Sunday, January 17, 2010

Many days of rain ahead

The forecast here in Northern California is rain, rain, rain.. and then some more rain. Now, my glass-half-full side says, "Yay, we really need the rain after three years of drought!" Me selfish horse-owner side says, "The horses really need to get out on the trail and away from the arena!"

They will have to wait.

So the challenge becomes entertaining smart, playful horses within the constraints of the indoor arena--really just a smaller and more dusty version of the outdoor arena with the added bonus of rain bouncing loudly off the metal roof.

At least we have the indoor arena, though. It's hard to imagine what would greet us in spring if we couldn't at least get them out to stretch their legs right now. And roll. Never underestimate the power of soft arena dirt over a horse that has been blanketed too many days in a row. Bar rolled at least five times on each side tonight and--because he was damp--ended up looking a bit like a cocoa-dusted chocolate truffle.

He was quite pleased with himself.

Luckily, I wasn't planning on riding tonight, so didn't much care how dirty he got as long as he blew off some of his energy. Which he did, quite enthusiastically, before settling into a nice frame at both the canter and the trot. Interestingly--and probably not surprising--his canter is much smoother and more collected as he goes clockwise (opposite of race direction), and it takes him much longer to settle into a good trot. Counterclockwise, he still uses his neck too much at the canter, but is more engaged and collected at the trot than when he moves to the right. It's taken patience, but it's been very rewarding to watch him figure out where his body actually feels good and works best. More and more he's giving me great neck stretches down, more engagement all through his body, and a nice soft eye and jaw as he settles into a steady pace.

Back to the boredom issue. Though we were once told horses don't get bored, our experience says otherwise. Routine is good, but with both Bar and Lena, a little brain challenge is good. For Lena, it helps keep her entertained and engaged. With Bar, it's good to give him tasks that he can achieve to build up his confidence and trust in himself and in me. One of the good things about the indoor arena is that there are plenty of trail obstacles set up and they provide good training opportunities.

Bar and I frequently use the trail obstacles as a tool. Sometimes to get him to pay attention to his feet, sometimes as a familiar thing to divert him from more goofy behaviors. Lately, we have been working a little bit over ground poles, though not in a more traditional set up like Cavaletti. At one end of the arena, there is a trail obstacle made up of a box of 10' poles with more poles crossed in the middle from corner to corner of the box and we frequently wander through it, around it, into the middle of it, etc.

The other day, I walked Bar around me at the end of his 14' lead rope and sent him over the corner of the box as a challenge. We've done this at a walk several times, so I decided to up the ante just a little and asked him for a trot over it. The first time he caught a pole or two, but we did it again and he slowed himself down, gathered himself up, and trotted over them perfectly. Then we did it the other way with the same results. He was so proud of himself and it was so cool to watch him use his body that way.

It seems with all this rain, creativity will be as important as riding if we're going to keep both wild horses entertained. We're up to the challenge, though it remains to be seen whether the rest of the barn is ready for it.


Buckskins Rule said...

The rain will puts a wet blanket (pun intended) on the winter riding up here in WA. Even with access to a large, covered, lighted arena, it becomes challenging to to find the motivation to trudge out in the dark, the rain and mud to fetch a horse. Not to mention it takes forever to dry a sweaty horse.

In the end I realize that all those things are just excuses, and I need to buck up and get out there.

Dane Jane said...

Horses definitely get bored! It's one of the major causes of bad behavior. Take an energetic, confident horse, make him do the same thing over and over, and just watch him find a way to liven things up.