The skies were clear yesterday evening, so I managed to do without a head torch and we did some groundwork. Snickers was feisty, yet involved, and I tried to keep it short&sweet. Also, as always, I tend to mix exercises that ask for more thinking and effort (stretching, precision, rhythm, impulsion, and such) with things he associates with fun, pride, showing off, etc. - such as pawing, rearing, climbing on objects, jumping, the Spanish walk, carrying objects... Snickers who sees all work as play is a very happy and attentive Snickers. :) He also likes being praised A LOT, and, the louder the voice and the more expressive the praising movements (hugs, scratches, running around together), the more content with himself he seems.
Yesterday we worked on good back up without using body cues or tack, and, as we had been working with attentive turning-when-I-turn at the walk and the trot, this time I set up a small course of ground poles (ones to cross and a ground pole tunnel to go through, with a wall of old tires at one side) and at first we walked it, but then his mission was to jog while I walk and to clear the course. When it came to the tunnel, he had to go by the tire wall while I was on the other side of it. We also practiced the Spanish walk, which he likes a lot, however, he sometimes tries giving me a result without putting a real effort in it, then gets annoyed when I keep asking (because he thinks he already did it fine enough) and paws the ground with each step, rather than really walking. If I stop him and take the exercise a few steps back - just to lift a leg and keep it stretched in the air - he settles down and seems to remember, what was the Spanish walk all about.
I have booked a visit of an equine masseur for the next Saturday and am quite excited to see how it goes.
BTW, the barn cats were being strangely cute yesterday. After I left, I suddenly heard a sorrowful meow right behind me, and it turned out that both of them had followed me and meowed to make wait for them. They followed me more than half a way to the exit of the garden, playing with each other, purring and begging for me to pet them all along. As it was the night of Samhain, I guess they were protecting me from the evil lurking around on this night. Because, funny enough, they went back to the barn as soon as I took a turn away from the unlit area of the garden and went down a path with street lights.
What a beautiful time with Snickers and all his equine friends.... I couldn't help but laugh at the scenario described after Snickers had "Some warm mash with herbal tea", then, "After that he got the whole herd having a good gallop around the paddock for a while" :)
I would like to describe him as a proper, young English gentleman, having a sip of tea and then a chitchat with his peers, however, he's got mash in his ears after he's done with it, everything around him is covered in mash and the chitchat is more of a doofus frolicking, with a dash of the mash on his buddies, wherever he nips them, so he'll just have to live without being a proper, young English gentleman.
I arrived today carrying a huge chunk of Himalayan salt, determined to find a good spot for it in the paddock, so that the herd has more reasons to roam during the day. I went on my business, also gathering some small branches that the wind had blown off our willows, and soon noticed Snickers following me. He was very interested in what I was up to WITHOUT HIM! What an outrage! I tried stopping and he stopped, pretending he was actually grazing, not following me. I tried turning - he turned as well, all while looking in the opposite direction. I tried walking faster - he did as well, I started jogging - and he trotted right after me, shaking his head and positively playful. I didn't have a halter or a whip with me, so I took it as a challenge to communicate with my body language and intention alone. Snickers responded willingly, put his nose to where I pointed, followed me through tight places and even agreed to place his hoof on a tree stump and do a few steps of the Spanish walk! All while keeping an eye on a competing gelding who wanted to join us - Snickers was not okay with that and chased him away several times, so that we could be all alone.
I then procrastinated in the barn for quite a while, with both of the cats in my lap, as I had just fed Snickers and wanted to give him a break before riding. At one occasion I ventured outside the barn just to catch a glimpse of my boy and two of his buddies playing and grabbed my camera to take some pictures. Most of them turned out very blurry, but I will upload some later and I was very happy to see my boy being the most active of them, galloping, bucking and jumping straight in the air all the time. :)
I also hanged out at the round bales and introduced Snickers to a new toy - one of those thick, knotted rope pieces, intended for large dogs to chew one. I'm going to use it in teaching him to target and pick up different objects. I'm not entirely sure he liked its' texture, though. :)
Finally I tacked up to ride. Snickers was a bit anxious during the saddling as two of his best buddies were taken for a walk right then and he really wanted to follow them, but even at such moments he's rather polite, so I had no problems with him showing me what he'd like to do. During the ride we worked on relaxation and flexing. Slowly getting there, even on the stiffer side. Snickers tried a new trick - to evade contact by hyperflexing, but more leg and more outer rein solved that soon. He pleasantly surprised me with a good leg yield (we did that by the fence, as it had been left without proper attention for a while and I felt the fenceline would help his straightness). At canter he was quite feisty and wanted to rush, so I set up some ground poles and we cantered over them. At first the poles were set too wide apart and I got another pleasant surprise - Snickers widened his stride effortlessly and cleared the poles without a single mistake! And I still remember, how clumsy he was at his first tries over canter poles - always taking extra strides or rushing, or jumping into trot, or... We've come quite a way since then. I feel he's now really reading the distances and learning to adjust his strides. That proved when the canter poles were set closer to each other and he shortened his stride with no problems at all. After that we could shorten or widen the canter strides also without the poles, and at that we finished the session. The weather was cool and wet enough this evening for me to use his fleece blanket while walking off for the first time this season.
And the arena floodlight was finally set up! Can't wait to try it out next week. :)
Just another update - forgot to tell how I got a proof that my intuition is working just fine. Yesterday I visited our only (!!!) tack shop for a salt block and a vit-min supplement, and noticed that they had some new whips for sale. I saw one I liked a lot and, although I didn't really need one - my current one was just fine - I bought it. It was my payday and I thought it would come in handy sooner or later anyway.
Today Snickers completely bit off the tip of my current whip. I had set it by the fence to which I had tied Snickers to while I brushed him. Silly me.
Why not tell about some of the other things I do. One of the horses I'm working with is a 1.5 year old filly. She was just until recently spending all her time being loved on and just being a kid, but now I've started doing some simple groundwork. She is halter trained, but nothing much more, and we've been working in short, easy sessions on her leading skills, general manners and relaxation. She's extremely sweet, but also pushy and tends to barge in your space when things don't go her way, well - just like any other yearling who's only experienced moving people around with her "aww" factor. Yesterday we followed a company of a couple of horses who were giving pony rides to some beginner riders. In general, she lead nicely, we also made great progress with trotting in hand - she's finally got the hang of it. However, she tried her old tricks when I asked her to stop and wait while the others walk on - her tactics are just trying to run ahead, pulling the human behind her with force. Whenever she did this, I quickly disengaged her hindquarters and made her go in a large circle around me (she's a smart girl, so we didn't have to do that much), until she felt ready to stand by my side and back up a couple of steps lightly. At the end of our walk she was okay with stopping with a light pressure in the halter, but we'll have to work on that to refine it, of course. I spent some time to teach her responding pressure on her body (moving her fore- and hindquarters out of the way if I touch them with such intention) and she had a breakthrough moment with walking through puddles. Smart girl. :)
I then worked with a lovely Trakhener gelding, who is extremely good natured, willing and smart, but has problems with headshyness and nervousness. He is coming along nicely, the headshyness is going away step by step and he's showing me lots of trust at times, which, in case of such a horse, feels like an honor. Very happy to progress with him!
After that, I rode Snickers. Our arena was very slippery due to rain, so we didn't do too much of exercises in trot or canter, but we had our instructor to help us with lateral movements (leg yield to both sides this time) and contact/flexion at the trot in a large circle. Snickers put great effort in the lateral movements and I, too, got better understanding on how to use my seat more effectively. We had some disagreements regarding the trotting/contact/flexing thing, as my reins were very slippery, I lost one of the reins all the time and made it difficult for both of us. So we stopped at the first progress and went on to canter a couple of large laps in both directions. Snickers quickly realized how slippery the ground is and shortened his stride accordingly, so we ended on a good moment and went for a walk in hand in the trails to walk off.
Earlier that day I also introduced some tidbits of clicker training to Snickers. After loading the praise with some treats, which always gets him very motivated, I taught him to touch an object for further targeting training. He got the concept in literally a couple of minutes and after a couple of more was following the target - a bright frisbee - wherever I put it. He seemed to enjoy this game a lot. :)
For a food motivated horse like Snickers, they really do, but I really try not to overdo the treating and always to ask for a polite and disciplined behavior when treats are around. He can quickly turn nippy, if that's not taken into consideration. :)
Yay! The floodlight for the arena is up and it's really great - I'll be able to ride without problems this winter whenever I can and when it's not too slippery!
Yesterday, however, it WAS too slippery, even for groundwork, due to a rainfall during last night. The horses are now stabled for the night, except for Snickers and two of his buddies, who spend the night in a huge shelter with a smallish paddock attached. The boys looked real dry and comfy there, and seemed to enjoy each others' company.
I took Snickers to the arena for a short while, until I (and he as well!) got fed up with all the mud. However, we did do a little groundwork with walking/stopping/turning/backing up from a larger distance (the whole length of the rope). He needed a little reminder during the turns, as he at first wanted to rush ahead or to get closer, but there was some progress and I was happy with the results. We then sidepassed in a circle around a huge willow (which Snicks hadn't done before), and I decided to leave the arena after that.
We went to a relatively drier patch of grass by the barn where Snickers practiced his Spanish walk, climbed with his forelegs on a large stone and we did some target training. I'm quite impressed - after only two 5-10min sessions Snickers is already touching the target, when asked, not only when I hold it, but also when I put it on ground or any object, when I hide it, we "find" it later and I cue Snickers to touch it, and he also agreed to bow when I put the target in between his front legs. This thing has a potential after all. :)
As Snicks had been heard coughing a little, he got his temperature taken by a friend of mine who is more experienced in this kind of stuff. It might be that Snicks got his temperature taken for the first time in his life and he handled it like a champ. The first two tries, he fidgeted a little and raised one of his back legs, but with the third try he just stood there the whole 5 minutes. And - yay, his temperature was completely normal, so nothing to worry about. :)