With the son’s surgery pending tomorrow, I took some time today to go out to the barn and ride Mocha. I needed some horse time to get my head straight, she needed the work, and it was a sunny day. Good barn day.
She was in turnout when I got there, out with old Shekina (38! years! old!) and a boarder mare who is sour, pushy and attitudinal. How did she and Mocha rate? Let’s just say that I saw Boarder Mare approach Mocha with lowered head and pinned ears (could not see Mocha). Boarder Mare left Mocha at a faster speed than she approached, head high.
That said, The Girl wanted to cop an attitude when I went to get her. Instead of approaching me when I called her, she turned her back and continued grazing. So I grabbed a lead rope off the fence, started spinning it, and got her moving. Cornered her up by the fence, where the mini stud serenaded her with sweet nothings while I played rollback games. Between me and the stud she got a bit worried, so I let her move over to the other corner, away from the stud. Couple more rollbacks, and she softened up, turning toward me. I eased off the pressure and she walked up to me.
Disrespect like that is little stuff, just a spinoff from the earlier herd dynamic I witnessed. Just a quick moment to remind the horse of who’s the real alpha. But little stuff like that can lead to big stuff, and I’d sooner nip a potential rebellion when it’s smaller than when it’s bigger. One of the things about having a pushy alpha mare in your life, even a quiet alpha, is that you’ve got to maintain the boundaries. Early on, I realized that a key to success with Mocha was to be quietly dominant, with respect for differences of opinion on her part but no tolerance for open disrespect. She’s developed a pattern where, if she has a question about something I’m asking her to do, she’ll check back and offer what she thinks I want. Most of the time I tell her to go ahead. Sometimes she’s right. Much of the time she needs some more explicit breaking down of what it is I want her to do, because I’ve confused her. But that’s a behavior I’ve trained for and cultivated over the years.
The flipside of the checkback is her muscling through something because she thinks it should be done that way, no checking back to see if that’s really what I want to do. If she gets frustrated she muscles through rather than checks back. If she gets confused she can do either. Mental and physical energy levels are such that she’ll sometimes muscle through because she just wants to go. And, sometimes, she just wants to Be In Charge (that usually comes hand-in-glove with a particular point in her heat cycle, shortly followed in a few days by the I Wuv Everyone and Everything mode).
Telling the difference is all about the feel. When she’s checking back, she pops her nose back slightly and elevates her head (this is usually happening at the canter/lope, so think speed), rocking back slightly on her haunches. If she changes a lead, it’s tentative and a shift of weight puts her back on the lead I want. She hesitates. She half-halts.
Muscling through, on the other hand, involves rushing ahead. Head comes up, nose goes high. Back hollows. She speeds up. It’s rather disconcerting to have leg, seat and hand signal one direction at a fast canter and have her push into those cues, blasting through them to do what she thinks is to be done rather than what she’s supposed to be doing.
There are various shades of nuance between the different phases of these two poles. And today was a mix of hormones, not switching gears between Boarder Horse and me, spring turnout, and a little bit of dominance. Under saddle, she put in a good hard work, though it was such that I realized No Real Collection Work Today, Neither of Us Are In That Space.
So we bent, suppled, circled, and I worked on getting a sitting trot in the Western Saddle, otherwise known as Gaits I’d Rather Post. Not too shabby about softening the back and sitting it, though. Almost could pass myself off as a dressageista.
Then we did Slow Canter Circles interspersed with Fast Canter Circles, and developed a semi-decent difference in cadence between the two in both directions (though Slow Canter was perhaps a bit more mediumish than usual). She participated in that exercise with great enthusiasm.
And then, afterwards, we entertained the Pint-Sized Stud (on walkies to work on halter manners) with our marching through a mud puddle at walk and trot. Then established that she is sacked out to Little Girls on Razor Scooters shouting Endearments To The Pretty Horsey as we rode by the road.
Two new horses came into the barn; one planned, one unplanned. I like the unplanned one better. If Mocha wasn’t in my life, this boy could move right in. Arab, gray, built like a Crabbet, lovely head with big soft eye. From the East Coast, sixteen, seventeen years old. Broke to death, held steady for deworming. Been a pasture pet and companion to Planned Horse, a big ol’QH gelding with some issues. New! Arab! Guy! is stout, sport horse type, and my first reaction in looking at him was “He’d make someone one heck of a trail horse.”
Hopefully I can get up on him at some point. I suspect he will become very popular with the college students–he looks to be quite the nice guy.
So a very nice horsey day overall, and at the end of it Mocha was quite happy with having human time and treats and that lovely itching stuff that humans do oh so well. Girl does like to get out there and Do Stuff, but she likes the afters just as much.
And now, to bed. And worry, but that’s another day.