One of Pat’s favorite sayings is:
Good, better, best
Never let it rest
Make your good better
And your better best
It’s memorable and cute, but what do you do when you’re nowhere even close to “good”? I had to write a “prequel” poem after my educational and triumphant Freestyle session today:
From poor to fair
You can only reach good
If you don’t despair
Or maybe I should just go with the Galaxy Quest motto. Never give up! Never surrender!
I feel like I had a day-long seminar in horsemanship. (Principle #7 in action.) Let me see if I can record it here with enough subheads and multimedia to make it skimmable and interesting.
The morning started with a stroll around the Back 80. I already posted that pastoral video. I also got to see the excitement when Danielle called them down the hill for their hay.
Soon after that, I realized that even though I had found Rocky’s lost shoe, he’d thrown the other one. I talked it over with Danielle as she showed me how to fit the boots on his nekkid hooves and decided to attempt a barefoot transition.
I went back out to the horses mid-afternoon and Rocky (and Star) perked up and met me as close to the gate as they dared, what with Riley standing guard. I’m learning so much from watching the herd dynamics, particularly Riley’s boss-mare-itude and Paco’s sneaky “I may not be top but I’m higher than YOU” drives at Rocky (and Star).
I brought Rocky out on the 22-foot-line and tried the “play on the way to the saddle” technique, with a little break for grazing. Turns out he needed more play than I gave him, so halfway through the saddling process, I dragged the thing off of him (has someone hidden anvils in the cantle lately?) and we did a bit more in and around the barn. He still wasn’t exactly jumping up and down screaming “Saddle me! Saddle me!” but he stood more patiently.
Then I blew his mind by driving from Zone 3 to a tree. As soon as he touched the tree with his nose, I gave him a cookie. Then to another tree with a patch of grass. Then to a rock on the ground, with grass. And so on, all the way around the loop driveway/trail of our three-acre ranch. Savvy: I can only describe his expression as “astonished” when I didn’t lead him directly to the arena and scramble on board.
It reads like it all just happened, but in truth, it wasn’t (is never) that smooth. My signals were often clumsy and Rocky’s responses sometimes sluggish. I struggle with how to be particular without being critical, and in my attempts to be less direct-line, I sometimes change my mind about one goal without having another ready to take its place. I’m still very much a learner with all of this.
Into the Arena
I did the pre-flight checks, including my own stretches, although I’d forgotten again to wear the knee brace I should be wearing for the next two months. I need to keep it in the tack room, apparently! Here we are playing a few warm-up games:
Because of the biomechanical problems I’m having with my left foot/ankle/knee, I’ve been leaving the arena to mount. Erin is using the platforms/pedastals in another pen as part of Sombrita’s trailer desensitization, so I can’t elevate the little mounting stairs high enough. It’s also too small to land on reliably for a dismount. Luckily there is a handy storage trunk just outside the gate. Today Rocky didn’t try quite as hard to graze while I prepared us for mounting, so when I was settled, I allowed him to graze for a while before moving on. Savvy: I believe he is starting to trust that when I say “no” I’m really saying “not now,” and that he doesn’t need to force or insist, because I will be a good leader and choose the right time to allow whatever it is. (“Cause is less than make, and allow is more than let.”)
He’s still wiggly but I think he’s getting Follow the Rail. I succeeded in being more consistent about halt-back-halt, direction change, circles, and walk-trot transitions. Savvy: The better I am about leaving him completely alone on the rail — and engaging my focus into the distance without looking down — the more he sees the rail as a place of reward or rest. The flourishes add variety to make it interesting, and the rail adds consistency and the pride of handling his responsibilities. Also, the trot transitions encouraged a more exuberant walk.
We rested between Follow the Rail and Figure 8. He blew out and relaxed for a moment, but then picked his head up. I took that as a cue to get him moving again. Our figure 8 looked like it had been run over by a truck, but I concentrated on following as much of Pat’s model on the DVD that I could reasonably handle: change hands on the reins in the center, keep core and eyes focused on the destination, be as light as possible and trust that he’ll respond. Savvy: I am not very good at the reins yet but I am doing better on the core and focus. I also kept going through moments of awkwardness and just plain crummy riding, once again remembering that this is a journey and I will never get any better if I quit each time I am not instantly excellent.
We were doing our first Figure 8 when I remembered that Pat wants us to stop in the center of the arena during Follow the Rail, and start making the center a place of rest and reward. I mostly did halt-back-halt when on the rail, but we did have a couple of rail rest breaks. When we’d done enough Figure 8 that Rocky was preparing for something to happen in the middle (coolness!) but not so much that we felt drilled-and-killed, I took us back to the rail then into the center for a rest, some lateral flexion, and cookies.
Then we went on a micro trail ride.
Our First Ride Outside
I took us to the right and prepared myself mentally for Rocky to hesitate at the same threshold we hit yesterday. I told myself that all we had to do was one step further than we did last time, and then I’d call it a success and head back to the tack trunk to dismount. I also decided that if he went past that spot, I’d stop him at the first patch of grass — about 10 feet — and give him a whole minute.
He went right past the spot as if he’d never choked, and when I halted him at the grass, he didn’t even drop his nose. He just stood there calmly, looking around, ears perked. Savvy: I focused eyes and core on the mini meadow ahead and moved us onward before he could lose that interest and drop his head to graze, thus creating potential for a struggle.
Our loop walk included:
- Horses behind electric fences
- Parked cars
- Horse trailers
- Mini meadow
- Pile of logs and branches ready for burning
- Squeezes between trees, fence posts, shrubbery
- A neighbor handing carrots to the mini-donkeys
- Grass patch at 3/4 mark (We stopped to graze for a minute)
- Hoof boots making odd sound on gravel road
- Motorcycles and cars noisy on the road at the front of the property
- Barking dogs
Neither of us spooked and we both enjoyed ourselves. I dismounted at the other tack trunk, which (ironically) is where the threshold was yesterday. Savvy: I kept him with me as I cleaned up our stuff and let him carry the 400-pound saddle to the tack room, where I gave him some hay to munch while I gave him a nice scraping with the shedding blade (and came up with enough fur to make four Persian cats.) In this way he got his rest/reward with me, instead of my rewarding him with instant ‘release’ back to the horse herd.
When I did take him back to the herd, I drove everyone away from the gate, even Star, whose cute baby princess self has become entirely too cozy of late. He stuck to me for a minute or two and then I said good night, wanting to end on a highlight. I did go back out later to toss the ball for the dog, who almost died of neglect in the house while I devoted time to just Rocky, and distrbuted carrots to every equine on the property who would come to the fence to get one.