For real, why is it every time I forget my camera, it’s when I really should have it?
Sometime yesterday, a local falcon that stops in at the farm every so often made one of his visits to the indoor arena. We like it when he visits, because it generally means all the pigeons leave for a while. Nothing against pigeons, but they’re rather messy, and noisy. They tend to get into the walls of the arena and scratch and flail around, which makes me jump. Notice I said “me”- generally what happens is the horses ignore it and I’m the one spooking.
Last night I chose Afton to hop on, since he’d had… four (? I can’t remember) days off and needed some work. The wind was howling and gusting, making the indoor sound just a little terrifying (again, I spook, the horses do not). In addition, there is a pile of feathers over in the middle of the ring. At first, it sort of looked like a really giant pile of poo, but I quickly realized that it was our falcon.
Another volunteer was riding Steven, so we all moseyed over to check out the bird. Poor bird. Apparently, he’d caught a sparrow earlier which was stolen by one of the barn cats. So this time, when he caught a starling, he was NOT letting it go for anything. NOTHING, even a very large four legged animal that could squish him, would remove him from his dinner.
So Afton was like, “hey, what’s that thing?”
And bird was all, “DUDE! I am a TERRIFYING bird of PREY! I am shaking my feathers at you! Do you see? BE AFRAID!!!!”
And Afton was like, “cool, are you edible?”
Bird said, “BEHOLD! I am EVIL! Let me PUFF MY NECK FEATHERS OF DOOM!!!!”
And Afton sorta gave up at that and said, “dude, you are SO boring”
All the “excitement” over we settled into work. My goal (hope? dream?) was to get to a point where Afton discovered the wonderful world of stretching. You know, out and down with the head, while spinning merrily along in a nice forward way. Alas, it was not to be (yet). I worked on a lot of big circles, occasionally spiraling in and out a little, with a really big opening rein and solid contact on the outside rein. While staying forward, forward, forward. A couple of times, I felt the slightest hint of a stretch, lasting for a stride or two, and then in a flash it was gone. But it was something, right? Back in the walk, doing the same thing, he would begin to stretch out and be all soft, swingy, and giving, but again it would only last for a few strides.
In addition to circling, I added some attempts at leg yielding in the trot. We had a reasonably easy time with this (Klondike, you’re next, I hope you’re paying attention)- he would be slow to start with, initially, but as he figured out what I wanted he would move sideways fairly easily without losing forward momentum. Several times, after doing this, as we got to the corner and I continued keeping my inside leg on, I felt his head drop and his shoulder start to lift, but it was sort of fleeting.
The cool thing is that after working on these things for a while at the trot and canter, when we came back to the walk, he did immediately want to stretch his head down and out, which says to me that something was working properly in there (at least, that’s what my teachers always told me- you were working correctly when you let out the reins and the horse dropped his head to stretch out). Not wanting to push it, we did a little more work centered around stop-and-stand. I also dismounted and re-mounted several times, to improve his standing at the mounting block. He’s definitely getting much better, and I’m finding that at times, being the tough guy actually does seem to make an impression on him (not that I’m too tough, as I’m pretty much a pushover).
After riding I got a little more into the usual stretch routine than normal. In addition to carrot stretches, which he did quite well, I asked him to pop his back- with my own horse, this is pretty easy to do by poking him in certain spots on his rump, but that tactic didn’t seem to work so well with Afton. So I tried the ‘belly lift’ method instead and he did lift his back up a bit. I asked him to do that three times, having him hold it for up to five seconds. At first, he just looked irritated with me for doing anything to his belly, but after the second time I almost think he figured out that it could feel good.
On to the leg stretches- these were super hard for him. I do a series of stretches with the front legs first- the basic shoulder stretch (leg straight out in front, stretching all the way through the shoulderblade), then one that stretches the front of the front legs, then some leg circles (see fantastic book on all this, it’s completely illustrated too!). I moved to the back legs, anticipating some problems, and I was not disappointed. Simply stretching his hind legs forward (with hoof held quite low) to stretch over the top-back part of his rump and his hamstrings, he resisted quite mightily. I persisted, and eventually was rewarded on both sides as he lowered his hoof and let me guide it gently forward. Like with his back, I think it took him a few minutes to realize, “hey, that feels kinda good, actually.” We finished with gently extending his back legs backwards (again, hooves held quite low, no joinking around here), which he actually was pretty easy about.
I also poked and prodded, and tried to find sore spots that might need to be concentrated on, but nothing really leaped out except for one spot on both sides of his neck. So he got a little fake massage (I say fake because I’m not certified or anything, and don’t really know what I’m doing), which he enjoyed.
In conversations with Allie about flexibility in horses, I want to try and make sure I do this kind of thing with Afton every time I ride, I figure it can’t hurt. In addition, over the next week we’re going to try and get him a training ride with a fantastic dressage trainer who is magic. 🙂