Due to the holidays, my riding schedule has been hit or miss. I was able to ride Saturday and Sunday. Saturday we rode inside and Ashke was amazing. He was very good and tried hard through out all of our exercises. We are continuing to work on him changing when I ask and not when he thinks he should, like everytime we come around a corner. We did a lot of lateral work, flying changes and our canter half-pass with transitions through the walk, trying to change it up every ride so the anticipation is held at bay. All in all, it was a great ride.
Sunday was a bit different. We rode outside for starters, with weak sunshine and a fairly brisk wind. The combination of those two things turned my somewhat obedient horse into a spook monster. He was spooking at reflections on the ground, the horse trailer outside the arena, the lead rope left on the ground, a wheel barrel that was upside down outside the arena fence. If he could see it, he could spook at it. To add to the issue, there was a jump lesson going on in the arena, with questionable breaks and optional steering. Controlled chaos is the only term that comes to mind. I seriously thought about going inside, but then decided that given Ashke’s propensity to spook at all the things when we are in a show, that working through his distracted behavior would be beneficial.
He was doing pretty good and we had worked through most of the stuff I listed above, when we started working on changes. He was soft and bendy, giving me some really quiet and soft changes in both directions. I saw one of my barn mates and asked her if she would video me. She came out and took the following video.
As you can see in the video, we had a moment. When he bucked-kicked out at me he tossed me forward and I hooked the bottom of my coat over the horn, which tossed me forward and I couldn’t regain my position. He knew he shouldn’t have done that and braced. Between me being pulled off balance and him being a reactionary shithead, we managed to bonk his mouth. He also knew he was in trouble.
Then I made a mistake. I should have taken a deep breath, passed it off as if it didn’t happen, and continued to ride. Instead, I got a bit frustrated and angry at what I thought was a buck, which made him really tense. We did a few more changes, which were not nearly as good as the earlier ones, and then went on with other stuff. Ashke was able to relax enough to do square corners at the canter and all of his trot work. I tried to end on a good note.
Then he got to stew about it in his stall for three days because holiday. When I came out tonight to ride for my lesson, he was still stuck in that moment in the arena on Sunday. He was tense and reactionary. He was spooky and not really willing to settle. Amanda had me doing a bunch of lateral work, shoulder in, haunches in, half-pass and serpentines to get him to relax. Nothing was really working. I finally stopped and just talked to him: told him how important he was, how I was sorry we had the moment in the other arena, how his disobedience was hard for me, since it felt like he didn’t trust me. I finished up by telling him how important he was too me and that it didn’t matter what he did he was mine forever (not that I had thought about getting rid of him - that hasn’t happened for years now).
Between the near constant verbal reassurance, Amanda reinforcing his opinion of himself with face rubs and not reacting to his reactions, he finally achieved relaxation. We got some really good changes on the serpentine, then across the diagonal, which was harder for me, then we worked on the canter half-pass, alternating the change at the end of crossing on the diagonal, and sometimes riding the circle forward and around in the direction of the bend. I think we will begin to introduce the concept of a counter canter next week in our lesson, so that I have that option in my toolbox for moments when he’s not listening or being a touch too diligent in his attempt to please.
Sensitive horses are so much fun. Especially the really smart ones that remember everything. I need to cement in my thoughts that a little bit of forgiveness goes so much farther than a bit of anger and frustration. One of the lessons of this lifetime.