Rocky first, then Salsa…
I put Rocky’s boots on tonight and we moseyed around the loop and out the big gate, then up the gravel road to the edge of our property (but on the Outside of the Fence! Gasp!). The edge of the property just happens to be the edge of the Back 40 — his pasture — and he was so cute, gazing through the trees at his herd, clearly thinking “huh, weird, I’m on the wrong side of the fence.”
We hung out there a little bit and he was more interested in looking around than grazing, though he did nose around the ground a few times. More evidence supporting my “innate RBI” conclusion: if he were innately LBI, he’d give a quick glance around, note the absence of danger, and graze like he’ll never get to graze again.
On the way back, he paused in my side yard, across from the pigs, and sniffed and snorted around, so I just waited and tried to keep the rope out from under his hoof, to see what he would do. That area is full of scary things: two lumber piles under tarps of two different colors, wheelbarrows, a tool shed, some shovels, a pile of bricks, a big stump. All of this cast shadows in the floodlights, so to Rocky — who is moonblind and has no night vision — it must have seemed like he was on an island of solid ground surrounded by black holes.
He tensed and snorted, and I waited. I don’t know how long we were there, as I was kicking the ball for Jedi, singing, doing a few stretches of my own. Rocky did relax and put his head down, blinking and breathing, although there was no big “blow” of release. I suddenly jumped as if startled and he didn’t react; sometimes when I do that he plants all four feet and has a full-body spasm, and in fact it’s become my test of “is he going right brain right now?”
I finally did lead us back toward the barn when he had lifted his head and stood still for quite a while, looking at the pig pen across the drive, and I don’t know what I was seeing but I felt that he was working himself up instead of calming himself down. So I led the retreat, and then asked for a hindquarter yield so his nose was pointing back at the threshold. I waited there until he dropped his head and nosed around looking for some other trouble to get into.
This is Jedi, showing us the scary area during the daytime:
Then we went into the arena and played at the trot.
I encouraged his idea when he took off at Evil Trot in a circle rather than follow the figure 8, and we did traveling circles until he asked to come in. I invited him in, stroked him, then returned to the figure 8 and sent him again. We did this little routine a couple of times and then he executed a figure 8 without breaking gait and I said “great!” and that was that for figure 8.
I tied some cones together with a lead rope and draped them over his back and had him carry them to where I could setup a weave pattern. He expressed his preference for a circle with head up and nose tilted away, so off we went on more traveling circles. He kept his inside ear on me though and when he straightened his had and lowered his nose, I invited him in. Our circling game is broken so I am trying very hard to stay aware of his language and wait for him to tune in before we stop circling, even if it means several changes of direction. The traveling circle works well for us because it does not stress his coffin joints as much as a 22-foot circle does.
I am going through the level 2 patterns again, this time at the trot as intended, although not doing 7 sessions in a row of the things he’s bored with. Next session we’ll skip the figure 8, do a weave to warm up (I did something differently today and our weave was the best ever — and he offered more and I asked less!). But we will do seven sessions of the circle pattern, and we might even do them in the round pen, so that I can really get that rhythm, relaxation, and contact thing down. I’ve done it wrong for so long it might take more than seven sessions to fix, but I won’t turn it into a drill. We’ll do our seven, then move on, and refine in level 3 when we have the 45-foot line for wider circles and cantering.
I’m moving too fast with Salsa and the games. He puts his nose on things and finds the cookie for touch-it pattern, but tonight showed me that he’s doing exactly that: putting his nose on things for the cookie. Not following my lead in a dance toward the touch-it goal. Just walking along when I walk, then touching whatever object is near, and munching.
Next session I will break things down further and spend more time on friendly, porcupine, and driving, in isolation, and then finish up with a few touch-it items.
I need to get that appropriate-response-to-pressure thing more solid. It’s like I’d forgotten that Salsa has not practiced the beginning of level 1, and have expected him to respond to wiggles and pokes and faces and belly buttons without actually teaching him what friendly, porcupine, and driving look like when *I* do them.
I did the right thing with the friendly game tonight, though. I put my feet on an X on the barn floor to make sure I didn’t move them, and I moved the pony around as needed, as I played with the curry and brush (translation: groomed him). He’s not afraid but he didn’t want to give me zone 4 for grooming. That’s fine — there was plenty of dirt and hair on zones 2 and 3 to work with. It’s hard to stay bent over though so I grabbed a chair and sat in that to finish the grooming.
Then I rubbed his front legs, one at a time, scratching, massaging, stroking, rhythmically. When he shifted his weight to the other side, I released. When he lifted his foot, I released. Then one time when he lifted his foot I massaged around it a bit, said “okay,” and put it back down. Eventually I held it, cleaned it, and set it back down. I did all four feet in this way and it did not take as long to get the back ones as it did yesterday, which is how I know I’m on the right track. I also managed to give him a cookie while he held a foot up and rested it in the palm of my hand. (The hoof, not the cookie.)