14.06.29: Steps Forward

I got Storm out and ready to work with plenty of time before Kirsten arrived so that we could get a head start on things and would be able to maximize the hour that we had available. I found a gash on the side of his leg, likely from a kick, that had his lower leg a bit puffy. He wasn't sensitive, and the gash was probably at least a day old already, so I didn't think it would be a problem to work him. I hosed his leg for a little while to rinse off the dried gunk and make sure that it wasn't any worse than what I was seeing, and we got ready to work.
He was still a little antsy getting started, but settled right into the work once I was organized and had the bridle and reins all sorted out. I made a mental note to mention it to Kirsten and see what her perspective was on how to deal with that so that it would reduce the occurrence rather than become the norm. We worked to the right for a solid half hour since Kirsten was late arriving. I kept an eye on his leg to make sure it didn't seem to be affecting his ability to work, and he seemed fine. The fact that he was due for a trim and his feet were really ragged was bothering him more than the cut on his leg.
He had made progress since I last worked him and was noticeably lighter than he was previously. He was curling behind the bit a fair amount, but was making an effort to stay off of his hind legs. He wasn't getting so stuck and heavy like he had previously, much to the relief of my arm! We worked for a while until I finally decided to switch him to the left since Kirsten as late. He was being really calm and working hard, which made me happy.
Kirsten finally arrived and was pleased to see the progress. He was getting stuck behind the bit more than she liked, so she encouraged me to really push him forward to help him shift his weight backwards again. He had a hard time shifting his weight at first, and experimented with trotting instead of completely making the shift. That was ok though since it did help him reorganize with his weight more on his hind end. He became lighter and was having less of a struggle and staying stuck behind the bit less than when we started. I was glad to have the next key to keep him progressing forward. Kirsten was pleased to see that he was struggling with the left-right balance a lot less (his head was mostly below his withers) and he was spending more time developing his front-back balance.
Kirsten was encouraging to help him move forward and make sure that he did not get stuck with his weight on the forehand and his nose behind the vertical because it would result in his energy getting stuck and pent up. Kirsten wanted him moving forward and through the energy so that he could find more comfort and release. She was encouraging that it would help him be calmer more, and noted that she was already seeing a really positive change in him over the last two months.
I brought up the issue of him dancing while I was attempting to get the bridle on and the debate that I was having if I should hand walk or get right to work. Kirsten suggested that I use the same exercise that she applied with a horse in a previous lesson in which she asked the horse to back around the arena. The horse is a very forward run-you-over type of horse that doesn't have very good manners. Kirsten used the backup exercise to help him find his feet and begin thinking and focusing more than simply reacting. For Storm, the exercise of backing around the round pen would engage his brain and help him to shift his weight backwards before we even start with any other work. It gave me an exercise to get him focused and working without needing to hand walk him, which offers very little support overall. Storm seems to be doing better in the work with a lot of support, so walking backwards is another way to use a lot of support to help him get focused and prepared to work without jumping straight into the work. I didn't want to ignore the behavior of him dancing around because I felt that it needed to be addressed on some level in order that it not continue or increase. It is inappropriate for a horse to dance around while I am trying to work with them and do something. That's just simply rude behavior. But the correct behavior does need to be taught. So ignoring it is a positive thing in that it doesn't put too much emphasis on the behavior (which can lead to more of the same), at the same time it doesn't provide a constructive way for the horse to find a better option. Walking backwards will discourage him from dancing and help remind him that standing still is polite and a much better deal than having to think about going backwards on a fairly small circle.
Kirsten suggested that we wrap up the lesson with a little test for Storm to check in and see how he was doing. She suggested taking off the bridle and reins and letting him be loose in the round pen to see how he would handle it. She gave me the same guidelines that he's always had. He can be calm and look around, but if he gets worried then he will be sent away to work until he can refocus. I took the bridle and reins off and carried them across the round pen to leave them by the gate, and he followed me right at my shoulder. We wandered around the round pen with him stuck to me like glue. We stopped and talked to Kirsten in the shade, and he was able to mostly stay calm. When he got a little too over focused at something in the distance I turned and walked away, giving him the choice of following me and being calm or getting sent away. He chose to come with me. We walked a little and then stopped to stand again, and he was mostly able to stay calm and focused. When he got a little too over focused I just moved around a little to give him the opportunity to bring his focus back to me before I moved away to send him off. Each time he was able to come back to me without needing to be sent off which is a really nice step forward. Kirsten and I agreed that he is getting to the point where he'll be ready to ride again. I decided that in prep for the next lesson I will saddle him up, and we'll see what we get. If I get to ride at the end of the lesson for a few minutes, great. If I don't, that's fine too. Its all a step in the right direction.
Next Page: 14.07.24: Catching Up