A bit of a rough day with Steen yesterday. I went out to the barn all excited because I had my saddle and I was going to ride. I got Steen out of the pasture with only the usual difficulties – ie, not letting other people’s horses out while fetching mine. They were back in the “mud lot” since we’ve had a lot of rain again and they destroy the pastures when the ground is wet, so naturally as soon as we stepped on the fresh green grass between the mud lot and the barn, Steen really wanted to eat. Of course, I wouldn’t let him and in the past, when I don’t let him, he gives it up quickly enough. Yesterday, however, when I wouldn’t let him eat, he simply wouldn’t walk.
So, we took a long time getting to the barn. I moved him ahead with techniques like pushing him backwards until going forwards seemed like a good idea, leading him in circles, wiggling his head back and forth, and tossing the lead-rope towards his rear-feet.
In the end, we made it to the indoor arena. I took a few deep breaths to let go of my irritation over the grass and then we worked on standing using the same technique I used the other day – making him move back and forth on a twelve-foot line until his attention was one me. Then I’d let him stop and clip his halter to a loosely tied lead rope, and pet and praise him until he started fidgeting, then I’d unclip him and make him move and move and move until he was ready to focus again.
This really seemed to work at first, and my hopes were high. He was standing in a very relaxed attitude intermittently, and paying good attention to me.
Then another horse and rider came into the arena. At first Steen was very distracted by this change, but I just kept doing the same thing and got him to focus again.
Then, the rider’s entourage came to the arena. This consisted of her daughter, three other adults and a baby. These people were very annoying, clustering around the arena entrance, talking, moving and taking photos. For some reason, the camera was really freaking Steen out. By then the woman’s daughter was riding the first horse bareback and the woman had another horse in there she was leading around. Steen’s attention was increasingly off me, and he started yanking back on his halter when he was tied. After a few moments of trying to regain his focus, it became clear trying to work with him in that environment was going to be useless.
So, very pissed at the people, the circumstances, and Steen, (although quite aware I didn’t have anything in particular to protest about) I took him out to the round pen, let him loose and sat there on the ground watching him graze until I regained my temper. Then I worked him for a while using a round-penning exercise that teaches the horse to change direction when you signal, and had some success with this. I tried tying him up one more time, thinking perhaps it wasn’t too late, but he fought the halter almost immediately so I just unclipped him and worked him again. I was about to call it a day feeling rather down in the dumps indeed. Then, another girl, Rachel, who is a few years older than me and also keeps her horse in the pasture, came out of the barn to say hi. I’d met her the day Steen arrived and she’s very nice and knowledgeable about a lot of the natural horsemanship ideas I’m trying to learn. She told me about a trainer, Jessica Jahiel, who has a great website with hundreds of archived questions she has answered about these little difficulties that get you down with horses. In the course of our conversation we talked about things like patience and repetition and I realized that although I know I could get a saddle on Steen and ride him by either tying him up and just dealing with the fidgeting, or getting another horse to stand tied next to him, doing so might be premature.
Rachel also said something else that struck me. She said, “The thing I picked up from Jessica that helps me the most is just to remind myself, I’m not training my horse for today. I’m training him for tomorrow and every day after that.”
I came home and read quite a few articles on Jessica’s website. The thing I found her saying repeatedly was, “Do this 100 times or more.” I’ve still only had Steen for a week…
So, I need to cool my jets and be more patient. It’s not Steen’s fault that he’s in a new place and has had very little contact with people for the last four years. My first ride in my new saddle will come on a day when we are both ready for it, not just me.
But on the bright side, Rachel saw my saddle sitting in the grass and commented that she has nearly the same one, only the traditional western, not endurance style – and she loves it. She said hers has the same tree mine does, and although it is just a tad narrow for her horse, it still works great. Since Steen is significantly more narrow than her horse but in the same general size-range, I am now almost completely sure the saddle will fit him.