Monday, December 7, 2009


And now, the long awaited story of the Thanksgiving Day Ride from Hell.

I've already concluded that Tucker was wild for two weeks due to terrible weather and limited turnout. But it was important to me, during that time, for Tucker to realize that having extra energy does not mean he can completely disregard his rider.

Alicia made a comment during one of my lessons prior to Thanksgiving that Tucker was not just fresh, but also completely ignoring my leg. So, I carried a dressage whip for three rides. Keep in mind, Tucker is terrified of whips. But I figured I could carry it and not use it, and hopefully get him to listen to my leg. Since I was also getting run away with and dragged around the ring, I switched bits again to the corkscrew. Again, I figured I can keep my hand soft but when I need it, I'll have it. In sum, I armed myself.

Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, we spent most of the ride at a walk, because that was about all he could handle. I figured if he's really losing it, simplify the equation. All I wanted was a good walk on a 20 meter circle, no running sideways, no spooking, no throwing our head up in the air. It took half an hour to accomplish this, but I did. Needless to say, it was all I could do to keep my annoyance in check. But, I had agreed to simplify the equation, and once I got the answer I was asking for, I had to quit for the night.

When I woke up on Thanksgiving and drove up to the barn for an early morning ride, it was sort of like waking up still mad after having an argument with a loved one. I got back on and felt like we were picking up right back where we left off. But I was determined to be patient, not get mad at him, and keep asking until I got what I wanted.

The trot started out like he was holding his breath. Okay, so he's worse than last night. When he's really nervous he wants to tuck his chin to his chest, so I spent the first fifteen minutes or so just trying to get him to take a deep breath and uncoil himself. I usually just send him forward, but since that was making it worse, I just had to try to relax myself and wait it out. He did eventually start to get a little less tightly wound at the trot. Then we cantered. On a circle, he was okay. Then I tried to go down the longside of the ring, past the door, where he could see the other horses being brought out to their fields. (Recall, awful weather meant he hadn't gone out in a few days, except for the little stone dust paddocks.) So, he decided he couldn't go past the door without leaping, bouncing, spooking, galloping, scooting, or cantering sideways. It was so explosive that our farm owner told me she saw it from her house and thought "that can't be Tucker." (No, it's not Tucker, it's the fire breathing dragon that has replaced Tucker.)

So I went back down to the other end of the ring, back to my circle, until we could handle cantering in a circle. I tried to be patient, but firm. Explosion not okay, sideways not okay. Forward, in a straight line, without aiming for the rafters. Then I started gradually moving the circle down the length of the ring, so the circle got closer and closer to the open door. Once again, door = explosion. It became very clear to me that I was riding through a temper tantrum. Tucker wanted to be turned out, his friends were going out, it wasn't fair, and he was giving me the equine equivalent of throwing himself on the floor kicking and screaming.

So we kept cantering. I softened when I could, and when he decided he was going to run, or explode, or yank the reins out of my hands, I stuck my feet out in front of me, sat deeper, and made my contact firmer. I resigned myself to the fact that we were going to keep cantering until he could canter -- not leap -- past the door. It was a matter of respect. He was trying to bully me, using his strength against me, and throwing a temper tantrum. It was important for him to learn that's not acceptable.

We had a moment when I think this became crystal clear to him. He decided that fighting me on his left lead was getting tiring, so just before we got to the door, as we were passing through the center of the ring, he switched his lead to the right. Really? You're making it easier on yourself to keep fighting me and you think that's okay? Nope. Not okay. I kicked him with my right spur probably harder than I have ever kicked him. At that point in the circle I was facing a mirror, at which point I saw him leap straight up into the air in something akin to a levade, but he did land back on his left lead, so he got the message. I have to tell you, I don't feel bad about getting after him like that. Because within two more circles, he was cantering past the door like a gentleman.

I let him walk for a bit because at this point he was panting like a dog, and then we switched to the right lead. I only cantered for about 5 minutes to the right because at that point he seemed to have come back from the dark side and decided to behave himself.

At the end of the ride he was still wild eyed and unsettled, but he was at least listening very carefully to my aids. We did some lateral work at the walk and he was listening and responding appropriately, no tantrums.

Do you watch the Dog Whisperer? You know how when Cesar comes into people's homes, often what they are most guilty of is loving their dog without disciplining their dog? I think I might be guilty of that with this horse. He's generally such a good boy, and extremely well-mannered on the ground, so I never get the feeling that he's taking advantage or walking all over me. But, in this ride, he was definitely trying to be a bully -- which means I had to step up and get him to show me a little respect. It was an important lesson for him, and an important lesson for me.


  1. I really don't think that was Tucker - I believe it must have been his evil twin! Well done for stepping up and not letting yourself to be bullied. I am sure you really surprised Tucker and hence your better ride after this evil twin event!

  2. Thanks for sharing the story. It is great to hear about problems that come up in other people's rides and how they handle them. Ah the equine temper tandrum--- nothing is more frustrating, and sometimes frightening. Sounds like you did a great job in handling it though! I have had some not so shining moments myself where I let the situation get the better of me and get afraid or angry.

  3. Well ridden! I'm glad you had the courage and grit to ride through his antics, especially when you could see what he was doing in the mirror; that had to be interesting and a little nerve-wracking.

  4. That takes guts to ride through that stuff, but you know it also takes trust in your horse. Even though he was being a jerk, you stuck it out and approached it rationally because you know he can do better than that and you know his limits. Good for you! I had more than my fair share of those rides with Miss P in Oct/Nov. Sometimes just 'cantering it out' is the best way to go...forward is ALWAYS better than sideways or ahem, vertical!!! Nice write up!

  5. Good good job! So frustrating to show up to a horse that LOOKS like the one you know, but acts like a complete stranger.

    Greta gave me a piece of advice on horses that hold their breath or jig out of nervousness that has worked for me on two horses at least. :) I'll pass it along in the interest of science.

    Instead of blocking a nervous horse with your seat (whoa dang it, stop jigging, going sideways, or plowing through!) you keep your seat relaxed and gently squeeze alternate calves on the horses barrel in rhythm with the walk while doing the same thing with the (loosened) reins.

    Don't know if I'm describing it well. The results for me was one tense un-breathing horse started breathing, sighing and finally relaxed forward into the work, and one uptight jigging fireball found his zen place, and actually spent 45 minutes enjoying a WALK.


    You're doing great with Tucker! Love to read about it, feel like I'm there and learning.

  6. Great post! I'm often (was often as my boy is not ridable at the moment) battling that moment of trying to get thru to him when he's misbehaving. My biggest hurdle is often, the lack of confidence I have, being still getting to know him and know he won't kill me! LOL! You described it so well..good for you!


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