Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yeah, my horse is a Rock Star :)

So it's been one thing after another. The biggest has been my mom getting sick with pneumonia and being hospitalized. What little extra time I can find to train Rugby was channeled into hospital visits. She was in the hospital for 12 days and now is at a rehab facility getting her strength back. I think she will be home again, soon.

But my progress with Rugby came to a screeching halt. I managed to get to see him just to groom him and play with him in his stall but there was no time or energy to do more. Even on the weekends the weather was not cooperative.

So, since mom is doing so much better, last night I finally made plans to do a training session. I didn't expect much from Rugby and I anticipated a backslide if anything.

Now, there's another part to this I have to explain before I continue. There's been a bit of a "buzz" at my barn over a training device installed for the benefit of one boarder. She owns a Paso Fino who was a show Paso before she bought him. The owner always said she was a pleasure rider and that she just liked the Pasos and always wanted one. When Paso Finos are shown, one of the things they have to do is ride across a wooden "sounding board" (which resembles a catwalk) so the judge can listen to the cadence of the horses' gait to judge how well the animal moves. See picture:

So imagine the other boarder's reaction when one of these "catwalks" was built for her at the barn, right down the center of the smaller riding arena. It's about 6 inches high, 4-5 feet wide and 13 feet long. I heard most people wondered what it was built for unless she was planning on competing with the horse, which from what she said, she was not. So long story short, it's blocking part of the small arena, it's really solid, heavy and permanently built and is seen as an inconvenience and has therefore been the topic of some discussion.

I was asked what I thought since I'm probably the only one who trains after dark in that arena and it would impact me quite a bit. I only said I could offer no comment until I actually tried to work with Rugby out there and to see what his response would be.

So now back to last night's training session. I saddled Rugby, put on his rope halter and lunge line and headed out to the small arena. He must have been thrilled to get some attention because he usually balks a bit before walking out of the barn but this time he willingly followed me right out into the arena.

And of course he noticed the catwalk.

He lowered his head and his ears were pointed forward. But no spooking, he kept walking behind me and just giving it a good look-see. I walked him around it a few times and he just walked quietly around it. So far so good. I proceeded to lunge him at the end of the arena. He did good, didn't forget his cues and even when he got a bit snotty, I straightened him out immediately and he didn't try it again. Then we walked past the catwalk again and I lunged him some more at the other end of the arena. He was excellent. Then I did our usual lateral flexion, backing and moving off the haunches and shoulders. He did okay.

Then I wanted to see for sure the catwalk meant no issue to him. So we walked over to it and I led him around it very close. He simply followed me. Then as we turned to walk around one end, I stepped onto it and kept walking with him. He raised his head and looked at me as if to say, "uh, how did you suddenly get so tall?". I just kept walking along the boards and he walked beside me in the dirt.

When I got to the end, I stopped and extended my arm with the lead and my other arm to send him forward. He hesitated, then figured out I wanted him to walk around the end and follow me as I walked along the boards in the other direction. And he did it! So we did this 2 more times. Then when we changed direction the third time, I stepped off the other side of the board and now he was walking in the dirt on one side and I was on the dirt on the other. We had about 5 feet of catwalk between us and he just kept walking with me. When we met up at the end I praised him very much.

Then I challenged him. I extended my arm in the direction of the catwalk pointed to it and extended my other arm to send him.

And he gently stepped up onto the catwalk and proceeded to slowly walk and sniff the boards as he followed me walking alongside in the dirt!! He walked with me all the way to the end, about 13 feet along, and stepped off like a gentleman.

I was just blown away. I expected him to flat out refuse to do it, or to step off or explode and leap off. I know none of my other horses would have stepped up and strolled along that thing like he did. He had no fear, in fact, it was more curiosity. I praised him like he was a rock star and quit with that. I was just giddy for the rest of the night, it was the same feeling I used to get years ago when I would go to a horse show and ride a flawless jumping round!

(As an afterthought, I don't know what the barn policy is with this thing or if I can even use this at all. If I'm told otherwise, I apologize. We did no harm to it. But - I have the thrill of knowing that he trusted me enough to walk on it, simply because I asked him to.)