Good things happen when you let the horse set the timeline

Rock has been galloping around bucking like a yearling during the first few minutes of his turnout with Salsa in the arena, so yesterday I decided to take my Australian saddle out there and see if it fits him and if so, get back to our freestyle patterns. Early last year Jenni and I tried it and it seemed pretty good for him but felt odd for us. Now that I evaluate it with my Parelli-opened eyes, I think it is going to be a good “balance point” saddle.

rockyterrainWhile he and Salsa concentrated on rolling and investigating all the obstacles for cookies, I dragged every pole out and let it fall some what haphazardly, although generally in a north-to-south direction. I also moved some barrels out and spread the tarp flat. Rock doesn’t know where his feet are and he doesn’t pick them up very high either, so for a while I’m going to try scattering stuff around. Not specifically to play with, but to be there in hopes of teaching him his responsibility #4: look where you are going.

I let him play for a while longer and when he started looking to me for ideas, I suggested that he get on the pedestal with all four feet. Just a soft point with a finger, and a firm picture in my mind of what I wanted. He got right on up and waited for his treat.

He is solid now with getting the front feet up there but still seems to be lifting his back feet and putting them down at random, until they’re on the platform. He will end up with the toe of one hoof barely on the wood or halfway in the crack between two slats of wood. When he gets down, he picks up a front foot and kind of paws it around until it finds the sand, whether that’s in front of him or to one side, and then he leans forward and keeps picking up feet in turn until they are all on the sand. I need to get this on video, because it’s funny, even though it’s kind of sad.

I let him stay there for a while–he really does like it up there!–and then suggested he stick to me. We walked a circuit around the arena, stepping over poles or walking between them. (I didn’t care which route he chose as long as he stuck to me, as the goal here is for him to watch his step, not to jump poles.) When we were lined up with the pedestal, I said “let’s trot!” and we jogged up and put two feet on the platform. He got a treat and we hung out there for a long time, watching the ranch.

We did another circuit in that direction and then one going the other way. I finished up with a zig zag all over the arena, including poles, barrels, and tarps, and ended with all four feet on the pedestal while I sat on the fence near his head.

He was so good through all of this that I decided not to push it with re-introducing freestyle. I really really really really want to ride, but I know that the transition back to saddling might bring up some Issues, and I had the wit to accept the perfect liberty session and end things while he still wanted more. I’m under no illusions, I know right now the treats are 97% of his motivation, but Linda says that “pretty soon” I will learn to be more interesting than the treats if I just follow the program.

I played with Salsa a little bit at liberty, just a few hindquarter and forehand yields, and then I cleaned all four feet. At liberty. He did so well! He still worries about the left hind, so I made sure to say “okay” and put it down quickly, wait, then have him lift it again for one stroke with the pick, then back down.  I can tell from his posture that it’s not emotional resistance, it’s a physical soreness or stiffness, and I think that allowing him to set it down and rest from time to time is building trust.

Next on-line session for Salsa will start with figure 8 and introduce the level 2 touch-it! And I need to rake out that round pen so Rocky and I can get moving on the official liberty patterns.

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Categories: Liberty | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Good things happen when you let the horse set the timeline

  1. I am a huge fan of poles to help the horse with feet awareness! The first time I used them with Phoenix he was a mess, tripping over them periodically, but the second session he was SO FOCUSED! He dropped his head and carefully negotiated over them. 🙂

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