Taking The Time
Being a human with a 'type a' personality means that taking the saying "stop and smell the roses" to heart is very difficult. It's a huge challenge in my life to mono-task. I never am just doing one thing at a time, I'm always multi tasking, trying to maximize every minute of every day... and while usually this leads to very productive days, it also leads to very exhausting and sometimes stressful days. I can look at my to-do list at the end of each day and see all those beautiful check marks, but I can't tell you one moment that was spent enjoying life with my kids, family, or my animals. There was always a task being accomplished, always something getting done.
I'm learning though, and really wanting to change. For myself, for my family, for my relationships both human and animal. I'm learning that the most important task I can accomplish is slowing down long enough to enjoy the day. To embrace and cherish every moment.... So yesterday I wanted to make a point of really enjoying the day with my horses.
We spent the day "task free".. kinda.. I still had the idea in my head to spend individual time with each of them. But other than that I just wanted to relish the beautiful moments with them. And you know what's funny? We ended up accomplishing a lot in our task free day together!
I started off the morning spending some time with River. I knew I wanted to "hike" or "explore" with the horses individually since that's something we can all enjoy, but I wasn't sure what that might look like with River. We had been diligently practicing our leading skills and polite manners on the lead, but we had never walked much further than up and down the aisle way of the barn or from the barn to the pasture for turnout. Today we ended up walking about half a mile! And not only that we ventured to what I like to call "the human side of the ranch", by the ranch house where there are trampolines and playscapes, multiple changes of footing, garages, automatic electric gates to go through, dogs, and so on. Not only did she do amazingly well, she really seemed to enjoy it.
We spent a lot of time positively reinforcing calm and brave behaviors. If she walked up to the trampoline to check it out, click/reward. If she stepped onto the brick pavers, click/reward. When she got onto the playscape gravel footing, click/reward. If she ever paused or started showing signs of approaching her fear threshold, we would pause and wait for her to relax or become uninterested and then click/reward. And of course, I rewarded all polite happy leading. Basically River now thinks going on an adventure is the greatest thing EVER. Which is exactly what I want her to think.
Next I spent some time with Tiger. It was really important to me to not have any expectations of her, I had the strong feeling during our last session that she was becoming less interested in engaging with me because it was the same thing over and over again. I'm not saying that everything needs to be fun all the time, but you should want your horse to engage with you. So the moment I felt like she didn't want to participate or she was becoming irritable with me I knew we needed a change of routine.
Tiger is a very sensitive and sweet horse that needs to feel safe or she becomes anxious and overwhelmed, but just as easily becomes disinterested or distracted if there is too much repetition. So today we not only went exploring into the wooded areas of the ranch, I went on foot.. which hasn't been the "usual" for us as usually we saddle up.
I really enjoyed this time with her, I had a lead rope on her but often it was just over her back as we walked together. Every once in awhile we would pause for a rest or an extra juicy patch of grass, but we walked about a mile together before heading back to the barn. We did work on the lunge line for a short while before calling it a day, about ten minutes or so. Some walk/trot/canter. But even doing that I tried to change it up and added some interestingly placed ground poles for her to think about as she worked.
Pumpkin was the last "walk" of the day, as my 5 month pregnant body was telling me it had done enough walking. We took a similar path to the one Tiger and I had walked earlier, but this time walked down by the bridge to where the water pools up in the upper part of the ponds and practiced crossing water.
Pumpkin's least favorite thing to do is cross water. But to my surprise she happily gave it a try for me. It wasn't like she just jumped right in, but she carefully took it step by step as I asked her to move forward and eventually made it across with no fretting or resisting. This was one of those "yes! the hard work is paying off." moments. I was extremely proud of her.
We also worked on Pumpkin's leading manners too. Usually she's really good, but recently it's become a thing for her to walk slightly ahead of me and then cut in front of me. So, I just made sure to reinforce any time she walked at my side, and when she got ahead of me I used a "no reward" marker word (that word being "nooooo"), circled her around, and ask her to whoa at my side. When she did it was click/reward. We also practiced lots of random halts along our walk, just really working on perfecting her attention to my cues.
Unfortunately I had less time to spend with Cash and Candy, but I intend on prioritizing spending time with them next time. I did get a short but really awesome session in with Cash practicing his "school halt/crunches/rock back" (I'm not sure what to call it just yet. But basically I'm asking him to shift his weight backwards onto his haunches and eventually flex his hind leg joints to lower his hind end and lift the front end.. the beginnings of a school halt but square.). He did beautifully.
So looking back, I'm really so surprised at how much we accomplished today .. when all I set out to do was spend time with the horses exploring and walking. Just goes to show you that not having goals can accomplish just as much as having goals, maybe even more! Now if only I could remember to be this way more often.