining how I needed to work on correcting his focus without making him feel wrong, and at the same time doing whatever it took to get his attention back on me.
Once he began to calm down from the squealing brakes episode, Kristen decided it was a good time to practice how to handle those situations. She discussed the fact that in an earlier lesson yesterday, she actually had to run at one of the horses in order to affect her greater than the outside distraction that she was focused on. She began to swish a whip through the air very fast and loud (so I found out later, my back was to her the whole time) while crunching leaves around the outside of the arena. Storm thought he had died and gone to hell. He tried to take off and as soon as he did I ran to cut him off from making it around the arena where he was facing her. He spun and ran back to the other direction, and again I headed him off when he was heading around to where he was able to face her again. We cut back and forth until he began to show signs of slowing down. I simply mirrored his movements until he was able to stop and stand still. Each time his focus moved away from me, I moved in the opposite direction with equal "force" to match his distracted focus. Kirsten continued to create a commotion outside the round pen, and I continued to maintain my focus on him, and keep reminding him where his focus needed to remain. If he got too distracted I pushed him away from the chaos, and reminded him that I was the only thing he needed to worry about, and life was WAY worse when he didn't worry more about me than everything else.
He stopped at one point almost facing where Kirsten was stirring up trouble, but yet still looking at me, and stood soaked in sweat, steaming, and quivering from fear. So slowly he finally came back down to earth again, and Kirsten stopped making a fuss when he was able to maintain himself and stay focused on me. I simply kept working even when small things distracted him, though instead of making huge moves, I was simply stepping to one side or the other, twitching an elbow, or asking him to back up. He stood breathing heavy in the morning sun slanting through the trees with the steam just rolling off of him and his breath bellowing into the cool air.
We wrapped up for the morning, and headed up to the barn. Nancy took him from me to take care of him since we needed to hit the road to get Kirsten down to her next lesson with the southern group. Now beings project scare the heebie jeebies out of Storm. Objective: Develop focus past "scary" objects.

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