Horsey Therapist

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bronc ride breakthrough

I started with Sofia today. I am pleased I really am following through with my commitment to ride her at least once a week!

I rode her in my new used dressage saddle. Comparing how she went today to how she went yesterday in my Torsion treeless, I know I will be riding in the Torsion again to see if it was coincidence or causal. The ride today was good, but not as smooth and forward feeling as yesterday's.

I added more steering today, and asking her to resume a trot sooner, and ignored her crabby ears. I'm still experimenting with what little I need to do to encourage her life to come up. Today I also asked her to maintain some trotting while I posted, and she seemed to start to get the feel for that. That will be handy, having this lovely big horse comfortable carrying a trot while her rider posts!

Time with Sofia was not the bronc riding I have in my subject line. Can you guess to whom that refers?!!

Rusty was anxious from the start. I'm not sure what was going on other than separation from Kacee. He has a full time job now, in his mind, keeping Kacee away from Bo.

I wanted to do some ground work with him before I rode but that became a mess quickly. He grabbed at the lead rope after I'd turned him loose in the arena (hoping he'd run around and blow off some steam) and started flinging it around. I let go before he took the slack out between us, then he frightened himself with this rope flying around his head over and over again as he flung his head with rope in his teeth. He reared and struck out a few times at the rope. Me? I just wanted to get away, scared and wanting not to do my old habit of getting mad at him for scaring me.

I didn't get mad, but I did remain somewhat scared until I got the halter on him which allowed me to be more effective in communicating about my personal space. This has happened before, that 'at liberty' I cannot effectively communicate with him when he's wound up like today. We have confronted each other in the past, and I would have said this feeling between us was resolved, dissolved, gone, but the accidental episode with the lead rope seemed to have triggered his notion that I'm confronting him, which I wasn't but the darn lead rope was!

Anyway, he clearly wanted to be doing other things than what I asked of him, so I remembered Harry Whitney talking about frequent transitions to get a horse's mind with you, so I asked him to move off with me in a fast walk, then a trot, then change directions, and off again with me at trot, or canter, etc. He did a couple of mini bolts, one that took the lead from me, another I was able to stay with him, stumbling, running, trying not to let him get slammed in the face by the halter when all the slack came out of the lead rope...

Anyway, his mood changed enough for me to feel OK to mount. Hmmm, he was reluctant to come to the mounting block. I sort of registered that, but did feel safe getting on.

OK, breakthrough #1 for me: I really know I can ride all the various tricks he has to offer. Sure, I had one hand on the horn and one hand on the cantle, but at one point considered riding him out without the two-handed-grasp approach to riding. And yes, I do question this commitment I made to encouraging him to express himself in my quest to help him feel good about offering me his life energy.

So bouncing, bounding, bucking ... and what I did differently today was ask him to move out more. Ok, Rusty! You got some extra energy? Let's go then, let's go! And we did.

Breakthrough #2 for me: I really know I can ride those tight corners, those sudden brakes, those bursts of forward energy. Why do I do this? So I can at least have confidence that my fears will not get in the way of this big hearted, athletic doll of a horse. As a horseperson that is one of the smaller things I can do to earn my next ride. And my, oh my, the heavens are generous giving us some horses who are content if not fully satisfied offering a lazy ole time of it around and around and around. Rusty is not one of those gems.

Well, we got through these outbursts and I thought about calling it a day, and then thought, hey, why stop here? Maybe if I ride him more now, we'll find something else. Plus I wanted to see about helping him stretch his short stridedness, see if all that galloping and gallavanting around helped free him up physically as well as mentally.

So I asked for trotting when I was doing my discourage-him-here game. And when his trot was short strided and choppy and half hearted (ehem -- most of the time!) I asked for more from him. We ended up cantering around and around, sometimes in quite small circles as he wanted to be there near the gate and near where Sofia was turned out and I was not steering our "where", just influencing our "how much life".

Breakthrough #3 for me: At some point with all this cantering, something shifted. What I actually felt was his canter become smoother, easier to sit. At first I thought hey, I'm getting the hang of letting my hips and legs go with his canter motion. Which might also be true. But when it happened again, that feeling of smooth movement under me, I realized it was a change in how he was moving. Why "my" breakthrough? Well, truly it's his as well, but mine for recognizing that he was giving me something different! I was so pleased with this change, with his part of the breakthrough, his letting go somehow in his body, that when he slowed down I hopped off, and that was it for our ride.

Breakthrough #4 for me: When I dismounted and loosened his girth, I noticed how heavy he was breathing. Wow! (I would like to have noticed while riding but that's another project for another ride!) Rusty had really had a workout! How novel -- to ride him hard enough to stress his breathing like that. He wasn't gasping for air or anything, just breathing hard. Breathing hard like is necessary to get more fit cardio-vascularly. Hmm, this is a good thing! This is what needs to happen to get him more physically fit, which would be a nice complement to his athleticism!

I'm pretty excited about all these good things. Sure, I still want to just be able to mount up and go for a trail ride, like I can on Soli, and one day I'm confident that will be within our comfort zone. It would help if my riding "trail" wasn't a well traveled dirt road. I could imagine experimenting on the trail with what I've been doing in the arena if I had no worries about traffic!

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