This afternoon, my Dad arrived in Idaho! This was the first time I got to see the new horse trailer he found and we took Catlow to a riding lesson.
Taking Catlow to a riding lesson accomplished many things. I was able to take her to see the trainer/friend who I've been watching train horses and get some help with my own riding form. Catlow had a good first trailering experience. She went to a completely new place for the first time, and found out that it wasn't that scary. It was a really good experience for both of us.
When I loaded Catlow at Todd's mom's place, she calmly walked right into the strange trailer without a bit of hesitation. Then I turned her around and led her back out. Then turned around and took her right back in. It was raining, so we didn't mess around with in and out anymore, we just tied her, closed the divider and took off. Three miles down the road, we stopped to open her window and see how she was doing. Her eyes were wide, and she had her legs spread to keep her balance and she was definitely nervous, but she was okay, so we just continued to the lesson. She rode very well. There was no pounding coming from the trailer and she did not paw when we stopped. She was much calmer by the time we got to the lesson. When I opened her divider, I just stood next to her and scratched her for a few minutes to make sure she was calm and didn't learn to expect to get right out of the trailer whenever the doors open. She was alert, and high headed, but okay. Then I lead her to the door so she could stand and look out. She nickered at the white arabian stallion who had ambled over to check out the new trailer occupants.
Then we exited the trailer and I continued to walk her around the trailer until she calmed down completely, which she did! She was high headed and alert for about 2 complete circles around the truck, but then I let her graze and we continued to walk and she really calmed down. She was alert and not completely relaxed, but really really good. If at home she is relaxed enough to be a 0, and when she sees cows on a trial ride she becomes a nervous 10, at my lesson, she was about a 2-3 which is how she normally is when I take her on a ride by herself.
We got there really early (partly because she loaded so well and it was raining so we left right away, but part was on purpose to give Catlow a chance to check out the place). So I was able to walk her around a lot, and take my time with saddling her up.
This picture is before the lesson, right after I saddled her up (it was actually a bit lighter outside than that, but the flash made it look like it was midnight).
I'm just really happy that my dad is here and so is my horse! By the way, I can't believe how much like my mom I look in these pictures. It's uncanny.
Then Katie got home from work, so we went to the arena. There are lots of objects (tractor parts covered in a tarp, an arena grader, just lots of stuff) near the door, so she needed time to absorb that (very uncertain and wanted to get out of there if given the choice). Katie opened the arena door and that scared her a bit, but she just jumped then watched as the door rose up.
I did some ground work with her first, and explained to Katie how she seemed to shut down if I pushed her to much, especially at the canter so I didn't canter her much when lunging, mostly just trotting and changing directions. Katie suggested that I need to continue to up the degree of stress that I place on her so that she learns to accept more and won't retreat within herself and shut down. I guess that I have done this with her with other things, but not with the ground work stuff. I'm happy with how she works, so I sometimes don't even do ground work. I did work with asking her to canter while lunging, but I could hardly get 3 good stride out of her before she'd fall back to the trot, and she broke into a canter very spurty-like, with a tucked tail. I think that Katie is right that I just need to do it with her more and be sure to reward her lots when she maintains a canter.
Then I mounted and we warmed up at the walk and then the trot. The guineas were in the arena roosting on the beams, and at one point they went into a screeching fit, and that freaked Catlow out quite a bit for about two seconds (she jumped and froze), but she got over it really fast and ignored them after that, even when they flew down from their perch to walk across the arena and move to a different perch.
So, we worked at walk, trot and canter and did circles for bending in the corners, and also worked on canter-walk transitions. It took me a couple circles to get the hang of just the right amount of leg pressure for her, but then she did really good with bending and circling at the walk and trot (she's just really sensitive to leg pressure so will move off it well). She was also very cadenced at the trot (well, good for being her first time with arena work - most of the time we work on the trail - her trotting was mostly very cadenced, but occasionally she lost focus and became a bit confused about what she was to do, so would lose momentum). She especially would lose momentum in the circles because she wasn't sure how to circle properly at first - she would sort of drop her shoulder and almost seem to pivot on it such that she was swinging her hind end out and around to help her complete her circle. She did quit doing that after a few circles.
Once she was going well at trot-circles, then we moved up to cantering. First we just cantered around the outside of the arena until Catlow was maintaining a rhythm and slowing down. When I first asked her to canter, she shot forward with a strong leap into the canter, and then cantered strongly around, cutting corners and really leaning into her circle. I had to slow her down, help her straighten up, and move her to the rail with leg pressure. She responded well. Once she was cadenced, then Katie said to try a smaller circle in the corner of the arena. The first two times we tried it, she dropped to a trot and I could not get her to pick the canter back up until she was on the rail again, but by the third circle she had balanced herself enough to keep cantering through the circle. Katie said I need to pull up on the inside rein (with my palm upward) to keep her from dropping her shoulder and to also keep urging her through the circle with my outside leg. After the first couple rough circles, she at least maintained a canter through all the circles and many of them felt really nice. Then Katie asked me to bring her to a walk, and Catlow responded by halting them jumping into the walk. Katie alerted me to the fact that Catlow's response was due to my sloppy riding - she stopped fast because I overcued her, and when I lost my balance, my heels dug into her and so she shot forward again. So we worked on canter-walk transitions in between canter-circle exercises. By the end, with a simple deeper sit into the saddle (with my feet forward to keep my balance and not touching reins at all), Catlow was coming smoothly down to a walk.
Catlow was pretty tired at the end, and really had calmed down a lot and was understanding what I was asking of her and how she was expected to respond. I walked her to cool her down and I could tell when she had caught her breath. As she aired up more, she became more and more aware of the scary things in the arena (not bad, but she because uncertain of how she should respond - but this also could have been due to the next lesson horse entering the arena and walking around the center).
After the lesson, she did hesitate just slightly before loading back into the trailer - slight hesitation, but with a calm insistent pull on the halter, she put one leg in the trailer, then scratched her sweaty head on her knee for 30 seconds. Then I asked her to come all the way in and she did without hesitating. Once home, I stood with her for a while before unloading her. She was very calm by the end of this trailer ride.
I think Catlow had a very good first away from home experience. Tomorrow, I have to work, but then my dad and I will be loading up all my horse stuff and readying our intinerary for Thursday morning when we leave!
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