Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rainy days and dancing with horses

Here in Northern California, it is an El Nino year--which means we have had a lot of rain, so much rain it feels like we haven't seen the sun in months. That's not actually true, we had just gotten accustomed to the drought cycle of mild, dry, and warm winters.

In other words, we forgot about the rainy season cycle, where the sun magically sliding through the clouds is cause for celebration--however brief--in the dreary norm of days-on-days of rain. Not to mention we get full reservoirs, lakes, rivers, ski slopes--all very good things.

The days and days of rain, however, leave us with muddy pens, slippery footing, and less romping back and forth for horses in their paddocks. Let's face it, deep mud makes for challenging rompage--at least it seems to for Bar. It's not that he doesn't get feisty, he just won't run and play as much as he likes to when he's fetlock-deep in the mud. It could be he's just taking care of himself--he's very cautious about footing--or maybe it's just too gross for him.

This inevitably leads to a build-up of play-energy, though. Yesterday it was just too much for him to contain and we had a minor eruption. Because we've worked extensively on ground manners, he's gotten very good at leading--with only minor reminders on occasion--even when the air crackles with him trying to be calm. It sometimes leaks out in a funny, low, squeal way back in his throat, but he usually manages to maintain until we get inside and he can buck, fart, and roll to his heart's content before we do any work.

Not yesterday.

A friend of mine said he must have known I was looking at his race photos and wanted to show off. Right, that must have been it.

He actually led fine down to the indoor arena, but as we went to close the gate (he always helps), he decided to see if he could make me drop the lead rope so he could have the whole arena to run free. He's done this once or twice before with some success, so he thought he would try again. He does a series of tricks to accomplish this goal: first, rear a little--always far away from mom because she gets mad; then back up to the very end of the lead rope and zoom around mom in a circle--again, far away because of the mad thing; then spin the hindquarters away from her, rear again while tossing the head, all in hopes of pulling said lead rope free of her hand.

Unfortunately for him, I've become more confident and am wise to his antics. He always stays outside my bubble, so I let him bounce around me a bit before informing him he was still attached to me. It's okay for him to play and blow off horsie-steam, but not in such a large way when we're joined together. He is smart enough to know the difference, he just needed a small reminder of what good manners are all about.

So after he got settled down and we walked together into the round pen, he had a few minutes alone to buck, fart and roll, then he stopped and looked over at me to check in. There are probably a couple different routes I could have taken, here--maybe immediately started working him hard or punishing him some other way--but it seemed like letting him work some of that out first would allow him to focus better when I did start to work him. I won't argue with his need to play, his need to MOVE, so I gave him that time and then worked him much harder than normal. We also went back to some basic movements and ground exercises to get him to focus. By the end of it, he was following me calmly around the arena, moving the parts of himself I asked him to when I asked him, and licking and chewing calmly.

There will always be days like this with him, days where he just feels so good in his skin he can't stand it. There are days I simply can't sit still to save my life, and my body aches, literally aches, to move (and sometimes aches when I move, too). Can he really be any different? I don't think so. He just has to remember I will always allow him that as long as he follows a few simple rules.

Lena wants everyone to know that she would never act like that and I should have just taken her out instead.

Both these photos were taken during sunnier times of the year, because photography in the rain isn't as fun, either.

1 comment:

Buckskins Rule said...

Oh, the mud and the muck. It's a constant part of life up here this time of year. The paddocks were improved this year such that they aren't standing in mud for a change.

It is a bit of a conundrum, isn't it? We can't let them think that such behavior is acceptable when we are on the other end of the lead rope, but at the same time we can understand the need to stretch their legs.