11.08.13: DO What You've Been Taught

Jim McDonald had his Trail Challenge Training clinic, and finally I was able to get myself organized enough to be able to prepare Storm and ride with the group. With only 5 people signed up it was a small group, and one of them was Nancy, so I knew we'd have a buddy along. I hustled in the morning to get the other horses fed that I was horse sitting for, and then hurried back home and got him ready. I had all of my things organized and ready for everyone to arrive. I finished tacking Storm up, expecting to be interrupted when someone arrived. I managed to finish tacking him and we hung out at the end of the barn waiting for everyone to arrive. Jim came down with Missy all ready to go, and asked where everyone was. We started calling people to check in, and found that everyone was on the way, just running behind. Storm and I waited in the shade of the door as everyone finally started to arrive. He stood very nicely in the door and didn't cause too much trouble for me while I handled the paperwork and collected information from everyone. Once I wrapped everything I up I headed to the arena as Jim was getting introductions from everyone.
The group was varied in skill levels, but everyone was really excited about the day. Jim gave some of his philosophies and explained a little bit about what the group would accomplish for the day. He sent us out to play with obstacles and began making his rounds assisting people as they needed it. I stayed on the ground with Storm for a while to make sure that he was secure and that everyone was level enough that we wouldn't have any problems. He did really well even though he hasn't seen most of the obstacles in a long time. He resisted the noodles for a bit, but handled it just fine when I encouraged him. He never thought twice about the mattress or the pedestal, and it was like the tarp wasn't even there.
Once I was sure he was going to handle things ok, especially the reactions of the other horses around him that might get excited or worried about something, I asked him to mount up. He brought the saddle right to me on the second request, and I climbed up and we began to mosey around. He didn't mind just about anything, and I was event able to manage moving the pole from barrel to barrel without dropping it (three barrels in a triangle, with a pole across two of them, ride up, and pick up the pole from one barrel and pivot it so that it is resting on the other barrel). It was a little dicey at first, he almost passed the barrel where I needed to put the pole down again, but I managed to get him to back up and put the pole down. The tricky part was that the top of the barrel was below the level of my foot since Storm is so tall!
We managed a couple of the other obstacles, like the L back (backing around a 90 degree turn), and a zig-zag which was quite tricky with Storm's size, but we managed. If we were allowed 10 minutes to complete the obstacles, we would be fine! We got rained on a little bit, but stuck it out and it quit a bit later. The cloud cover was nice enough that it wasn't too hot. We broke for lunch and put the horses in stalls with hay for the interim while we relaxed for a while. It was still comfortable enough that we could eat at the picnic tables outside, and the conversation was quite enjoyable. Jim asked the group if they would like to continue working in the arena or go directly out on the trail after lunch was over, and finally the group came to the consensus that they would like to spend a little more time in the arena before hitting the trail.
We wrapped up lunch and retacked, Storm wasn't super thrilled about it, but he cooperated pretty well for being resaddled after having been ridden for 2 hours already. We headed back to the arena and mounted up again, and started working on obstacles. Jim spent a little time going over various aspects of the obstacles here and there, which was helpful. We worked on backing up and how to ask the horse gently to back up and encourage their head to go down in the process. Storm finally found lightness in the backup, and it helped me to remember to think of all the space behind me, as I had done in my last lesson, and it helped me to find the box and the ball, and I could feel Storm really lifting up under me.
We hadn't been in the arena long when Jim's phone rang, and he said that Jim was up in the house watching the radar and that it looked like we had about 20 minutes before another storm rolled in. We continued to ride as the breeze kicked up a bit, and then a light rain started. Jim was going over some concepts, so we stuck it out for a few minutes, and then finally high tailed it for the barn. We got into the barn just as the skies opened up. It was a rather abrupt end to the clinic, but we were all glad to be out of the weather! It was a nice summer rain, and didn't last terribly long, so I putzed around cleaning up and getting things organized while the rain poured.
Jim finally decided to make a break for it, and headed out to his trailer with Missy in tow. The other ladies began to get organized to head out as the rain was slowly beginning to lighten. They each pulled their trailers up in turn so that it wasn't as far to get from the barn to the trailer, and loaded up. Nancy and I were working around the barn when one of the participants came back down in the barn asking for help with loading. I followed her back out to her trailer, and discovered that her little Paso was pretty adamant about not getting back into the trailer. He was pulling every trick in the book to avoid getting onto the ramp from bracing backwards as hard as he could just in front of the ramp to swinging around the side of the trailer to avoid the ramp. She asked me to stand to the side to keep him "lined up" with the ramp so he wouldn't hurt himself stepping off the edge. I was a bit more skeptical of being up close to him and allowing him to push into me, it was obvious to me that he didn't have a whole lot of respect for her space, and she and he had a relationship where she leaned on him and he leaned back on her when he didn't want to do something. It was a recipe to get run over, and I wasn't going to go there. I supported gently, and attempt to raise and lower my arm to help encourage him forward, but all he did in response to that was brace more. She then asked me if we should get a lunge line and another person so he can be forced on from behind. I told her that there wasn't any reason to do that, and that is just not a safe manner to get a horse into a trailer. She responded, "Oh, that is what we did when we were here for the last CTC, someone that said they were a trainer suggested it!" I sadly shook my head and said there wasn't a reason to get to that point. Maybe in an emergency if the horse absolutely has to get on the trailer NOW then it would be reasonable, but there wasn't any pressure in this situation and I didn't want to do anything to further exacerbate his opinion of getting onto a trailer. I asked her if I could take him and give it a go, and she said yes, so I took the lead rope from her.
I was really wishing I had my rope halter and longer lead line, but I figured I should sort it out and make do as it was rather than try to make too many changes at once. I began by simply leading him around and establishing a bit of leadership and balance. I walked him around for a while, slowly getting closer to the trailer, but not going in. I wasn't worried about time, or the trailer or anything else. The closer we got to the trailer on each pass the more he resisted, and so I spent quite a bit of time simply walking back and forth to and from the trailer. Finally I stepped up onto the ramp and was met with brace at the end of the line. He eventually put his front two feet on the ramp, and so I waited a bit, and then walked off again. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. We eventually managed to get so far as getting his front hooves to the top of the ramp, and a hind food almost on the ramp, but he seemed to be fairly well stuck there. She asked me at one point if I wanted to get a dressage whip, and I declined, mostly being concerned that one person was going to have to be in the trailer, and the other person outside. The thought of her being on the whip end and me in the trailer didn't make me feel very good, but the flip side was her at his head in the trailer and me with the whip... I didn't like either scenario as I wanted to keep her out of the picture as much as I reasonably could as he was responding much better to me at that point than he had to her. So I kept chipping away, lather, rinse, repeat.
Finally I decided that he was pretty well stuck and I need to try a different option. I asked her if she wanted to go into the barn and get the whip or if she wanted to hold him while I went for the whip, she said she'd go, so I told her where it was, and she set off to the barn. The first thing that happened is that the little Paso put three feet on the ramp. He was much more inquisitive and relaxed without her standing there bearing down on him. I began to wonder if there were more things I could send her for in the barn. I really felt like it wouldn't have taken me that long to get him onto the trailer if she wasn't with us. I knew that wasn't an option, so when she returned with the whip I led him away from the trailer to establish a bit of communication with the whip and make sure that I knew how he was going to react to it outside of a confined space.
First I had to remind him that I had a bubble and he wasn't allowed to throw his shoulder into me and ignore me. I rubbed him with the whip and then gently tapped him on the top of his hip. As soon as he shifted forward, I quit, and rubbed him again. Again, I tapped lightly, he stepped forward, and I stopped and rubbed. He was doing better than I anticipated, so I walked him for a moment, and then returned to the trailer. He balked again, so I stopped, rubbed him with the whip and gently tapped him on top of the hip. He placed his front feet calmly on the ramp. I rubbed him gently and gave him a moment and gently tapped again. He stepped forward again, calmly and evenly. Rub, tap again. Suddenly all four feet were on the ramp, and there was no resisting, balking, bracing or hesitation. Rub, tap, steps forward. Lather, rinse, repeat. As quietly as he started, he was suddenly all the way in the trailer, and his owner gently picked up the butt bar, and closed him in as I closed the chest bar. He was nervous, but standing quietly. She was so grateful that she gave me a $20.00 donation to give to Graham, which was nice of her.
The lesson here? Do what you know works. I've been taught techniques that are effecitve and are the simplest way to achieve things with a horse. I need to trust those methods, and not do the things that I know are not as effective. Looking back on the situation, I was really grateful to have the experience and be able to get a chance to work with another horse that gave me the gift of another learning experience.
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11.08.21: Up to the Limit