Getting To Know Phoenix

This morning was rather windy, but the promised rain hadn’t arrived, so I thought that it would be a good time to get to know Phoenix a bit better.

I find windy weather really tests a horse’s relationship with their human. Do they seek reassurance from their human? What worries them most? How does their human pre-empt and subsequently avoid meeting a monster.

A couple of weeks ago Phoenix had bravely walked past a flapping tarpaulin, so I thought she’d be fairly reliable in the wind, but it’s a good opportunity for me to gauge her insecurities. Last week she impressed me when I lunged her and three deer cantered up to the arena fence, closely followed by two galloping horses, she just stopped and stared at them. I’d say she’s fairly brave, despite being quite a shy character, because she doesn’t tend to flee in these sorts of situations but rather stands and observes.

Anyway, she was aware of her rug flapping on the nearby gate as I groomed her, but wasn’t jumpy with the gusts of wind, which is great to see. As she wasn’t fazed by the weather I went ahead with lunging her. A large metal gate was banging away as the wind got up, which distracted Phoenix but she continued trotting, just had her ears focused on it.

It’s reassuring to see that Phoenix took the gusty weather in her stride, and wasn’t silly in her behaviour. She wasn’t keen on noises and flapping objects directly behind her, but who can blame her?! Her response was to turn and face them. I did find that a quiet word and pat on the neck took any tension out of her, so I think she definitely looks to me for reassurance and takes comfort in the fact that I’m ignoring any monsters.

Last week my friend helped me do some poles and jumping on the lunge, and I found that Phoenix is keen to please and quick to assess the question and took it in her stride. Which is an excellent, trainable trait to have, but I think it’s important to continue introducing things steadily and build her confidence rather than exploit her willingness to please and outfacing her, thus losing her faith in me and what I’ve asked of her, as well as her confidence in her own abilities.

Phoenix is coming along with her cantering on the lunge, and today with her being slightly fresh I took advantage of this and we had a couple of circuits on each rein with her looking more balanced.

In her trot she moves very nicely, but lacks focus (which isn’t that surprising given her age and experience) and I’d like her to stretch a bit more over her back. So I introduced the Pessoa. I also wanted to know how she’d react to different equipment and pressure on different areas of her body. It all helps me to know how she ticks.

Nicely warmed up in the lunge roller, I put the Pessoa on and fitted the sheepskin round her haunches. Then I let her walk round and get used to the feeling. Initially, she wasn’t impressed and tucked her bum up. She gave it a go though, and had a trot, slowly relaxing. Interestingly, when she found it weird, she stopped and turned in to me. Obviously looking for reassurance from me, and when I talked to her she had another try and trotting. I’m really hoping that this means when we’re riding and competing that Phoenix will look for me to say go and give her confidence, and try her hardest to perform and understand the question.

Once she seemed happier with the Pessoa around her hindquarters I attached the front clips. Loose enough that she didn’t feel restricted and it didn’t put too much pressure on her, but not so loose she could get tangled up. Again, she started off a bit tense but did give a couple of strides where she really stretched her head long and low.

Below are some photos of when she first had the Pessoa on, and then when she started to get the idea of stretching.

I’ll be doing a variety of techniques with the lunging now; using the Pessoa to encourage more stretching in the trot, and to increase her consistency by keeping her focused. Canter, I’ll keep working her “naked” so that she finds her own balance. Then I’ll introduce some raised poles when the arena has dried up a bit to help engage her abdominal muscles.

The last couple of days has shown me that Phoenix isn’t particularly unnerved by windy weather, but probably feeds off me. When she’s introduced to new equipment or exercises she tries to please, but when she’s worried by it she tends to tense and then look to me for reassurance. From this I know that it’s up to me to make Phoenix feel safe in new situations, as she trusts me and takes her confidence from me.

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