After a sporadic couple of weeks, I got to spend 3+ hours at the barn yesterday. It was like heaven. I worked both horses on the ground, let them both graze if not to their hearts content, at least for a good long time, brushed the mud off, de-tangled manes and tails, and spend some time reminding Bar of boundaries.
He forgets, you see. When we work together consistently, he does a pretty good job of not being a brat. He always tests, of course, but with the recent lapse in quality barn time, he didn't give in quite as fast. It wasn't even that he didn't want out, either. I worked Lena first, got back to the paddocks, and had a sad-faced Thoroughbred looking at me.
Part of it is his huge play drive, which was sometimes encouraged in less-than orthodox ways by his race trainer/former owner, Howie. We had to teach Bar that biting (for example) is not a part of play, no matter how long he's been cooped up in his paddock. Yesterday, he was definitely feeling high--dancing over obstacles, even jumping sometimes, feeling good in his own skin--and he's fun to watch when he's in that humor. Awesome, actually. It's a delicate balance, though, to give him the opportunity to cut loose and still keep the boundaries in place. It absolutely requires being clear and firm, just like another horse would be in the same circumstances. Body language works extremely well, actually. Taking an aggressive stance when he's headed towards you will keep him from coming in too close, too fast, and instead he'll veer off and stop a respectful distance away until you invite him closer.
He actually wasn't too bad yesterday, just wired. WIRED. Normally, a few trips around the round pen settles him out and we can do some good thinking work. I got dizzy waiting for it yesterday, and it took quite a while for him to come down enough to a relaxed trot with any kind of collection. But he did. Eventually. By then it was dinner time (his), and so when I led him over to the mounting block for a little bareback work, he fussed. He nipped at the lead rope (and in the direction of my fingers) as I looped it through his halter. He never connected, but he was definitely reverting to earlier behavior. Smacking him doesn't really help--he just thinks I'm playing--so I sent him around me, over objects, both directions, then made him stand much further away than he likes until he settled down. You can see it in his eyes when he's decided to go along with you, just like you can see it in his eyes when he's in the mood to nip. It's all about paying attention and preempting the negative behavior with him--so he knows you actually can read his mind. It's evil, I know, but effective.
Lena, by the way, was only marginally better. Her reactions are just different as she is a much more confident horse than Calabar is. She's also bossier, so our arguments were around doing what I asked and not ripping my arm out of the socket to get to grass. She maintained her normal round pen routine--go along lazily, then pretend something spooks her and zip around snorting with her tail up in the air. I just let her go until she calmed down, dropped her head, and started licking her lips. Still at a canter, mind you, but much more relaxed, until she finally settled into a nice, relaxed trot.
Both of them loved their spa time, too, giving big yawns and head shakes while I brushed the dreadlocks out of their tails. They are both a little vain, so simply telling them they are looking beautiful will usually distract them from being antsy in the cross ties.
All in all, a quite restorative day at the barn. And the way things are shaping up at work, we're all going to need as much of that as we can squeeze in.