I love my pony :)

Yeah, yeah, even though he's not, in fact, a pony.  :P

But seriously.

I. Love. Him.

Last night saw Chels and I headed out to the barn, not really sure what we were going to do when we got there.  Originally we had thought about riding, but she had been riding at work all day, so I understood that she was exhausted.  So plan B was to take Orion out on my own and give her a little uninterrupted time to work with Kit.  Nooope.  Upon arriving, we realized there were ginormous limbs down in quite a few areas of the pastures....some of them well away from any trees that they could have blown off of.  This meant that the trails, which are in the woods, probably wouldn't look much better, and while I'm totally up for going out there sometime to clear them up, there was no way I was going to do it on my first solo ride.

Big thanks to Carly for suggesting SWAT around the eyes, ears, and nose to keep away the flies.   It helped tremendously.  Even if he did look a little like a dork. :)

So instead, we chose different areas of the paddock and did some ground work.  I know it seems like this is all I ever do with Orion...but it really does help.  He almost always listens ten times better and seems to actually want to be around me, instead of just being there because he has to.  

Last night I didn't do anything very complicated.  There was no lunging involved because I don't want him to expect that every time I'm out there.  Instead, I decided to work on something really basic.

Usually when I lead him, he doesn't walk with me, as good manners would lead you to expect.  Instead he tags along a good two or three feet behind me and frequently tugs the rope back.  He also pokes along and doesn't want to go at whatever pace I set.  Another thing is when he stops, it's not until he's half a length in front of me...or he just crashes into me instead of going past me - not hard enough to knock me over because he's not going that fast, but enough to jolt me a step or two.

So I decided to try to get it through his head, first of all, that he is to stop when I stop.  He caught on really quickly.  He was walking behind, but what I wanted was for him to stop with me, so I wasn't really worried about that yet.  I just wanted him to pay attention.  We would walk around for a minute, and I would suddenly stop.  No pressure on the rope for him ahead of time because he was supposed to be figuring this out on his own.  Each time he walked past me, I would just put pressure on the rope until he backed up.  As soon as he was at my shoulder, I let off the pressure.  Other times he wouldn't pay attention and just walk straight into my back, face first.  At those times I just pushed him over to where he was supposed to be.

I kept repeating this, over and over, until he seemed to have it down pretty solidly.  It didn't take long for him to catch on.  By the third or fourth stop, he halted with his head perfectly in line with my shoulder and did that every time thereafter.

And as it turned out, I didn't really have to "make" him walk at my shoulder.  We worked at halting and various other little things that were just to reinforce that doing things that are considered good manners are "really really good!".  He got a good scratch and lots of praise every time he did something right.  

We worked on this stuff for maybe 45 minutes...and after about 20, we're walking along, and all of a sudden his head pops up next to my left shoulder.  From then on, he walked with me instead of behind me.  There was no pressure from me to do it, he just did.  After walking a few more feet with him like this, I stopped.  He halted right next to me like he was supposed to and then reached over and lightly bopped my arm with his nose.  It was so cute and seemed as if he was saying, "Look! I did it right!". :)

I grinned like an idiot.

He was really lovey after that point, constantly wanting to be with me.  It didn't matter how much I moved or how fast I changed what I was doing, he was right there at my shoulder, with no pressure on the lead.  It was all him.  He just seemed super in tune with everything I was doing and extra eager to please.

And to top it all off, we did a little work with the mounting block that he hates.  After running through it twice and nearly plowing me over, I finally got him to stand in it, of his own free will.  No pressure or anything.  I had him on a lead, but I gave him slack and walked through it myself....then stood on the other side of the gap and waited for him to join me.  The first time it took him a minute or two to decide, and you could almost see the gears turning in his mind as he thought about it.  But finally he took one tentative step and then walked forward and stood in front of me, perfectly lined up between the fence and mounting block.  I praised him and stood and scratched his face and neck for a few minutes to show him that standing there wasn't a scary or bad thing.  We did this twice more after that, and he was perfect. 

The last time I decided to test him to see if he'd actually stay there while I climbed up onto the block, as he's been known to run out as soon as I move to the steps.  Nope, no running. He stood right there, perfectly calm.  I climbed on him bareback, with just a halter and lead and rode him around the paddock like that for about ten minutes.  

All in all, we accomplished a lot, even if it was little stuff.  I feel like getting those little things down, as well as the bond you build while doing it, is the foundation to doing anything bigger anyway. 

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