Monday, September 03, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 1-3

Day 1 – Getting there

I was all set to go. Tack was in my car, help was coming to move hay, and a very nice friend was on her way to trailer Phil to my trainer’s barn. I’ve written before about how Phil has a trailer fear, and we’ve worked on it since I bought him. Before I got him he was used to riding in a slant load trailer with no ramp. All the shows I’ve taken him to have been in a slant load step-up trailer. Unfortunately, neither person who had hauled him before was available to help me. I found another volunteer, which was really nice of her and fantastic.

Unfortunately, her trailer was a straight load with a ramp.

Still, I thought we could make this work. With her and Debbie’s help, we started trying to get Phil in the trailer. He got on the ramp a few times, once with all four feet, but after an hour of trying he just wasn’t making any progress. Instead he was getting more agitated and nervous. We weren’t whipping him or being overly aggressive with him, but at that point we all decided we needed to try something different. So we did something that I really didn’t want to do, but that we all figured would work.

We put Kaswyn on the trailer first. Kaswyn had never been in this trailer, but he gets so excited to go anywhere he’ll usually jump right on any trailer. He got half-way on, then stopped for a second so I backed him off. Then I threw the lead line over his neck and said “Kaswyn! Get in the trailer!” He got right on.

Kaswyn kept still and chilled in the trailer, and kept nickering encouragement to Phil. After that it took about five minutes to get Phil on the trailer. It was great! The not so great part was having to take Kaswyn back off the trailer and leave him behind. I felt so bad, because Kaswyn loves going places SO much. It was a complete mind game on Kaswyn, and my friend even offered to take him there and back again, but it would have been really out of her way since she is literally around the corner from my trainer’s barn.

So sadly, Kaswyn went back to his stall. Then we started rolling, with me following directly behind the trailer. We only had ten minutes to drive to my trainer’s barn, and it was warm, so we left the upper doors on the back of the trailer open. Even before we pulled out of the driveway, I could see Phil. He completely bent his head around until he was looking right at me in my car. So I stuck my head out the window and yelled “You’re ok Phil! GOOD BOY!!”, then he turned back around.

This is how it went for the whole drive. He’d flick his ears back, then turn around and look at me, and I’d holler encouragement to him, so he’d turn back around. At one point we turned left at a stoplight and there was a restaurant on the corner. There was a man out there weedwhacking the landscaping, and I yelled “YOU’RE A GOOD BOY PHIL!! GOOD BOY!!” just as we passed him and the guy looked up at me like “What? Huh?” I didn’t even care. It was more important to me that my boy knew I was back there for him and that he wasn’t alone.

We got to my trainer’s barn and unloaded horse and tack without incident. I had to bring both my girls with me, so I set them up in the very nice lounge/observation room to watch movies and eat lunch while I rode Phil. Then I tacked that boy up and headed to the indoor arena.

The arena at my trainer’s barn is super nice. It’s longer than the one at the other barn, but the most important improvement was the footing. Oh, and the mirrors. It’s been so long since I was at a barn that had mirrors I had forgotten how helpful they can be.

First I hand walked Phil around the arena so that he could see everything and get used to the noises and smells in the arena. Then I hopped on and we walked some more, just casual and walking. Once we started to trot, I stayed down at the end that had the mirrors so I could assess the situation. I realized I wasn’t riding Phil properly at ALL.

The main thing was that I was holding him back too much. Our trot circles looked like he wasn’t going anywhere and he was totally behind my leg. I figured out that I had gotten too used to being cautious about riding him in the other barn’s arena. The footing, the hay wagon in the arena, people turning horses out and having to walk through the arena, people feeding and watering horses in the arena, all made me want to have an extreme amount of control at all times so that I could be sure that I could stop or turn or whatever I needed to do. I wasn’t really riding Phil. I was just sitting on him and steering around.

So I really started riding. I pushed him into a big trot. Not a fast trot, or a lengthened trot, but a bigger, more powerful, pushing trot. And it was good. He was so concentrated on working as hard as I asked him that there was minimal spooking or fooling around with his head. The contact was really pretty good, and from what I could see in the mirrors he was pushing nicely.

Then, since I was alone, it was quiet, and I had plenty of room, I added a basic exercise that my trainer likes. At the trot, we made three 10 – 15 meter circles evenly spaced down the long sides. It really helped him to bend and push around the circles. We did that both directions a few times, then we did the same thing at the canter after a walk break. Then a little counter canter, and one or two lengthened trots across the diagonal.

Phil was fantastic. No panicking, no taking off, no disobedience. Just really nice work.

And the girls were so good and didn’t pester me (or anyone else), that we stopped and got Slurpees on the way home. Everybody wins!

Days 2 & 3

Over the next two days it went pretty much the same way. I used the same pattern for each of our workouts, and Phil really brought it to the plate. He was fantastic. And he seems like he is settling in at the new barn really well. He’s been going out in a round pen that has some grass on one side, and isn’t causing any trouble so far. He seems happy, and I love that.

Tomorrow is our first lesson. The plan is to have three lessons a week for the whole month. I am SO excited!

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Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr