You may have noticed a slight increase in frequency of posts about things that Tucker is pretending to be ridiculously afraid of (or maybe legitimately afraid of, I'm not sure). I'm beginning to suspect that this may be a game he's invented, which gets him out of work for a minute or two, and is starting to get on my nerves.
Since Tucker is generally the brave, unflappable, dependable sort, when he spooks at something (which until very recently, is a total rarity), we calmly walk up to it, sniff and snort, arch our neck, and then take a deep breath and realize it's just a tractor/cat/fallen tree limb/tarp/etc. We can then carry on the ride and he won't spook at it again, ever. I'm totally okay with this type of spooking -- cautious about a new object, but willing to approach it, and sensible once his brain has a moment to process it.
But recently, the list of things he's spooked at has become increasingly lengthy and somewhat ridiculous: a traffic cone; a pile of bricks; a puddle; a pile of wood; a lawnmower; a jump standard on its side; a flatbed delivering sheds (okay maybe I'll give him that one); a sleeping dog; a horse wearing a scrim; and last night, a stack of hay. Granted, many of these were during the rehab process, so I chose to ignore them figuring he just had too much pent up energy.
That brings us to last night. I brought Tucker in from turnout to ride and a torrential downpour started almost as soon as he was on the crossties. The loud noise of rain on a roof has always been something that for reasons unknown, scares the bejeezus out of my boy. This is legitimate fear - his eyes get huge, he can't stand still, his ears flicker back and forth, and his pulse races. I get it. It's really loud and he can't figure out where the noise is coming from, and he can't get away from it. We've had to make a couple of rapid exits from indoor rings to avoid major incidents, and once he is standing out in the pouring rain, he immediately stops panicking.
So, I got out the cat toys I keep in my trunk for just such occasions, plugged his ears, and stood by his side until the noise subsided. He does this thing when he is scared -- he used to do it as a baby all the time and now only does it when he's really freaked out -- he does a very quick back-and-forth nuzzling with his upper lip on my arm. It's a very clear "Mom don't leave I'm scared" message that is very different from his usual signs of affection, and it just melts me every time. What can I say?
As soon as the rain stopped, we went down to the indoor and I figured since he'd had a couple days off and he was already sort of on edge, I'd yank his tack off and let him bounce around before I got on. So he did his usual galloping bucking frolicking leaping routine for about 3 minutes and then walked over to me with a big sigh and a much calmer look on his face. Looked as though we'd have a great ride.
And we did -- except for the first five minutes, which I spent convincing him the hay stacked at the end of the indoor (which has been there a few weeks, which he's seen before, and which he had just been galloping past), was non-life-threatening. He at first refused to walk toward it but gave in after a swift kick in the gut, approached it with arched neck, snorting, and sideways walking, but as soon as we got up to it, he reached out and grabbed a bite. Really? REALLY? You're so afraid of it that you have to EAT IT? Needless to say I was annoyed, but I told myself to let it go and enjoy the rest of the ride. Which, for the most part, I did.
That is until the middle of our ride, when I trotted down the center line and he decided that the stacked hay, from this angle, was once again deadly. Are you kidding me? We're fifty feet to the right of where you JUST trotted by it and now you are once again terrified? And this time, he not only stopped in his tracks, but then got stuck in reverse and practically ran backwards. So I gave him a smack behind my saddle with my hand, we moved forward, and went down the centerline again, this time with pricked ears but no spook. We finished the ride in a nice relaxed manner, cantered in both directions, no more spooking. Note that he walked by the hay on a long rein at the end of the ride and didn't even notice it. Clearly, this is not a legitimate fear.
My theory is that the spook arrived during the rehab process because he was having trouble dealing with his extra energy, and now it has become a game, or a bad habit. I believe he needs to be reminded that he is not a spooky horse. I talked it over with Alicia, and we think I probably need to get on one day next week (not tonight, because we are showing on Saturday) with a stick in hand and get after him a little if/when he decides something is too terrifying for him to work. I'm fine with a little neck-craning or ear-pricking that you can ignore with a little over-bending or getting his brain busy with a leg yield or something, but I am kind of drawing a line at sticking his feet in the sand and refusing to move, and definitely at running backwards. Not cool Tucker, not cool at all.
But... at the same time... he is a huge wimp, and this will undoubtedly send him into a blind panic. I really hate the thought of freaking him out by getting after him, and a freak out is a foregone conclusion. When I use a stick to send him forward, even if it's just one or two well-timed spanks that wouldn't even warrant an ear flick from another horse, he will melt down and need to be talked down off the ledge for the duration of the ride. Such an
So... is there something I am missing here? Does anyone have alternate suggestions? Or am I just being a baby, and I should fairly and properly discipline the bad behavior and then move on? I am opening the floor up for discussion. I would love to hear any ideas you may have, especially if it doesn't involve me sitting on top of a 1200-pound powder keg who believes he's just been brutally attacked by a mother-gone-mad.