Yesterday I realized something, it's been 8 months since Duke came into my life; notice how much my journal entries have dropped? And I can say with certainty that he has certain traits and characteristics. He is very complex, like me, so in that way we relate to each other. He can go from being soft and obedient to bracy and disobedient in a heartbeat. He's always thinking, very mouthy, confident, naughty, dominant, and playful. He keeps me on my toes and teaches me something new everyday; he is an awesome teacher.
What has he taught me?
- To be patient, again
- To relax and not be such a direct line thinker
- To be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary (assertiveness)
- To say "Oh boy!" instead of "Oh no!"
- The fine art of moseying
Thankfully for me he's also patient...most of the time. And one other thing I've learned is he gets bored with arenas. Bored! Bored! Bored! This time of year we have to stay inside, in the arena to play, whether on the ground, or in the saddle. I love playing on the ground with Duke. I love riding too! But the ground work is so important. If you don't have respect on the ground, you won't get it in the saddle.
The other day I was playing with Duke and had one of those moments...a moment where I was able to work my way through a situation with him. To keep him engaged in the activity, I have to be provocative and mix things up. Repetition isn't his thing. When learning something new, once he gets it, move on.
So, this time I decided to get out some barrels and ground poles; two and three, respectively. The barrels to play a 'squeeze' game to help both of us become more comfortable with trailer loading, and the poles to keep Duke's mind engaged during the 'circle' game we play. I thought, if he has to think about where he's putting his feet, he won't be so bored with circling. Additionally, lately I've noticed him tripping over his feet, even though we pulled his shoes and trimmed his hooves on January 5th. Could be laziness or boredom, but I thought perhaps an exercise in moving over an object, and having to pick up his feet, would be useful and beneficial.
I set the two barrels on end about three feet apart, and the poles off to the side in a V pattern, but with the extra pole in the middle. We played on-line (on the ground with a halter and lead rope) with the barrels, backing Duke in between, which is difficult for him because he's not confident with objects behind him. From there I sent him forward into a circle, using the barrels as obstacles in his path to keep him from getting bored with the mindless act of going around and around and around in an endless circle. At a walk then a trot, we went around one barrel, then between the two, then out away from the barrels, then back around one, change direction, and go the opposite direction. My timing was off several times and the lead rope hung up on the barrel causing Duke to stop when he felt the pressure, so I need to work on that. I get so into watching his movement that I often forget I have a lead rope in my hand.
Then we moved over to the poles, starting Duke off at a slow walk first so he could negotiate the placement of the poles. Immediately Duke offered to trot. The first two circles he completely avoided the poles, first skirting around the outside, then skirting the inside toward me. Oh boy! The third time I positioned myself properly putting Duke right over the poles. Going over he hit them with his hooves and stepped on them, knocking them around while tripping and losing his balance...and his confidence. He genuinely looked frustrated and very sour. So we went off to other games...touch it, sideways, porcupine...all things he knew giving him time to gain back his confidence and me time to think of a different strategy for him. Then I had a thought...what if I went over the poles with him, both ways, so we do the exercise together? Back to the poles we went, walking together this way over them, and then back in the other direction. I gave him a moment to think before I took up my position and I sent him over the poles again. First at a nice calm walk, then Duke offered to trot and this time I watched as he crossed over the poles, placing his feet perfectly between each pole, never hitting or tripping as he moved. He looked like he was prancing...so beautiful!!! As soon as he finished his expression changed to excitment as he happily trotted right to me, licking his lips, ears forward, attentive and ready. If he could talk he might have said, "Wow! That was fun!" Considering our past experiences with poles at a trot always resulted in him clumsily striking them and tripping, this moment was a major breakthrough.
And with that, we called it a day.
I've also learned to end our sessions on a positive note. We'll both remember that next time.
The journey continues...