2016.10.22: One Giant Step Forward

I've obviously been remiss in keeping this up to date. On one hand, not much has happened.... on the other hand, I guess a lot actually has happened.
We've continued to experiment with the Decarpentry lunging, and there is finally a shift beginning to happen that seems to be sticking. We had a few exciting sessions when he decided to fold himself in half at the neck and bolt down the paddock with me, but otherwise, he's kept his head on straight. I feel that between the progress he's made feeling better in his own skin, and my own personal progress, we are further along than we've ever been, despite the lack of riding time. We did manage to get one ride this summer in a lesson. It was short, but there was steam coming out of his ears by the end of the lesson.
We had been working in the paddock with the Decarpentry, but while I was away in September, Kirsten put him back in the ground pen with the Decarpentry setup. He benefited from the smaller confined space, which kept him from bending his neck and throwing his weight onto the forehand sideways. Having the rail helped support him better and keep him straighter. Due to my travel and schedule once I got home, I didn't have many opportunities to work with him. I lucked into some time on Friday afternoon before our lesson today. I'm glad I was able to take that time, it was still warm (almost 80!) and he worked up a sweat, despite the brisk breeze that blew most of the time. He also held himself together for the most part despite the breeze. He did need some canter to work things out a little, but it wasn't the runaway train type of canter. We finished and spent a little time grazing before I turned him out.
About an hour after I finished with him, the front rolled in. The wind blew like crazy, raining sideways. We ended up with over 1/2" of rain in about an hour even with it raining sideways for the first half hour. I was very pleased that I finished working before the weather shifted! Following the rain, the temps started dropping. Saturday morning dawned gray, with strong winds, and only 48 degrees! I headed out to feed and get him ready for the lesson, and found the horses a little on edge with the winds being what they were. I expected it, and that gave me a little bit of the jitters, which I tried to manage with every trick that I knew of (Balance oil on my feet, reversing my polarity and his, and really trying to stay grounded in my feet and breathe!).
I tacked him up in his stall while the others ate, and when I had to leave him to turn out the other horses, he got a bit worked up. I let Kirsten know we were ready to start, and she nudged me to manage myself (you CAN do this...) and get him to the round pen. I decided to just take however long it took him to get there, and not let him work himself up, but not rush either. So I walked him out of the barn, and asked him to walk towards the round pen. He halted right away, and wanted to look everywhere but the direction out of the barn yard. I just asked him to continue trying to go towards the round pen, and had to ask from his side for him to step forward. Two steps. Lather, rinse, repeat. Once I gave him the time to wait, he responded by licking and chewing, and then continued to do so even as we moved towards the round pen a halting two steps at a time.
Kirsten met us on the driveway, and then closed the gate behind us after we arrived in the round pen. We discussed the options. I could turn him loose, and let him blow off some steam, and then we could begin work when he decided to come down enough to work. Or, I could simply put him to work and ask him to balance and manage his own emotions. If he blew up in that process, then we could just let him blow off the steam on the line and continue to work when he came back down to earth again. She felt that due to Storm's propensity to spin the story bigger in his own head it was best to simply begin work and ask him to focus rather than worry about where the boogie man *might* be hiding.
So we began. I started working to the right with the Decarpentry lunging setup. The right is his weaker hind leg, but it is easier for him to move on a smaller circle to the right than it is to the left. He needs less forward momentum to the right than to the left for him to find his balance, so it is the better direction to choose when I really need to get his mind engaged before we need the speed. We calmly began walking to the right. I was pleased to see that he was less reactive to my requests that he engage and use his hind end to push forward and lift his back than he had been yesterday. Even though he didn't blow up yesterday, he was reacting to my aid by using speed going into the trot, rather than being thoughtful about adding the activity in the hind end to engage the back muscles correctly. The more laps we did, the more he settled into the work, finding his balance without needing to resort to speed or spinning a story about the leaves that just blew across his path at gale force speed.
We finally switched to the left, and he struggled to maintain the circle. He was falling inward, creating tiny unbalanced circles. It took speed to help him find his hind leg, and to release the tension in his neck to free up his front left shoulder, which is fairly stuck from the over compensating that he's done for years. Even using the speed at this point, he still maintained his thoughtfulness about how he was using his body. He began to look for the balance rather than just throwing himself into the faster gait. Soon he was even making the downward transition into the trot without dumping straight onto his front end (and that left shoulder/leg). Kirsten complimented him that it was the best canter work that she has seen him do yet.
She challenged us to find the time, to really make the time in our schedule to do something, even if it is just for 15 minutes. To make the effort to get it done more often so that he maintains much better. He really does need the consistent work in order to maintain his own balanced mind and body. We discussed the fact that before I moved up to the farm and began managing things on my own (which cramped my own schedule!) that I was getting in quite a bit of consistent work, but due to the combination of the bit and the techniques we were using at the time, he was too stuck behind the vertical and on the forehand to be behaviorally consistent. That inconsistency has been my challenge over the course of our whole relationship. My own psyche wants to keep me safe, and it is so much easier to be a weenie than it is to step out, and go do something if you think that it might be scary. And working with Storm when he decides to have a temper tantrum is scary! And that's not fun. That's not my idea of a good time with horses. So finding the motivation to go sign up for that possibility isn't easy. Now that we have gotten him out of the major part of being stuck on the forehand and behind the vertical he is making progress again. He is no longer just coping with what is going on, he is able to ignore the scary blustery day and just work. And work calmly, one step at a time.
The real satisfaction came when we were finished. He calmly walked out of the round pen, into the barn yard, and stood in the barn aisle while I untacked him and brushed him off a little. Then he grazed quietly even in the wind for a few minutes before I turned him out, which he also did quietly ambling away from me to go get a drink of water. THAT is progress.
Next Page: 2016.11.05: And One Step Back