The Big Time
Yep, Zeke hit the big time this week! Not only have we walked all over the ranch without any fussing or trying to run, we have started holding our lunging sessions down in the big roundpen!
On Tuesday afternoon as I was tacking Zeke up, Kristen came by and said hi with her 2 year old son, Nathan. Well, Nathan knows where the ‘Little Red Wagon’ hides between the tack rooms, and he got it out and started dragging it around. It makes a serious metallic rattling noise as it rolls along, so of course Zeke was scared and distracted by it. So…we borrowed it from Nathan and walked it up to Zeke.
He did OK with it, not sure what the point of it was and still suspicious – then Kristen came up and placed a handful of fresh alfalfa into it! I untied Zeke, and as Kristen pulled the wagon, we followed. When he got curious, we stopped, and he found the hay.
So long, troubled times, I see food in this thing!
He never worried about it again, and when I walked him back to his stall at the end of our day, I pulled it alongside us, just for reinforcement. He didn’t mind, except that the boring old thing had no food left in it.
On Wednesday: The big roundpen is easily twice the size of the one we’ve been working in, and it’s located in the front of the ranch. So Zeke gets to watch cars pull in and out, and see other horses being ridden in the arena up the slope from us or right next door in the dressage court. He was curious about those distractions, but not obsessed with them.
For our first session in that pen, Zeke got excited at all the room – he trotted quickly and when I asked for canter he took off running! Normally I have to remind him to continue moving at the gait he’s in until asked to stop; today he cantered several times around without hesitation! Of course once he realized that first canter wasn’t the end, he was a little sorry – he tired himself out! But he worked very well the rest of the time, even with his reins tied tighter than they have been before, and even with Frisk and Suzette coming to work in the dressage court.
After lunging, I repeated my ‘climb on the railing and lay over you’ routine, and added some ‘side saddle’ sitting today. Zeke didn’t mind it a bit, even the flapping of the stirrups.
On our way back to the grooming area – oh! I forgot to mention he’s getting groomed and saddled in the normal tacking up area, no longer in an enclosed pen! Just like a big boy…anyhow, on our way back we took a walk through the barn for the first time. He had no reaction to walking on cement, but the shift from light to darker did make him pause for a second. But just a little pause, then he walked through like a champ. We went through a couple times, stopping to peek into the office once, and then into the grain room – his favorite part, it seemed, as he tried to eat an empty paper grain bag at the side of the doorway!
Lastly, we walked up to Suzette’s trailer. When he showed no fear over it, Cindy opened one of the doors – this was a look, but don’t try to load event. All he was supposed to do was handle looking inside without running away. In typical Zeke fashion, he took it in stride, then noticed the wood shavings on the floor and asked his perpetual question, “Is this for eating?” he tried a mouthful, as well as trying out the metal covering over the tire. When neither proved to be delicious, we went on home.
Today was the biggest test for Zeke so far because it involved having to do something he didn’t want to do. He’s a big ‘fooler’ – whatever you ask of him, he does it quickly, easily, and very well. His attitude then becomes, “See, I’m smart, I’m doing well, tell me I’m good and let’s go on.” It seems great, until you ask him to work a minute longer than he thinks he should. Then he pouts, strikes out with his front leg, shakes his head, whatever it takes to try to get out of work. Being generally passive myself, I tend to take the attitude of “He’s doing so well, better stop now while it’s all good.” And that’s why I have Cindy to watch me! If he doesn’t get challenged enough, you never get to see his real reactions.
So today, after his roundpen work, I tied his head to the side for the first time. The idea is to take both reins, tie them to the girth on one side until his neck is bent, then ask him to walk. All he can do is go in a circle – that’s the point. He ‘teaches himself’ to follow his nose, and to give to the pressure of the reins. If you’re uncomfortable moving forward, figure out what’s causing pressure and how to make it stop. By giving to pressure and following his nose around the circle, he is teaching himself how to respond to someone pulling the reins sideways to ask him to turn.
He did really well circling around and not fussing – for a little while. Then he stopped. When I asked him to keep circling, he pitched a fit, first pawing at the reins and then taking off down the side of the roundpen, head bent to the side and all! And THAT is why we do this – I wouldn’t have wanted that to be my first ride, me saying “let’s turn”, and him just plain running off with me!
So I worked him on that side until he stopped fussing, then turned him around and tied his head the other way. He was even more defiant going to the right – maybe he’s ‘left-footed’! We worked that side until he was circling nicely and consistently, then we ended our day. I walked him around and through the barn, stopping to visit with people along the way.
He is doing so well, I think my long range plan of when I will be able to get on him may be too long-range! It’s going to be sooner than I thought when I first brought him home, but we do still have work to do. Once he’s comfortable with all the rein-tying configurations, it’ll be ground driving. But it’s all coming along nicely!