11.01.08: Starting off Right

Welcome to 2011.
At least it has started off on the right foot.
Kirsten returns next week, and Storm hasn't been in the ring since she was here last month which was the second week of the month, so its been a little longer than normal to boot. Waking up to a short notice dusting of snow didn't improve my motivation to haul him out of the pasture. Since I had to go take care of Cowboy and Coyote while Ginny and Steve are out of town, I pulled on my winter riding breeches and down coat and headed out to get them their hay and clean up the barn. I figured since I had to dress warm I might as well try to get motivated by dressing in the clothes that I would need to work Storm.
It mostly worked, and when I got home I changed boots and grabbed his bridle and stuffed it in my coat and headed down to the barn. It was snowing lightly when I headed out, and he was a little bit damp when I pulled him in from the pasture. I was not very motivated to scrub him down good, so I rubbed as much dirt off of his sticky coat as I could, and plopped the saddle on anyway. Several people stopped by the barn, and we ended up standing around and chatting for a while, before I finally finished tacking him up and we wandered down to the white arena to get some work done. Thankfully, since it took us so long to get ready the snow had mostly stopped by the time we headed out.
We settled into work right away, carving a track on the 22' line and not wasting any time finding the trot with the balance bands on. I let them out one notch before getting started to make sure that he had some time to adjust to the contact in the work again, and quickly the lines were slack, so I stopped him and shortened them back up again. He settled into the work, and it took a while before he really made some big shifts and began stretching and experimenting with shifting his weight. I let him work for a long time really finding his balance, and watched as the lines of the balance bands even out into the correct position.
We finally changed directions, and he settled into the left, but it wasn't long before there was some rustling in the woods that caught his attention and concern. I dropped back to simply asking for his focus, and when the sounds settled down, I sent him back to work. He was reluctant to go, and I had to keep asking him to get out on the circle. On one pass I caught site of a person walking a dog through the cut through trail down behind the arena. Knowing where the sound was coming from, I was able to keep an eye out for them approaching and keep Storm moving and focused at the same time. I probably didn't do as much as I should have quickly enough, but he came back down pretty quickly and we were able to get back to work. It didn't take him as long to settle into the work, and start really stretching and working his topline instead of using the pulling muscles. I let him work for a while and we finally wrapped things up and I got him set up to ride.
He started off a little fussy and didn't want to set himself up to allow me to get on, but finally he sorted himself out, and I climbed aboard. I was pleased when he didn't move off once I settled into the saddle. We headed off and settled into the track he'd made while on the line, and I was again pleased with how much support the balance bands offered so that I could focus on me. I worked on feeling the ball, and was having some difficulty so I trusted his patterns and shifted so that he wouldn't tip me to the inside and throw the ball to the outside. We worked for a while in one direction and made a beautiful S curve through the center of the circle and headed into the other direction. He was doing so well, we kept working for a while and he kept giving me more collection and balance. I didn't feel the little ripples that I had in the last ride, and I don't know that I can pinpoint what changed specifically, but he felt steadier. I know I was having more of a challenge finding the ball specifically, which likely means that he has also found a new level of balance. Just about the time I get the hang of things, it gets refined to a new level and I have to start all over again!
We worked steadily for a while, and I felt very good about his progress, and I decided we needed a bit of an adventure, so we headed to the gate and I managed to line him up so that I could push it open, and we headed up the hill to see where we could go. He hurried up the hill, revealing that he wasn't very balanced, and was pulling himself up rather than pushing up, which I did expect. As he got a clearer view of everything at the top of the hill he suddenly became concerned about the hay feeder lying next to the barn  in pieces. The very same one that he walked down the hill past on his way to the arena. So we stopped. And backed up two steps. And went forward six steps. And stopped. And backed up two steps. And eventually, we passed the scary horse eating hay feeder, and headed on up into the edge of the parking lot and towards the field. Things were still a little spooky, so we took it slow and kept repeating the process, forward, stop, backup. Lather, rinse, repeat. We made it into the field, and crossed the land and up into the grass. As we headed out into the open field six steps forward and two steps back he began to lose his focus. Since I was pretty tired by this time, I worked slowly around to turn him back towards the barn, and we continued our pattern back the way we came.
As we rounded the back of the barn, we had to pass the scary horse eating hay feeder one more time, and then approach the scary horse eating picnic tables. I took it slow, and was able to eventually ask him to line up with the bench on the table so that I could slide down. I am glad I opted for the bench as the ground would have been a long way down and very hard being so cold. Not good for a stiff chilled body. I rubbed him and gave him scratches before we headed into the barn to untack. I dropped the reins, and he stood without moving an inch in the exact same position he stopped in and stayed there as I continued untacking.
I clipped the rein to his halter, and headed out the door with him, and led him back to the hay feeder where he happily dug in.
Next Page:
11.01.15: Moving Up
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