I rode Rocky today. Twice.
The first time, I spent perhaps five minutes astride, in the arena, completely bareback, just trying to get a feel for whether his feet are too sore for having a rider. He stepped out exuberantly and we had such a good walk, I slid off and gave him a cookie while we were both still sound and happy.
The second time, I decided to start a pattern of riding him from his daytime pen to his nighttime turnout. I let him wander free around the ranch again this afternoon — is this the fourth day in a row? — and after he had walked, grazed, walked, grazed, and walked some more, and had no sign of limp, I brought him in to clean his feet and brush his back and belly with a soft brush. I used a light pad under my bareback pad and we still rubbed bones, so I think it’s time to start a Squishy Pad fund.
Rather than flat ears and nippy mouth during the cinching, he folded a foreleg up and bowed; a cookie absorbed his attention while I finished the knot. All that wandering around the ranch is not only building his confidence day by day, it’s warming him up and stretching him out.
This crude, hastily penned (pixeled?) diagram is nowhere near to scale, nor does it have all of the trees, buildings, pens, paths, logs, obstacles, vehicles, etc. marked. But it gives you an idea of why our meander-stop-meander ride took 40 minutes to go a furlong. The stops, marked by solid rectangles, are guesses. We did not actually go that close to the mini pigs, either.
And now, the excruciating detail…
I led him to the tack trunk on the far side of the arena, which would give me the longest ride to the turnout. It was only after I scrambled aboard that I realized I had mounted from the right. Last time I tried that, months ago, my body felt so awkward and clumsy, I almost couldn’t get my leg over. This time I was in place and settled on my balance point without hesitation.
He didn’t want to go forward, so I just sat for a bit, and we watched Paco and Dave eating their dinner, all of us hanging out, just us horses. Then when he really, really didn’t want to go forward, I turned him around, and he struck out along the arena toward the barn, then around the corner toward the drive. His first stop was at the open bathroom door: a gaping mouth of darkness! His next stop was at the wash station mats. His next stop was one step after that.
He was not spooked, but he wasn’t relaxed, either. It wasn’t just orneriness. The sun had set and the ranch had become gradations of shadow. I closed one eye to see how it might look without predator depth perception. With that perspective it was easy to be patient and sit there until he started looking for something else to do. I used the time to practice melting, balancing, and breathing.
If he licked and chewed, I let him have a bit more rest. If he started doing his displacement things, like nodding his head really fast, I did something about it. The head bobbing, I tugged a rein. The looking around for something to sniff, touch, or graze, I asked for forward. Smiling with all four cheeks got no response. Hugging with legs got a weave sideways or a weight shift. Clucking got a step sideways. Spanking with my hand on his hiney got a step forward. I was not consistent with my phases and I released too far at the slightest try, so that he would stop again. But over time, we started to figure each other out.
I started to be able to feel him hesitate before he stopped, so I could whoa us first. He could cause his idea to be my idea, and vice versa.
I patted his muscles to keep him from retreating into an introverted stare. I could feel when he was tense, and I remembered, eventually, to wait for the lick and chew. I got better at feeling when he was anxious and when he was asking for firmer leadership. My balance at the left-hand-on-reins, right-hand-smacking-rump improved, as did my confidence in my determined, “Because I’m The Mommy And I Said So” attitude.
And once he decided to trust me entirely and walk past the pigs and the gaping maw of the toolshed in the weird bright-and-dark stippling of the night lights, he walked right along until I asked for a halt outside the turnout. I slipped down and gave him a cookie and praised him. In his night blindness, he swung his head toward me and clocked his jaw on my helmet which startled him, but he let me rub out the sting. I got the tack off quickly and rubbed my hands along his neck, back, and haunches, massaging and smoothing the way I would like to be rubbed. I felt some stiffness in my lower back so I figured he had matching sorenesses. He didn’t walk away from the stroking so I am certain it felt good to him.
Tomorrow I will find out if I took the right approach at least half the time today. I will time the journey and see if we can improve on it at all. If it takes MORE time, then obviously I’m doing it wrong. But if it takes less, well, then. *beam*