In my travels to come to grips with Champ's 'winter' attitude, I've been doing ground work to establish myself as the Leader. Some days have been frustrating, others have been incredible. A common thread being the more often I work with him, the better. Just like life, you get what you put into it.
But I'm sold on ground work finding that besides the positive change in behavior, one becomes close with your horse and that has always been a goal, to bond with my horse. So good stuff for this 50+ rider!
One benefit of my recent adventures is that I've come to see more of life from Champ's point of view. His whole life has consisted of being ridden as or in training as a Performance Horse either around an indoor or outdoor arena. Every ride has been a drill for him on collection, yielding, etc.
I've been mixing it up a bit recently. We've been blessed with a mild winter and unusually warm weather (my condolences to you in the South and East). I've started riding Champ outside of the arena. On days I don't have time to ride or the weather is nasty, I've started hand walking him outside.
I've been pleasantly surprised to find myself with a happy, observant horse that is always at his stall door with perked ears when he hears me arrive. He seems to look forward to these adventures and I find myself enjoying them just as much.
I've found in exposing Champ to various new environments that his version of spooking is to look at the object sideways and move off a few steps. Walking him past the questionable object in both directions a few times removes any of his concerns and future bypasses are a non issue. Although that may not always be the situation but it's nice to know that his normal spook level is around 3 on a 1 thru 10 rating.
I've also discovered that Champ must be part bloodhound. He loves to smell things such as other horses 'calling cards', trees, barn equipment, you name it. We stop to smell and then continue to meander around, just the two of us together enjoying each other's company. Talk about low stress and time to bond with your horse!
Yesterday we played with mud puddles. They were big and bright in the sunshine and Champ wasn't quite sure what they were. All these years he's been walked past them and never been given a chance to explore them. That is very sad.
He pawed at the first one and then commenced to drink it. I found myself chuckling at him for his funny ways and I swear I saw him smile back at me, a true sign of bonding! I found a bunch of them together where there was no choice other than to walk through them. After smelling and drinking out of most of them, he happily walked through them without a thought in the world. I praised him and we moved on in our adventures, me with a smile on my face and Champ with a muddy nose.
I've come to the realization that the issues I've been having with my horse are certainly related to respect and cold weather but could also be related to the fact that he is BORED from all his years of being drilled as a Performance horse, the only life he's known.
There isn't any issue about Champ's abilities to perform, and I do intend to take him to two shows in March. But I'm not going to stress about those shows or how we'll do. And I'm not going to drill, drill, drill him before we go. We'll just go in and do our thing and then probably spend the rest of the day exploring the grounds of the facility. Yes, I am mixing it up and finding the benefits of doing so rewarding for both of us!