Sunday, August 24, 2008

Starting over and over again.

So I was off of my lessons for almost 3 weeks because the arena got washed out. I did go on 2 trail rides, on Trickster, during that time. Like everything else, the more I do it, the less anxious I am about it.

Also as usual,after 3 weeks off of not working at what I'm weak on, it took all lesson for me to finally get things going well on my good side. My bad side never did come together.

So I've put off riding Shazaam long enough. Now that Maximus is on stall rest for a good long while, I'm forced to ride Shazaam.

In a way, this is a good thing because Shazaam needs consistent work with the same rider to be all that he can be. That rider may as well be me since that is ultimately my goal.

The thing about Shazaam is that he has a ton of energy or spirit (whatever you want to call it) and he spooks (um flips out) in novel situations and cannot take any kind of mental pressure or he explodes.

So if Shazaam has never seen a particular saddle on a new fence, it's a problem for him. Even if he has seen me carry that saddle everywhere- and as long as I present a familiar visual profile for him then he is fine. Why bother with such an animal? I don't have any other reason than that it will make me better with horses in general. With consistent work,experience,and age, he is settling down but it's taking years.

The thing about Shazaam is that he's the one that has hurt me in the past so when he gets his blood up, it's a challenge for me not to get my adrenaline/fear up as well. If I let it happen, his monster and mine feed off each other. This is the intangible thing in me that I have to conquer to be successful.

So here's the story that goes with this part of my journey:

The day before yesterday, I decided that he had plenty of time to settle into his new barn and to saddle him up and see just how far we got with riding. I put my saddle on the round pen fence and started free longing Shazaam and he immediately started cutting through the pen to avoid getting too close to the saddle on the fence. I thought my normal thoughts about my overly dramatic horse and put him on line and longed him between me and the saddle when someone approached me and asked me if I was going to be using the pen for a while to which I replied "yes". Then this person proceeded to make remarks about my horse "playing games" with me to which I replied "Nope. This is an honest response." Then they proceeded with "Well, I respect your opinion but". I stopped to look over and see his mare tied and setting back for all she was worth. I tuned out everything else they had to say and thought, "Dude, you should go teach your poor mare about giving to pressure" and refocused myself on Shazaam.

Then he asks if Shazaam has ever been saddled before and I answer "yes, he's been ridden quite a bit". So he asks how Shazaam would react if I walked up to him holding the saddle and I answer, well he'll move around some but he pretty much stands for saddling. So I saddle him and he doesn't even bother to take the token half sidestep away before deciding to stand. Meanwhile, the guy is telling my horse, "Good Boy!" Which, to my horse, "Good Boy!" is a secondary re-enforcer to a clicker (which is a secondary re-enforcer to a TREAT) so thank GOD, Shazaam ignored it because I don't really use clicker training to teach behaviors that have to do with riding.

So I thought, "Dear God, rip my tongue out of my head if I EVER give anyone any unsolicited advise ever again!" because I have indeed said to 2 people unsolicited advise like "Slamming the bit in your horse's face is just teaching her to throw her head" and to my best friend, "Your horse needs to gain about 150 lbs so you might actually want to feed your horse instead of letting your non-horsey boyfriend do it."

While I can't promise to hold my tongue with my best friend, I do promise to mind my own business with everybody else- even if they are in imminent danger. I can call 911after the fact. This is my first experience at a public boarding facility so I'm learning about barn life more quickly than I want to.

Back to the issue of my fear:

So I put my foot in the stirrup and stood up in it. Shazaam started hopping up in the front and I thought he might settle for a second but then started running sideways so I stepped off but held my inside rein lightly and went with him. He stopped and followed me back to the center of the pen so I stood there with him, putting weight in the stirrup with my hand, then foot, then up and down. He was fine with it so I got on and rode him at a walk doing circles and patterns and then we were done.

The victory was that he got upset but I held it together and made good decisions instead of freezing up. That opens up opportunities for more progress!

A word on animal behavior and humans relationships with animals: (even though nobody will likely read this)

Every day in my work I find "pet parents" who anthropomorphize their animals. That is: give human attributes to animals. They allow their dogs to own chairs or even whole rooms by biting the humans to establish territory. This gentleman who was so nice to offer me advise claiming that his horse and mine "play games" with us is attributing to the horse, the human attributes of being false and having the capacity for subterfuge. While I believe that horses can learn to offer specific behaviors to make people go away, they don't plot our demise over breakfast. Deal with the specific behavior offered but don't give your horse villainous attributes or you will feel negative emotions about your horse while you deal with them and likely act emotionally. Which is about as unfair to the animal as it gets.