Aero’s Diary

Now that I’m getting into a good routine with the horses, I’m going to start keeping track of my progress with Aero again.  I have found it very useful to go back over the earlier “Aero’s Diary” posts and see what kind of work I was doing with him and how it worked, right up to when “Aero’s Diary” turned into “Diary of a Chronic Abscess,” anyway.

I’ve been bringing both horses back into work slowly since last week.

Flurry is… well Flurry is Flurry, he’s the horse I made and I fit on him like a glove.  I’ve hacked him out on his own and in strange company and he’s working well and happily in the arena – in fact I’m pretty sure I could ride a (Prelim!) dressage test on him tomorrow and pull a 60% plus score.  He’ll get fitter and stronger, and I hope to improve both him and me as we proceed.

Although I know Aero inside out and am completely and utterly confident in dealing with him on the ground, I didn’t “make” him, my daughter did.  He’s got a different interface to Flurry, and I’m still figuring it out.  He’s also much narrower and much bouncier than Flurry, and right now, I’m finding him difficult and uncomfortable to ride.
When the LSH and I had our first Ballade together on Saturday, Aero and I trotted a couple of times to catch up with Flurry.  My stirrups felt too long, my legs felt wobbly and I felt all over the place.  I’m just not used to him, I thought.
On Sunday, I rode Aero briefly in the arena.  I lunged him first of all, though, with the Chambon, to encourage him to stretch down, round his back and loosen up – one of the things the earlier “Aero’s Diary” posts reminded me of was that I found him easier to ride if he was warmed up on the lunge beforehand.  Once I was on his back, I did a lot of work in walk with circles and serpentines, asking him to bend and yield.  We did a little trot too, just a couple of half-circles on each rein.  Everything seemed fine and we finished up.
Monday was a washout, but on Tuesday I decided to ride him in the arena again.  I lunged him for a shorter time and then started to ride him.  We were fine in walk, and repeated the bendy stuff from Sunday, throwing in a bit of leg-yielding as well.  In trot though, I was trying to do some proper “work,” keeping him round and soft through turns and circles, but it just didn’t work out for me.

I felt like a beginner on him, I would fall behind the movement, or lose the rhythm and struggle to find it again.  Making excuses, the arena footing varies hugely, from firm-ish to quite deep, and that, coupled with his general bounciness, was just too much for me to cope with.  Because of my poor balance, my hands were unsteady and he couldn’t trust me to keep a steady contact with his mouth.  His head would come up, and I would be back to square one “inviting” him to work back down into the contact again.  We finished up with some moderately acceptable work, but I wasn’t happy.  I’m so much less fit now than I was back in May when I started riding him and I think that’s why I’m now struggling to keep my balance – my core muscles have gone all soggy.

Ideally, I should have hacked Aero on Wednesday to vary his work, but here’s the issue : I’m not confident on him.  As a riding horse, I don’t really know him – I can read Flurry like a book, and I know I can sit pretty much any spook he throws at me.  I’m not sure what Aero would react to, or how violently he will react if he is scared of something and I’m not sure I would be able to stay with him if he did a major spook – he’s so flippin’ narrow!!   Hacking out along with Flurry the first day was fine – Aero was quite relaxed and happy to follow his buddy’s lead, but he’s still feeling insecure about his new surroundings and he’s going to be a lot more tense on his own.  So, my plan for Wednesday was… um… more arena.
As soon as Aero saw me coming, he turned around and very deliberately walked away from me.  What a clear message : I didn’t enjoy yesterday’s work at all!  This is the horse that was literally all over me last week, looking for affection!  So I did a quick change of plan.  Lunge session, followed by a few minutes in the arena – even if we just walked around once in each direction, followed by a very brief hack.
The lunging was very, very interesting.  He was ignoring my requests for downward transitions (trot/walk and walk/halt), which is very frustrating coming from a horse which I’ve lunged a thousand times!  I kept calm and ended up doing a lot of walk work in hand, praising him when he stopped on command and repeating the exercise immediately whenever he ignored me.  Eventually, he got the message, we tried a few trot/walks which were ok and then I hooked up the Chambon.  On the right rein, he worked well, and went around with his nose almost on the ground.  On the left rein, it was a different story, he was stiff and inverted.  After loads of transitions and a few inward/outward spirals, he finally stretched down and snorted a few times, but he didn’t release as well as he had on the right.
Enough was enough, because of all the in-hand work at the start we had already done thirty minutes at this stage.  I mounted him and walked around the arena a few times.  He was very bothered by flies, and had been all through the lunging session, too, but I think there was something else going on as well, a stiffness or even pain somewhere.  On a left circle, he was drifting out to the right, and ignoring my outside leg’s attempt to block him – in fact, he just pushed through my leg aid.  I corrected him with a sharp tap from my heel, which he obeyed, but mulishly.  After a couple of circles and a couple of goes through a pole-labyrinth (for fun) we left the arena and did a very short hack, just half-way up the lavender field next door – maybe ten minutes, all told.  He was tense, but ok, less distracted by the flies and paying attention to me a bit more.  I hope I can build on that experience and start going further afield with him – he needs positive experiences and so do I.

Thursday was the day I hacked Flurry with Marie-Christine and Alexandrine.  I had to go home after riding Flurry – the hyper-terriers were home alone, and we have to be super-diligent about letting them out to wee, Cookie’s bladder control isn’t great unless she’s in kennels on a ferry!

I came back in the afternoon to work with Aero.  I’d been mulling over the feeling I got from him the previous day – mulish, uninterested, begrudging.  That’s not Aero, but there are many possible explanations :

  • He really, really hates flies.  Perhaps, in the arena, with nothing else to worry him (ie, he wasn’t being asked to head out into the countryside alone) the flies were the only thing he could think about.  Same thing when I was lunging him, the swarm of flies around his head might have been blocking me out.
  • He’s unsettled because of the move.  I think this is partly true, whatever else is going on.  He’s a bit nervous and jumpy, unless he’s with Flurry.
  • He’s testing me.  They do test us from time to time, just to see where the limits are. Maybe the uneasiness caused by the move is making him check if the old limits are still in the same place.
  • He’s sore.  The age old issue with Aero – he’s inclined to get tight through the back which can then manifest itself in soreness and tightness on one side or the other.
I need more information before I can to come to a conclusion.  Back into the lunge-ring we went, tacked up with the Chambon, complete with the airborne escort buzzing around his face.  The first thing he did was a squeal and a head shake, and cantered off.  I let him go for a few laps, and then asked him to trot, which he did.  After a few more circles, I asked him to walk.  He ignored me.  I don’t believe in repeating the request, I think that kind of tells the horse that it’s acceptable to ignore the first request, so I gradually spiralled him inwards, which makes him work harder.  My body language kept inviting him to walk, and eventually I could see when he was about to break into a walk and I said “Waaaaalk” just as he did.
Repeat the procedure – same result, he was ignoring me until I insisted.  He didn’t want to stay in walk, either, but kept breaking into trot, uninvited.  Was this the flies bugging him, or him testing me?  I went back to work in hand, walk/halt, walk/halt, praising him when he halted quickly, not saying anything when it took more than a stride or two.

Then I graduated to work in walk on a small circle : walk on…… and…whoa…. nothing, no response.  I got him to halt by walking him into the fence, didn’t praise him, because, hell, he hadn’t been a good boy!

Repeat the exercise… same thing.  And repeat… same thing.  He was so tuned out, I might as well not have been there.  So I decided – rightly or wrongly – that he needed “Consequences” for not paying attention.

Next time he ignored my “whoa” request, I jerked hard on the lunge-line, once (and before the Internet Police come knockin’ on my door, No, the lunge line wasn’t connected to the bit ring, it was clipped onto the noseband ring on his Micklem bridle).  He was surprised, wheeled around and stopped dead.  Again, I didn’t praise him – in my book, he still hadn’t been a good boy.  I did this a few times, and eventually, the penny seemed to drop.  He halted immediately when I said “Whoa.”  Finally.  I walked up to him, made a big fuss of him and gave him a piece of carrot which I had in my pocket.  We did this a few more times, and Hallelujah! it seems to have been a mini-breakthrough.

I continued then with a normal lunge session.  My goals were obedience and stretching evenly on both reins.  He was obedient, but didn’t really relax and stretch through fully on either rein – this horse is capable of trotting and cantering around with his nose on the ground, I’d say he stretched as far as his knees at most, and only for half a circle at a time.
I finished the session after lunging.  I felt that achieving obedience was important and that I should probably quit while I was ahead.  The lack of suppleness is worrying me, but I’ll give it a few more days before I think about calling out the Osteopath.  
Friday was a washout again, but on Saturday, I hacked him out with the LSH and Flurry.  It was cold and windy – temperatures have dropped 15C in two days, but at least this meant there were no flies.  Aero felt tense throughout, almost that “unexploded bomb” feeling, but not quite.  In fairness to him, he behaved himself, but I honestly couldn’t say the hack was an enjoyable experience for either of us; I kept trying to transmit “relaxed” vibes to him, but they kept being bounced back to me as “I’m really tense” vibes.  I’m putting it down to the cold, the wind and the strangeness of his new environment.  I’m planning to hack him again on Sunday morning and as often as possible during the week – I’ve got to make this life the new Normal and the only way to make that happen is to go out there and do it.

Keep your fingers crossed for us this week!

Aero and his Fly Fringe (which he wasn’t too impressed with)
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