Because he calmed down so fast after being worried about the plow, I decided to take him out for a trail ride. Sometimes when we are out on the trail, I don't feel like Rocky is really "with" me. He does what I ask him to, but his mind is elsewhere. I spoke with Silver about it, asking for guidance. She told me what I already knew about moving his feet, but I explained that doing figure 8's is not enough to engage his thinking brain. He knows how to do figure 8's well enough that he can trot through them with minimal effort.
Next she suggested doing roll backs down her fence line, until I explained that we don't know how to do those. She told me that once we have enough snow on the ground to have decent footing, she'll run Rocky and I through our paces to see where we're at, then work with us from there. I'm excited about that upcoming opportunity.
Still, I got myself thinking about things I can do with Rocky out on the trail that will help him tune in to me rather than space out. Here is what I came up with:
Can you tell what we're doing? It's not very polished yet, but it definitely gets Rocky's brain working. We have been able to do the building blocks for this for a while, but I haven't progressed to side passing until recently. From the ground, I have been able to get him to yield his hind and fore quarters, crossing his inside leg over his outside one as he steps. He pivots around one foot nicely, doing 360 degree circles as he yields. Previously, I had done some work in getting him to side pass from the ground, and he was doing okay. I wasn't consistent enough for it to really stick, but when I started up again recently he had some memory of our earlier work.
So far, he does better moving to the right than left as that was our first lesson. He wants to move forward and gets confused that he is not supposed to go forward or backwards. The last time I took him out, he was able to get 3 good steps at a time. Like I said, it's a work in progress but it was great out on the trails. Whenever I felt his mind wander, I would ask him to yield his hindquarters, then sometimes try for a step or two of side passing. It worked, and we went exploring through the brush trying to find the trail we took with Silver the last time we were out with her. After 20 minutes of searching and slapping through scrub bushes, I gave up and returned to the well marked path.
He had been perfectly happy to tromp around searching for the trail, and was equally enthusiastic to return home- so he thought. Instead, we continued on known trails to get back into the woods on the other side of the property. We went through the woods here, and I didn't often have to stop and ask Rocky for his attention. We even went up the super steep hill that I had refused to ride up or down with Silver last time. At the bottom of the hill when I stopped to take this picture, a grouse exploded up from the grove to our right, and flew away with snapping wings. Rocky jumped in place with surprise, and then calmed down within a second or two.
I took a few seconds to gather myself after the grouse had left, then asked him to go up the hill. He went without hesitation. I gripped his mane, leaned forward and let him do his thing. His front feet slipped twice, but he caught himself without trouble and continued hauling us up.
At the end of the ride, Rocky's nose was frosty and his neck was steaming. I covered him with a cooler until he was mostly dry, then put his blanket back on him.
medicine hat look...but, you know, the photo negative version.