14.07.26: Back On Top!

An 8:00 lesson makes it tricky to get started early, as I had been accustomed to doing when our lessons were in the afternoon. I got up as early as I could muster and got Storm's breakfast and then grabbed all my tack. Amazingly none of it was moldy or had any problems! The joys of a synthetic saddle!
No one else was in the barn, so I didn't have to worry about any other horses coming or going, and we worked in the aisle grooming and tacking him up. I was pleased that he behaved himself mostly like he used to, standing quietly as I worked around him. He also wasn't too dirty so it didn't take too much elbow grease to get him ready to have the saddle on for the first time in a year. We headed out the door and to the round pen to get started. I asked Kirsten to double check the saddle fit just to make sure that it was still ok after this much time, and she said it looked pretty good. Ed was doing some things around his jeep and that had Storm a little distracted so we started with laps backwards. Kirsten had us make three laps backwards in each direction to really get him working and focused. He was lighter than he had been working backwards, which was a relief for my arm. He quickly calmed down and started thinking and focusing again, much to my relief.
We set up the long lines again to get started and see where he was. I was happy that he was working lighter and easier than he has been. He was still tucking behind the bit a little, but not as much as he had been. Kirsten helped me to sort out how to more effectively give him the reins and encourage him forward. When I had been releasing before, I was drifting outward, which was causing him to drift outward and we would end up on the rail of the round pen. It isn't as effective for him to work on the rail because he ends up leaning on the rail for support, which doesn't allow him to truly work on his own self carriage. When I held the center, but gave the reins a little bit, I could ask him to go forward and then reset to the same place, rather than drift outwards. It was much more effective without both of us wobbling on the circle.
We only worked for a short time before we got set up to ride. As I was finding the spot where the fence was tallest, I noticed that Holly and Beth were pulling down the road. It was a nice test of his focus for me to sit up on the fence, ask for the saddle (which he gave to me immediately) and then ask for his focus despite the trailer pulling in and the horses being off loaded. Once they were mostly settled, I mounted Storm and he stood quietly while I got settled into the saddle and waited. It felt really good to be back in my saddle on my horse. It just felt right. We walked off gently and began working on his balance and my balance together. It was coming without too much effort, though I could tell that my legs were getting a pretty big workout very quickly! I was glad that I was only going to be riding for a half hour!
Ed decided to do a few things in the shed, and Storm watched him disappear around the corner into the shed, and then began hearing little noises as Ed moved things and walked around on the wooden floor. I became concerned that there would be a big thump that was going to scare Storm, and it made me nervous. And of course that made Storm nervous. Storm got more worried as we worked, and Kirsten kept talking me through it. I still got stuck and locked up, despite her good guidance. I finally decided it was more than I could really cope with, and called to Ed to ask him to not work in the shed while I was riding. As he stepped around the corner Storm startled and spooked in place, but it was almost a relief for Storm to see that it wasn't a boogie man, it was just Ed. We went back to work and settled right back in.
The really great positive out of the experience was that it set off a discussion between Kirsten and I for how to handle those situations. She noted that I have a tendency to freeze, instead of working to out focus Storm. She directed me that I need to be more particular and just continue to work hard through it. I realized that I was able to do that on the ground, but haven't transferred that skill to the saddle yet due to safety concerns that I still have. She related that all she does on a green horse is simply out focus them because horses can only focus on one thing at a time. If you are sending them information faster than whatever thing is scary, they can't deal with the scary thing and they have to deal with you as a rider. I realized that I feel comfortable working through the balance shifts and focus while things are calm and happen relatively slowly. I struggle when things start to happen at a faster pace and a little fear gets added in. Kirsten questioned me to find a way to practice "faster" without the stress of the fear situation. My short hopeless answer was that Ed could work in the shed while I rode, and she and I both laughed that it wasn't a good idea in the beginning, but maybe a good test someday. She finally relented and told me that the simple answer was changes of direction (or changes of speed, but that's still a bit further over my head at the moment). So I began to make random changes of direction through the center of the round pen. I quickly noticed how much faster I had to be at making the correction to keep him balanced (and my legs quickly noticed how out of shape they are!). He became more focused and we settled back down into the work again. Beth related her experience with Chip when they have done cross country courses this summer. He gets so unfocused and so worried about where LittleFoot is that he screams his head off all the way through the course. Beth said that all she can do is just keep him focused on the job at hand and working forward to the next jump. From one jump the next they make their way through the course with Chip whinnying the whole time. We laughed about it, and related that the focus really is the key to keeping safe. Kirsten said that one of the old cowboy trainers that she worked with at one time told her that he rides every green horse like its broken, and every broken horse like its green, and that's how he stays on. There is a lot more wisdom in the simplicity of those words than first appears, but it is an important way of being so that every horse simply accepts the power of your focus and direction.
I slid down after we finished and my legs were telling me it was a workout despite only being on top for half of our lesson. I took him back to the barn, and got him cleaned up and turned him out. I was expecting that he might bolt off after having spent so much time away from the herd, but he simply mosied off, sniffed poop and then peed. I continued to clean up the barn and tack, and noticed that he stayed close to the gate grazing, despite the fact that the rest of the herd was far out in the pasture. They came up and he drifted a little further away, but he didn't leave the barn area until I finished everything I had to do in the barn and left. I took that as a really great sign that he was more content close by where I was than he was being with the herd. That is an accomplishment!

During the lesson, Kirsten and I talked again about the condition of his feet and the cracks that have developed for the first time this summer. She explained a few things in more depth than I was aware of about feet. Horse's feet are like sponges, they pick up moisture from the environment around them. So a dry environment means dry, hard feet. A moist environment means damp, soft feet. Damp feet is a recipe for all sorts of ailments, including cracking. I was under the impression that the cracking is the result of stomping. While it is the reason the cracks develop, it isn't the root cause. The root cause is the fact that the feet are soft and therefore weak. Kirsten explained that when she worked with horses in California and Nevada the farriers would trim the horse's soles with a hoof knife they were so hard. When she moved to Florida and tried to use a hoof knife on a horse's sole she said it was like cutting through cheese. Not good! So addressing the moisture content of the foot does more to correct the cracking than simply preventing the stomping does. Simply preventing the stomping won't actually help prevent the cracks from being there, it might only reduce the severity.
She explained that in Florida they use anything that is drying to attempt to keep the horse's feet good and hard. Alcohol, bleach, or any other drying type solution work to pull the moisture out of the food and encourage it to harden. She cautioned against using conditioners since they can actually trap the moisture in the hoof walls rather than release it. She recommended that I find Copper Sulfate to spray on his hooves once or twice a day if possible to help them harden up. With the spring in the pasture and the dew every morning, his feet are just getting too soft. It took a bit of hunting but I found it, and was able to make up a solution and begin spraying it on. I guess Storm is going to get really good at having his feet picked and sprayed.
Next Page: 14.07.29: At the Grindstone
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