Horsey Therapist

Monday, May 29, 2006

Riding again, and cones

It's been a few weeks since I rode. Maybe closer to many weeks. The rains we had would have kept me from riding, but in fact I was grounded because of injuries. Injuries due to coming off a horse, and injuries that left me determined to get together mentally with my horses before I mount them. So far I've kept to my word.

I rode the littlest equine here, and the biggest.

The littlest is Gwen, little dappled pony. I would never ride her long or far, but a little here and there to assess and expand her understanding of the riding experience. Soon she will go live with the G family whose young daughter has developed the horse bug. Mom has a full sized horse and often is my riding buddy around these parts. We live about two miles apart and can combine plans to enjoy some walk, trot, canter, and gallop rides on the local dirt roads.

Gwen will have lots of little-girl-grooming-and-loving attention that she so adores. And hopefully the match will be good so Gwen and the G family will live happily ever after. If not, I've promised Gwen this will be her last placement. Gwen was given to me for free, and I placed her for free where she spent a year or two with a wonderful family who for several reasons were no longer able to keep her. Again I will place her for free with the G family. The agreement is she comes back to me if things don't work out for any reason. Free pony with a guaranteed take-back plan in place. Who could refuse?!

Sofia is the biggest equine here, and was partially tuned in to me for some ground work before I asked her to come up to the mounting block. Actually it is a platform for playing on -- asking a horse to stand with two feet on the platform for example, or if the horse is really small, stand with four feet on it --but works well for mounting.

Sofia did not fully come up next to the mounting block. Instead of getting firmer with my request, I decided to do something else. So off with the halter and back to more liberty moving around the pen. When we were walking and trotting and walking together each way with smooth transitions, I asked her to come with me to the block again. Much smoother this time!

After our little bareback ride, she got lots of scratches and hanging out time. While I was scratching her, Gwen kept coming up to the platform and stepping her front feet up and looking expectantly over to me. What a clever equine!

I had thought I might ride Rusty as well. But first, true to my commitment, I first focussed on getting some groundwork going better. Walking and trotting at liberty with him in tune and comfortable with my requests -- that was the goal.

We had been playing the Scratching Cone game again. Rusty was so focussed on getting scratched, it was hard to switch gears so I put the cone outside the pen and asked him to move off with me. He was thinking about how to position himself for my ease of scratching his belly. Oh so many bug bites! He would walk off a few steps at my request then turn to come close again for scratches. When I put some distance between us, he went and stepped up onto the platform, a sure way to get more scratches, yes? But no, I had not asked for that so I waited for him to do something different. When he stepped down, he looked for nibbles -- apparently I didn't know how to play this game properly so he chose to occupy himself while I figured things out.

I got his attention again, asking him to move out while I was walking at his hip. We had some nice walks and changes of direction, but the added life and understanding to move into a trot just wasn't there. Classic picture -- human putting out a lot of effort, horse putting out minimal effort. I decided this didn't suit me (I know better!) and headed for the pen gate.

As I left the pen, I picked up the cone and tossed it a few feet away hoping to draw Rusty for more scratching and end on a good note.

A light went off in my little brain!

After he earned and received his scratching, I tossed the cone as far as I could, headed toward it with Rusty at my side, and asked him to trot with me. Trot we did, right up to the cone where he nose-dived it and waited for his scratches, which I gladly gave.

I can be slow to learn. But I did learn to use what works to set up a situation for success. Rusty will go to the cone for scratches. I want him to trot with me at liberty. Throw the cone and ask him to trot to it. So simple an idea really!

We repeated this five times on the way to the back door of the barn. Thank you, Rusty!


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