Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mommie Dearest?

I hate having fights with my horse.  As I'm getting after him, I have visions of Joan Crawford.  NO... WIRE... HANGERS!  When I have a ride where I have to discipline him in some form or another, I feel totally remorseful immediately thereafter.  I untack him wondering if he hates me, if he thinks I'm a mean mother, if he's totally confused.  (Though in all likelihood, he's already forgotten about it and is wondering where the treats are.)  I would be the worst parent ever.  I'd send my child to his room, and five minutes later go upstairs to apologize.

So maybe writing about it will help me decide whether I was too hard on him, or whether I got through to him and did the right thing.  And of course your comments are always helpful in helping me regain that ever elusive perspective.  This will probably be a really long post... so either grab a snack and get comfy or wait for the Friday Funny.  I promise it won't be more over-analysis and introspection.  Friday's post will actually make you laugh.

As you know, I've been having some trouble with herd-boundness.  Though it seemed to be getting progressively better with each ride, until tonight.  It was a little chilly this evening so maybe that was making him just fresh enough so that he couldn't focus.  We started out at the walk on a left circle at the top of the ring (farthest from the door).  I got him going forward in a long, low frame, and then started collecting him a little more and asking him to keep stepping forward but into a slightly more elevated frame with a little more contact.  I noticed that every time we hit the point in the circle where he was facing the door, he looked out the door and lost the bend a little, but I was trying to ignore it to start with, figuring it would get better.

Then we moved up to our trot (good upward transition) and as soon as we were headed toward the barn he rooted the reins out of my hands, sped up, and then craned his neck toward the door, head straight up in the air, and 100% tuned me out.  So I went back down to the walk and then did a few walk-trot transitions.  When I got back to the point in the circle facing the door, he rooted the reins again in a downward transition.  So I halted him again, and then asked him to back up.  The backing was very crooked, there was more rooting of the reins, and lots of resistance to my leg.  He did eventually take three steps back in a straight line though, so I patted him and walked on.  We did some more walk-trot-walk-halt-back transitions and I actually had one series of transitions that was very soft and responsive (facing away from the barn).  So I then continued with my trot and worked down the long side of the ring, toward the door. 

When we got to the end of the ring closest to the barn, he was so focused on the door it was almost like he was spooking.  His haunches came totally to the inside, head straight up in the air, staring out the door, trotting sideways.  Since my leg and seat were doing absolutely nothing to get through to him, I picked up a stick.  I tried again to bend him to the inside and ask for a slight shoulder-in as we reached that same corner, but he completely ignored my aids.  So, I smacked him behind my inside leg.  Since that caused him to plant his feet, hop up and down, and shake his head from side to side, I smacked him again and closed my leg to send him forward, which he did.  I then kept him on a left circle down at that end, and each time we reached that point of the circle, for the next 3 circles, I did an exaggerated shoulder-in so he wasn't facing the door and pushed him across the end of the ring with my left leg. Then I did another circle but dialed down my aids, and just asked for a little exaggerated inside bend.  One ear stayed pointed toward the door, but he held the bend and listened to me, so that was progress.  He still felt a little tense, but at least he was responding. 

I then went across the diagonal and started a right hand circle at the far end of the ring.  He was better about the door in this direction (or perhaps he had decided I was psycho-mommy and he better behave), so I tried to just take a deep breath and relax my arms, my back, etc., and soften.  He relaxed a little too, which was good.  I then worked my way down the long side toward the door, but added in a few circles along the way to keep his focus.  Then we circled right at the end closest to the barn and again I did a shoulder-in as we were coming toward the door and around the end of the ring, but didn't exaggerate it.  He managed to do this correctly, despite one ear lasered in on the door.  We did another circle and since he held the inside bend, I didn't push it.  We went back across the diagonal and I put him on a left circle at the top of the ring, and worked on getting his haunches to the inside (he swings them out to the right tracking left).  He responded, and stayed relaxed, and I actually got a really nice trot for a few minutes.

I wanted to give him something else to focus on, so I started going back and forth over a set of trot poles (three in a row, about 9 feet apart) that were set up on the center line.  I had to halt twice going toward the barn because he tried to throw his head up and run after the poles.  The first time he threw his head up in the air and swung his hips left during the halt.  The second time the halt was much softer and straighter.  Then I started figure-eighting over the poles, going away from the door up the center line and turning left, then away from the door up the center line and turning right, etc.  Since the poles were set about 9 feet apart, I asked him to put two steps between the poles and then the next time through, really collect his trot and put three steps in, then two again, and so on.  I've worked on this before and it's really hard for him, but I wanted to challenge him so maybe he'd concentrate.  Tracking right he collected and extended well.  He's stronger in that direction and he's happier to accept my left rein than my right.  Tracking left, we had a little difficulty, he tried to get crooked, his head came up and he sort of bounced off my right rein, so I thought maybe I was blocking his forward motion with my right rein again.  I did it a few more times, being careful to stay as soft as possible with my right rein, and it improved.  So I patted him and let him walk a bit.

After he caught his breath, I picked up my trot again and did some walk-trot transitions, and then went into my right lead canter.  I did one circle at the canter, then one at the trot, back to canter, and so on.  Mixed in there we had some really nice transitions, some not so good (mostly downward transitions headed toward the barn, where he threw his head up and got strung out instead of holding his roundness and stepping through).  I went across the diagonal and changed my direction again, headed toward the barn, and I totally lost his focus.  If it's possible to get run away with at the trot, I did. 

So I went back to my figure eights over the poles, since that seemed to get his attention.  He was having none of the collection tracking left, so I stayed on a left circle and tried to work through it.  I tried keeping him straighter, using less hand, more hand, more seat, stretching taller, more leg, but all to no avail.  He kept walking right in front of the poles, then trotting and putting two steps in, and no amount of me keeping my leg closed and driving with my seat was going to change his mind.  Then he planted his feet in front of the first pole and wouldn't walk over it, so I tapped him on the shoulder with my stick.  He spun right, then ran backwards, then did a mini-rear.  I actually said out loud "Seriously?"  But, I wasn't going to be bullied.  I tapped him again with my stick behind my leg, and closed my leg and made him go forward.  He rushed forward and was tense, but it was (sort of) the response I wanted so I made a circle around the poles and gave him a pat, then went back to circling right over the poles until he could do that in a relaxed fashion.  I did it once more to the right asking him to collect for three steps, then went back to the left asking for two, and then stayed left and asked for three.  It wasn't particularly smooth, but he did put three steps in between the poles and didn't break to a walk, so I left the exercise alone for the night and asked him to canter. 

The canter transition was actually lovely (probably because of all the collection), but he rooted the reins out of my hands as soon as we headed toward the barn and took a few huge steps.  So, I got the canter back under control and did a downward transition, and trotted until he relaxed again.  Once we had a more regulated trot, I went back to the canter and this time there was no rooting.  We did two circles and since he stayed relaxed and under control, I went back to the trot.  We trotted once around the whole ring, and on the long side headed away from the barn I let him stretch down, and then walked once we got to the top of the ring.  I walked for a while on a long rein, but asked him to keep stretching down and walking forward, just to try to end on a relaxed positive note.  Then I dropped my reins completely and left him alone while he caught his breath.

So, the patterns that emerge:  he was worse tracking left, and almost all of his little episodes occurred toward the barn.  The fact that everything happened tracking left isn't too surprising, since that's always his weaker and more difficult direction, though I'll have to keep an eye on it in case it's a pain issue.  He's due for an adjustment and acupuncture next week, so I'll know for sure then.  His obsession with the barn isn't too shocking either.  He's never liked to be alone, and he's probably feeling insecure about being in a new place.  I do hope that it's going to improve though.  I ride at night after everyone else is done, always have, probably always will.  So, it's one of those things he just has to get over.

Now that I've written about the ride, I see that it wasn't all bad, which makes me feel a little better.  There were relaxed moments, and he was able to concentrate on a few of the exercises for brief periods.  I could do without the tantrum, and hope he gets over his fixation with the door.  Not sure if getting after him was the right thing to do or not, but it did seem to work.  I'll be interested to see if the next ride is better or worse.  I don't like using the stick, but maybe there are moments when it's necessary to get the point across.  Your thoughts?


  1. Not so bad and I certainly don't think you did anything wrong, sometimes you have to get their attention back any way you can. Upping the ante will sometime get you what you want and sometimes not, although sometimes it's just treating the symptoms rather than the cause. I'm a big fan of secondary cues, particularly ones that are surprising - like making a big noise hitting my boot with the crop - my objective is to get the horse's attention, or reinforce a primary cue, not to punish the horse. I also will redirect energy - do small circles or tight serpentines, say with a horse that's losing concentration or rushing, and I also try to work out from what the horse is able to do rather than demand obedience. In fact, now I come to think of it, the only time I'll ever get big with a horse physically is if a horse threatens to bite or kick or gets into my space. But again, there's nothing wrong at all with what you did and it seems it worked for you.

  2. It sounds like a really frustrating ride. You had some good moments, but it was so mixed that I understand being upset about it.

    That said, I think you handled it really well. Especially the mini-rear. If Tucker is anything like Izzy, you have to get after that behavior RIGHT NOW because she'll keep pushing until it's a full-blown rear.

    Good riding.

  3. Wow, good for you for working through his ADD! I would have so given up. I am a big push-over when it comes to correction and IMHO, I don't think you did anything wrong or harsh. You rewarded him when he deserved it and when you needed to have him focused, you reminded him.

  4. Refresh my memory, please. How old is Tucker? I see yhou note that he's young, so that's probably sufficient anyway.

    You definitely don't have to worry that you were being too harsh with your corrections. I'm known as being very gentle in our group and I'd do at least as much with Buster (my horse) if I felt like he was capable of responding (which Tucker certainly was) and not about to blow up mentally and physically.

    If I have moments where I feel a bit guilty about having to up the ante, I remind myself that Buster only has to work a little bit to live a luxurious life and I have to work A LOT to keep him in it, so it's a fair trade. :)

    Because I've not always been a confident rider (my horse has scared the bejeebers out of me quite a few times), I have resolved a lot of these issues using ground work. I'm in my element there and can let Buster know that he is to move his feet where I want him to, when I want him to, and I'm not kidding around. Fortunately, we only had to do that a few times, years ago, and the ice was broken forever. He rarely argues with me anymore, but he will test me at least a little bit on every single ride. I guess just to make sure that I'm still up to the challenge of being the boss.

    Actually, it looked like a pretty good ride to me all things considered. I haven't been following you long at all, so perhaps it was a big setback to you two, but I've had more rides like that than I can count. Tucker mostly did what you asked without any major mishaps. I'd accept it as a good ride and look forward to the next one.


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I love reading them! If you have a question, I will make sure to get back to you.