13.04.21: New Territory

The weekend has been cool, which despite my discomfort I was a little glad for Storm that it meant we could work pretty hard and not have to worry much about sweating at all. I headed down to the pasture to fetch him, and was slightly disgruntled to find that he was not so interested in coming with me. It took me more than five minutes to catch him, which is very out of the ordinary for him. We wandered all over the bottom of the pasture before he finally allowed me to approach him and put the halter on. He came willingly enough, though was a little spooky in the barn at silly things. I used the vacuum on him (which we ended up emptying and it vacuumed much better!!) in a vain attempt to get some of the hair and dirt off of him. I'm not sure if it made all that much of a difference or not...
I began to tack him up and found him a little fussy again, but managed to get him ready to go in a timely manner, and headed down to the arena. We got started with a few laps of hand walking together to find some calmness and ensure that he wasn't going to be worried about any corners of the arena. As I suspected, he spooked once, but was just fine after that. Kirsten checked in with us, and I told her I was trying to do some laps to find some connection, and attempting to retrieve the feelings from the body work that she did with us last month. She noted that my walk was much smoother, and did not have as much hitch in it as before. I was pleased she could notice some improvement because I was unsure if I was finding much release at all walking through the sand.
We finished hand walking and did a little bit of work along the fence line asking him to step up underneath. Kirsten returned to help give me the next level of commitment and challenge for Storm. She ended up having me use the reins on the bit rather than the lead rope, and that enabled us to find a higher level of refinement for Storm to move forward pushing from the hind before pulling from the front. He was struggling and working hard, sometimes picking up his hind leg to get away from the whip, which didn't bother Kirsten because it was the first step to loading the leg. He was really struggling, but the addition of the bit instead of the halter made it easier to get the desired result. I was beginning to wear out from him leaning on me, my arm and shoulder couldn't take it much more, so Kirsten suggested switching to the other direction. This meant that his left front leg was now away from the fence, and since that is the leg that he usually dumps on to get the weight off of his right hind leg it meant that he was dumping into my hand. Even with the bit, it was a huge struggle and almost impossible for me to hold him up. I tired even faster than I had working on the right side, and Kirsten laughed and told me that I didn't have to work on that side as much. She explained that the exercise works the hind end, and it does not matter which side the work is done on. In fact, working on the easy side is encouraged so that I don't wear out, and can work a little longer for Storm. Going back to the left side serves as a check to find out how effective the work is, and serves as the measuring stick to track the progress of shifting the weight. The left side will become easier and change without having to actually work in that direction. I was quite relieved to understand this! Many things within the horse world require twice as much work in the harder direction and there is no way I could have handled that!
Since my arms were shot it was time to ride, and so I climbed up after readjusting my stirrups again to my length. I got settled in and we began to work, and Kirsten immediately pushed both Nancy and I to a new level to really focus on not moving forward if the quality wasn't there. She pointed out that we have all worked long enough that the horses know what they are supposed to do, and that Nancy and I both know what to do, and there is no excuse for not doing it. It was a bit of a rudimentary lesson referring back to the days of lateral flexion in order to get the horse to load the hind leg. It was quickly apparent that both horses were working harder than they had in a long time and producing better results. It was struggle and neither one of us made it up to trot on purpose in the short 40 minutes that we rode, but that was all well and good considering how hard we were working at the walk. I'm sure it visually appeared like nothing, but we were working really really hard up there. I was grateful we didn't ride any longer than we did because I don't think I would have been able to stand! As it was, I had to hang onto Storm when I dropped to the ground to catch my balance and find my land legs again.
We finished up and I cleaned up and brushed Storm for a little while longer while he grazed on the hillside as a reward. I turned him out again, and got everything put away, and was fairly certain I was going to find him lying down sleeping later in the day.
Sure enough, as I came back from a hike through the woods, I cleared the trees and saw him lying down at the bottom of the hill in the sunshine. I headed around that side of the pasture and climbed through the fence to see him. He was happy to lie there and let me scratch on him, enjoying the scratches with half closed eyes and a slack jaw. I rubbed all over him trying to find the itchiest spots to make him feel better. Hair was flying in every direction. Ed was with me and I commented that I had never been able to sit on him while he was lying down, and he suggested that I try it to see what would happen. In the past leaning on Storm a little bit would cause him to get up fairly quickly. I leaned across him, and he happened to itch himself, so I scratched when he was finished, and he thoroughly enjoyed the scratches, twisting his head up and flipping his lip up and grunting with happiness. Since I was already leaning so far over him, I turned around and sat on his back sideways, and he didn't move. Then I rubbed my leg up his neck, and rubbed my arm on the other side, and swung my leg over. He didn't even twitch to have me sitting on his broad back as he lay on the ground. I scratched him more and hugged him and just chilled out with him. He finally shifted a bit, and then organized himself to get up. I hung onto his mane tightly as he lifted me up, its a long ride up! He stood and sauntered off in the direction of the hay feeder. At this point I didn't know what plan B was, and couldn't decide if I should get down considering I had no saddle, no bridle, no halter, no lead rope, and no helmet! I was curious if I could guide him and get him to take me somewhere, and then remembered that I did have my string in my back pocket where it almost always is with me. I pulled it out and reached under his neck to pass the end under, and held onto either end as best I could like reins. Ed called him from the fence, and I gently pulled the rope across his neck and nudged with my leg in the direction of the fence. Gently, Storm swung himself around and sauntered back to the fence. Ed gave him nice scratches and rubbed on him for a bit and then came plan C... I decided to try to ride up the hill. At this point, why not? So I gently nudged and asked him forward along the fence, with Ed walking next to us. He followed the fence up the hill, stopping half way up to poop (been lying down, time to poop, you know), and then continued the rest of the way up, stopping calmly at the top to let me slide down. Emma was headed out and looked curiously from her car as we crested the hill, and I shrugged and she laughed. I slid down, and hugged him tightly, grateful for the experience that he gave me. Ed grabbed a carrot for him as a reward, and I scratched him again before leaving. Its amazing to me to feel the relationship coming together and the bond that he and I share.
Next Page: 13.05.12: A Test