Work has been busy this week and will be busy next week so there's not much horsing around as of late. I was out last Sunday and didn't get out again until yesterday evening. He was in and munching his hay. The feeder was there but running a little behind schedule so I gave him his grain. He's only getting a pound per feeding now (and maintaining a good weight) so I let him finish and after a few minutes of him back to munching his hay I put his halter on and let him out to the cross ties. He seemed perfectly willing to go. You may remember that I've been dealing with remains of his lesson horse attitude during grooming. He will let me yank the crap out of his mane and he still picks up his feet really well, but brushing has become difficult. More so on some days than on others. Some days I put the mit/curry to his shoulder and he swings his head like he wants to bite, or spends the entire brushing session dancing around like I'm using a hot poker. I'm not, trust me. Yesterday as I was grooming his right rear hip he actually kicked out at me. It was slow-motion but unlike his previous antics of just lifting the leg as a warning he actually pushed it out at me. I HATE when this kind of thing happens. I have terrible mixed feelings about how to handle this type of behavior and I'm constantly worrying that I'm doing the wrong thing. But bottom line is that under no circumstances is he allowed to do that. My current (surely flawed) philosophy is to reprimand the behavior itself so that he gets a clue that what he just did is not allowed, THEN very carefully investigate the possible reasons why he might have feel it necessary to behave that way, trying to rule out real physical pain, especially. So I gave him a swift slap with the rubber grooming mit, took him off the cross ties (he already had the look of "oh shit, now I've done it"), took him out to the arena and sent him out to the end of the lead trotting. Partially to see if he was in any way sore to rule out actual physical reasons why he was unhappy with grooming, and partially to remind him via simple exercises that he is not in charge. He looked just fine and listened just fine. I then made him practice showmanship until he was listening and watching me and calmly doing the job correctly. Then he got a good pat and we went back to the cross ties, licking and chewing.
The only thing any of us could conclude is that possibly his sheath needs to be cleaned and he's somewhat uncomfortable. During my physical exploration he was most tense while I was near that area. I don't usually linger in that area anyway, and he's never really comfortable with me there, but realizing now that I've only cleaned his sheath once in the 2 years we've been together makes me feel horrible guilty feelings. I hope to get that accomplished on Sunday while it's supposed to be 86 degrees. Sheath cleaning is not on my list of confident skills so I will be begging for the help of my barn friends. It is highly doubtful I did a thorough job the last time. Oh the guilt. SOOOO tempted to have the vet do it from now on, but money is money, so we'll see how Sunday goes. :(
I went ahead and rode and he was absolutely wonderful. He is still missing cadence with his left hind, but Monet said he'll continue to do that until that side is stronger. He only does it tracking left. Now that I know it's a strength issue and not some terrifying other thing I don't worry about it, I just keep riding. Since Monet's lesson I've been riding in just my Myler snaffle without the chain. I was surprised to discover that he is responding well to every cue without any leverage. This was not possible earlier in our work. Until I began using leverage he was a bit of a giraffe, but he's rounding up and stretching forward just on the snaffle. That makes me SOOOOO happy! I thought I had a horse that needed leverage. (Because for a long time I did) But now I seem to have a horse that will take on whatever posture, collection, and speed I ask, in just a snaffle. WIN. Now I am certain however that at a show he will not be as relaxed or attentive as he is at home, but he did jog pretty nicely for me at the Cowboy Challenge so maybe I'm wrong there too? He is always fine for UNtacking/grooming sessions so I still think it's all attitude and nothing really physical.
Tomorrow is an Equine Behavior clinic at the barn and I'm going to participate. (I have rehearsal all day today) The clinician specializes in the behavior of therapy horses so I was already planning on asking her about his grooming/tacking manners and now his recent kick gives me more questions. He's currently being used for a few lessons every other week and he has been behaving just fine by all reports, but fidgety for tacking and grooming. Under saddle he remains a saint.
I guess I would rather have a horse that was a bit of a pill (but manageable) on the ground but a saint in the saddle than the other way around. None of them are perfect. I was told that his breeder was somewhat afraid of him. I was too, when I first got him, but I thought we had come so far before last spring's over-used-lesson-horse meltdown and we've just not recovered fully.
I still love him though. I just want to figure out what his problem is.
Here's a couple of Chloe's awesome pictures to tide you over until she takes more of Junior. :) The palomino is a solid paint gelding named Hef. Yes, as in the Playboy guy. He's owned by a cool teenage girl back at our old place. Not sure if she reads this blog or not...