Monday, December 20, 2010

Snow! and Groundwork Sessions

This past weekend we had the remnants of Virginia’s first snowfall on the ground. The arena was covered with snow and ice so riding was not an option. So, instead Buckshot and I revisited the groundwork we have done. We did this three days-Friday, Saturday and yesterday, Sunday. Using his pasture as an “arena” we did a variety of exercises and games designed to give us some working time together, help him stay limber, and help build on our relationship. I’ll give you some idea of the exercises we do, although I might change it up a bit on any given day. This is a good description of our work. After putting on his halter and lead line, we might start with our “walk the fenceline” exercise in which we walk the perimeter of the pasture. I sometimes have us just walk; other times I throw in a variety of mini-exercises every fifteen or twenty feet. These mini-exercises are whoa, and do a circle; whoa and back a few strides; whoa and do a large half circle; and going around trees in a figure eight pattern. After the walk the fenceline, he gets a pat and a treat. (He loves that part!)

Another exercise we do is small circles around me; two to the right and two to the left. Then we do “walking and backing” in which we walk approximately eight strides straight ahead, whoa, and I turn to him and ask for three strides backing, then whoa and return to walking straight ahead. Then whoa, backing, then back to walking straight ahead. We do this six or eight times.

We also walk large circles, two times to the right, then two times to the left. Then we do spirals, in which I make the circles smaller and smaller; then reverse spirals, in which we start with a tiny circle then make it get progressively larger.

A game we play is called the “bingo” game. I lead Buckshot to a “thing” in the pasture (a tree branch, a stump, a bush, even a patch of grass) and point to it or touch it and say “touch it with your nose.” Sometimes he touches it right away (sometimes, I move the branch to touch his nose – LOL). Then I say “Bingo!” and give him a pat and a treat. He seems to really like this game.

Another exercise we do is “walk and stop,” in which I stand at his head and walk straight ahead for a few strides, then I use my right hand to make the “whoa” signal (palm down, I pat the air one time). He stops immediately. I start walking again, maybe just two steps, and whoa. He stops immediately. Then four steps and whoa, then one step and whoa. This is to encourage him to stay very focused on me and what I am doing. He is surprisingly good at this one, and he can stop on a dime in this exercise.

After our groundwork is over, and I’ve told him what a smart horse he is, we then go outside the pasture and do some grazing, just taking our time, letting him find patches of grass to nibble on. Since we aren’t doing anything in particular, I just let him take his time. I love these long, quiet moments with him, watching his rapidly moving lips seeking out grass, his strong legs, his fuzzy winter coat, his lovely thick mane handing down his neck. I chat with him a little but try to not talk too much; this is, after all, his time. I am just his owner/admirer.

Yesterday, I had decided that after our groundwork and grazing, I’d take him to the barn and groom him. So after he ate grass for a long time, we proceeded to the barn and the stall we use for tacking up. I had put a small amount of sweet feed in the feeding manger, and some hay for him to nibble on. We proceeded to do our regular grooming steps, in the quiet barn, with no other people or horses in the barn. I started to tell him about my plans for next weekend, Christmas weekend, that on Friday I’d be there with him and on Saturday, I’d be -bang!- without any warning, he had jumped, banged into me and hit my knee with his knee. What had happened? Before I could even process what had happened (he had spooked, and jumped sideways a few inches), he was back eating hay, as if nothing had happened. Ow, ow, ow, I said and wondered what had caused the spook. It was quiet, no equipment or gun noises, not even any people or children noises, nor any cat noises. I walked to the door of the stall, and then I knew. I had originally doubled the lead line and hung it over the stall door. I now saw only one length of lead line. The other length must have slowly fallen, by gravity, and the motion startled him into spooking. Goodness! I’ve never had a horse spook in the stall before! But now I know that the darn lead line can fall on its own accord and, I guess when things are very calm and quiet, that is enough of an unexpected or unknown movement to cause a spook. Gee! My knee really hurt. In a few days it should be fine. He truly didn’t mean to bump into me so hard. But now I will lay the lead line on the ground, rather than let it possibly fall to the ground!

After we finished the spook investigation and the grooming, I started to take Buckshot back to his pasture. We ran into another boarder who was on her horse and they both wore Santa hats, so it was very festive! A fun day with Buckshot (and a new thing learned!)!

Hope you had a good day with your special horses also!


Kate said...

Very nice exercises and a good day - except for your knee - hope it feels better soon!

Carol said...

I wish all the horse owners in the world were like you - working with your horse in a positive way in what ever circumstance you find yourself. You and Buchshot are forming a great bond. I really appreciare reading about your exercies - great ideas! I particularly like the Bingo game! I think Rogo would like this.

juliette said...

LOVE your groundwork exercises and games. I am eager to try the bingo touch game with my boys when I return. I also like you signal for "whoa". A perfect day except for the spook/knee injury. I hope it doesn't hurt long. The quiet grazing is so wonderful too. I hope you chance the stall grooming again. It was just a fluke and you will be aware now, but the grooming after the exercises and grazing is the icing on the cake of your together time. Buckshot is so lucky to have you.

Carol said...

Just dropping by to say I've really enjoyed finding and reading your blog this year, and appreciate your insightful comments so much.
Hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

Rising Rainbow said...

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Endurance Granny said...

Jan! I'm so excited to have found your blog :)

~Endurance Granny

Grey Horse Matters said...

Just stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas. Give Buckshot a hug from me and have fun continuing your great exercises with him.