Footsore and fancy free

Yup, that was Liberty. We did a little more of it today, again almost by accident. Rocky’s hind feet are tender as he continues to adjust to going bare so I’m trying to get him plenty of time to move around in the soft arena sand. (No, we’re not going to remove the top six inches of soil in the pasture and replace it with pea gravel.)

I let him loose in the arena to roll and explore, then gradually suggested, from the center, that he trot around the rail. When he stopped at the trough I stayed Friendly and relaxed. He drank for a while, played with the water, but I could tell he had his eye on me. Eventually he asked a question, at which point I suggested he trot the other direction. I wanted him to move, get his muscles warmed up and his blood circulating well in his feet.

He started out with a bit of a swish-and-flick but in just a few circuits he realized a couple of things:

  • I was not shouting commands but rather quietly suggesting.
  • I trusted him to keep going around the circuit when he was behind me.
  • I was smiling, relaxed, soft eyes, Friendly — which meant he could relax, soften, flex, and ask questions without fear that I would chase him.

When he broke gait, typically stopping in a corner or at the west rail, I gave him a moment to rest or Touch It. Only when he lifted his head over the rail, put his attention to the outside, and took both eyes off me did I point and direct my energy. If he didn’t move off in a few seconds I added a cluck but that’s all it took. The only times I picked up my stick were when he was unsure and asking which way to swing his hindquarters, and I used it to HideYourHiney but dropped it immediately when he moved.

When he asked a question I would sometimes smile and walk backwards encouragingly and each time he came right to me for a rub and a rest. I didn’t do this at every question, but at enough that he seemed to stay interested.

The whole game lasted maybe five minutes? 10? It’s so hard to judge horse time.

I did it this way — Liberty instead of On-Line, arena instead of round pen — because he’s been offering it and engaging with me, and because the vet said the bigger the circuits the better in order to keep from overstressing the front coffin joints. I needed him to move, for his health, and this was a way for him to remember the joy of motion and realize that his feet are more comfortable than they were a week ago. He offered a canter at one point and I didn’t discourage it, but when I asked for a specific gait I asked only for trot. I was not worried about his responsibility to not break gait as we are not officially studying Liberty yet, and besides, the game wasn’t “just trot,” the game was “move.”

I’m able to read him well enough now that I can tell when he’s starting to think about disengaging, so I end the session before that. (Not that long ago I posted in some chagrin that I still can’t read him well enough. What changed? My perspective, I think. Will muse on that in another post.) It was an amazing feeling, to recognize when he relaxed and tuned in, to see his appreciation that I was so calm and — yes — serene. He dropped his head a little and became more rhythmic and gave me his attention. And all I had to do was wait, and not stress about what horsenality he was showing at any given moment (the old litany: is he defiant? scared? bored? hurting?), and let him work a few things out on his own.

When we finished, I tossed a cookie or carrot on every obstacle in the arena (left out from a previous lesson) and went around behind him putting new treats out on a few after he found the originals. I tried at one point to direct him to another treat zone but he wasn’t interested in direction just then, so I stopped. Absolutely no point in pursuing more Liberty than our relationship/ability allows in the moment.

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