I took off last Friday from work and went out to the barn to see Buckshot. It was a sunny, warm day, and as I approached his pasture, I couldn’t see either Buckshot or Lucky. Where were they? I had my training stick with me (the kind used by Parelli, but mine was a knockoff brand) to use for a special purpose. I went out to the persimmon tree that is on the fence line between Buckshot’s and the adjoining pasture, and using the stick, I reached up and knocked down some ripe persimmons. Gathering some in my hand, I walked further out in the pasture looking for the two missing horses. Just then Buckshot walked around from behind two tall downed trees. Buckshot! I called joyfully. He looked at me and then scooted forward, as Lucky came cantering out from behind the same trees! He cantered down to his stall. Perhaps I had scared Lucky when I called out. I’ll be careful not to call out like that too suddenly in the future. Buckshot walked over to me and I gave him the persimmons. He loves them! We then walked back to the tree and with his supervision (That one! No, that one! And that one, too!) I dislodged some more of the fruit and he picked them up from the ground. This is the best use of the training stick – getting fruit from this tree!
Later, I groomed Buckshot and we went into the arena, the farm quiet with no one else around. We did patterns and exercises, and he had alternating good energy, then low energy. A few times we stopped for a break and Buckshot immediately started moseying toward the open gate. So, he isn’t tired, I concluded. Twice I trotted him right out of the gate (to his delight) and we trotted around outside the arena on the grassy surface. He seemed to like trotting all around the new sections. The air was thick with bugs and no-see-ums so we didn’t try the trail.
Later after a good 1 ½ hour ride, I dismounted, praised him and took him to untack. I gave him a medicated shampoo bath. An hour later, when I was at his pasture to feed the horses, I gave him and Lucky their grain, and as they ate, put out two flakes of hay for each in their individual piles. Buckshot finished his grain, came out of his stall, walked toward his hay pile, and, instead of eating, began sniffing for a place to roll. I stood and watched as he rolled. When he rolled to one side, his head landed right on his hay flakes and it looked like he had a hay pillow under his head! It was so funny! I imagine if horses used pillows, they would want hay pillows, don’t you think?
On Saturday, the weather turned autumn-like, with temperatures in the 60’s, along with sunshine. We had a good two hour ride which included our walking warm up, patterns, trotting and some cantering, along with a trail ride to the other arena. We couldn’t walk in the arena as it was too soft from rain, so we trotted around the perimeter of the arena. It was a good ride. However, after I dismounted and was praising Buckshot for his work, I gave him a treat from my pocket and he got quite mouthy and nipped my arm. I smacked him, but later realized that in recent weeks he had been getting more pushy about those after-dismounting treats. I needed to make a change to end the nipping.
The farm had two overnighter horses I helped with, beautiful palomino quarter horses. It’s fun to see the overnighters who come and spend the night at the farm. There are some beautiful horses. Once a Wells Fargo coach team stayed over on their way to a major dressage show. They have a super impressive trailer for those horses! And beautiful horses as well.
On Sunday, the weather was cool, in the high fifties, and quite cloudy. I had reviewed my canter aid notes before going to the barn because I wanted to work on the canter. Since I cannot yet tell what lead I am on from my seat movement, I decided to try the other method of telling: glancing down to the horse’s point of shoulder.
The farm was quiet and only the BO was around. The footing in the arena was perfect. The air was cool. I was ready to really work on the canter. I got Buckshot from his pasture, groomed him, and we headed out to the arena. He had good energy during the warm up and at the walk and trot. But, surprisingly, when we cantered he was not his usual self. He seemed confused, a bit lethargic and broke gait much more than normal. Was it me, giving bad aids? Was he just not up to cantering yet? We had done our normal twenty minute warm up. During one canter, I glanced down at his shoulders and realized that his mane was in the way and I couldn’t tell at all which shoulder was reaching out further! I will need to braid the back part of his mane to be able to read his shoulder points! Oh, well, that goal was a bust.
But his cantering, overall, was poor. In between cantering, I trotted him and he had wonderful energy and enthusiasm at the trot. So I didn’t think he was lame. There wasn’t anyone around to ask to watch Buckshot canter. So after five canter attempts, of which four were just okay, and one was not bad, I figured he was having an off-day cantering. I had never known Buckshot to not try his best at the canter. So I didn’t think he was not trying or not being cooperative. I think it was just an off day. I had ridden him much more in recent days so maybe he needed a break from it. Anyway, I decided to stick to the walk and trot and go to plan B.
I dismounted, walked to and opened the gate, and got back on him. I rode him over to the beginning of the trail and onto the trail we went – with Buckshot being very willing! Inside, I was thrilled that he was fine going on the trail by ourselves. So on we went, with me talking to him more than normal (just in case he was worried, I wanted my lighthearted voice and words to offer him reassurance).
I thought of names for the various parts of the trail, like Potty Avenue (a favorite stretch for the horses to go….), Farm Creek Bridge, Magical Tree Avenue (a section with extremely tall trees that let in the most lovely dappled sunlight), Bluff Road (off to the left you can see the top of the bluff), etc. And on we went, I was thrilled and Buckshot was cooperative. Then we came to a sharp uphill section, which I named Mountain Road, since it is a bit like going up a mountain. Buckshot pulled himself up this section ( I think it is his least favorite section of the trail), and we went on about another twenty yards. Then he stopped and seemed uncertain. I squeezed his sides and said “walk on, Buckshot.” He took one step forward and one step sideways. I got him pointed in the correct direction, squeezed again and said “walk on, Buckshot.” He took one step forward and one step sideways and then we were turned around backwards.
I knew we had reached the end of his comfort zone. We had gone much, much farther on the trail than before, so this was real progress. So without any further asking, I said, yes, let’s turn around, and we headed back. I praised him, from his back, as we reached the barn and the place we would dismount. I got off of him, and to prevent any mouthiness or nipping, I immediately walked him toward the barn. He was great, didn’t nudge me or do anything mouthy. When we got to his stall, I gave him the cookies in my pocket ( and a few other after-ride treats I always give him).
So, despite the poor cantering, we had a great day and achieved some small progress in two training areas: nipping/mouthiness over treats, and going on the trail alone.
Thinking later about his stopping on the trail, what caused it? Was he tired? It occurred right after a steep uphill section that could tire him out a bit, and we went into the trail after already doing work in the arena, so he could have been tired. Perhaps he hit a point of lack of confidence, partly because he was tired. I wonder if it would be a good idea to try the trail work before any arena work, and see if he is more confident when he hasn’t been worked. Up until the very last minute, he had been willing on the trail. He hadn’t been uncertain. But at a certain spot, something changed in his mind. I think it may have been fatigue, and the steep hill, and his normally-willing spirit just hit a wall and he didn’t want to go any further. Perhaps I should stop him halfway up and give him a short rest. Perhaps the hill strains something in his legs and it hurts him a tiny bit.
I hope that by hearing him want to stop, and by asking for just a few more steps, but then agreeing with him to turn towards home, that it built his trust for me. In a John Lyons book I’m reading, he says a horse cannot learn when he is afraid. So instead of trying to get him to walk on further, which might have frightened him for some reason, I tried to build trust and let us both head on back home, satisfied with the progress that we had made. Hope you had a great weekend too!