Thursday, February 18, 2010
Stretching, rein-back, garbage hunting, etc.
Everything has been great in Sofieland lately. We've had some training breakthroughs, a major improvement in attitude, and Sofie has been much more comfortable since our Devil's Claw experiment. Last Saturday we continued to work on learning to stretch down at the trot, and we ended our ride with her reaching into the contact as I held the reins at a normal length and we trotted around. I was thrilled with this, as she used to be so tense and inverted at the trot that it is really a big adjustment for her to be lowering her head and trusting my hands like that.
There was a huge wet spot on the concrete in the place where we usually groom/tack up Miss Sofie, so we parked her on the other side of the aisle. She ground ties, so cross ties were not a necessity, but we did run into another problem. Sofie was absolutely fascinated by the garbage can, now within reach of her mouth. See where this is going? She started to nibble on the garbage can, and had to be told "No, stay OUT of the garbage can" repeatedly. After she nearly pulled the thing over, we got her some hay ("Here, you can actually EAT this!"). I figured if she succeeded in pulling the garbage can down that she would either spook or start rooting around in the garbage (the far more likely scenerio). Guess Sofie doesn't get enough variety in her diet.
Monday we got a bunch of snow dumped on us, so we spent the day shoveling. But the weather wasn't bad at the barn, so Sofie spent the day outside with her friends. Tuesday the roads were terrible, but we managed to get to the barn (not knowing if we'd be able to get back home if they continued to not, like, plow) anyway. Our ride started out a little shaky - she was anxious when I took up contact, and started to do her nervous bit chewing/teeth grinding thing that she sometimes does. I'm quite sure it's anxiety related, since it goes away after a little while, and she still takes the bit happily. It's almost as if she braces for a fight sometimes, and when nothing bad happens, she relaxes. I'm sure she hasn't always had sympathetic riders, and I know she has some baggage. This bit-chewy thing seems like a remnant of that. We'll probably have her teeth checked in the spring, though.
After a little anxiety from both of us, we got over it and finished up the ride on a high note. She stretched into the contact while tracking right and left, and while we weren't perfect or anything, it was still a very positive ride. She maintained a nice rhythm at the trot even when I let the reins go to encourage her to stretch down. We ended with a lovely rein-back in which she broke at the poll, was light, and actually tucked her butt and stepped backwards with a bit of power. Our first rein-backs are typically a bit foot-draggy, but if I don't get upset and don't nitpick at her, she gets better.
Today was gorgeous and warm, so of course we went outside. The footing was kind of packy and not as nice as it used to be (although it wasn't as deep), so I mostly walked her, but it was still a good workout and I meant it to be more of a hack anyway, since she'd been doing so well with the arena work. We went around the yard a few times and down the trail, where we enjoyed the warm sunshine and looking around at everything. She trotted voluntarily once (away from the barn too!) and came back to a walk obediently. I asked her to trot away from the barn twice, just for a few strides. She was a little slow to respond, but she didn't balk at all. When I dismounted and let the reins out, she started eating snow, just like she did when I tried her out. She let me pet her and hug her and just seemed really happy.
So it looks as though we may have turned a corner in the rehab journey. She's been very willing, much more cheerful, even in the arena with no distractions. She usually looks happy when I come to catch her (she was particularly sweet today) and she's even starting to take a few steps towards me. And if she sees us drive up, she walks back behind the barn and waits for me to catch her. She refuses to be caught anywhere else, though - if I walk out to one of the side paddocks to catch her, she avoids me until she gets back behind the barn, where she spins around and faces me again. She is very particular about things like that - I have to be careful about asking her for certain things in the same place more than once, because then she goes "This is where we turn on the forehand. Oh, or back up. You want me to back up? Or turn?" when all I'm asking for is a halt.
I'm starting to harass, I mean, call up a local dressage trainer I really want to take lessons from. He's pricey, and notoriously busy (as well as scatterbrained) but he's really nice to his horses. He rides lightly and praises them for little things. He used to work a horse at the first barn I boarded Sofie at, and even then he was kind of fascinated by her. So I'm hoping to get him out for a lesson before he gets even busier in the spring/summer/fall. Really hoping!