09.02.14: For the Love of a Storm

The arena is FINALLY in a usable condition, Holly harrowed it which helped a lot. The far end was still a bit soupy, but definitely in suitable condition. I decided that it would be a good idea to give Storm an opportunity to burn off some energy before we headed into 'scary territory' again so that hopefully he would have less energy to react to things.

We headed to the pasture to get him, and his head was buried in the hay feeder (which is distinctively low for having had fresh bales delivered on Tuesday), when he finally noticed me, he turned and paused to drive off the two mares near him before ambling over. I haltered him and we strolled out and headed down to the arena.

I started along the way with the walking backwards exercise on our way down to the arena, which was fairly focused. Jim met us at the arena with an extra carrot stick and the 22' line in the event that we wanted it. We came into the arena and I took the lead off of Storm while Jim latched the gate (not that it would have held in the event that Storm really challenged it, it was more for the mental security than anything...). Jim took up the position at the gate end of the arena to guard the corners to prevent Storm from challenging the fence or gate. Thankfully, all of the jumps and standards were piled in the corners in the other end of the arena out of the way.

I walked towards the other end, and began to ask Storm to move off away from me. As I increased the pressure, he pushed back with a few half hearted bucks and kicks, but took off at a pretty canter around the arena. He got himself a bit worried, though nothing near his anxiety the first time we did this during Kirsten's lessons several months ago. He careened around the arena sweeping through the middle performing the most beautiful smooth as butter lead changes. I had to actually watch his legs to see the switch in his stride. As he would come down the long side of the arena he would sometimes switch several times in a row as he tried to decide what direction he was going to take. When he began his running, he had one ear locked onto me throughout his wild thundering. I'm not even sure that thundering is really appropriate. Despite his close to 1600 lbs, his canter is remarkably soft. One would think that his size would make him heavy sounding at faster speeds, but surprisingly he isn't.

Marta came down with her horse, which distracted him. I had to work harder to drive him away from the other horse to draw him back to me. So long as he was anxious or unfocused on me, then he would be asked to run. As soon as he began to calm, and look to me for direction, then he was allowed to stop running.

Slowly, he began to look more to me rather than continuing to run. Heaving his bulk around at that speed isn't something that he is used to. He finally stopped and faced me with both ears forward and eyes locked on. I turned away, took a few steps and waited. I knew somehow that he wasn't going to walk to me yet, so as soon as his attention shifted elsewhere, I moved to the side to cause him to look in my direction again. This went on for a time, him looking at me, then away, and I would shuttle in the opposite direction of his gaze to draw him back again.

I finally had moved so far around to his side that he was forced to take a step to maintain his focus on me. He stepped sideways, and from that point I turned and walked away, hearing his feet shuffling in the damp sand behind me and his breath rushing from his run. We twisted and wound our way around the arena his gentle steps plodding after my boots in the soft sand, his rushing breath a constant sound at my elbow. We continued our dance as his breathing very slowly began to subside.

I put the lead back on, and asked him for some more focus work walking backwards, and then transitioned into driving him from zone 3. He had some speed issues, either being ahead of me (more often) or behind me (which resulted from the correction of being ahead). He settled down after a bit and managed to get the walk more balanced to the pace that I was setting.

We finally headed out of the arena, with me resuming the walking backwards exercise for more support as we made our way up towards the field and the trailer. We had opened it up and thrown a few carrots in so it was waiting when we got up there. I guided Storm into the field moving smoothly backwards. His anxiety did rise as we headed around towards the back of the trailer, so I simply went around the other way and turned back into the field to do more circles and loops while walking backwards to build his confidence. As I was working, I heard the sound of hooves, and looked up towards the lane to see Tucker thundering towards the parking lot sans rider. As he hit the asphalt he attempted to slow down, which worked in the front because he was wearing trail boots, but his hind feet had no purchase on the smooth pavement and he skidded as he attempted to slow down. Storm was startled by the strange noise and I immediately had to refocus on regaining his attention and relaxation. I hollered to Jim and he headed off in a hurry to catch Tucker, and shouted to Anne's daughter to head out and find out where she was. Jim threw Tucker into his stall about the same time that Marta came up the hill with her horse, concerned about the commotion. They both headed off down the lane to check on Anne. I decided that I'd better head back in that direction just in case something was wrong, and to support Storm to help him calm down faster in an area that he is more confident in.

About the time Storm and I got back into the parking lot, they came walking up. Anne was fine, Tucker had simply dumped her off over his head, and she somersaulted onto the ground. I turned Storm again and we headed back out into the field to the trailer. He was nervous coming around the back, so we made several passes along the back to allow him to calm himself a little more before we attempted to really work with it.

I began making my arcs again more towards the back of the trailer. Storm was more curious about the boxes that were now stacked in the back on the other side (Mike and Trish moved some things into it since they were taking out their other trailer the next day) than he was with much else (including the carrots on the floor!). We worked back and forth for a time, always trying to leave before Storm thought about going away himself, yet not interrupting his exploring. He calmed quickly, so I moved to asking him for more effort in exploring the trailer. I used the long whip to tap him on the hip and ask that he step forward further into or on the trailer. He finally found the carrots that were on the floor of the trailer, and his next attempt had him pawing at the floor. We made another pass, this time pawing with the other foot.

Finally, we approached again, and he stepped up confidently, and was exploring the boxes on the other side of the divider. I allowed him to explore and sniff things, and then we turned and walked away again. We headed back again for another try, and I raised the whip and asked him to step forward and he stepped all the way into the trailer. He explored the hay in the hay bag up front, and hung out for a minute. He twisted his head over the divider looking back at me, and then peered over the other direction checking things out. I sent Jim around to the front of the trailer to help support Storm backing out. I gently reached and rubbed Storm on the rump, and then picked up his tail and asked him to back up. He was reluctant at first, hesitating as he was not quite sure of himself. I kept gently asking, and he backed out swiftly, and we were through for the day.

I grazed him for a moment while Jim closed up the trailer, and we headed into the barn for a bit of grooming. Storm had sticky mud on him in some spots, and had become a little bit sweaty following his running around the arena. We made many "waffles" (the mats of hair that fall out of the rough curry that I have) as he is shedding pretty good now. I worked over one side roughing the hair up with the curry, and then moved on to the other side while Jim used the shedding blade on the other side. Even his legs are shedding.

We finished up, and I grabbed his new bridle to try on. The longer throat latch finally arrived the other day, and I wanted to try it on to be sure that it fit correctly. I asked Storm to put his head down, and then placed my arm over his head and reached for the bridle between his ears. I slipped the bit down under his mouth, and he opened his mouth reaching for the bit, which I slid into his mouth easily. I pulled his ears under the top, and realized at that time that Storm was mouthing an awful lot. It was then that I realized that the nylon nose band had fallen down with the bit, and he had it in his mouth too. With the bridle over his ears already, I couldn't get it out of his mouth, so I had to slip it off partially, and pull the nose band up over his nose. Poor guy was so tolerant. I got the nose band set, and then set the sinew braid that supports the nose band so that doesn't happen in the future. The new throat latch fits comfortably on him, almost needing one more hole punched in it. That's ok with me if its a bit big, nothing else is big on him! I pulled the bridle off, and Jim turned him out in the pasture again. Marta was down at the end of the barn, and hollered that Storm was rolling in the dirt again. I guess if it gets more hair off of him I won't complain!

I was super pleased with the progress on all fronts at this point in time. Hopefully the weather will hold tomorrow so that we can continue. We headed out to run some errands after that, and I finally found the little stool that I was looking for that I can use when I groom him, that way I can actually SEE his back, instead of just looking up at it.

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09.02.15: ReTrailer