Monday, July 11, 2011

Adventures with a Confident Buckshot!

I want to thank Carol of Dressage Training Journal, who is training a wonderful horse, Rogo. She commented on my last post about how similar Rogo is to Buckshot. They both will walk energetically to the arena’s open gate, and then go outside of the arena, only to lose their confidence or eagerness or both. How funny! And what are they thinking? I wish I knew.

This past weekend Buckshot and I had some new adventures with this behavior. On Saturday, it was quite hot and humid. The main arena had a lot of puddles and water spots in it, mainly along the rail, due to some heavy rains. But regardless of the water, I knew that Buckshot would be fine in the arena, although we would have to ride in the smaller available area. We began our phase one walking and Buckshot did well, responding to my cues despite the heat. I worked for a while on my legs and seat, e.g., on guiding him with just my legs and seat to see if I could use my reins less. Buckshot was great at this; in 8 out of 10 direction changes, he got it right from just my leg aids. Just a few times I had to also pick up the reins to give him the direction. I was surprised and pleased by this. To be honest, I didn’t do anything different with my seat; I just didn’t know what to change. But still, he would respond from just my legs. Wonderful!

After a bit of trotting, and then even a few very nice canters, we went to the center of the arena to stand and give him a bit of rest. This is when I will lengthen my reins, and this is usually when he starts to walk toward the open gate. So I let him walk, just to see what would happen. Well, out he went. He turned left and headed toward the barn where we groom and tack up! I thought with amusement, where is he going? Why is he going back to the barn? It isn’t the place where I dismount, so he couldn’t be thinking, it’s the end of the lesson, time for you to get off, Jan! Before we got into the barn, I steered him gently back to the arena! What a funny guy! But he had walked with purpose and eagerness (although he wasn’t hurrying or tense or worried or anything like that), to a totally new place for us! I thought, he is feeling confident about exploring! Good for you, Buckshot! Confidence in a horse is an attribute that I have read about a few times in my horse reading, but it seems to me to be elusive, and hard to see. Yet, that was what came into my mind as he calmly took both of us off towards the barn, and probably right into the barn if I had let him. Since I didn’t want to try to turn him around in the small space of the barn aisle, I didn’t let us get actually into the barn.

Later that day, Buckshot and I led on the trail ride, through the woods that had many watery places, puddles, and large ponds. He did great in the role of first horse. He never balked or stopped at any standing water. And I noticed that on our walk back through the woods, his energy picked up just a bit! Perhaps knowing that at the end of the ride, he would get a treat and a bath. I was very proud of him.

On Sunday, it was again very hot and humid and I decided to keep our ride fairly easy. During our phase one walking, Buckshot was very slow, going barely one mile an hour LOL! At the beginning of our warm up, I am fine with this very, very slow walking. After ten minutes, I urged him into a normal walk, and after our twenty minutes, I asked for a trot. He did an extended walk. I asked again. Again, extended walk. So I asked him for a walk and stayed at that. A few minutes later, I asked for the trot again, and he summoned the energy for a nice trot. After a minute I asked again, and he did the most floaty, controlled power, extended trot, using the whole arena. Wonderful!

We stopped for a break in the center of the arena and I lengthened the reins. A few moments later, Buckshot started inching towards the gate, so I let him go to see where he would go this time. His stride picked up and out we went! He went across the grass, over a hill and towards the chicken house, then turned right, in the same direction as his pasture. I gently steered him back to the grassy area by the arena, and had him do a large circle, then steered him back into the arena. He wanted to explore again – this time not to the barn, but over to a totally different section of the farm! I was amazed! He seemed so confident, and calm about this new adventure, that he initiated and that I ended only when it seemed best to not wander off too far. He never balked when I steered him back to our normal area and then to the arena. I can only explain it as perhaps his confidence in himself, maybe in me, and in his farm surroundings, has grown and given the chance, he likes to explore. Wonderful!

After going back to the arena and doing more work, I decided to really test the waters, so to speak, and take him, for the first time ever, on the trail by ourselves. The day was quiet, and terribly hot, and there weren’t any other riders around, and Buckshot was very calm, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try this. I told Buckshot, how about if we go find some shade in the trail, and go a bit down the trail. In the back of my mind, I was alert, as I know in general it isn’t as safe to ride in the woods alone as it is with a riding buddy. But I thought we’ll just go a little ways on the trail, and then return. And we’ll see what happens. If Buckshot gets worried or nervous or I sense a problem, I’ll dismount and walk him back. So off we went! And to my surprise, he did great! He never became nervous or antsy; he walked with energy and calmness down the trail, over the bridge, turned around, and came back. I was thrilled!! Good boy, Buckshot! He did very well on this new adventure.

That is why I describe it as Buckshot’s confidence has grown; he has shown initiative to go places that he hasn’t ridden to, and he went on the trail alone for the first time. And he still listened to me and responded when I steered him away. The next time this opportunity arises I am going to lead him down the driveway road, toward the field arena. The last time I tried to ride him there, he balked severely and wouldn’t go. Even in hand, I have only been able to lead him halfway there. He walks down the road just fine when we are in a string of riders. But with his newfound confidence, I will try to ride him down the road again. I am terribly curious to see the outcome. I’ll let you know.

How do you gauge your horse’s confidence? Have you seen it change over time? Do you know why? I hope you had a good weekend with your horses as well! And thank you, Carol, for your comments – Rogo is a wonderful horse!

Visit Carol's blog here Dressage Training Journal

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