Friday, June 13, 2014

Plan of Attack

Still the best at posing dramatically
The Courage I am riding today is not the Courage I rode yesterday.

Think about it. I'm training him one way or another every ride, and especially because he's green, his understanding changes VERY rapidly. So yes. I went from having a gung-ho, willing (albeit lazy) partner to one that is anxious and tense (and still lazy).

We saw two very different questions
At this point, I'm addressing it entirely as a training issue. I have an apparent cause--he felt overfaced when we asked him to jump an oxer within the context of a grid in a lesson. He didn't know how to answer the question and it shook his confidence a bit. I don't think the jump bothered him as much as peering into the deep ravine of his own cluelessness and having to end a session without feeling like King Kong.

Because I have that, I'm not too worried about other physical problems. I mean, of course I want to do a full course of UlcerGuard, have the expensive chiro out, and buy a French custom saddle, but since the budget doesn't accommodate those things without careful planning (or the French part at all), I'm taking things one step at a time.

Not a panic response. Waiting for room service.
One: Ulcers.

He lives a very low stress life with lots of turnout and very limited grain. He could be presenting with ulcers, but I sort of doubt it. My experience with ulcers is that the horse is ok, then presents the pain, then tends to kind of check out/get frantic and escalate. While it's possible that Courage is just expressing himself differently... I just can't get excited about this option. I'm certainly open to picking up a tube of GastroGuard and giving it a whirl if the behaviors persist, but in the face of apparent cause/apparent solution, I'm still thinking it's a training problem.

Two: Body soreness/Chiropractic problem.

This is possible. It's even likely. I noticed exponential improvements with him after letting his body reset with a winter off. That being said, this horse ran for like 6 years with the same body he has now and he was pretty much fine. I've had him checked over a couple of times and he doesn't generally have major issues. If my incredible, magical chiro was still around, I'd totally schedule him, but that was true well before all this. I'm still mourning his retirement and haven't found a suitable replacement.

I think those withers got taller
Three: Saddle fit! Go custom!

I sort of wish it was this. I do love me some tack shopping. Because I do have a range of saddles available, I pulled some out and tried them on him. I concluded that my saddle isn't the best fit for him, and found one that was slightly better. That said, I thoroughly checked his back for soreness and got only licking and chewing.

So while not perfect, it's obviously fine. Maybe that's the magic of my half pad. Maybe I'm such a delicate fairy that hovers above the saddle it doesn't bother him (ha! no). Maybe whatever, but Courage tells me his back is just fine.

Blurry video still by me
With those things in mind, I continue to address our situation as a training issue. It's changing and (dare I say?) improving. The tension is less on the flat. The jumping is coming along. Courage jumped his biggest fences ever today and was a total rock star on the line.*

As long as I'm seeing steady progress with just letting up on the pressure, I'm not too worried about the world falling apart.

*For the curious: I choose to lunge instead of free jump because we're dealing with anxiety. I want the ability to circle him off and have more control if things start spiraling downwards. For sure, badass free jumping pictures are on the agenda eventually, but now is not the time.


  1. One of the best things I did with wiz was lunge him over all the things before I even sat on him. By the timewe jumped stuff it was nothing. When he starts to get rushy I trot everything and stop on the other side.

    Wiz went through a phase with a lot of the same issues and I too went through the check list of saddle fit, chiro, ulcer etc. Turns out, there's nothing better than just a lot of time in the saddle and on the ground :) he's going to be awesome I know it

  2. Good analysis. Sometimes I've had to just take the pressure of completely. Like you said, you're not on a timeline. Could you just hack, no jumps, no agenda for a couple weeks then reaoproach poles until he is due footed then go back to jumping? Go back to reminding him what he's really good at and build the confidence back that way.

  3. "peering into the deep ravine of his own cluelessness"


  4. Ugard has turned Penny into a completely different horse. Might be worth a shot.

    However, I think the jumping issue is just being green. Lots of forward positive riding should fix that!

  5. I was in completely the same spot a couple weeks ago with my OTTB. Also a willing, goofy, brave, unbelievably scopey horse and also the king of deer leaps. He was a reliable jumper, and then suddenly he was a total nutcase on the flat and over jumps complete with bucking, enormous overjumping, general anxiety, pulling on the hands and extreme laziness. Two weeks later, he's totally over it. Just a phase he went through with some excess energy; all I did was cut his feed and work him a bit harder. It might not be the same problem with Courage, but it shows that these stages do happen and they do blow over. Just keep trying and believing in your awesome horse :-)

  6. My trainer always said that every ride, you're training your horse. Even the small stuff!

  7. I think it's back to training ground zero, build his confidence to help him forget the oxer of doom!

  8. Really it sounds like you've covered all the bases and now he just needs time to build that confidence back up. We already know how great he is! ;)

  9. If you want a cheaper way to check for ulcers just feed alfalfa. It's really good about soothing the tummy. I buy the bales of alfalfa chaff and just add a few handfuls into his meal and wet them down to keep the dust down. :) Or try aloe vera. There are things you can try before you go the expensive route since he isn't showing classic symptoms.

    I tend to agree that it's a green, over faced problem than a physical problem although soreness could be an issue since he's using totally different muscles than he used as a racehorse. That sucks that your chiro retired!!! I'm still looking for one too.... most "equine professionals" around here actually know less that I do and are just good at fooling people into handing over their money lol. Wow that was harsh.... sorry I'm just frustrated. :-/

    I think going back to basics and maybe mixing things up with hacking, longeing, gallop sets or something will help. His baby brain may just need a bit of a break. :) Good luck!

  10. Green horses can so often be one step forward one step back, and sometimes its things that you hardly notice that can turn out to rattle them. You will get him through it

  11. Wet saddle pads are often the best prescription!


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