In general, Foster’s a pretty quiet dude. He’s very settled at competitions, quietly watches paddocks of horses go galloping around, and is A-Okay with being a couch in the arena.
However, he does also have a spook in him. Sometimes it’s legitimate, like when a bird suddenly flies in his face, or if a dog comes flying around the corner to bark at him (let’s talk about that in another post). Sometimes it’s not (like when he spooks at the unmoving dog he didn’t see before and damn near concusses me).
In both the arenas at the farm, Foster has ‘spooky’ corners, mostly related to blind spots in the paths where horses approach the arena. In the outdoor arena, this terrible-awful-no-good-corner also coincides where two rather large, barking dogs hidden behind a wall. It’s an occasionally frustrating environment, but it’s just a part of what we have to work with right now.
Yesterday, the dogs’ owners took them out briefly and was walking behind the wall and around the dreaded corner. Although often in clear sight, and although the dogs were quiet as could be, Foster was distracted. I asked him for his attention back, and he gave it about 75%.
I know it was only 75%, because when a twig snapped (cracked quietly?) about 20 feet away, he jumped sideways.
Spooking at something you are scared of is one thing. Being distracted by unusual stimuli is also one thing. Looking for things to spook at, well that’s something else, and that’s where I draw the line.
So I introduced Foster for the first time in a long time to the concept of a Come to Jesus moment. We went straight to work, doing simple changes on a 15 meter figure 8 until he was no longer bulging his shoulders away from where the spook happened. Then we repeated in the dreaded-awful-no good corner, until he was coming back to me and even anticipating the change, in which case I would mix up the size of the circles and keep his brain engaged.
It wasn’t punishment, but I wanted my message to be clear- we are not to go looking for things to spook at, and if that is your tactic for avoiding work, well, you will now understand that it will not work.
We finished by cantering around the arena in both directions, sending him forward and back for 4 strides at a time. Then we cooled out and practiced rein-backs (need to get these on video, I think they are coming along!) so that I could give him lots of praise for being obedient and listening.
Obviously his ego was not damaged in the least, because he continued to be his adorably cheeky self in the cross ties and lingered by the gate until I walked away upon turn out. But even knowing this, those come-to-Jesus rides will never be my favorite.
Have you had rides like mine? What was the spark to your most recent CTJ moment?