Getting Prepared

Phoenix has her first adventure booked for the beginning of February, when the chauffeur gets back from his inconsiderate (but I’ll admit, well-earned) holiday to Australia.

I want to do some practice travelling in the near future because whilst Phoenix travelled very well when we bought her, she was a little hesitant about loading so I’d like to give her another positive experience and build on it.

I couldn’t decide what the best adventure to embark on, but then had a brainwave. I could take her to a friend’s yard and have a play with ground work, using my friend’s vast experience in this area. Which will give me some more tools to play with and hopefully challenge Phoenix’s clever mind. And of course because I’ll be working with a friend it will be a very relaxed atmosphere so hopefully the whole adventure will be a positive experience.

With the idea of having a specific ground work session, I knew I needed to prepare Phoenix so that she wouldn’t feel outfaced with the combination of travelling and a new venue as well as the new concept of groundwork. She was very wary of whips when I first got her, so as soon as had her trust I began to show her that whips are not to be feared.

I don’t want her to be put in the position when someone passes her carrying a whip, because they’ve just dismounted for example, she gets frightened. Or someone lunges her carrying a lunge whip. I don’t want her to be complacent and to not respect the presence of the whip, but I want her to understand that the whip is not to be feared, but it is a secondary aid. Even if I never carry one while riding. After all, the use of a schooling whip helps refine any groundwork movements because it is an extension of the arm.

Here’s how I’ve shown Phoenix that the whip is harmless. After a short lunge session to settle her in the arena I led her over to the gate, where I had left a short jumping whip. I picked it up and laid it horizontally across my palm, showing Phoenix it. All the time I spoke gently to her, reassuring her while she sniffed the whip and studied it carefully. Then I moved it around for her to watch, followed by a pat. She was taking it all in her stride so I slowly moved the whip and placed it against her neck, still talking reassuring her. She was cautious, and watched the whip balefully. But after a moment or two, she relaxed so I moved the whip around her neck before patting her. After repeating the exercise on the other side of her neck I gave her a couple of treats and a big fuss, finishing the session.

A few days later, I repeated the exercise, expanding it as Phoenix was so accepting, so that the whip ran all over her neck, shoulders, and front legs. It was a short and sweet session, with Phoenix staying relaxed throughout.

In our next session, I led her around with the lunge whip in one hand. Then when she was settled on the lunge I held the lunge whip in a very submissive position, pointing down to the floor. It was present, but no threat. Phoenix was a little quick on the lunge, but soon she ignored the whip’s presence.

We’ve progressed to running a schooling whip all over Phoenix’s body, on the inside and outside of all four legs, and around her tummy. She’s aware of it, but doesn’t seem overly concerned.

Between our lunge sessions I’ve also started asking her to rein back and turn around the forehand so that she has some experience of me manoeuvring her.

Now I feel that Phoenix is well prepared for her adventure and will benefit from any new exercises we’re taught.

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