Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day Two

In the am, we put Callas on the high line and then I went and got Shad so that we could work in the round pen. It was interesting (though I guess not surprising) to find that he had a pretty hard push in the round pen. When I asked him to move off, he went pretty freely and willingly, but when I asked him to come back with a little soft draw, it was as if I was speaking a different
language. He pretty quickly went to a zoned out trot with his head tipped to the outside and Kathleen had me make sure I made a big enough move to get his attention and get the transition.

Once I had done that a few times, his attention shifted and he began cutting the ring and focusing pretty intently on the side of the pen where Callas was tied. This was kind of interesting because it suggested to me that I was not very meaningful to Shadow. He started out kind of saying "uh huh" like you do to someone who is chattering away about nothing and then finally tuned me out entirely.

Kathleen asked if I minded if she worked with Shad for a few minutes. (She always asks – I won't mention it again). She pointed out how he had gone from mildly paying attention to me to basically blowing me off (my words) and then she took ownership of the side of the ring next to Callas by keeping him moving but on the far side of the ring, turning him at about the halfway point each time. The first couple of time she turned him back pretty strongly because he would push so hard against direction, but shortly she was able to be much softer. Shad gradually withdrew his attention from the outside of the ring and began to think about what was happening inside. He tipped an ear in and his mouth got much softer.

I came back in and was able to get a little better work done. The idea was to move away from needing to move in front of him and block a push (he's got a pretty big push) in order to get a down transition and to be able to stay behind him and generate a draw for a softer more balanced down transition. It got so that I could move him up with a little energetic chi push from my belly and bring him back by moving that feeling back behind his tail and turning it into a
pull. Pretty cool stuff!

Interestingly enough, when Shad had started really drifting off to Callas, I had started kinda sorta thinking that maybe I ought to not let him dwell on that side of the ring. Another example where my thought & observation were correct, but where I hadn't acted on it in a timely way. It's not only the horses who were learning stuff.

We talked a little bit about Shad's habit of doing things a couple of times and then declaring "I'm done" instead of taking direction. We also talked about the fact that although he will go and will stop and had a kind of marginal draw, he tended to do it all either with a hard feeling or with a big push in it. I need to give myself permission to say that doing it with a hard feeling isn't up to
standard and asking for "it" with a softer feel is perfectly okay. I tend to get worried about correcting for the feel and thinking that the horse will misunderstand and go completely off on a wrong tangent.

Kathleen really pointed that out when she was round penning Shad. She had asked for a draw and he came around and came in really hard and pushing. She backed him off and he spun around and trotted off. I asked her about it and she said not to be afraid to let him know that the feeling wasn't right and that he would try something different the next time. Sure enough, the next time she asked for a draw, he cocked an ear and came in with a much softer feel. She noted that he had just made a huge try & gave him a big release and some petting time for that.

We broke for lunch and I put Shad up and Callas out in the field with the other horses. Callas was still running and hollering in the field, but with much less intensity and she kept breaking off and watching the other horses. Shad, on the other hand, was working pretty hard in his paddock, running and hollering, trotting and hollering and walking and hollering.

After lunch, I told Kathleen that I thought Shad would also benefit from learning to tie. Callas was already much calmer on the highline and I thought Shad would really benefit from learning to keep his feet a little quieter. I wish we had put him out with the gelding herd, but he had back shoes on, so we didn't really consider it. Hind sight is 20-20, but if I had thought about it,
we could have just pulled the shoes and put him out. Too bad, because I think it would have been really good for him.

We did much the same preparatory work with him that we did with Callas. What was fascinating was how each horse handled the input. Where Callas kind of flung herself around, Shadow moved pretty slowly. As with me in the round penning, he did the first couple of direction changes somewhat willingly although not very fluidly. But after humoring Kathleen for a couple of times,
he then started to really push. He would get to the wall of the round pen and then push himself forward a few steps. Kathleen had been talking about his push during the round penning and it was pretty amazing to see how strong it really was. When he stepped over and got his right side against the wall, he pushed onto the wall so hard that he wouldn't come off – in retrospect, he was trying to keep her in his left eye – something we saw a couple of days later when I was
practicing turning him in the round pen. In this case, Kathleen saw that the flag was not the right tool (because he was completely ignoring it) and went and got a rope to give him a little clearer direction. Once she was sure that he wouldn't get himself in trouble, we put him on the highline. Much like Callas, he walked pretty steadily and hollered occasionally.

It's interesting to see how horses use movement as a way of blowing of steam or working things out. It's interesting stuff. My take on it after the week session is that watching both horses loose and worried is that they just spun themselves up more and more. The highline gave them the
opportunity to move, but they had to think about their feet enough that it grounded them a little. By the end of the weekend both horses were standing quietly and relaxed on the high line, and Callas had gotten pretty quiet out in the field with other horses to occupy her attention and stabilize her, but Shad was never able to get really quiet in the paddock when he was by himself.

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