41. Watch, listen, learn.

Blog 41 – “Watch, listen, learn.”

Initially I went to Lola in her paddock.  She was never difficult to catch but I prefer it if my horses come to me, this is one of the indicators that they are keen to interact with me (outside of feed-time of course).  

Soon she was coming to me and if there should be a day that she doesn’t, or if she is slower to do so than normal then this could an indicator that she was unhappy with our last or recent interactions or that there is a physical issue that I need to explore.  

I enjoy having horses who can communicate at this level, it means I can listen when they “whisper” and no longer have to wait for them to “shout”.

I could tack Lola up from day 1.  She would walk with me to the gate and stand while I groomed and tacked up.  But there was a difference in the way that she would stand for grooming, (relaxed, stationary, allow me to move her if necessary) and the way that she would stand to be tacked up, although she did not move her feet her muscles were less relaxed and she might toss her head up and down.  So I stopped using tack.  

We would work together either at liberty or in a head collar.  If and when I rode her is was bareback, I really enjoy doing this with both girls and frequently ride Filly bareback too but Lola has big, powerful movement so I was limited in what I could manage without a saddle with her!  

However there is a lot to explore in halt and walk and her confidence, level of receptiveness in both, and her understanding and ability in lateral work improved during this time.  

We did a lot of groundwork too, as Alex would say, “Riding is just groundwork where you get to sit down.”

When I was confident that she was ok with bareback work I reintroduced tack.

I chose a very soft nathe bit which I only left on her if there were no signs of anxiety while I put it on.  If there were any signs of anxiety I would simply remove it and carry on without.  When there were not I worked with her wearing the bridle but without me touching the reins, then holding the reins and the lead rope at the same time and then just the rein contact.  

Having been so fearful of the contact and with tendency to alternate between 
come behind the bit and pulling hard, tossing her head and rushing now she is happy to be ridden in a normal snaffle.

The saddle took longer, partly because I was enjoying riding bareback but also because I had to explore lots of different saddles before finding the right one for Lola and am once again indebted to my sister Katie Eaton, qualified saddle fitter and Master Saddler for helping with this.

The only issue that my two girls have with tack now is them knowing which one I want to work with when I arrive at the paddock gate as they are both keen to play!  I have started to resolve this issue by putting a massage pad on the one I intend to work with next so if they are the one to have had the pad on then they know it’s their turn and as often as not while I play with one the other will wear the pad and know that their turn is coming next.

Next time, "Playful".

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