Although Steen has certainly had his teeth floated before, it seems the experience this time left him slightly traumatized. I didn’t really anticipate this, which was perhaps silly of me, but I guess I was so charmed by his perfect behavior for Dutch and Cathy, it didn’t even occur to me that the day after getting his teeth worked on might not be the most auspicious option for Brian’s first solo ride. I did warn Brian that Steen’s mouth might be a tad tender, so to minimize use of the bit, but I provided no forewarning that Steen might be nervous in general, but he was.
So, poor Brian didn’t have the greatest experience. Steen was nervous and spooky and not very inclined to listen to Brian, who persevered and got him all groomed and tacked up, but then couldn’t get him to hold still after mounting long enough to get his feet in the stirrups. So he got off and did more groundwork and then came home not the happiest camper in the world.
I felt very bad for failing to anticipate this turn of events. I gave Steen Wednesday off to help him get his head back in the right place, and then went out Thursday morning ready to have a little bit of a rougher time than I’ve grown used to.
And I did. At first, when I brought Steen into the barn to the tacking area, he seemed fine. But the longer we stood there, the more nervous he seemed to get, and he even fell back on some of his old tricks, like swiveling into the aisle and pulling on the tie-rope. Naturally, this didn’t make me feel good, and for a little while I was pretty discouraged that he’d back-slid so far as a result of something so mundane as routine vet-care.
But then I took him to the indoor arena (the same place Brian had taken him), and Steen was distracted and snorty, just like he’d been for Brian. I saw I needed to get him to focus. I started him walking around me in a circle, and told him to pick up the trot. He didn’t becaue he was more interested in trying to see the herd out the barn’s open side-door than doing what I told him. So, I reached out with my stick and gave Steen a firm tap on the butt. This served to both to get his feet moving, and to get his attention. I made him trot a few laps, then turned him, fast, by stepping out into his line and twirling the stick towards his hindquarters. That really got his attention. After he turned, his trot slowed down, he stopped thinking about the herd, and when I told him to stop, he disengaged perfectly and waited. When I told him to come to me, he approached with his head down, ready for pets and praise, which I provided lavishly. One of the funniest things I’m learning as I work more and more on training is that with horses, nervous behavior and disrespectful behavior go hand in hand. Establishing respect establishes trust which in turn provides comfort, almost instantaenously. As soon as I reminded Steen that I’m the boss, he calmed down, stopped worrying, and seemed a million times happier.
After that, he was pretty much his usual self. He was good with the rest of the groundwork, good while I rode, and very relaxed, inquisitive and affectionate when I groomed him and untacked him. So, although I started the day feeling discouraged, by the end I felt even more confident in my horse than before this episode, because I now feel like I can get his mind back where it needs to be even if something riles him up.
Yesterday, Brian and I went to the barn after work. Other than some petting and some tail-brushing, I kept my hands off Steen so Brian could practice the whole routine without interference. I gave Brian some pointers as far as how to be a little more commanding with his groundwork queues. Steen was good while we groomed him, but was a little distracted when we went outside, so it was a perfect time to pratice. Brian’s first attempt at the quick turn while Steen was trotting on the line was a little tentative, but his second was right on, and once more it made Steen focus and forget to be nervous. After that, things continued to go well, with Brian making significant progress on both his riding and handling, with Steen growing increasingly willing to listen to him, and relax.
Tomorrow is farrier/potluck day at the barn, so that should be fun. Hopefully this nice weather holds for a while longer.