13.08.15: Learn Burn about Piss’n’vinegar

Almost two weeks ago I managed to finally get myself together to work Storm. It was much overdue, and I was feeling confident that we could make some serious headway working on being comfortable around the farm. I optimistically prepared by putting my 45’ line and a lunge whip with gloves down by the arena in the event that we made it to the arena and could work in the safety of its confines there. Being slightly more realistic I put my dressage whip near the round pen thinking we might do some work there first, and then make our way to the arena. I was sure we would go slowly, but was hopeful that we could make it down the hill and being really working on getting back to progressing from where we left off before we moved.

I got Storm out, and returned to slowly working on focusing as we moved towards the round pen. Mind you, the round pen is no more than 40 feet from the edge of the barn yard. To his credit, that is a side of the barn yard that he rarely goes to, but even still, it is very close. We managed to make it to the round pen, but once we got it in I had to work hard on focusing him. I could feel that he really wanted to blow off, but I was not confident that the round pen was actually Storm Proof, and was very concerned about turning him loose to burn off some steam. So we continued to focus, and slowly but surely made headway within the round pen. It took a very long time, but eventually we were able to walk around the round pen (don’t laugh, we spent a good bit of time going forward and backward because I didn’t trust him to make a circle without mowing me over). When we finally reached the point that we could make ovals within the round pen I put him to work really focusing on his hind end and pushing forward from behind. I made sure that he was focused, and continued to redirect him to the work when he would attempt to get worried about something outside the round pen. I kept him busy so he didn’t have time to worry about what else might be going on. His worst moment was towards the end when one of the mostly white cats popped up on a stump about 60 feet outside the round pen at the edge of the trees, a glaringly white spot among the dark green. He spooked, and it took a while for us to reset and get back on track again. I was about to stop, but when that happened, we had to get our focus back again.

Opening the gate of the round pen was even a challenge, and I had to make sure that he maintained his focus, so we switched up the game, and I backed him out of the gate, and then all the way back into the barn yard again. He did well, and stayed pretty focused as we did it. I let him eat grass for a bit when we got back into the barn yard, and he was munching quickly and working his way very efficiently towards the gate to go back to the pasture. I put his fly mask on him, and went to swing the gate open, allowing him room to pass beside me and turn around in the gate as we’ve done a million times in every gate, and to my complete surprise he bolted past me. I had one hand on the gate and one hand on the rope, and let out a rather loud yelp (ok fine, a scream) when I felt the rope burning through my hand. Conscious me should have recognized the fact that he only wanted IN the gate, and the rest of the herd was nowhere in the vicinity and so there was no threat of letting go of the gate, but subconscious me continued to try to hold onto both the gate and Storm. He yanked me forward because I was unable to let go of the gate, and it put me off balance, and I just couldn’t hold on with the burn in my hand, and he jumped backwards one more time and realizing he was free, took off to the herd along the side of the pasture. I was fuming, and frustrated and hurting. I closed the gate and made my way to retrieve him, and we spent a little bit of time working on backing up through the pasture, quickly. I was angry and frustrated. I finally took off his halter and walked back to the barn and put everything away for the day in a hurry to get my hand under some cold water. I had a big patch on my palm, and smaller spots on a couple of fingers that were on fire. After getting a remedy from Jeffra and laying my hand on an ice pack the burn slowly faded.

It bothered me a lot to have ended up regressing that far. He has not bolted from me, let alone so hard that he’s gotten away from me in YEARS. It hurt my confidence, and my trust, more than it hurt my hand. I emailed Kirsten for some direction, and she gave me some words that helped to rebalance me a bit. It was going to be very slow going for a long time, again. But she did tell me that it wouldn’t last as long as it had getting through this phase the first time. I just want to know when we’re going to be done with this phase forever. This is the part of him that is the hardest to deal with. I know that I’m contributing, but I was most frustrated because we had worked so good, and he put a lot of effort into working in the round pen, and I was handling his fits well, and gaining confidence. And then to have him bolt through the gate was like a slap in the face.

To add a little insult to injury, a few days later he hit me in the nose while bringing him through the gate to feed him, all because he was distracted and looked back into the pasture instead of looking where he was going as I was guiding him through the gate. We had another discussion about focusing on me again and since then he has been mostly respectful of me.

Since the two weeks have passed, I was finally able to get up the desire to do it all over again. This time I planned to put him in the paddock close to the barn, accessed through the barn yard, so no need to even leave the area, and put the bridle and balance bands on, and then turn him loose on the 45. I knew exactly what I would get, and he gave it to me. Lots of piss’n’vinegar. He was so frustrated that he couldn’t really blow off like he wanted to because of the constraint of the balance bands, but I didn’t really care. I can’t trust him to be safe without making it harder for him to wind himself up. He had about four real fits before he finally wore himself to the point that he couldn’t do it anymore. He really only got going so quick that I had trouble managing the line the first time, and after that, I was able to hold him. It was actually more challenging that he wasn’t staying at the end of the line being he was still in magnet mode towards the pasture, so every time he’d go closer to the pasture, he would move to almost the end of the line, and every time he’d cross to the driveway side of the paddock he’d cut the distance in less than half. Managing that much rope that can get kinked and hook a foot and trip you easily is not fun. Eventually he wore himself out to the point that I pretty much couldn’t make him canter anymore. I could see the sweat glistening on his rump, which made me happy, though I wished he were wetter. He finally began focusing on how he was moving and put a little effort into being balanced. I was glad there were a couple distractions to give him more reason to worry, including a tractor driving by and the trash truck rolling through, they only served to help him burn more worry out.

We eventually switched to go to the left for a while and he did not have near the itch to run anymore. He made a few half-hearted laps at the canter before he decided he was completely worn out. We did not spend near the amount of time on that side since he spent more time actually working rather than pretending to be a kite on a string.

I finally decided to call it quits, and took off the bridle and balance bands and switched out the 45 for a regular lead rope again, and we made our way out of the paddock again. I decided that asking him to go backwards was probably a good idea to help him think through things again rather than doing things mindlessly with the blind goal of getting back to the herd consuming him. We made our way into the barn yard and I put his mask back on before very carefully opening the gate. This time I had the awareness that nobody was going to escape if the gate stood open for a few minutes, and turned him around and slowly asked him to back into the pasture. Once he was in, I took him to water, and then walked him back to the herd again. I could tell he wanted to roll, and I considered taking him to the rolling spot, but decided to simply leave him with his buddies.

Tomorrow after the lawn mower people are gone, I suspect we’ll lather, rinse, repeat  this process, and then do a little exploring of the parking lot before we have to load up on Saturday evening to head back to Graham for our lesson. Here’s hoping this phase is short lived and we can return to our progress together again. I want my golden boy back again.

Next Page: 13.08.18: Blowin Off Steam