Sometimes I wonder if Rocky and I are the home-bound equivalent of a vacation romance. Here on the ranch he mostly asks me questions and is happy to see me and willing to follow my suggestions. But once we cross the road to go for The Walk, everything changes.
The entire experience was positive for us both in the sense of every program has to start somewhere. Learning that he doesn’t even think to look at me when we’re out of the comfort zone, much less allow my own calm to ease his mind and calm him, just means a chance to learn more horsemanship skills to deal with them appropriately.
Either that or my own calm was helping and that’s why he never once bolted or reared or jumped into my arms or retreated into a comatose state.
What I need to ask in my next lesson:
- Am I shoving him off cliffs with my approaches to various thresholds or am I respecting the thresholds and helping him gain confidence?
- How much can I allow him to eat of the grasses and plants along the way without making him sick?
- How can I be more effective about enforcing the rule of walking behind me (knowing that Rocky spent 7 years being taught to put the human in Zone 2 before I got him)?
- Is it dangerous to allow Rocky, specifically, to power into fast trot, canter, and gallop on the uneven ground at the school?
- How do I “match his energy” or “match his energy and add four ounces” effectively?
If Erin doesn’t want to go for The Walk, I can probably simulate some of it in the front arena.
Some things I handled pretty well. I can see now when he’s ready to move on after a freeze-in-place-to-stare. I don’t get flustered, frustrated, or scared. I don’t blame Rock at all — it’s all about my learning as quickly as possible how to be the leader he needs out on the trail.
I’m so proud of his progress, too. He’s not afraid of bicycles or barking dogs or moving vehicles or walking over the wooden bridge and through a doorway-sized squeeze to walk down the narrow path between fences to get to the school. He was fascinated by the kids on the trampoline and we watched them for a long while. He didn’t completely panic about the bonfire or the goats, though he was tense. He had enough presence of mind that after staring and snorting at something for a while, he would rudely mug me for cookies.
He understands that mailboxes often, but not always, have horse cookies on top, and therefore must be inspected. He doesn’t panic about stepping on his rope while grazing and exploring the forested hill and open grass field behind the school. He inspected all rocks and stumps at the school in case of cookies.
Most importantly he didn’t fall over when he lost his balance galloping in a circle and he didn’t step in a hole and snap his leg. Nor did he aim any kicking at me — he had to release the energy but didn’t do it in my direction.
When we got back to the lane toward home, he spooked in place twice at the fathers-sons-Labrador football game, then realized they weren’t going to eat him and got absorbed in acorns instead. Even when one dad intercepted a pass and ran all 90 yards to the end zone right next to us — basically sprinting toward Rock the whole time — Rock didn’t even flinch.
I ended with some loose horse time in the arena, just hanging out. He explored every corner and obstacle in case of cookies, and was calm and even affectionate with me. He stood patiently at the pasture gate to be blanketed (and helped by putting his head through the neck hole) even though he could see that the hay had already been distributed and both Riley and Centella were eating.
Jan and Dan will be here for four days in a row this week, and we will try to take all the animals on The Walk at least twice and may even be able to do it daily.