One step backward, three steps forward

With all of us finally sound and healthy, I took a day off work to make a long weekend and get some momentum with the horses.  Coffee, Roxie, and Tally are beginning to gain some fitness.  It is wonderful to see Coffee and Tally getting their carriage back.  Roxie, finally rid of the soreness in her feet, is rapidly improving her balance and carriage.  But it is Noble, once again, who is making the greatest strides – even as we experienced a brief backward step today.

With access to the back, Noble often comes to watch the other horses getting worked.  That has been the situation for the last two days.  The arena has been a touchy subject for us.  When Noble was young, he spent a lot of time there – working on obstacles, learning basic skills, and even just playing with his buddies.  But, about the time he went into his horrid juvenile period, he decided the arena was for tantrums – if I could even get him to the gate at all.  I’ve tried, over the years, to see if we could get past it – but it has always been a ‘bridge too far’ for him.  However, yesterday he was so interested in my activities with the other horses, that I decided to try.

That first session went surprisingly well.  We did both liberty and in-hand work.  He was attentive and, when loose, even brave enough to explore the entire length of the ring on his own.  I was thrilled with his calm attitude and engagement.  Even when I decided it was time to quit, he wanted to stay.  I had to cajole him out the gate – and he nickered for me to come back as I walked away.  Good progress!

Noble, impatiently awaiting his turn in the arena.

Today I prepared by bringing in his lunge cavesson and a lunge line.  He’d gone back to the barn, when I finished with Tally, so I called him from the back of the arena.  I heard a thundering whinny in response, followed by him jogging out and to the ring.  Our session was going well, when the neighbor decided to start running some loud machinery, not fifty feet away.  Noble noticed, but stayed engaged.  We did some in-hand lateral work – a first for him.  Even when I gave him a break off the line, he stuck around, so we did some free-lunging.

I was wrapping up with a little more in-hand work, when he suddenly stopped, raised his head to the maximum height, and stared across the little barn.  He was clearly listening to something, his body tense, and attempts to get his attention futile. I unclipped the line to give him a moment.  He let out a huge whinny, and I heard Coffee answer from the barn.  That was it!  Noble was off and running!

He tore around the arena, occasionally galloping straight at me – clearly upset and having a moment of separation anxiety.  I kept talking, waiting to see if I could get his attention.  After the third time around, he barreled past again, did a quick 180 turn, and stopped twenty feet in front of me.  I talked to him as I approached, and he stood still, head high.  I unbuckled the cavesson, and he lowered his head so I could remove it.  I told him to follow me, and we walked calmly to the gate.  I opened it and stepped back.

He looked at the open gate, shook his head, and came over for a scratch – so I obliged.  I then walked a bit further away, giving him plenty of room to leave.  He looked again at the opening … and followed me.  Suddenly calm, after his slightly hysterical explosion, he stood in front of me waiting for a cue.

You could have knocked me over with a feather after seeing the sudden and complete change in Noble’s attitude!  I wasn’t worried about the reversion to his old behavior, as I knew it wouldn’t all just disappear overnight – but I’ve never seen a horse get so worked up, then so calm, with such swiftness.  His eyes were again soft, and there seemed no residual tension in his body.  So, we did another few minutes of liberty work, with me grinning widely.  Once again, I had to cajole him to finally leave the arena – and he was in no hurry to go back to the barn.  He watched me exit the arena at the other end, and was back in the barn to greet me when I got there.

I am enjoying working with the big boy, watching our progress, however slow it seems.  But it’s in those moments when we slip a step backward that I realize just how far we’ve actually come!

Be good to your horses!


3 thoughts on “One step backward, three steps forward

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