Red Bird has just finished her 30-day assessment with Laura at Poseidon Sport Horses! She has made great progress since her arrival there. At first, Red Bird was hesitant to relax in new surroundings — and she was quite worried about trusting new people. Her initial response was to go right into “flee” mode — Red Bird would either “leave” with her body (by moving her feet rapidly or turning away nervously) or with her mind (by tuning out the person working with her).
Slowly over the past few weeks, Red Bird has settled into her routine much more comfortably. Laura has found that Red Bird likes to learn via lots of repetition of simple, easy tasks — so that Red Bird can gain confidence that she really is getting the answer right.
Red Bird also needs her handler to be as soft as possible when giving cues for ground work. If you are asking Red Bird to begin moving forward while free lunging in the round pen, it is important to ask very quietly. Simply lifting your hand a little too quickly prompts a rapid response from Red Bird — but a slowly raised hand (or finger) elicits a much calmer departure.
Essentially, Red Bird is scared that she will get the answer wrong — and so she tries to rapidly respond with whatever she thinks is the right answer to the aid. But her own rapid reaction makes her anxious — and even more sure her answer is wrong. So it is important break down each request into small steps, to help encourage Red Bird to go slow.
Another key factor is emotion. We all can sometimes take things personally if a horse is responding in an unexpected way to our requests. With Red Bird, it is essential that her handler radiate a calm, relaxed mood — no matter how worried she is — so that she can feel more supported and secure. This doesn’t mean that she can ignore the request or evade it — but that the handler keeps asking in a steady way until Red Bird can process how to respond successfully.
At first, Red Bird was only worked in the round pen — the stimulation of being in the big covered arena was simply too much for her to process. She was too on edge and distracted. But after steady, patient sessions with Laura, Red Bird now is doing simple ground work in the arena! As you can see from the photos, she starts out feeling a little worried — but soon relaxes and is able to soften considerably by the end of the session.
Red Bird returned to the LOPE Ranch last weekend for some extended pasture turnout time and light ground work. Laura and I both feel that Red Bird needs some time to let down from the track in a natural, herd setting. She will be restarted under saddle later in the spring — much like Showtime Queen, she needs a more gradual transition from her racing career into a new job.
Stay tuned for more updates (and video) of Red Bird at the LOPE Ranch! Best of all, Red Bird will be going to a clinic with Peter Campbell in April. Thanks to a generous sponsor, she will be able to benefit from Peter’s support and expertise in a colt starting class!