Things that eat horses, according to Rockstar

Today’s top predators:

  • Tarp over the burn pile, which now open at one end and three times the height it was two days ago.
  • Neighbor’s riding mower, which we’ve only lived next door to for five years.
  • Other neighbor’s Mystery Big Square Thing, which neither moved nor made any noise.

After warming up in the arena, Rocky and I went out the gate (like it was nuthin’!) to trail ride around the ranch. Little did we know that the burn pile has changed in the past few days, growing taller, fuller, and also open at one side. Like a dragon’s cave. Full of bones.


What’s really cool about today is that:

  • I was totally confident –and skilled enough — to deal with it from the saddle.
  • I had enough savvy arrows in my quiver that I didn’t even have to use them all.
  • Rocky got to experience my leadership in balance with my respect for his thresholds.
  • I got to sing a whole bunch of songs I know only some of the words to, replacing their lyrics with words about Rocky.
  • I never felt inadequate to the task. And therefore I was not.

Rocky was spooky in general today. I don’t know if it was the breeze making the tarp really billow or if it was anything other than Rocky being in a Mood. But what worked was a combination of focusing on patterns and providing incentive.

At the burn pile, we made excellent use of yo-yo game, sideways game, bending, hindquarter yields, and resting.

At the neighbor’s mower, I simply turned Rocky to the left and started a pattern of figure 8s. When Rocky started to pay more attention to the pattern than to the spooking, he got to rest and nibble on the grass. When he shifted his focus back to spooking, I made the pattern more complex. Interlocking figure 8s around three trees that involved tight squeezes, terrain changes, stepping over a log, trotting the straightaways, sharp turns, and traveling through dappled sunlight and shadow? Not worth spooking at anything. And when not spooking, there was resting and grazing and eventually a nice walk back to the arena to  strip off the saddle and roll in the warm sand.

We passed the burn pile again on our way back and Rocky still hesitated but we did not need to repeat any of the strategies. I focused on our destination and asked him to “just walk by it” and he did.


Categories: Leadership, Rockstar, Thresholds, Trail | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Operation Pony Express: Day 1

Erin’s mailbox is across the street from the main entrance to the ranch. It’s a busy road, the main thoroughfare for this part of the county, and it has a wide variety of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic.

In the spirit of putting principles to purpose as I am back on my progressive journey after a six-month workalanche, I have decided that Rocky and I will check the mailbox and deliver the mail to the barn. Occasionally some mail arrives for one of the cottages on the property, so we will have to make a mail stop at each door, just in case.

I think it might take more than seven sessions before I’m ready to cross the street to the mailbox.  But we made more progress today than I expected.

Rocky was patient while I brushed him, picked out his feet, and put on his EasyBoot Gloves and his Professional’s Choice SMB Boots, which I recently remembered that I have. He looked sharp with the black wraps around all four shins, and the black boots in the front.

We walked down the ranch road to the side gate, playing a few games along the way to remind him that he can walk in all that velcro, and then ambled down the side lane to the dreaded busy road. He was alert but not panicky about this, and we stopped to graze for a while next to the front fence. When he tried to go forward past the fence line, I yo-yoed him back from 12 feet away in zone 2, totally taking for granted that we can do that.

When enough motorcycles and trucks with tarps and cyclists with florescent green windbreakers had gone by, and Rocky and I worked out a rule that if he spooks he has to go backwards, not into the hotwire fence and not into me and definitely not into the fence and then me, we turned to our right and began walked along the verdant bank between the road and the fence.

All of the horses in our turnout paced us on Rocky’s right and I walked on his left a little bit in front, so if he did go suddenly forward or sideways I was not in the way.

Up to that point, we had not done anything new. He’s worn those boots and splint boots before, although not at the same time, and he’s walked down the lane and across the busy road to do the loop walk, veering left from the lane-meets-road interaction.

We have about 15 feet between fence and road, although not 15 feet of usable space due to ditches and shrubbery. Between the lane and the main drive is the seasonal creek, which did not have any water in it today but certainly had soft mud and enough of a ditch that he had to walk through it or hop over it.

The teenage boys across the street were taking turns riding a mini-bike in the shape of a Harley or Honda cruiser, and were going slowly enough down the road that it was excellent friendly game for Rocky. (They have horses over there too; I don’t know if that was the maximum speed for the little kit bike or if they were being polite.)

At the drive, I asked him to back away from the road, and let him graze for a while. Occasionally the head went up and the eye wide and staring, and I did the “don’t go there!” rope wiggle to keep him from retreating inside. We were both alert — him at the surroundings, me at him — but nobody panicked fully and he did look to me for guidance from time to time.

We walked back to the lane, paused to graze, spooked (backwards!) at a backfiring Harley, then repeated the route to the drive and back. the last time, Rocky rushed the creek, scrambling in a half trot half jump, so I had him do just the creek one more time, over and back, in a sedate manner.

Then back up the lane, through the gate, onto the ranch, a squeeze game in the creekbed near the lawn, and finally more grazing. I stripped him and put him away with a good feeling about having been provocative and progressive without pushing him too quickly past any thresholds.

He’s still holding himself a little aloof, as he has since the flank rope day. But by the end of today’s session he was softer with me and stayed at his gate watching me go back to the house when we were done.

Maybe tomorrow I will back him through all gates and sideways him down part of the lane on the way out and part of it on the way back, but only step onto the strip between lane and drive to graze, and then come back in to familiar territory. To mix it up while also spending more time in his comfort zone.

Categories: Language, Leadership, On-Line, Thresholds | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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