Feeling Lucky / by Marian Michalson

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     While heading out to the barn today I was bombarded with intense gusts of wind.  After spending two and a half years in South Dakota, instead of being used to strong wind, it just makes me crazy.  And the horses, wind makes horses crazy.  After cleaning stalls and supplying each one with a leafy green flake of alfalfa for later, I walked out to check on the herd.  They all had an extra bit of electricity in their spirit evident by the squealing, snorting, and high tailing around. 

     It didn't take long to notice a strap on the blanket Bart is borrowing from KC had come undone.  Like a responsible horse owner, I leaned into the wind, shut my eyes, and walked over to Bart to fix his blanket.  I hadn't brought a lead rope with me and i was pretty confident that KC would try to chase him off when I got close.  I chanced it.  I imagine it would have been pretty comical to watch as I climbed under him trying to catch the strap flapping around while simultaneously trying to keep KC back and begging Bart not to kill me.  Bart braved KC's mean face and the bite of the wind, until my head was out of harms way and his blanket was buckled up.  

     This is just one of the many examples so far that makes me feel like I lucked out buying a horse off of a simple trot video.  It only took Bart a couple of days to warm up to me, and show me his exceptionally kind personality and character on top of his already professional behavior.  Even when I ask him to do something out of his comfort level, he is able to work through it and seems to appreciate the learning process.  He is a class act to be around.  I could have just as easily ended up with a grumpy old man. 

     On the syllabus for Bartletts' first week so far included learning to lunge at the walk, trot, and over poles.  The poles proved to be difficult for him.  He was pretty sure there shouldn't be anything in his path.  I rotated through leading him over the poles, to sending him over in the lateral lunge at the walk and trot.  I also lunged him at the trot avoiding the poles to help him settle and go forward on the circle.  In the video you can see how he has trouble right now adjusting his step to the pole.  He had more trouble with the pole near the fence almost as if there was a touch of claustrophobia.  He improved when I pulled the pole away from the fence.  I found it tough staying behind him to keep him forward, while staying at his shoulder enough to push him out on the circle.  A few times he jumps in towards me to avoid the pole.  I am definitely in need of practice to improve my timing and instincts.  When I lost the ability to send him forward, I went back and practiced without the poles.  After doing this, I was able to keep him forward while standing more at his shoulder, pushing him out and over the pole.  Repeating the exercise at the walk after putting on the pressure allows Bart to absorb what he learned. I was very happy where we ended.  We both improved, my technique and his willingness, without ever getting upset.  I need to be more definite in the halts and direction changes while still being careful with his joints.  

     

 

I tried to upload HD, but it clearly didn't work.

     Another skill I want Bart to develop under saddle that is usually lacking in their race training is to move away from the leg.  I have found it extremely helpful to introduce new concepts to the horse from the ground so they are more easily understood from their backs.  To start I used a dressage whip.  After making sure he's not scared of it, I put pressure on his butt in a way that as soon as he moves away from the pressure, the whip drops as an instant reward.  As he becomes more sensitive to the pressure, I move my way up to just behind the girth on both sides.  I then drop the whip and use the stirrup iron and ask for the same. As time goes on I expect him to actually step under and over with the hind leg.  Instead of fully rewarding just a weight shift or a half attempt to move over like I had at the beginning, I'll only release the pressure partially so he knows he has the right idea, and then immediately reapply until he steps under and over.  

     The next time he works I think I will go ahead and get on him.  So yeah, I'm feeling lucky.