Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Ears Have It

Hangovers and skittish horses don't mix.  That's what I was telling myself yesterday as I was driving to the stable with a splitting headache, the result of lambrusco + amaretto (oh sugar you evil dog).  It was beautiful and sunny, but it was also superwindy and considering that Starbuck hadn't worked at all since Tuesday, in my weakened state the last thing I wanted to do was deal with constant spookiness.  Plus when I got to the stable the thick coat of mud that Starbuck had accumulated by repeated rolling over the last few days sealed the deal.  So I wimped out and asked Marina if I could ride one of her horses and she assigned me Chadwick, her Holstein stallion.

Chad's not the kind of horse I'd ever look to buy, he's a little ponderous and very laid back and doesn't have much of a spark.  He's also very large and has a long, not terribly comfortable stride.  And there's that stallion thing - he's really well trained and a dream to ride, but you can't tie him up just anywhere and you have to be a little strategic while riding, not getting too close to other stallions and mares in heat.  But as I said, he's very well trained and behaves extremely well under saddle so it was fun to not have to worry about spooks or tantrums and focus on my posture and moving with the horse for a while.  So a really nice lesson.  But as the lesson went on, the wind died down and I started to regret not having ridden my little girl, so after the lesson ended and I had unsaddled and left Chad in his paddock I decided to ride Starbuck too.

We gatecrashed a little girls' jumping lesson, so it was five 10 year olds and us keeping things exciting.  Starbuck had a couple of spooks but mostly did very well during the lesson but what mostly stood out to me (and what inspired this post) was one point when the little girls were working on a lengthy jump course and Starbuck and I retired to the top of the arena to work on our own.  Since we don't do transitions much in lessons, I decided to work on them so walk - stop - walk - trot - walk - trot - stop - trot and so on.  At first of course there was a lag in response times and a certain tendency to pay too much attention to scary things like tiny birds flying into and out of the brush nearby.  But after only a couple of minutes I noticed a different kind of energy coming off of Starbuck's body - more impulsion in general and a much quicker response to the aids.  And I looked at her ears to see if she was about to spook and she had them swivelled back listening to me, just like in the photos above!  And the best part was that she kept them swivelled back for a good minute or so while we continued our transitions.  For anyone with a well trained horse, this is no miracle, but for me it was a triumph - she's never given me her undivided attention for so long that I know of, and it was a real pleasure to be so in tune with her that I could simply think "trot" and tighten my calve muscles and off she went.

Definitely transitions are something to continue working on in the future.  And one of my goals for the next month or so is to think about and identify more exercises that "get her attention" in the same way.

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