Today was my first time out to actually ride since early April.
My plan was to continue to get acquainted with Reb and vice versa. Since I hadn't been able to spend nearly as much time with him this year thus far due to weather and my other stuff (I shall just try to refer to my Asperger's Syndrome, Major Depressive Disorder, and anxiety disorder as "my other stuff" from now on) happening.
From my past riding/ground work experience with him, Reb had clearly not accepted me as the boss horse in our little herd of two. He had always listened well enough under saddle (and he is a FUN, peppy little guy to ride) but on the ground? Oh, that was a different story.
On the ground Reb would constantly neigh and look around for other horses. I gave him his first bath earlier this month and while he stood still and was a gentleman, he also spent the entire time neighing and looking around for the other horses.
I was irritated. I was giving him a bath and moving around him all over the place, and his attention needed to be on ME and where I was. Not his fault since I hadn't been able to work with him very much before now. I knew basic groundwork was in order but didn't get a chance to do it until earlier today.
Didn't know how well it was going to go, mainly because last week I had a change in my anti-depressants and am still dealing with side effects, including feeling a bit "wired." However I was stable enough by today and have been desperate to get out and work with my new horse so we can start bonding as a team so I got myself out of bed this morning and had my mother drive me out to the barn (I am extremely high functioning when it comes to my Asperger's. I live in my own house. I feed myself. I take care of my pets. I run a little business on eBay
even. But when it comes to driving myself places, I space out on the road and just can't do it because it's unsafe. So my mother, who you will be hearing more about if you follow this journal, gets me out there).
Reb and Traveller were mulling around near the gate as usual; Reb immediately came over to see if any treats were to be had. I caught him using my rope halter, groomed him, saddled him, and off we went to the big arena for some serious "I am the one in charge, Reb" work.
The few times I've worked with Reb on the ground before, he would pull that neighing to the others business, stop paying attention to me, and would freak out when I made a move because he wasn't watching. Today was going to be different; I was extremely determined to get this partnership moving and I had walked out of my house with the most dominant, "I am the boss" manner and was ready to get that horse's attention, no matter how long it took.
I know my demeanor made a difference. It's been a while since I've had a newbie and really had to establish dominance with him so I am pretty sure I'd been too lax in the few ground sessions I'd done with Reb before that hadn't gone as well as they needed to. So gold star for me! Yay!
Reb was in the habit of not listening to my verbal commands while on the ground. Under saddle? He listens. But on the ground he just wasn't there yet (again, my fault).
So we started with "whoa." I lunged him around me and would firmly say "whoa" - for the first few times, he would just run even faster around me until I pulled him to a stop to face me. I had my new treat bag (Reb responds really well to treats) and that reinforcement along with stroking his neck got him to catch on quick! I was very happy. He got to the point where he was stopping and letting me move all around his body from the length of the rope without moving.
The best part? He didn't neigh once. His attention was completely on me. I was so proud!! It was like he was a completely different horse than the one I'd last encounter who thought a fly more important than me.
We worked on bending and flexing on the ground for just a little while before I decided to end the groundwork on a good note.
I changed out the halter for the bridle and got on the little bugger. We went around the arena several times, and it was clear he was in a very lazy mood... so I decided it would be fun to challenge him by reintroducing a few elements that he balked at on our first trail ride a few months ago. Namely: a big scary decorative plow, a big scary pile of rocks, and some big scary cattle.
He was particularly hesitant at the big scary pile of rocks but soon realized that figure eights and circles were a lot less fun than just going by the rocks without a fuss. Around the cattle he did well - he wasn't sure what to think of the little calves running around which was pretty cute actually. We herded a few of the steers; Reb is still not horribly impressed with them because when I stopped him, he gave me a looong snort.
We also went down a not-very-steep trail because I wanted to see how well he watched his feet. On the way back up, Mr. Reb couldn't decide which path he wanted to take and ran me smack through a tree on accident; it was one of those awkward moments in which your butt lifts out of the saddle and when it lands, it is way too far back in the saddle. I wasn't in danger of falling off, but it was amusing.
Still no neighing for the others! I was thrilled!
We headed back after that; I took him past all of the scary stuff again and he did very well ignoring it. He was clearly ready to go home but he listened when I told him to slow his walk down and relax. I decided not to make it easy for him and we went out of our way to go around some of the buildings and pens between us and his pasture.
By the time we ended the ride, Reb was the most relaxed I've ever seen him. He didn't throw his head up in surprise when I was walking him back to his pasture and reached out to stroke his neck; he simply let me do it. He had his head down, his ears floppy, etc.
So Operation: "I Am the Leader Here, Reb" was a success today! My confidence is up again and I am so proud of Reb. He did fantastically. Our groundwork adventures are not over yet but this was a wonderful start!