Harley coughed so little yesterday, that I almost forgot to give him his allergy medicine! We spent several hours together and he only coughed a few times. We had a long lining session and I rode him a little bit and he barely coughed at all! Yay! Today could be totally different, but I am still going to celebrate yesterday.
I tried something new. Grooming seems to send him into coughing fits, even if I groom him in the washstall outside, so I decided that he needs a "dust mask", just like I used to wear to clean stalls. I draped a small towel from the noseband of his halter. He looked kind of silly, but it actually worked. No coughing! I might try an old t-shirt next time, since it will be a lighter material. He seemed to think that I "forgot" the towel and kept trying to grab it with his mouth. So his dust mask doubled as a source of amusement. I fed him some treats to inform him in terms that he can understand that towel = good. I guess this is just one more use of a towel to add to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!
Since I had a week off, there was a long list of things to get done that I normally do not have time to do. With the baby coming in less than three months, it was more critical than usual that I take advantage of this time off from work to get some work done at home. Of course, this includes Harley. I trimmed his front feet and I am happy to say that the preemptive strike worked. No hoof wall separation or flare developing and the trim was pretty fast and easy. His hinds will be next time. Re-introducing Harley to the long lines was also on my "must do" list. Although I am feeling great, my saddle days are definitely numbered. I needed a couple days where I did not have to rush to bring out the surcingle and lines so that Harley and I could get reacquainted with long line work, before I feel too much like "Humpty Dumpty".
Our first shot was on Monday. Unfortunately, Harley's allergies were not cooperating, but he was still willing and the work was not strenuous, so we were still able to have to some fun and accomplish my goal of re-introduction of the lines.
Harley was just about perfect. Unfortunately, I cannot take photos while long lining and I did not think to bother someone else to take any, so you will have to take my word for it. He looked great! I had power-steering. He stretched into the lines almost immediately and used his back and topline in some really beautiful ways. We circled, we went straight ahead, we walked figure eights and even trotted figure eights! The last time that I tried trotting figure eights we had some trouble maintaining the trot for the direction change (and I had some trouble keeping my lines from tangling), but this time Harley just marched right through the change and I managed to keep my lines in check. It was too easy. The grand finale was a little bit of canter. Cantering in the lines is still new for us, but you wouldn't have guessed it by the easy way he picked up the gait and rounded up into the contact. I was delighted. Long lining this spring is going to be fun!
The only thing that did not go excellently was the trot-walk-trot transitions. For some reason, he preferred to shorten his trot and do this beautiful little collected trot instead of transitioning to walk. I am not terribly worried about fixing our communication for that one. I rode him later and realized that I release the reins when I ask for walk. In the lines I mistakenly increased the contact, which must have told him to stay in gait and collect. What a problem, right?
Trial and Error with emphasis on Error:
Training a horse involves experience, time, and some trial and error. I do not like to make training mistakes, but I also think that you have to make some, or you never learn what not to do. I made a training mistake yesterday.
After Harley's hoof trim, I decided to take out the lines again and re-test, but this time I got the brilliant idea to put the lines through the top ring on the surcingle. I normally use the middle ring with him and he likes this very much. I have tried the top ring before and it was a fail (he balked and felt trapped), but I was tempted to try again.
Why use the top ring?
- The upper position is closer to my hand position. Harley likes my hands carried above his withers. The middle ring seems to pull down on him sometimes, which is contrary to our training MO.
- I drape the lines behind his butt and I thought the top ring would make it easier to keep the lines up and out of harms way.
Eventually, he sort of went "on the bit", but his neck was short and the bloom of muscle infront of his withers was missing. My teacher and I have worked diligently to help him release that part of his neck, so that was pretty much a deal-breaker for me. The look in his eye was unmistakable, too. He gets this blood-shot looking edge to his eye when he is stressed and unhappy. His mouth was also barely moist. He usually has a nice rim of foam. He did his best to work forward, but eventually started to tune me out and ignore my vocal commands. I am not opposed to pushing my horse's comfort zone for the purposes of growth and improvement, but that is not what this was.
The final straw was the line getting stuck up, under his tail! I cannot believe that he didn't freak. His tail was clamped down pretty tight, so it was just a matter of time before he gave the lines the "hoof". I reset the lines to the middle ring after that and chastised myself.
"Never try the top ring again. Never, never."
Oh well, live and learn.
It took several minutes for Harley to relax and get even close to the wonderful work that he did on Monday. He stretched his neck and back in relief immediately, but was resentful of the lines. He showed his resentment by rooting against them aggressively as he walked around. I gave him as much slack as I could and told him "no", when he rooted. My power-steering was temporarily gone. Thankfully, he was mostly back to normal after a few minutes.
Harley is a forgiving horse, but he did inform me that I owed him a canter under saddle after that. I obliged and it was a wonderful canter indeed! That was what finally made him (and me) feel better about the whole thing. Some happy snorts and stretchy trot were my apology accepted. Thank goodness!