Monday, May 21, 2012

I Graduated!

All in all, a fairly painless experience. Traffic was nowhere near as bad as we thought it'd be; the ceremony was inside, and only two hours; and my medals announced my awesomeness with every jingly step. We even got in some good pictures before my hair (which I straightened so I wouldn't have to do it in the morning) started to curl weirdly and poof out from the rain.
From perfectly coiffed in the car... this. But I couldn't leave without rubbing Testudo's nose one last time for luck.
I skipped the main graduation yesterday to go to the barn, of course. Gentle Giants has a GORGEOUS, HUGE new facility (109 acres) that they are planning to host shows at eventually. I can't wait; it's going to be awesome, and I'm so glad the rescue grows bigger and better every year. I have only been volunteering there 4 years, but it has changed so much that the humble days of the dirt floor barn and the stalls that flooded in heavy rain seem very far away. I mean, now all of the tack is labeled. The bridles are in figure eights. Volunteers log every ride to track each horse's progress. We're movin' on up!

Okay, gushy blahblahblah aside, I have two new projects. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to get out to the rescue more than twice a week with my part-time work schedule as it is, but at least this week I'm off and I hope to work them consistently.

Sailor: Apparently he is shaking his head, scaring beginners, stuff like that. It sounds like he has similar problems as a free lease horse I had one summer. Not bad, just needs a reminder that not all riders are passengers and that he can't just decide to stop paying attention. I'll take a look at his bit too--maybe that is a reason for the headshaking. I saw him ridden briefly on Sunday and it didn't seem like he was horrible so that bodes well.

Levi: Poor Levi.
"Are you going to let me out? Here, let me show you where the gate is. It's right here, see? See? Please save me. I swear the other guys in here are going to shank me. What if I try and look cute? Will that work? I swear I'll be good."

I took this video of him sadly pacing along the fence after I was done with him. Let me explain.

So the new farm is HUGE. It took me about 10 minutes of walking just to get to his field, and that's with a shortcut through a creek (which sucked my boot into the muck). Christine (the founder of Gentle Giants) had explained that since the stalls are not quite ready for the wear and tear of drafts leaning on them to scratch the spots they can't reach, the horses were living outside full-time. Levi, formerly a favorite school horse, took this new freedom to mean that he didn't have to do anything he didn't want to ever again.

Cut to a whinnying, tense, more-and-more-likely-to-bolt-back-to-his-buddies-with-every-step Levi. He was convinced every step away from his field was one step closer to certain death. So we circled/mini-lunged every time he threw up his head and stopped to call to them...which was A LOT. Of course this bad behavior was in front of potential adopters that Christine was showing around. They seemed like pretty decent horsepeople though so I think they understood that sometimes freakouts happen. And sometimes you have to stop every five steps to circle because your horse is having a fit.

So once I got him up to the barn, I stuck him in the round pen to chill out for a second. This did not happen. I came up with a plan. I would longe him to get his attention back, then ride briefly to evaluate where he was in regard to sensitivity to the aids.

While I was longeing him, he was great. He reached long and low, and he was paying attention to his work. Whenever I brought him down to a walk and switched sides, though, he would lose focus and freak out, calling to his buddies again. Eventually (20 minutes-ish) I got him to a point where I thought he was paying attention consistently (mostly trot with a little bit of canter when he tried to brake).

I led him into the barn and hooked him up to the cross-ties, which he is totally used to. But not that day apparently. Head high, neck muscles tense, the fear of death written plain in his eyes. He whinnied like an idiot some more. He literally had the poop scared out of him--gross, liquidy poo in the nice new aisleway! His brain was not on so I decided not to ride. Instead, I made a little obstacle course in the ring with cavalletti and traffic cones spaced irregularly on the circle so he would have to look down, think, and adjust while I longed him at the trot.

This worked! I was so pleased. We even ended with a nice relaxed walk on the longe. Unfortunately...Levi's antics mean that he is now exiled from his former field and he's going to be switched around every so often so he doesn't get over-attached. Hopefully additional work will help too.

Ok, so that was a lot longer than I thought it would be, but here's the upshot: it looks like Levi will pay attention when I am actually challenging him to do something. He'll probably take any opportunity to decide other things are more interesting, so I'll need to keep his attention with lots of changes of direction, transitions, and riding him forward. The goal is to get him to the point where he can be used in intermediate lessons again.

So that's the beginning of my summer!


  1. So is Sailor the Sailor that was there before? (with the brand on his hip that looks like an anchor but is, if I recall rightly, a 7 over a V?)

    And your paragraph on him just sort of ended in the middle of a sentence. :)

    Poor Levi has to work. D'aww.

    And I seriously want to see the new farm!

    1. Oops. I left this post, then came back to it, and I guess I forgot to finish that part. Will fix it now. And yes, it is the same Sailor.