Yesterday, I took part of the afternoon off to run errands and get materials for a much needed tack cabinet. I headed up to the my parents for human fuel (some burgers on the grill) and met up with Jenn who, once again, took a million pictures of the evening’s events (thank you!) that I’ll link you to. I’ve included some cool GIF files in this post. If you click the “static” image in the post, it will take you to a stop motion montage of the pictures. It’s a cool new Google image thing Jenn found. The rest of the pictures Jenn took at near the bottom of the gallery here.
At the barn, I decided that it was finally time to let Smokey free into the paddock his pen has been sitting in. In preparation for this, I decided to walk the fence of the surprisingly large paddock with Jenn and basically get all mom-paranoia about Smokey’s safety out there. I found a few things that scared me, but Jenn reassured me that he would be ok – and in retrospect, nothing that was even mildly concerning. I’m really glad I had someone there to calm my completely unreasonable nerves.
After I had sufficiently scared myself with the paddock walk, I had Jenn pull Smokey out of the pen and walk him down to the arena. He seemed a little confused that someone else was telling him what to do and kept trying to walk over to me seemingly to say “Mom, why is she making me do things?” After he realized that she was, in fact, in charge, he was much better. He walked out of the small gate and down to the arena with minimal fuss. He did try to stop at the grassy paddock but didn’t put up much of a stink when asked to move on.
While Jenn pushed him around in the arena working on sidepasses, moving off pressure and moving butt and shoulder off of said pressure, I disconnected and started moving the pen panels down by the arena. With some help from a few other barn folks, I got the round pen set up in the little arena. Jenn and I groomed the VERY dirty Smokey and removed about a small animal worth of winter coat before we began longeing.
Jenn hopped up to the viewing platform to take pictures and I asked Smokey off for a freelonge.
All was well for the first few ask offs. He gave me nice trots going both directions and only a couple of “I don’t want to’s” for the first little while. The longer we went, the feistier he got. He’s become rather gate sour over the past few outings and this was no exception. At one point, he ran straight at the gate once and got his whole head and neck over it and pushed some with his chest. This was the first time that I thought he might actually make a stupid escape attempt by trying to hop something taller than himself. Jenn offered to stand in front of the gate to shoo him away, so we tried that. The first time she was there waving, he skittered back into the round pen, but the second time he didn’t even flinch. I gave Jenn the training flag and tried to use the longeline to push him along in a freelonge, but that didn’t work, so I tied a plastic bag to the end of a short whip and used that to push him in the round pen. This seemed to work for the most part, though our circles in the round pen had a seemingly very flat gate side now that he was avoiding the flag on that side.
We can change direction!
I put him back on the longeline to see if I could get some more confidence in him through that, but didn’t ask for much more. I think he was pretty fried at this point. He had done some pretty nutty angry moments and was also pretty hot at this point (also, it was a total sauna outside – just disgusting). It was the first time he had kicked out AT me while longeing. There were a few times where he would bolt off and throw a kick towards the center instead of straight behind him, so it was clearly aimed at me. I think he’s pretty stubborn and doesn’t quite accept yet that he will have to do things I tell him to, even if he doesn’t want to.
I’m freakin’ out, man!
One of the big wins this session was getting him to change direction in the round pen without having to lead him into it. I used hand signals to push him one direction, ask for a stop, have him face me, and then ask for the change in direction. He executed this two or three times flawlessly and several other times by turning the wrong direction. Baby steps, and at least they’re in the right direction!
So now for the part I almost lost my mind: letting him out in the paddock. I’ll admit it: I’m paranoid that he will hurt himself. I have seen of and heard some pretty nasty horse accidents from just being out in the pasture, so I’m paranoid it’ll happen to my horse. I’m such an overbearing mom, as Jenn pointed out. Our original aim was to put Smokey out with Colors, lesson horse extraordinaire, but he decided to open and gate and disappear into a back paddock (perfectly acceptable, just annoying).
So after cooling him down by walking in a few circles and standing around jawing, I walked Smokey up to the paddock gate and down past his now defunct pen area with my heart beating out of my chest. He was pretty excited to be going somewhere new and kept almost stepping on me at every possible second. I led him up to the far side of the pasture where a few mares’ paddock butts up against his and let him sniff for a minute over the fence. The other geldings in the other adjacent paddock came and snorted about over the fence, but nothing major happened. I walked him away and let him graze for a minute.
Then, I did it. I took his halter off. He was free.
And he just stood there and grazed. I walked off and he kind of followed me a little ways, then stopped and grazed some more. I kept walking off and walked back to the arena to fret it out with Jenn. After a while, Smokey fully realized he was free. He came tearing down the paddock and spun around, went running back towards the other horses, and then did it again – Probably at full speed for the slick conditions. Everyone else said he looked so happy and all I could think was “SLOW DOWN, YOU’LL KILL YOURSELF!” I’ve turned into such a mom.
Free at last!
After those two outbursts, he settled in and stood at the top near the other horses grazing. Anna graciously retrieved Colors from the wooded paddock he had broken into. She brought him up while I was leading Smokey down with a carrot (he was following me with no halter). I wanted him in sight of the gate when she brought Colors through so he wouldn’t rush him from across the pasture – You know, just in case. So she let Colors out into the paddock and Smokey didn’t even go down to greet him. After about ten minutes of just grazing about a hundred feet apart, Colors and Smokey kind of made their ways towards each other and got nose to nose for a few seconds, then passed right by each other. Absolutely no big deal, even though I was beside myself with terror that I’d watch one or the other turn into the Highlander (as Jenn put it) “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE”.
So we watched for a while. Nothing happened. So we all headed home. Smokey made a few moves around the paddock exploring and noodling about in his new place, but when I left him last, he was just grazing about 50 feet from Colors and swishing his tail at flies. I haven’t gotten a call that he’s dead or Colors is dead, so (knock on wood) I think we’re ok.