I decided recently, that as well as increasing the undemanding time I spend with the horses, they all need more trail riding. Except, since I'm not riding most of them yet, that means lots of Zone 3 Driving. This has turned out to be really interesting for me. I am learning a lot about their confidence levels and typical reactions to things, and a lot about myself, too. I already wrote about my last session with Dove. On Saturday, I took Hunter along the east side loop, accompanied by Denise with Ranger. They did pretty well. Both wanted to eat grass quite a bit. Hunter had a few thresholds, but they did really well. A few days later I took Ranger out by himself, though, and he was much less confident. He feels like such a big horse to me. I guess he's around 16hh, but after years of just Bruce and Iona, that's a monster. I didn't really have trouble managing him, but even the thought of riding him while he was a bit high was making me nervous. I really need to (a) work on myself and (b) cut myself some slack until the confidence increases. I suspect that all this in hand walking is going to be a big part of the puzzle. It's a better simulation for riding out than I realized.
Yesterday, I spent some time with Journey. After a long grooming session in which she learned about spray bottles "Is that it? What else have you got?" I took her for a walk. Honestly, I knew exactly how it would go. She would find it very interesting and take it all in her stride. Yep! She had no problem going away from familiar areas and the herd, and really listened to my requests. There was one area where she got a bit stuck and had quite a few thresholds. I gave her a lot of time with them. I imagine that I could have asked her to try a bit harder. but especially since it was our first outing, I let her set the time line. On the way back we got to see a neighbor collecting kindling in pails, and then ventured a few yards outside the front gates to check the mail. By the time we were headed up the drive, she was turning right and left off just my focus! I was suitably impressed!
I also spent some time with Bruce yesterday, just brushing him, sitting with him and giving him some TLC. Something is bothering him - or bothering me where he is concerned. I can't put my finger on it. He is spending a lot of time by himself. Very close to the herd, but somehow not really with them. He is a little quiet. I don't know whether it's emotional, physical....it almost seems existential. So I tried to be quiet and listen, and feel for him and of him. I had some interesting impressions.
One thing that kept occurring to me was to do with his sheath area. I went on a little fact finding mission, and it needs cleaning, and might be a little sore. Okay. I will deal with that. I often wonder whether he is sorry he was gelded. (Well, let's face it, he probably is!) But I had this odd thought that he thinks that this is why his "friends" don't stick with him. By "friends" I mean Hazel, Denise, Livia. I think he really misses having someone to play with more. I can't say whether the rest of that thought is my own invention or is a true insight. I also got the feeling that he has a mild tummy ache. I offered him a little bit of peppermint leaf. He liked it. It sure won't do him any harm, so I will put some in his feed for a few days, maybe longer if I manage to replenish my supply.
Today I played with Hunter. We started off by the trailer. My goal is to play games with him at Liberty using the trailer as an obstacle. Until recently, he wasn't ready to play at Liberty, but Mark has been introducing it into their sessions lately, so I thought I'd give it a try. Hunter and I have done nothing with the trailer for a very long time, and it showed. He wasn't happy with the unfamiliar environment, and the trailer itself worried him, too. So we stayed On Line. I wished that I'd had the 22' line, and I could have been more successful at trying to keep the belly of the rope on the ground, but as it turned out, we had to keep things pretty basic, and it didn't make a lot of difference.
We did a little Touch It and other Friendly things, and then I played with trying to Porcupine him into putting his body against the side of the trailer. That was not easy, and in the end I settled for a slight touch, but not before I got him really listening to what I wanted. I also tried some Driving Game, asking him to back up to the trailer. Also very difficult. (Plenty to work on, then!) I stood in the doorway and played Yo-yo with him. He was pretty worried for a moment that I was going to make him come in. I didn't, of course. He didn't even like Circling past the opening, but we got there. After this, though, Sideways and Squeeze along the side were very easy. We then did a little Touch It at Liberty successfully, so I was pleased. We just need to spend more time with this.
In the arena I asked him to back on to a large piece of plywood that I recently put in there. He is pretty worried about those hind feet, and we made a lot of progress. I noticed that I didn't have much control of his hindquarters when we were at the trailer, so I thought this might help.
We then played with some forehand yields. Hunter naturally pivots on his haunches when he is just moving around. In fact, so much so, that it wears his hind hooves at a bit of an angle. Yet, when I ask him for this, I usually get a couple of excellent steps, followed by a whole lot of excess hind foot movement and stuff I didn't ask for. As far as I know! This time, I stumbled on something that helped. It was simply that I faced forward and moved with him, instead of looking at him (his shoulder or head) and trying to just drive him. The results were pretty consistent, so I hope I've hit on something. Perhaps he felt the need to disengage because I was looking at him. I will need to isolate and clarify that for him. I wonder whether this technique will transfer to other horses.
We also played with some circles. I tried canter. We've been getting it pretty well in the roundpen. Although he picked up the canter when I asked, he then couldn't maintain the circle, and spun outward, quickly followed by me disengaging him like crazy! After a couple of those we went to the pen. I decided to use the low tape and poly post pen in the arena. I hoped it wasn't a safety risk, but I like the more open feeling so much better than the panel pen. It worked just fine, however, it was obvious that Hunter felt pressured as well as supported by the pen. I was very careful to have appropriate energy, and we got it together after awhile. This is the same kind of stuff we went through when we worked on trot on the 22', not so long ago, so I'm sure it will resolve if I am persistent and consistent.
We finished up with a Zone 3 walk. Boy, going away from the yard/herd was really tough for Hunter. Lots and lots of thresholds and needing to move his feet in the first hundred yards of so. He didn't get really wild. just had some trouble, and he really tried. Once he realized that my focus was set, he seemed to get better and better. though. The herd had now all migrated quite a ways down the track. so we ended up having quite a trip getting him to them. He was nice and calm by the time we got there.
My feet hurt.