11.04.03: Surviving and Thriving

The weather has slowly begun to break. Old man winter isn't giving up without a fight, but that is to be expected. The weather was finally warming up, but the breeze was still icy in a valiant effort to deny that spring is on the way. I finally decided it had warmed up enough that I could work Storm, and headed into the pasture to get him. I laid everything out on the picnic table behind the barn so we could spend time in the sun warming ourselves as I groomed and tacked him up. I spent a nice long time working with him and grooming away the massive amounts of hair in a vain effort to achieve some semblance of clean. At least grooming brushes away some of the dirt, the hair, not so much. I spent some time working with him to ask him to lower his head in an effort to improve putting on the halter and bridle with ease. He does well, but he could be so much better. Practice will make that perfect. I was pleased that he remained largely in the same spot, despite being outside and close to so much tempting green grass. He moved only a few times, to which I placed him right back into the same "box" he stepped out of, and went right on with the process. With plenty of slack in the rope most of the time, he remained still which is the first step to the ground tie process. I would love to drop the rope, but I do not completely trust him yet that he won't figure out that he is not tied, and mosey turn into run off. I think he is mostly over those days, but I would rather not find out the hard way. Rope management is never a bad thing to practice anyway.
We got tacked up and headed down to the arena and got started into some lunging with the balance bands on. At first he seemed to struggle a bit, even though I hadn't changed the length from the last time that we used them. I gave him plenty of time to warm up before asking him for the trot. He resisted when I finally asked, and shook his head and squealed as I continued to be gentle but firm in my request. He finally broke into the trot, even if he was still not pleased about it. I allowed him to sort himself out and come back to the walk before making the request again. He settled down, and began to diligently work at his balance. It was taking a long time, but slowly the transitions were helping him to find the correct posture.
Once he was warmed up and settled into the work, I waited for him to begin to stretch a bit and asked for the canter. He squealed and threw himself forward, and spun around to face me giving me his best "I can't!" look. I simply requested a second time and when he gave me the same result but with two steps that looked close to a canter, I left him alone to trot it out. As he worked things out, I heard Jean and Pat roll in up in the parking lot, and he began to get distracted by the rattling trailer and noise from the top of the hill. I simply encouraged him to keep walking watching his posture as he pretended to be a giraffe, and then settled back down again. As he would come around the circle facing the hill, he would stick his head way up in the air, and then come around the circle and relax again. Slowly he went back to work and stayed focused as I asked him to continue trotting and working on his balance. We changed directions and I gave him some time to catch his breath again before asking for the trot to the right. He set right to work, keeping his balance and working just as well to the right as he had to the left.
Jean and Pat arrived and headed to the other end of the arena and to my pleasure Storm maintained his work despite the horses passing on either side of him as he worked. I eased his circle more towards the end of the arena to allow Jean and Skye more space as we continued to work. He never broke his concentration even though I know he kept an eye on them as they came down the hill and then passed through to the other end of the arena. He was really putting some effort into it, so I asked him to canter to the right. Interestingly, he trotted faster and faster, until finally his legs made a couple strides in something akin to a canter before breaking back down into the trot again. There was no squeal or hissy fit, but he was obviously struggling all the same. I found it interesting that his struggle in this direction was manifesting in a different manner than it had to the left. I was pleased that he was not fighting me, but yet he still couldn't find the canter and hold it. I asked a second time with the same result, and allowed him to find his way down to the trot and eventually the walk again. He was becoming a bit winded more quickly since he had been working longer, so I gave him a bit more of a break and allowed him more walking time.
I realized that we had been working a while and decided to ride for a short time, and so I traded out the lunge line for the reins and got set up to mount. He was not totally cooperative at the fence when I asked him to step up beside me, but finally he got into the right position and I climbed up and he waited while I got myself organized. We set off, and I had to remember what the heck I was supposed to do, and found the ball and began to organize myself to find the balance point and ask the hind legs to step up. It seemed to come easier, and also seemed to be easier for him to do so with me riding than it had been from the ground. The waves were coming more often and with a bit more intensity than they had during our lesson. I also felt like he was still ducking behind the bit some of the time, but when I managed my legs and whip correctly, I could get him to move forward and lift into the bit instead. It still wasn't lasting more than a step or two, but he sure was trying.
He was getting extremely focused, and as we worked along the more effort he put into it, the less he was watching where he was going. We ended up making some rather square turns at the fence line because he forgot to pay attention to my gentle urging to start the turn earlier. I am sure I was also getting wrapped up in the cues of staying straight, and so a curve wasn't in the conversation at the time! We turned to come down the fence line past the gate, and were heading to the next corner when he became so engrossed that we ended up making a right hand turn to head down the back fence line. When he turned at the fence we must have come into view on the top of the hill above where a deer was in the woods, and startled the deer, which in turn startled Storm. He spooked, and took off. I got thrown back in the saddle, and quickly (read 3 strides later) realized I was pulling back on the reins with my hands all up in the air and my feet thrown forward. I managed to sit up again, and reached out to grab his neck with one hand, while shortening up on the rein in the other hand. He was also turning that direction already (read 3 more strides later), to turn around and face the direction we came from. I blinked and realized we were back in the previous corner on the opposite side of the arena. I settled myself in the saddle again, gathered the reins, and off we went at the walk. I was very pleased that Storm did not hold onto the emotion of the moment, and I was able to get right back into work as if nothing had happened. He wasn't quite as willing to go so deep into that corner again, but he was also not shying so badly that he was unable to continue working with a learning frame of mind on that side of the arena. I was just pleased that I was able to stay on and get right back to work as much as he was. It was quite a boost for my confidence as much as anything. Surviving those little moments helps me build on each moment so that I can continue to move forward and achieve bigger things each time.
We continued to work and he was putting in so much effort. I could feel him lifting in front, and as he worked on rare occasions I would feel pushing up from behind. It suddenly hit me that I was actually feeling the box behind the ball! It does exist! At least that is all I can surmise that I was feeling... The front end was lifting, and then I could suddenly feel pushing upward from behind the saddle. So whatever it was, he was really making some big changes. And then a step or two later it would be gone again.
By that time he was beginning to get tired. He was maintaining a certain level of quality, but now and then he'd lose it and would completely slip, and his weight would just give out on his hind leg. He would just be unable to support himself, and a step would feel like a deep trough in the wave before leveling out again and catching himself. We made one more good lap before I called it quits for the evening and gathered everything up to head back up the hill. I gave him a much deserved grass break when I finished untacking him, and set about brushing away the saddle marks. He grazed as I groomed, and I happened to reach under his neck to brush the back of his right foreleg with the stiff brush, when about that time he stepped forward with his left front leg. Since I was on his left side, he bumped into my hand, specifically my pinky, and sort of pinched it between his leg and the corner edge of the handle of the brush. I didn't think much of it other than musing that it hurt. I looked down at my hand a few minutes later and was startled to discover that the whole inside of my pinky was black and blue already. It swelled a bit, but thankfully not too bad. It is definitely the strangest injury around a horse that I have ever received!
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11.04.04: One Step After Another