|Me with Alex shortly after his arrival|
I have to try and remember this feeling when frustration sets in...
So today Alex and I tried to put Wednesday night's disaster of a ride behind us. The weather was beautiful sunny, 70+ degrees and windy. I wasn't exactly full of confidence, but I was full of motivation to exercise Alex's newly acquired jumping demons. He went pretty quietly on the lunge to the left, but then decided to put on quite a show to the right, spooking, kicking and bucking like an idiot. All that activity with his winter coat (scant as it is) got him sweating in a hurry. After a few more minutes he finally gave up a little bit.
Turns out it didn't matter much whether I was in the saddle or not, Alex was literally a hot mess either way. He was on high alert listening for even just a hint of a sound that would give him an excuse to scoot out from under me, grunt, shake his head, leap etc. He would stretch, but only for limited amounts of time, then he'd throw his head up in the air and start fighting me.
Once I finally got a barely quiet trot, I rewarded Alex with a little bit of canter, which actually calmed him a bit after his initial "enthusiasm." It's funny how "more forward" is the answer to most problems. It's so counter intuitive to most riders' instincts to slow down in order to gain control of the situation.
I had set up a tiny cross-rail in hopes of gaining back a little of the ground we'd lost. I thought about just skipping it, Alex was on a short fuse and I didn't want to ruin the fact that he had managed not to come unglued to this point. After a short contemplation, I decided we should at least attempt it, even if it wasn't pretty. As we trotted towards the cross-rail, Alex was a complete mess of anxiety, but I kept my reins short and legs tight. Alex responded with a stop before we even stepped over the trot pole. "Sh**," I thought to myself. I walked him up the the cross-rail and made him stand in front of it, which he did fairly willingly which was an improvement since he would not even do that on Wednesday after his initial whacks by the poles. I made another approach and tried to be determined... apparently, I wasn't convincing... he stopped again. As we made our third approach, I said quietly to Alex, "ok buddy, I probably deserve a little bit of flack, but we're going over this cross-rail, so just man up!" Luckily for both of us, I was more convincing this time and he cautiously went over. I was sure to make a big deal out of it, patting him on the neck and telling him what a good boy he was. Although Alex was still a little cautious on subsequent attempts, I could feel that he wanted to jump so badly he was starting to forget being scared.
Even though it was a rough ride, I feel encouraged. We got through it and managed to gain back some ground. That's really all I can ask at this point.
Going forward, the plan is grids... lots of grids until Alex figures out where to put his feet and when.
Tomorrow is supposed to be a much colder nasty day, but I'm going to try and work Alex again. I have no excuses since I have an indoor :-) I think we'll stick with the cross-rail for a bit, until he isn't such a ball of anxiety on approach. Hopefully he will be a little less amped, but with another drastic weather change, I'm going to prepare for another rodeo.