Anyone who has been following this blog knows the Darby last year was Kat's debut event in harness. To think this past year has already gone by is kinda crazy, but it has been Fun! The weather in Northern AZ is cooler, but not by much in some areas. It was averaging around 100 degrees and I still get sunburned but at least it wasn't 110 or more as it was in the valley of the sun over the weekend.
We arrived in Paulden early in the afternoon. The course had been set up on Friday and was open for walking. The dressage arena is always there for use and there were also several cones out there, but I had different plans. I had brought my long lines and was going to try to get Kat in the water, without the cart.
The last time we went to Paulden for the Darby, I had taken Kat in the water on the end of a lead line. I went in with him, we went in the shallow end and he took very little coaxing to follow. This time it was time to step it up a few notches. He would be wearing part of the harness and would need to go in on his own. Time for Kat to grow up and start acting like a big boy.
My paparazzi was a bit distracted so we didn't get any pics. I was trying to drive Kat forward into the water, but had forgotten my whip in the truck or my 'accelerator' as Gary later called it. I had the lines run through the tugs on the surcingle and Kat was being responsive, but at the same time, he was having none of it on this whole idea of getting IN the water. Gawd forbid he get his feet wet...
We tried walking back and forth past it, then turning sharply and directly into it as hubby suggested. That wasn't working too well for us and Kat was trying his best to evade the water and succeeding. We tried on the shallow end, the sides and the deep end and little man was having no part of it.
I finally dropped the lines and went to his head. I had led him in last year to start, I would lead him in again if that's what it took. Kat trusts me and will usually go willingly wherever I lead him. He still resisted a bit, but eventually he got in the water with me. Of course he took a few hesitant and unsure steps that resulted in a bit of a leap and him bumping into me, but I stayed on my feet and we were both IN the water. We also happened to be near the deep end. Not so good on the planning on my part, but at least we got there.
Now that Kat was in the water, you would think getting him back in would be a piece of cake. Nope! Leading him in, he had me as a security blanket of sorts. With me behind him driving him forward into what was surely the abyss- he didn't want to go. He balked, he tried going left, he tried going right, he tried to escape every way he knew how. Every time, every turn, I used the reins to block the intended exit route. I kept clucking, kissing and talking to my pony and still he did not want to go forward.
Mary Jane and her horse Mack were on the course with Gary as a navigator. They drove past us, into the water without a flaw as Kat stood on the banks and watched. He could care less if the horse went in, he wasn't about to budge. After unhooking Gary came back down the hill and helped. First thing he asked- "Where's your whip?"
As it was, and I noticed this early on, a few times as Kat started to go forward and as I used the line to slap his butt and push him forward, he also got a tug on the bit and it translated into "Go forward, but no don't." This is why the whip was essential in giving clear, concise commands without adding any extra confusion. Gary also told me to shorten up my lines and keep my hands closer together. Something I noticed in the pictures I don't always do.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to get Kat back in the water, Gary took hold of the nearest rein and coaxed him along. He was the new security blanket and although Gary never went in the water, he got Kat in there. Once Kat was back in the water, I kept him there. I circled him around to the left and to the right. Stopped him in the middle and patted & praised him. Kat relaxed enough to drop his head and drink while he was standing there. The water was deeper this year and had filled my boots as I stood there next to my pony.
After that I took him out the shallow end, turned him around and headed him right back in. He hesitated a little but dropped his head and slowly walked into the water again. We went in and out of the water a few more times before Gary had to leave. By then, we had gone in and out at both the shallow and deeper ends of the water. Kat was relaxed and comfortable about doing it. Was he happy about it? Maybe, maybe not, but he was still going in and out of the water.
After that I took Kat out to a big open area and let him trot and blow off some steam. He had plenty of energy and enjoyed stretching his legs and getting it out of his system. After a few minutes of working both directions and Kat being more relaxed- we headed back to the water. We went in and out a few more times. A couple of times, I stayed out of the water while he went in. He also felt so good about himself that he trotted across the water once or twice. He went in and out with no hesitation and I stopped him in the middle, waded out to him while my boots filled with water again, praised him and called it good. The next day we would be trying it with the cart...