Thursday, February 11, 2016

Learning Lessons: The Sunbeam Solution

In the winter, I ride inside most of the time. Our indoor is enclosed with limited-to-no natural light. The only time we have real light in there is IF it's clear outside AT sunset AND the sun is at the right angle, it slants through the back door of some of the adjoining stalls and makes sunbeams in the arena dirt.

They only last thirty to sixty minutes at best and because of the nature of the solar system, they are constantly (albeit slowly) moving. 

And they are TERRIFYING.

Don't believe me? Ask Courage. 
artistic rendering. not actual events.
Well, ask him six weeks ago. 

Because around that time, we were riding with one of our awesome barn buddies on her super awesome horse and C was like "OMFG ALERT ALERT LASER EYES FROM SPACE" but he's also a self-styled Don Juan/Rico Suave who hates to lose his cool in front of ladies he thinks he might have a chance with (hint: he doesn't. mare hates him). 

So when mare buddy kept trooping right through the sunbeams, so did Courage. By the end of an hour of walking and chatting, around and around, going through sunbeams HUNDREDS of times, Courage actually thought they were fine. (And yes, like you always suspected, Courage and I frequently don't work very hard). 
at all
After that ride, Alyssa came out to visit and take some pictures and wouldn't you know, Courage trotted through sunbeams like they ain't no thang. 
also pretending eq not a thing apparently
But here's the funny thing: I was also pretending the sunbeams were not a thing because I wanted good pictures. 

We tried to repeat the performance later, but Courage was getting progressively more weird about the DEMON BEAMS until I realized something. 

I was staring at them. HARD.

What would happen if I pretended they weren't there and just went about my ride? 

BOOM. I'm not looking, he's not looking. Now that he understood they weren't scary, he just wanted to see if he could talk me in to spooking at sunbeams instead of using his booty and going to work. 

And see, here's the complicated part of Courage: at first, he WAS legitimately freaked out by the strange beams. He's a confident and intelligent horse and NO ONE can tell him something is safe when he doesn't know if it is. Honestly, my life would be so much easier if this horse was a little more insecure and he just listened when I was like "srsly 4 real nbd p0nee". But no.  

He really did need to understand the problem and have his mare friend show him it was ok. 

Until we reached that phase, it did not matter AT ALL if I ignored it, told him he was safe, whatever. He has to understand things for himself. 

Enter mirrors. 
so attractive
When we got the big mirrors put up on the side wall this winter, I was very careful to introduce them to Courage at his speed. As prey animals (especially as prey animals in claustrophobic dark indoors), horses are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Also, I'm really not sure how well a horse can conceptualize what a mirror does and how much is just desensitization and getting used to mirrors. 

I mean, if horses understood mirrors, then you couldn't put them in their stalls to keep them company, right? 
he sure does like looking at himself
Anyways. I let Courage see the mirror. I let him run around. I lunged/rode in front of it. 

And EVERY SINGLE TIME we went by that mirror in the saddle, whether it was ambling on a loose rein or trotting or cantering or doing ground work or ANYTHING, Courage would stare in it. Hard.
what was he seeing?
 I was starting to lose patience with it. I mean. He'd barely even look at it other than the requisite "hey handsome" when I turned him loose in the indoor. He took no notice of it whatsoever when I lunged him.

And I could watch him make googly eyes at himself every.single.time. we rode by the stupid thing because I was staring in it to see how pretty we looked.

Hold the phone.

Oops. Again.

So uh. Guess who is actually totally 100% FINE about the mirrors as long as I don't gawk at them like a stupid tourist?
Courage. Courage is not afraid of mirrors.
 It's definitely a journey with this horse, that is for sure. He's pushing the limits of my knowledge, training, and horsemanship abilities. He's forcing me to think creatively, be flexible, and learn to laugh (more) at our biggest failures.

Basically, I see his board payment as tuition to the school of Important Life Lessons each and every month.


  1. Everything is terrifying if you stare at it long enough!

    Excellent artwork, btw. ;)

  2. HAHAHAHA!! Pig is 100% like this too. He has full faith that nothing will kill us if I give zero shits about it. So I give zero shits about it. Even if said thing is actually kinda scary and I really want to look at it (LOOKING (NOT) AT YOU, DEER LEAPING OUT OF WOODS AT ME!). That said, it took quite awhile to get the point where my sensitive, smart, asshole horse trusts me implicitly like this. Best of luck. Stay confident. Don't think about the monsters.

    1. It's actually kind of new for us for him to care what I'm looking at, so maybe we'll get there eventually?

  3. ha "school of important life lesson" - yep i can definitely buy into that (quite literally, actually).

  4. I've rereading Centered Riding and Sally's Hard/Soft Eyes was like a revelation to me. It sounds like you're talking about something similar!
    Rebecca (

  5. Haha! Sounds like he's paying more attention to you than you think:)

  6. I wish my horse could borrow a little bit of this cautious, thinking, investigative attitude. In return, I'd give you some of Bobby's, "Oh, you think that giant group of turkeys at the bottom of this super steep hill should be regarded with caution? Better idea: CHARGE!!!" mentality. I mean, if you wanted some of that. Because I'm willing to let him part with a lot of it.

    1. I've always admired that about Bobby. Not sure I actually want it though. ;-)

  7. I just love that photo of Courage checking himself out as he flies by :D

  8. Good observations! I've been on one that jumped over the sunbeam...awkward! Pongo is afraid of pee spots in the arena because quicksand.

  9. Um him checking himself out in the mirrors is hysterical!

  10. Indoor arenas have so many opportunities to school our horses into becoming more broke!

  11. More power to you, girl. I will freely admit that horse spooks at the thing --> rider spooks at the thing --> horse keeps spooking at the thing was my biggest issue/fight with Eliot. For all the ways in which she is difficult, so glad the mare doesn't have this tendency. I mean, she did have a meltdown because the hay pallets at the back of the arena moved and it took me like 15 minutes to figure out what she was spooking at because I honestly would not have noticed. I just kinda let her do her thing and the next ride she was back to "oh ok, that's how the pallets live now, that's cool."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...