Making Good Choices
I have told Poet more than once that if he’s a good baby Thoroughbred and learns to hunter, he’ll have the best forever home I can provide for him for as long as physically possible. When I leave the barn on Sunday to head back to the real world for another tough week of school and work, I cheerfully remind him to Make good choices!
This week he made some really good choices.
After a week plus of groundwork, my trainer decided it was time to make a new plan for him. They turned him out for wahoos, and then assistant trainer got on to ride in the round pen. I got a great report for the first day, and was told the next time they were taking him to the dressage arena for a ride.
That’s when we learned he kind of doesn’t know how to steer at all. So, there were a few days of working through that, during which he didn’t always make the best choices. Poet’s favorite things in life are to be pampered, eat and take naps. He sees the gate as the opportunity for all of those things, and tried to politely (or really, not so politely) excuse himself from this “riding” activity several times with trainer.
I think there was some backwards and sideways upper level dressage moves that they did not ask for. I’m sure there was a mini tantrum or two, but he didn’t get to go out the gate. I mean, I like naps too so I get it, but if I have to teach undergraduates on Friday afternoons Poet has to go trot trot around the ring for thirty minutes.
When I headed to the barn Friday morning and talked to assistant trainers about his antics, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had my phone ready to video, and kind of anticipated a rodeo.
But, he mostly made really good choices! He still doesn’t like the bit pressure and likes to flip his tongue over it back and forth when he’s either bored or trying to be evasive. That’s certainly a work in progress, and there were moments of many small walk circles (Yes, you really do have to go right when I ask you to go right) that I cut from the video for your viewing pleasure, but overall—he was a good green bean. Trainer said that on Saturday I could turn him out and plan to ride at the walk to work on steering and halting basics.
Of course, I was both thrilled and nervous to actually ride my own horse at home. When I tried Poet, I wasn’t worried about him dumping me or doing anything stupid and he was quite the gentlemen. But it’s a different thing when he’s home, I’ve seen him rodeo buck in turnout bigger than I could ever hope to sit, and have (finally) fully realized he’s a green four-year-old. Still, I knew trainer was setting me up for success and I had to get on him eventually.
I tacked up with the most amazing saddle pad that Joanne and Sydney from Two Socks Designs sent me (THANK YOU THANK YOU!), took a deep breath and prepared to tackle the baby dragon.
It’s been so, so long since I’ve ridden a horse this green. Within the first thirty seconds he tried to walk backwards/sideways to see if I was going to make him listen, but I just put my hands forward and added leg to get him moving straight again. After that, he made really good choices.
We circled, serpentined, changed direction and worked on our ‘Ho’ for maybe fifteen minutes or so. His attention span is like a toddler’s, and I forget sometimes that I can’t expect him to bend through a circle like Simon would have. But the benefit of doing all of this at the walk in a low key, no pressure environment is that I can just take a deep breath and ask again in baby-horse-language.
There are a lot of things I am not good at with riding. Ya’ll know I’m a chicken, that I have no “natural talent” or extremely fit muscle core, but I do have a good feel. And with babies, a good feel is a really important tool.
So while it was the most boring ride to watch, we had a really nice little session together. When I was close to being ready to finish, I could feel him getting over it all. He started trying to paw when we halted (not a good choice), so I made him stand still for five seconds and chose that as a good note to end on.
Eventually he’s going to have to learn to push through his internal timeclock, but that’s a job for the trainers right now. My job is to reinforce the lessons he learns during the week, and give us small moments of success. That’s how we’re going to build this entire picture—step by baby step.
Even though we just walked, he fell asleep in the crossties after. Using his brain right now is almost harder than using his body, and he took in a lot of big lessons this week. Trainer believes, and I agree, that his tummy is bothering him some so he’s got a month of UlcerGard on the way to treat ulcers. I had already started him on the SmartPak digestive/hindgut supplement as well as a calming one, so hoping the triple combination of things will make his body as apt to learn as possible.
On Sunday, I turned him out to wahoo and have some “me” time. Lately he’s been a huge brat walking back from the turnout, and I went in preparing to fight him walking back to the barn. The plan was that he got two chances to try and drag me back, but if he didn’t listen after the 2nd correction I was to put him back in turnout for another ten minutes until he walked back like a gentlemen.
Of course since I had this plan and time to execute it, he made good choices on the walk back to his house. Don’t get me wrong—he was not relaxed. I could tell he really, really wanted to shake his head and try to drag me back to the barn, but the hamsters quickly spun the wheels in his brain and he did his very baby best to keep his feelings in a box.
After filling his treat ball with snacks, I thanked him for making good choices and told him to enjoy his nap. Who knows what next week will bring, it certainly won’t be linear, but this was a good one!