Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's a Long Road Ahead

I've been so excited this past month about Izzy and what we can do this summer. I mean, she was great at the shows we went to hang out at, and the jumper show where we did trot poles, I literally got her off the trailer, tacked up, and went in (to her first ever indoor arena) with no warmup, and she was great.

Then we have days like yesterday. There must have been something wrong, because both Izzy and the horse Cathy was riding were really uptight. Cathy's horse was looking for something to spook at. Izzy wasn't waiting. She had a massive bucking explosion on the lunge line. I was barely on before she had her first under saddle spook. I kept working on the things we've done before; if I lost her focus, I pushed her sideways or changed direction, or something(!).

And then... I didn't see at first that the neighbor girl was bringing her horse over to ride, but Izzy did. She freaked out, slammed on the brakes, bolted forward, etc. I kept spinning her around and smacking her to get her to go forward, but she tuned me out because she was more interested in something else.

Here is our biggest problem right now: I needed to just ride her through it. I needed to keep after her and left her know that while I acknowledged something unusual was going on, it was my job to worry about that and her job to do what I told her.

I didn't. I mean, I stayed on, but I'm not confident enough in my skills yet to really push her when she starts ignoring me because I'm not comfortable with her rearing... A part of me tells me it's normal and natural to not be comfortable with that. Rearing is a dangerous habit, and she has proved that she's willing to go there if she thinks she can get away with it. The other side of me argues that if I'm too chicken to confront her about this, then she has my number and I might as well sell her now because there's always going to be something interesting to look at.

I think that (as usual) the answer is in between the two. I'm just having trouble finding exactly where it is.

And there's another side to this; Izzy has been in from her beloved pasture for over a month now because of the weather. She has a 14'x14' shelter with a small run, but she really does much, much better mentally when she's out all day. I need the rain to go away so I can turn her out and get her brain back. I think that would help our other issues immensely.


  1. I agree the lack of turnout is a huge nuisance; my little guy Spud has been in for only the past week and already he is hopping around off all fours in his 12x12 stall!

    When I do start working with him it is going to be fun *rolls eyes*.

  2. That's a LOT of horse to handle. Tuning out (IMO) is one of the most dangerous things a horse can do. Sounds like you did a wonderful job of bringing her back. Of all the objections a horse can make, rearing is the only one that scares the bejesus out of me.

    I'll pass this along in case it can help: my trainer reminds me, when I feel a horse starting to lighten in front, that a horse can't rear if it is turning. We turn one way, then the other, bolt or whatever, but avoid the rearing, at least so far.

    That sounds like a spook ride from Hades!

  3. I really think it is when things go awry that we learn the most! I admire your ability to ride through it! It is so satisfying to come out on top after an incident!

  4. Good work with the spin and smack. You may not have had her full attention, but you kept her front feet on the ground. It also helps if you drop your inside hand way down as you spin. (In an old book I read they advocated putting the rein under your boot toe, but I always thought that was dangerous.) Persistence usually pays off, eventually.

    Another element of theory here. If the horse feels that your hand has "give" in it, she will think she can fight it. If you hold your hand onto part of the saddle, locking it in place, then the horse will eventually realize there is no way to get rid of the contact and eventually give in.

    Horses in "frenzy" mode the way Izzy was are really difficult to ride through a tantrum like that, but you are right not to give up. Each success you have will serve you well for the next time. What will happen over time it that you will just start to take her into a tight circle and she will surrender....patience and perserverence here. You are doing a super job with an overly energetic horse that needs some quality turnout time!

    Wishing you better weather sooner than later.

  5. I am completely in agreement with you! Rearing is dangerous! My horse did it for a day and I was a bit reluctant to get on her again, but she never did it after. When you feel her getting light in the front, pull her head to the side (flex her neck) until you know she wont rear looking at your knee! We are not applying lightness here, it's a matter of seconds, so get her head to the side no matter how much strenght it takes. Also, if you think you can, disengage her rear end, either with your legs or with a crop.

    If you want to get her attention back, try practicing transitions, you go from walk, trot, canter, walk, canter, stop, canter, trot... any combination you can think of... and if you feel that she is protesting and going to rear, pull her head to the side as soon as you think she'll rear. I did that to my horse, even if she wasn't going to really rear adn she quit on the second day, she understood that trying to rear would only get her working harder. Same for bucking, it's hard for them to buck if their head is a bit to the side. When my horse bucked, I jerked her bit in her mouth, one quick tug... after a few times of this, she noticed that something uncomfortable would happen with her mouth every time she offered to buck under saddle. I NEVER tug on their mouths, but to save my butt and teach them manners, it's worth the shot... my 4 year-old is now better trained than most saddle horses I know and I trained her myself!

    So try and remember to bring her head to one side when you think she is going to rear, don't do it if you are not sure she is light in the front because she will tune you out. Also, remember to disengage her rear, smack her with the crop to make her turn circles... a horse with busy legs in the back will not have time to collect them to rear. AND, transitions, transitions, transitions. Get her feet moving and at the same time, she will pay attention to you and she will get lighter on the bit and more collected. Use as much pressure as needed and I mean as subtle or as blank as you need to get a response.

    Don't give up when you ask something, you NEED to get the answer, otherwise, you might as well not be asking for it at all. If you quit before getting an answer, the horse as just learned to evade you by not responding and will take a habit of it. So if you ask for a canter, get her in canter mode. If ever you need to really get her working, make her back up... and I don't mean 2-3 steps... I mean, half of the arena. It's a humane punishement since backing up is hard for a horse and you don't have to smack them with a crop, but if she quits backing when you ask, don't give up... even if you only get one last step backwards, you will have won your point.

    I hope this will help you! give us some news!

  6. Oooooh, I am so right there with ya! I think Salem and Izzy must be sharing a brain these days because we are having some very similair rides. Today, Salem was very good (well, look-y and trying to find something to spook at, but no biggie) until about 40 minutes in. My neighbor's dogs were rustling through the bushes and Salem decided to do some sort of rear/capriole thing. I know the front feet were up (not real high, though) and I think the back legs might have been, too.
    I worked him about ten or fifteen more minutes without mishap and called it a day (the evening shift were being turned out, which is never a good thing for us!).
    I know what you mean about trying to find that balance between "I feel unsafe" and "I don't want to teach him/her that being naughty = getting out of work." That's always a tough one!
    Good job on keeping her sane and keeping her feet on the ground. :-)

  7. You handled the situation well. It takes a lot of grace and nerve to take on a spooky, sulky young horse. You got quite a bit of good advice already, so I won't take up a ton of space with that. I'll just say: Good Job! Keep on keepin' on!


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