... besides obviously not blogging. =)
So, broken arm aside (which has healed extremely well and I have my full range of motion back - Yay!), I haven't just been letting Diego rot in the barn for the past few months. I've done my best to take this set-back in stride and think of it as time to improve our ground work and overall relationship. With that mindset, I've been pretty satisfied with our results. To be perfectly honest, I think this time to take a step back and really get back to basics has benefitted us both. And I most probably would NOT have done all this additional ground work if I had been able to keep riding.
Things I've been doing:
- Despooking: Diego has now been "sacked out" and is non-phased by tarps, plastic bags, whips, ropes, our new puppy (who thinks he's a big dog andwants him to play), hula hoops, towels, milk jugs with rocks inside, pool noodles, Taren riding his bike around, and he's getting a lot better about quick startling movements - for the most part he just ducks his head or flinchs in place now. That was one of the little gems I picked up from the Stacey Westfall ground work DVD I rented from Horseflix.com, was that she's "never had a deer jump out, and then back, and then out, and then back" while trail riding. So she uses both rhythym and quick sudden motions while despooking. I've noticed a pretty big difference in Diego since I've started just randomly jerking my hands around, or ducking down, or jumping towards him, etc. When I first started - it was OHMYGODWHATSGONNAEATME! Now he kind of goes "Huh?" Unfortunately, I've found out this doesn't quite apply when you walk out in the middle of the pitch black night to go feed and take off the horsie fly mask and the horse is totally zoned-out dead asleep on the far side of the barn, such that when you walk into the middle of the corral and see the dark shape and proclaim "Oh! THERE you are!" the pony will have a heart attack for approximately 3 seconds (poor guy). It also doesn't help when you are carrying a saddle and two hula hoops (which he's never seen or heard before) up to the corral in the dark (I work late a lot, training often happens at night under lights at my place) and the big rattly bulky clinky misshapen monster may "sound" like Mom, but only until you can acutally SEE her are you reassured it's not a horse eating monster.
- Lunging: We've been doing a lot of work on the lunge. Working on establishing good verbal cues (I use "walk", quick kisses to trot, a long smooch to lope, "easy" to slow down, and "whoa") that are followed every time in a quick consistent manner. I'll ask, ask with slight pressure, and then make him do it. An example of this would be a walk to trot transition. He'll be going along and I'll kiss to him. If he doesn't immediately start to trot, I'll kiss to him and use the whip, end of the rope, or my arm to apply pressure from behind to speed up. If he still hasn't started trotting, then I'll get after him until he does. The one that he has the hardest time with is the trot to walk transition down. He will often stop completely and then I need to get him walking again. He's gotten a lot better, especially going to the left, but this is something we'll continue to work on. The other nice thing is that I don't just lunge him in the same circle in the same place - we'll lunge in different areas and go over "obstacles" such as rocks, a small ditch, gravel, pieces of pipe, a sand hill, etc. I'll also use the lunge to ground drive him straight for a bit and then ask for turning again - work on making different "shapes."
- Ground Driving: I've also been doing a bit of ground driving. I rented a Mark Rashid DVD from Horseflix and he really made it look simple. I've taken lessons and had formal instruction in ground driving before from one of our local trainers who uses it a lot very successfully for her dressage horses. So I'm not totally clueless about what I'm doing. Diego has been doing pretty well with it, but after getting kicked, I do still have some hesitation about being directly behind him. As such, I do a lot of my "driving" standing next to him in the position of where I would be if I was riding. I'm seeing Diego having to overcome some of his confidence issues while we do this. I am no longer the "leader" out in front of him, instead he has to be responsible for choosing where to go with some direction from me. I've been using my hand or the stirrup if saddled to create pressure where my feet will go to help reinforce our verbal cues as well. While ground driving, I'll press, then give the verbal cue and press again, and then make him - using this as a transition away from the verbal cues somewhat. I purchased a new snaffle bit that has three pieces, similar to a french link but with the middle link being a little thicker and more rounded (I believe it's called a Lozenge snaffle). Diego seems to like this bit a lot better and doesn't chomp on it as much. He also doesn't bob his head when I apply rein pressure, so I think the regular snaffle was hitting the roof of his mouth.
- Riding: Yes, I have been "riding", just a bit the past week. Actually, truth be told, I have sat on the pony a few times and done a little bit of walking around the corral. I just don't totally have my nerve back yet and my corral is not the most conducive place to riding the horse, being farily small and having one wall of the barn/shed that sticks out into it. Mounting and dismounting (from either side) has been a non-issue and we've done some really easy walking circles, stops, and backing up. That's it for now. I've been busy doing something pretty much every weekend lately so I just haven't had time to get him out to a proper round pen or arena to do some more riding.
Honestly, I don't think our bucking issue is totally resolved or gone. I think Diego has learned he can do this behavior to get me off of him and to be able to do what he wants. I'm not sure if it's naughtiness on his part (which I kind of doubt), or just insecurity and feeling overwhelmed. I'm hoping that by going slower and doing the basics again, we can avoid the bucking. But the little voice in the back of my head is telling me that this isn't a "done" issue and that honestly I'm going to have to ride it out and then severely discipline him for him to start to think about giving up that behavior. I would be happy if that little voice is wrong though.