Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Challenges of the Arena

The Challenges of the Arena

This year, I had to start my arena work a little early because I have sole custody of the dog. No more running straight out to the barn after work to ride before sunset for me. Well, September isn’t so bad. I have enough time to ride one horse on a quick trail ride. that horse is Cruiser. Two weeks ago, Cole began his arena work.

The first evening, I decided to try the outdoor arena. Usually, there are horses turned out in it in the evening, and this is one of the rare evenings it was free. There was still a little daylight, too, so I jumped at the chance.

It had been over a year since I rode in it, and we weren’t very successful on those rides. When he got to the far end, he would get antsy and sometimes bolt. I didn’t trust him. then, and I still didn’t trust him, now. I decided to start with leading him along the fence.

As I feared, when we got far from the gate, he started to get nervous. In a few minutes, he was rearing and bucking. I just kept leading and leading in circles and back and forth over there. After countless incidents, he seemed a little better. I began leading him on the perimeter. After a few laps each way without incident, (after 15 long minutes of leading) I decided it was time to ride. I stayed on the safe end of the arena. He spooked and tried to bolt, once, but I stopped him immediately. I only walked. When he was calmed, in about 5 minutes, I decided I would take him to the indoor arena to finish the ride.

He did do a little better in the indoor arena, although he was very, very spooky. Every little noise made him jump. Once, a man in the adjoining barn sneezed, and he spooked. We did some incredibly hyper trotting. In the end, the only thing that got him focused and settled down is when we started practicing turn on the haunches and sidepassing.

I was very discouraged.

A few days later, I tackled the arena, again. I gave up entirely on the outdoor arena. This time, he was very crabby—swishing his tail and kicking his belly. I thought something was wrong with the saddle, so I checked everything and even resaddled him. It made no difference. He did stop when we were trotting, but as soon as we walked, he started up, again.

I was still discouraged.

My sister suggested switching the saddle pad. I did, and all the swishing was gone after that.

After another weekend of trail riding, I tried it again.

This time, our work in the arena went better, but he was leaning on the turns, resisting direction changes, cutting his corners and at times, turning when I wanted to go straight. Ugh. I wanted to just go on a trail ride. Oh, and I just couldn’t coordinate the big trot. I was doing so well last winter, but now I was flying all around. So he would quit.

We practiced our corners at a walk and then advanced to a trot. When he did well, I clicked him. He started to get better. I began to ride ahead of us. For example, when we were near a place that he was volunteering a circle when I wanted to go straight, I braced my inside leg—and then praised him when he made it through. I guess it wasn’t only my body that wasn’t used to working in the arena, but my mind, too.

At least this time, I wasn’t so discouraged. I saw improvement.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to ride in the outdoor arena for a little before it got dark. I wasn’t going to try it again, but my teenage friend, who always makes me brave, was going to ride in there, too. She was on a quiet Thoroughbred. I led Cole around a couple laps—with only a single grunt in the far corner accompanied by a head shake. I then rode for about 10 minutes on the safe end. He did well at the walk, but was TNT at the trot. I couldn’t relax, so I brought him to the indoor arena to finish the ride.

There, he had his best ride this fall. He was paying attention and staying in his big trot for longer periods. The corners were improved, and there was less all-out trying to take control of the ride situations. I was having an easier time with coordinating my own body, too.

Towards the end of the ride, I switched from carrots to candy—leftovers from the cold I recently recovered from. I was clicking him for the big trot. It kept getting bigger and stronger—and he was experimenting with different dance steps. That’s when I decided it was time to switch to quieter work. Besides, we were nearing the hour mark, and I still had to feed the horses their hay. We went to working on our newest project—backing up. We did work on it last year, but with only intermittent success. I decided to approach it with “walk-whoa-back-click.” It seemed to work better than anything I worked on last year, and he was consistently taking a step back. As always with Cole, the first step is the hardest—the rest are easy.

This is a reminder for those of you that are like me and primarily work on the trails. When you are forced to stay at the stables and ride, it may not go so well, at first. Don’t give up! Keep working at it. It should get better.

I wonder how Cruiser will be when I start riding him in the arena again…

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