Friday, April 26, 2013

Improvement via Adversity (or rather: Embarrassing Confessions)

So the week didn't start off all that well, what with Sherm's dramatic adventures in shoeing and all.  But I'm a firm believer in learning from your mistakes, and every day being a new opportunity to start again and get it right.

Okay, really, I'm not a firm believer in either one of those things, but I am experienced enough to know that I'm going to screw things up on a regular basis, and if I don't dust off, pick up, and start all over again, then I'll just curl up on the couch and die, so I get on with things.  And I've spent the week getting on with things, two things in particular.

First thing, groundwork with Sherman.  I heard myself, and I heard how it sounded, when I wrote the following on Monday after our shoeing adventure:
I've not instilled in Sherman impeccable, unshakable ground manners, having relied on his general good will and strategic avoidance of situations that push his tolerance and patience beyond demonstrated limits 

Ick.  I heard that, and I didn't like how it sounded one bit.  That's a whole 950 pounds of disaster waiting to happen, sister, so you best get on it.

And I have.  I sat myself down and decided what lines I wanted drawn for him, behavior-wise, and where, exactly those lines would be.  And we got started on them.  There's a crop in my hand, a bellow in my voice, and a resolve in my heart.  He's better already.  The general things-- not chewing the rope (or grabbing for it) when leading or standing, standing still in the crossties, and not nudging/nuzzling/nibbling me-- were already half-way established in his bag of manners.  (Half-way, because I am, I admit, half-attentive to correcting them... half the time.)  So these have again made it to the top of my focus list, and he's improving already.  He can do it; I just have to do it.  

For the farrier, I've started a daily training campaign regarding Sherm's tolerance for hammering on the bottoms of his feet.  Starting slowly, but three sessions have already improved his behavior from irritated/semi-panicky pulling and dancing away from metallic tapping on his shoes to a quiet acceptance.  I'm increasing the intensity of the tapping slowly, and changing the name of his game to how long and still can I stand in order to please my person?  Pleasing the person involves both avoidance of shouting/walloping and delivery of the occasional tic-tac to reinforce good behaviors.  It's working.  By next shoeing, I think we'll have a much, much better horse.

The other lesson that I've finally learned, and this is really embarrassing to admit, is about my rein hands.  I've never been good at keeping them as closed as they need to be; it's a fault and a bad habit, and I've been trying, but it's been a struggle.  After I injured my left ring finger back in November (probably torn tendons; x-rays were negative for a break, and time was prescribed) it took months for the swelling and pain to subside.  Getting back on Sherm the past several weeks has irritated it again, pulling on it exactly the same way the original injury did.  For a few days, I tried riding with the reins across my middle fingers, but that didn't feel like enough grip, and riding with them across the pinkies made a whole fist that was too rigid and unresponsive.  Knowing I had this clinic coming up, and that contact will be a huge part of our work, I was struggling to figure out what to do.

Finally I gave up and went back to proper rein position, using the damaged ring finger.  But out of self-preservation, I closed my hand.  Um, hey, it doesn't hurt when I do that.  Open hands= injured fingers.  Closed hands= safe fingers.  Um, duh.  Another brilliant, oh shit, I get it now! moment here for me.  I've been riding all week with closed hands, and my contact is better at the same time that my finger is holding its own.  Fantastic little built-in reminder there-- if I open my hands, the rein pressure re-injures the finger.  Amazing what we learn out of pain-avoidance.

So there you have it.  Idiot report for the week.  But the forecast calls for localized lessening of idiocy, so I'm optimistic...

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