Bringing in the Pony

We’ve started a new routine of allowing Salsa, our mini/Shetland cross, an hour or so of free time on the ranch each day with the mini donkeys. And because Salsa has recently decided that any human approaching him should play Catching Game with him first, I thought I’d try something novel when it came time to bring him in yesterday. I figured, what the heck, I do in fact own a cow pony, even though she hasn’t seen a cow in the three years she has lived with us. But watch her for 30 seconds with a ball and you can see the exuberance and athleticism she brings to cow work.

Watch Salsa for 30 seconds of turnout and you’ll see why this project might be above my skill level as a rider who is temporarily without a saddle for her cuttin’ horse.

I took River right to the barn, tying her near a full hay bag. I groomed her, without rushing, but without pausing either. On went the CSI pad and then the Parelli bareback pad. Then she got to keep eating while I stretched, found my helmet, got out the reins to snap on to her halter.

After that I led her down the path to where I park my truck. I played a few games along the way to test and improve her responsiveness. After all, as Linda Parelli points out, she was already calm and connected, so I didn’t need to work on those.

Leslie was there with her ATV and offered it to me – one of my priorities with my horses is that “everything is a mounting block” — so I climbed on the running board and heaved myself up and over. I missed the first attempt, not getting my belly button over her withers, but scrambled up on the second try.

I set my mind on my purpose: to bring the pony from his grazing spot on the lawn all the way up to the barn, where someone could open the paddock gate and let him in. River felt the energy right away and only tried to eat one time between the ATV and the pony, even though usually when we walk across the lawn she’s all “yay, snack!” I thought about how Pat Parelli demonstrates his method of working with cattle, not riling up the herd or getting anyone all scared or defensive.

We accidentally didn’t capture the first awkward moments on video, where I wobbled but didn’t come off when River executed a sweet sideways cutting move when Salsa started to dart past us, or where she trotted down the slope after him and I breathed and bounced (but rhythmically!) when he did get by us (only because I was holding her back at the time). And she was curious and responsive when I asked her to walk past him and put him between us and the barn again.

After that, it went very smoothly, and we did capture that part!

When Salsa was pointed in the direction I wanted him to go, we’d all halt and graze a little. Sometimes I decided when it was time to move again, and sometimes Salsa decided, in which case River and I followed. When Salsa was not pointing in the right direction, nobody got to rest.

At the end, I allowed River to graze as Jan opened the gate and Salsa took himself in, and then I hopped off, returned her to the hay bag, stripped off the tack, curried her a little, and then led her to the back 40 where she got one cookie before I turned her loose. Of course, I wanted to keep riding, keep doing, maybe play in the arena, practice trotting — but the best thing for River was to experience the event as a job. (A really, really fun job that she looks forward to performing.) She came out, did her work, and went home with no demands for overtime or additional meetings.

I’m going to try it again today. I’d love for it to become a regular Thing, even though I know we can’t do it every day, because River isn’t the only one around here who has a job. But I’ve thought about how I could make it a regular Thing mentally, if not calendarly. Kind of like when you house train a puppy, you don’t combine going outside for potty with going outside for play, even if you only come back in for 30 seconds between the potty break and the play time.

What if any time I go get her to bring Salsa in, that’s all we do.  (Heh. “All.”) What if we get to the point where I can take the bareback pad out to the back 40, meet her at the gate, strap it on her, swing up, go get salsa, and then back home just in time for dinner?

What if I get fit enough, confident enough, skilled enough, to do it bareback and bridleless?

What if eventually we can just open the gate and River goes out and brings Salsa in by herself?

I’m just sayin’.

 

 

Categories: Freestyle, Gratuitous Videos, River, Salsa Caliente | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Things that eat horses, according to Rockstar

Today’s top predators:

  • Tarp over the burn pile, which now open at one end and three times the height it was two days ago.
  • Neighbor’s riding mower, which we’ve only lived next door to for five years.
  • Other neighbor’s Mystery Big Square Thing, which neither moved nor made any noise.

After warming up in the arena, Rocky and I went out the gate (like it was nuthin’!) to trail ride around the ranch. Little did we know that the burn pile has changed in the past few days, growing taller, fuller, and also open at one side. Like a dragon’s cave. Full of bones.

What’s really cool about today is that:

  • I was totally confident –and skilled enough — to deal with it from the saddle.
  • I had enough savvy arrows in my quiver that I didn’t even have to use them all.
  • Rocky got to experience my leadership in balance with my respect for his thresholds.
  • I got to sing a whole bunch of songs I know only some of the words to, replacing their lyrics with words about Rocky.
  • I never felt inadequate to the task. And therefore I was not.

Rocky was spooky in general today. I don’t know if it was the breeze making the tarp really billow or if it was anything other than Rocky being in a Mood. But what worked was a combination of focusing on patterns and providing incentive.

At the burn pile, we made excellent use of yo-yo game, sideways game, bending, hindquarter yields, and resting.

At the neighbor’s mower, I simply turned Rocky to the left and started a pattern of figure 8s. When Rocky started to pay more attention to the pattern than to the spooking, he got to rest and nibble on the grass. When he shifted his focus back to spooking, I made the pattern more complex. Interlocking figure 8s around three trees that involved tight squeezes, terrain changes, stepping over a log, trotting the straightaways, sharp turns, and traveling through dappled sunlight and shadow? Not worth spooking at anything. And when not spooking, there was resting and grazing and eventually a nice walk back to the arena to  strip off the saddle and roll in the warm sand.

We passed the burn pile again on our way back and Rocky still hesitated but we did not need to repeat any of the strategies. I focused on our destination and asked him to “just walk by it” and he did.

 

Categories: Leadership, Rockstar, Thresholds, Trail | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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