Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tackling the Arena

Tackling the Arena
I believe I have hinted a few times that Cole doesn’t behave well in the arena. I have managed to avoid it as much as I could by taking long weekends so I can trail ride instead and sometimes I spend my arena time just lounging.
I am nearly out of vacation time. The evenings are too dark to ride on the trail, and the weekends aren’t going to be much better pretty soon. It’s time to get serious about the arena.
The problem stems from when I used to ride him there in there during the summer. The far end and one side of the indoor arena are bordered by a pasture. In the summer, there is a horse out in the pasture. As he walks by the walls of the arena, the noise would spook Cole. If Cole saw him walking by through the window, that be another excuse to run. Also, there was the next door neighbor. We were on the same schedule. When I rode, she would turn her horses out to play. The sound of them frolicking around or banging the gate was enough to cause Cole to take off. Though I haven’t fallen off, and he has not succeeded in getting more than a couple strides in before I spun him, the damage was done. He was prepared to spook from noises over there, and I was prepared to have a problems.

I spent my rides this summer on the safe side of the arena. That was no guarantee that I would avoid the spooks, but at least he wouldn’t’ bolt across the arena to the gate that leads into our barn. It still gave us plenty of room to work.
Honestly, the biggest problem, (and I actually hate to admit this) was my nerves. After having so much trouble, ride after ride, I was afraid to go to the far end of the arena. I rode a lot of circles, which really isn’t’ a bad thing. Still, I knew I had to conquer the problem.
As the weather got colder, the pasture horse was brought in and, on most days, the neighbor’s horses weren’t outside. To make things better, they closed the windows. I no longer had an excuse.
I started out by lounging him before his rides. He was only a so-so lounger, since he really didn’t need it in the warm weather. With the help of a clicker, I got him listening pretty well. My biggest problem was Cole deciding to practice his “airs above the ground” while I lounged him. I did the only thing I knew, which was to click him a lot for trotting well and increasing the duration. Though he will still play games, they are far less than the early days. Some days, I just worked on the lounging. It was nice to see the improvement. Now, I will click him when he drops his head and steps well underneath him. The good news is that he is starting to offer it on his own, and I am now working on duration.
The next step I started a couple of weeks ago. It was time to lounge him on the scary end of the arena. It was tough in the beginning. We did a lot of transitions, and he did spook a number of times, but I was persistent, and we worked through it. Soon, he was trotting around with his head down and focused on me instead of the outdoors.
When I rode, though, I stayed on the safe end. I found out that I could barely breathe when I approached the scary end. At the end of the ride, I would lead him around and around on that side. He wasn’t spooking, but I was.
Fear can be irrational. I’m a capable rider, and all he does is spook and try to run. I quickly spin him, and he stops readily. It’s more dangerous to be riding him on the trail, yet when I ride over there, my heart starts to race, I lean forward and quit breathing.
Each ride, I kept pushing myself a little out of my comfort zone. I did my circles in the center of the arena and drifted that way. I spent a lot of time finding reasons to click and treat him over there. We did have a few spooks, and that didn’t help my nerves at all. One time, I was actually leaning over his neck giving him a treat, and we heard a noise and he bolted.
Finally, one day, I knew what would help me relax—Kevin. I asked him to walk with me while I rode. I know that Cole likes to be with people on foot and that alone boosted my confidence. Just talking to Kevin as I rode got me to relax so much. I breathed, again. I kept getting closer and closer to the far wall. I was there! I started doing circles. It worked! He didn’t bolt, and I didn’t get too scared. I gave him lots of treats, too.
Looking back on the last few weeks of rides, I realized he isn’t spooking there any more than anywhere else in the arena. I just have to stop spooking myself!
Kevin has been by my side on a few other rides, and what a difference it has made. I can now trot three quarters of the arena. I still get worried, but I am getting better. I am hoping that by the time winter is over, this person who wasn’t afraid to take a horse on trail who had only been ridden a week, will be able to trot full laps without a care in the world.

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

Bravo! Excellent job! It is tough admitting to fear (for me it was). Having Kevin walk with you was an absolute stroke of genius! I'm glad you are both doing better and progressing well. :) Keep up the great work!