I’ve been pretty good about taking Rocky out for his workouts at least 3 and more often 5 days a week — until I have a work trip and then it’s two weeks off, we both lose all our fitness, and we have to start over.
Recently I realized just how much I’m still holding him back.
I took him to the front arena intending to warm up and then trot over poles, with some canter circles mixed in for interest. I’m choosing the front arena because it’s a better gauge of our relationship. He’s a lot more UP!, out there, and it’s much harder to keep him connected. Hm, how interesting, and yay, what an opportunity.
We played on the 22-foot line and I tried for flows of circles, arcs, sideways, transitions up and down the gaits, and resting just before the threshold between up and ACK!. This threshold used to be about 12 feet from the gate and now it’s about 45 feet.
- I concentrated on keeping my focus on Rocky. If I’m asking him to keep focused on me, I need to do the same, and not be distracted by the horses across the street or motorcycles roaring by or a giant truck with flapping tarps. Or incoming texts.
- I assessed the situation and didn’t leave the arena until we were connected and calm.
- I had the idea to have our resting spot be further from the gate instead of going to the gate to rest. In the past, I did this to show him that he could always retreat to a more comfortable place. But I realized that I can start expanding that comfort zone, and that all those times I didn’t think to do so have solidified the barrier between comfort and fear instead of blurred it.
Improvements for Next Time
- Focus more on the relationship connection (“what does Rocky need in this moment? and this one? and this one?”) and less on the physical activities (“we’ve done 4 circles let’s do a sideways and now an arc, okay, how about over that pole and then stand on the tarp”).
- Trust that he can handle a lot more exercise. We played for more than an hour, mostly at trot with some canter and some galloping squirts, and he didn’t break a sweat — on a warm summer evening, too. Part of my job is to help him get and stay fit and conditioned not just for riding but for his own general soundness and joint-pain management.
- Cut my physical body movements by 50 percent. I’m waving and wiggling and clucking, but the language is getting lost in the noise.