14.09.23: Go, Go, Go!

The toughest part of working with Storm is that when its bad, its usually REALLY bad. Its not fun, and it isn't what I enjoy about horses. Its humbling, and being force fed humble pie while you're scared isn't something I ever volunteer for. After our lesson of exhaustively trying to find my power while doing nothing but standing in the barn aisle I wasn't really ready for another dose of that. So it was a while before I got Storm out to work again. The session wasn't bad, though it was a little rough around the edges. We worked, and both of us made it out alive after working on the long reins together. He put effort in, and I tried to remain at my center, regardless of what he did. It was tough, and I could feel it slipping and sliding away. The hardest thing is you can't hold onto it. It slides right through your fingers and is gone no matter how hard you squeeze. Squeezing harder probably only makes it slip away faster. Its that tricky art of doing nothing that gets results. Somehow being in the midst of the moment and staying there while being unafraid of the moment will get better results than struggling to find it.
After an uneventful session I was a little more interested in getting back into the swing of things again. I also feel somewhat guilty for teaching students what to do while not working with my own horse, especially knowing that their horses are every bit as much of a challenge to them as Storm is for me. I feel it does them a disservice when I don't put in the effort myself. Ahh, teaching, motivation to keep going.
It was gorgeous on Sunday of this past week, and I decided excitedly to get him out and work for a little bit. I was feeling good and had high expectations. The girls were working with other students in the barn, so I grabbed Storm's bucket and fed him outside in the barn yard, which he didn't object to at all. When I decided it was a great idea to head right into the round pen he put on the brakes. I didn't have my long lines or bridle set up to be able to work, but I figured we could work at liberty after I checked in with him. Silly me put the expectations way too high. It was breezy, so the horse eating monsters were out in force again. We began, like we usually do these days, by backing around the round pen. I began, as we usually do, by going backwards to the left. That, for whatever silly reason, is the spooky direction. Since I didn't even have his rope halter (better for communication) on him, I decided that I was going to take the easy road, and change directions. Turning around in the midst of his angst resulted in a slightly calmer horse and a lick and chew. Mental note number one. We worked our way backwards, away from the scary spot at the back of the round pen, and back around past the gate again. This put us headed right back to the back of the round pen again where its scariest. This direction isn't so frightening, and he was calm enough that I was able to push him through it without him getting too upset. We made two laps this way, and then again, when we approached the scary side after he was calmer, I reversed again, giving him as much room as possible to make it around the round pen to the scary side from the scarier direction (that's a lot of scared!). He was calmer, and put in more effort. We worked for a while in that direction until he found a greater sense of calm again.
By this time, my grand plans of playing at liberty were tossed out the window. While I enjoy seeing him move out I did not want him to do so out of anxiety. I also didn't want to have to go through the entire process of waiting for him to calm down again after he'd run the angst out of himself. I decided that self management of his emotions was more important than letting him blow it out. He hasn't truly been allowed to blow out angst in over 6 months, and I think it is serving him well. I didn't want to change that in this moment.
Tuesday rolled around, and the weather was again beautiful, even on the cool side. I decided to work him after the farrier appointment was cancelled, and so I fed him and then we headed out. He gave me trouble trying to get out of the barn yard. I was not thrilled that he was already planting his feet with his head high trying to find the boogie man that didn't really exist. It took a few minutes of backing around to back him towards the gate along with moving forward away from it and then finally turning around and walking through. He was concerned walking to the round pen, but remained calm. I began with backing up, and went in the easy direction first, and he was lovely and calm. We changed directions and went in the scary direction, and I found him to be quite calm and pleasant. This is the horse I enjoy being around.
I put him on the long lines and we went right to work. He was doing all sorts of odd stretching and reaching with his neck. There were a few moment when he was really finding his balance and lifting his shoulders and front end. It looked amazing. He was stumbling a bit, which I attributed to the fact that he was due for a trim that day, and that he was really trying to shift his weight around and find his balance. We worked for a while in each direction, and I decided it was a good day to test the waters at liberty.
I took off the reins and turned him loose, he followed me to the center, and I asked him to gently back up, and then directed him out onto the circle. He turned and walked away as calm as if the line were still attached. He worked several laps at the walk, and I asked him to trot. It took a bit of energy to get him up into the trot, and he came down quickly, which was really nice. We worked a few more trot transitions before I asked for a canter transition. He grunted and threw himself into a canter which was rather messy and unbalanced looking. He dropped quickly back to the trot and then to the walk again, and never batted an eye. We worked for a little while longer at the walk before I asked him to stop and change directions, with the same result the other way. He was better able to get into the canter, but it was still fairly messy, and dropped into a speedy trot and then back to the walk quickly.
I was so pleased with his effort, we didn't work long. I clipped the lead rope back on and decided we would go for a walk and maybe graze for a bit since the grass in the field by the house was much greener than what was left in his pasture. We headed out of the gate and across the field. He walked calmly at my side, and eventually got a little worried, so we turned around and headed back towards the round pen. Again, we turned and headed back to the field, going further again. Lather, rinse, repeat. After several trips back and forth I let him graze and he went hunting for the greenest clover he could find. We grazed for a while, and then headed back to the round pen, and turned again and headed out once more. We made it to the top edge of the hill above the arena and hung there for a while grazing in the shade. Then we simply walked down the hill to the arena and in through the gate. He was a little wide eyed, so we began walking around, weaving in and out of the jumps, meandering around the space. Storm acted like he'd done it every day for a year. We hung out for a bit before making our way back up the hill.
He was spookier on the way back up than he was on the way down, he actually spooked when he noticed Jeff's truck parked near the dumpster where it hadn't been before. He was almost on top of it before he noticed he, he'd been too busy snorting looking at the barn as we walked by closer than we had before. I finished up with him and turned him out in the pasture, happy that he didn't bolt off or run away. It was a nice calm day with a lot of productivity. These are the days I relish, hoping for more of them than the days that are a struggle.
Next Page: 14.09.27: Straight Forward
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