Bar always teaches me something, but tonight felt a bit like one of those watershed moments--"click" as it all slides into place.
He hadn't been worked in a couple days. Tuesday I had a massage and Wednesday a social thing, so the plan was to give him a good romp and workout tonight--at least in the round pen--if there wasn't time to ride.
You know that they say about the best laid plans.
One of the other boarders was in the round pen with his horse--a nice Quarter Horse reiner--when I got there. Okay, I thought, maybe he'll be done by the time I clean Bar's feet and head down there. Normally I have the arena all to myself after work, and I really was not anxious to repeat the issues I'd had the other day.
No such luck. Bill and CD had finshed up in the round pen and Bill was getting on when Bar and I made our way down. I stood outside with Bar, letting him graze, while I fidgeted and tried to decide what to do. Finally, Bill looked out at me and asked if we were coming in. Fine. As I led Bar up to the gate, Bill asked which one it was and I told him, then said if Bar was too bad, we'd leave.
Remembering how Bar reacted to the situation the other day, I slowed myself way, way down. I let him check out the arena, made sure he saw Bill and CD, then opened the gate very calmly and again stopped to let him suss out the situation. As we went through the gate, I rotated him so he was facing Bill and CD, rather than having his butt to them. Then we turned and walked calmly towards the round pen, me giving him reassurances and pets to let him know he was acting just right.
Bar had a lot of energy--especially after two days off--and feels pretty strong and healthy right now, so really wanted to run, buck, fart, etc. I was relatively successful at keeping him at a trot and slow canter going to the right, but when he turned to the left--racetrack direction--all bets were apparently off.
I felt bad. If I were him, a certain amount of bucking and hijinks would absolutely be necessary, but I had to rein him in with someone else trying to work in the arena. Sad, because he looked like he was having a blast!
I called him in so we could do some yielding and side passing work--things less energetic but more appropriate for the situation. He did okay for a moment, but got frustrated and reared up a little bit, backing away as he did so because he knows that's bad manners. Clinton Anderson suggests letting them rear as long as they aren't striking out and as long as you are in a safe position--apparently, it takes the fun out of it when you stand your ground. So I let Bar rear, let him back off a little away from me, then backed him all the way to the end of the lead rope by wiggling it and made him stand there--far, far away from me.
Bar is a snuggler. He feels safe and happy when he is right next to me. In fact, I think that his lurch into me the other day was more because I represent safety than anything else. Not that it makes that okay, but it's another little piece of his psychology and our relationship.
So I could have backed him up all the way around the round pen and terrorized him--and it probably would have worked to some extent--but it occurred to me to try something different. Instead, I backed him gently but firmly away from me using just body language and the lead rope, driving him back every time he tried to come close, making him just stand there staring at me from a distance.
It was amazingly effective.
He did everything I asked after that--side pass, slow trot to the left, circle around me at a walk or trot both directions. Quite amazing, actually.
We took our time leaving the round pen and arena, too, so he could see Bill and CD again and be sure there were no monsters lurking outside the arena, too.
No monsters, just grass, which he got to eat more of because he had behaved if not perfectly, better than I envisioned.
Oddly, I think he thought the same thing about me.