Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Round Pen Revisited

I have been dealing with some emotional turmoil in regards to training Ashke. This is in part due to the vast expanse of time between now and the last time I owned a horse. It is in part due to the last horse I owned, Keili, who was certifiably insane. It is in part due to my poor, broken and abused body and my fear that I will hurt myself again. It is also in part due, in small part, to the barn where Ashke is stabled.
Don't get me wrong, the barn where he is stabled is wonderful and the care has been nothing short of miraculous. The people have been friendly and are genuine horse people. The facilities are clean and people are respectful of other's equipment and property. The horses are beautiful, strong-bodied and people centric. Those are all positive things. My emotional turmoil lies in the realm of feeling completely insecure about my ability to work my horse.
See, all of the horses on my side of the barn are show horses. Many of them are professionally trained. They are shown in Western Pleasure, English, Dressage, Reining and Cutting. They win medals. There is a whole body of work behind their breaking and training, years upon years of training technique that achieves the results the rider wants. A lot of horse people ride to show and it is one of the only ways to make money in this sport, and there is nothing wrong with working, riding or training to show. In fact, showing was how I first learned to ride, through a 4-H program when I was young and then professional Arabian shows when I was living in California. It demands a lot of practice and training to achieve the level of ability to show as an adult. I can appreciate the perfection that can be achieved in the show ring.
That is so not me.

I want to achieve something completely different. I want a partnership with Ashke that allows us to ride for hours on end, up and down trails, across water, under trees, through rain and wind and sleet and snow without fear. I want a relationship that allows the stress of the unknown to be faced with calm confidence on the part of my horse because he knows I won't allow anything bad to happen to him, that if I ask it of him, he can do it. And I want him to do that with a willing heart - because he loves being with me as much as I love being with him. I want our riding time to be a pleasure for both of us, with new things to see and experience.

Those are the reasons I am training him, rather than hiring a trainer. That is also the reason I'm not teaching him to lunge. I don't want to use fear as a correction tool and I don't know how to make him move in a circle around me other than to frighten him. I want him to want to please me. I want him to enjoy our work together. I want to keep it fresh and stimulating. I want him to be as eager to go as I am. That is what I am working toward.

Last night that goal seemed a hundred miles away. It was raining. It was a dark and stormy night. We were in the indoor arena. The trainer was there. I think we were both emotionally stressed out and unsettled. Ashke fought me the entire night. He tried to buck the first seven steps we took. He fought my hands and the pressure of the bit. He kept snaking his head and thrusting his jaw against the bit. He wobbled. He tried to jump out from under me. He didn't want to go slow and then he didn't want to go. It was a fight from when I swung up til I got back down. I didn't feel good about the ride, even though I told myself that I needed to be patient and give him time.
I began to doubt my ability to keep him. To train him. To achieve the symbiotic relationship with him that fuels this dream. To have him understand what it was I was trying to show/teach him. This has happened a couple of times in the past five weeks and each time I wonder if I really should be trying to do this. I begin to think I should give him to L and finally recognize that my poor, old, tired self doesn't have the shizzz any more. I fall into a pit of depression and self-questioning that is difficult to draw myself out of.

And then I see Ashke again. Kiss his soft, velvet nose and breath deep of the wonderful smell of horse. And the doubts are set on the back burner for awhile. That was last night.

Tonight was a different story.

I discovered that Ashke was feeling somewhat stiff and sore, from our incredible, never-ending walk on Sunday, I think. His hips and buttocks hurt and he was sensitive when I was grooming him. I don't blame them for being sore. He is being asked to work for the first time in his life that we know about. So, I gave him a massage. With horse liniment. On his buttocks and over the top of his tail dock. He really wasn't sure of the liniment or the massage. He was pretty snorty about the whole process but by the time I was done, he had relaxed quite a bit. I think it felt good once he got over the icey-hot feel of the liniment. I got him saddled and then Uncle Daniel leaned in and told me to ride in the round pen. I almost dismissed it, but then decided the Uncle Daniel never tells me those kinds of things without a reason and I should listen.
Its just as well that I did. Ashke was pretty jumpy tonight. He spooked at the water tank that was laying on the ground outside the round pen. He spooked at T running around. He levitated and moved sideways a good 10 feet when the horse in the neighboring pasture chased a small bunny out of his pasture and toward the round pen. I think Ashke thought it was a horse-eating rabbit. Through all of that, though, he listened to my hands, shifts of weight and the slightest leg cues. We trotted and walked in both directions without hesitation or balking. He kept his head down for the most part and allowed me to rate his speed. It was wonderful. It was the beginning of what I want, what I dream about. It was as different as night is to day from the prior evening.

I think Ashke liked it too. It was a beacon of hope. And it tells me to continue on this path, to strive to be consistent and patient and calm. To continue to work toward the day that we can take our first trail ride together.

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