Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Hand That She Can Trace


Last night I had the kind of experience that makes you want to quit on a horse--or at least put them away for a while.  And, that may still be the case, but not today.

I took Leah next door to the barn for an evening ride.  One of the other riders brought a mare and foal and separated them to ride the mare.  It got Leah off on the wrong foot.  She was very nervous.  We went into the arena and walked around--she did pretty well.  I climbed into the saddle and rode her clockwise--she did pretty well.  I turned her counter-clockwise--she decided to bolt to the left.  She kept doing it, so I dismounted.  My trainer climbed aboard to see what was going on with her and it escalated.  She tried to rear up and get her off balance. 

We had a talk afterward and we both felt like, at this point, Leah isn't safe to ride. And, I'm not going to ask anyone else to ride her for me--that's not fair to them. Rebecca has already ridden her enough to give me a good idea of what I'm facing.  From what she and I have seen, Leah gets nervous (especially on the right side) and then, it's as if a cog gets stuck and she can't think past the fight.  It started on the day I took her on her second trail ride with three other horses and then asked her to open and close a gate.  It esculated when I continued to work on the gate issue and she fell.  We found out that there was pain at that time, too.  So, maybe a perfect storm of events?  

At any rate, here we are. 

I couldn't get to sleep last night with all of it running through my head. Nice horse. Gentle horse. Usually calm horse. Perfect on the ground. Goes left well. Doesn't go right. Bolts. What should I do?

I got my phone out and made notes, because I have to believe we can get past this--somehow.  

"Lots of bending and massage left and right. Wide circles left and right at all three gaits. Tarp training (to raise the anxiety and work through it.) When she was young and we were "sacking her out" she would go and go and go--unlike most horses who would stop and give.  I had to stop her myself and introduce her to the bag.  It was the earliest example of the "brain lock" we're seeing now.  Get her to think past it.  Get her to tune in from the saddle on both sides. Spend equal time and more time working her and resting her in saddle. If possible 2-3 hours every session. Work ethic. Use her brain. Keep calm at all times. Trust. If she bolts left and gets dangerous, jump off and lunge her to the right. Really use her mind and body.  She's half-checked out.  Check her back in."
There's something in me that can't quit on her saddle training.  Yet.

Today, I went out early, determined to get my 2-3 hours with her.  I did everything I made note of last night.  Everything.  When we went counter-clockwise around the arena, she bolted left.  But this time, I thought, I can't fight with her.  She is not a horse that likes to fight or can be influenced that way.  Instead, I petted and rubbed her on the right side. (Like Rebecca had shown me to do.)  She calmed down and stopped bolting and we circled back to the fence and continued straight. Then, when I stopped rubbing, she'd go for a while and then bolt again, and I'd rub her on the right side and bring her back around.  It went on and on like that.  I kept experimenting to see what aspect of the rubbing her right side was calming her.  I found that anything I did--talking, touching, even just bending over to the right and then bending her head to see me (an eyelash) equally calmed her as long as it got her attention on the right side.

I don't fully understand what's happening. Last night, the arena was darkish and she originally bolted in the scarier part of it. (When I say bolt, it's more like a hard pull to the left and then reversal of the circle.) Does she have a vision problem?  Is she just extremely left dominant? I think so.

We had a great session.  I didn't feel unsafe at any point in it.  We worked (at a walk) and rested and worked and rested. Nothing strenuous. Toward the end, I experimented with singing to her as a form of "being with her" and, oddly enough, it stopped all the bolting.  I sang her a song I wrote a few weeks ago--Hiding Place.

The chorus goes:

Be my hiding place, be my hiding place,
Be the hand, that I can trace.
Be my pride, and be my grace,
Be my place, be my place.


I teared up as I rode and sang to her--which made it hard to see, so I don't recommend crying and riding--but I was overwhelmed with the thought that I have to be the hand that Leah can trace. A hand of strength, kindness, mercy, protection.  She is fearful and the reason she's comforted when I stroke her or talk to her on the right is because she sees me there with her.  For now, she needs that.

I don't know where this will lead us, but this is the path we're on.  One step at a time.  Just me and her now. 

**Other things I'm doing: mounting and dismounting on the right side. Leading from the right side. 





19 comments:

  1. Tex is very fearful on his right as well. We've had his eyesight tested twice and both times it came back okay. I'll be curious to see what you find with Leah/how things go.

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    1. I don't think it is the eyesight, unless it's something related to darkness. I lunged her over some pretty complicated obstacles today and she could see them very well going both directions. I do think she needs a lot more done on her right side--so I'm mounting, dismounting and leading from there. The next time the vet comes out, I'll have her do a check.

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  2. That song was inspirational to me- I think it describes Carmen and I right now.

    Horses don't have a great corpus collusum- the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain so it's almost like they have to learn things twice - from each side. I like your description of her being stuck is good one. I like how you are approaching it.

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    1. Yeah, it could be that I overcompensated on her left and allowed her right to fend for itself. She has always needed a lot of "support". From the ground, she's amazing--so wanting to please in every way possible. In the saddle, when she can't see me anymore, she instantly gets fussy until she can see me from the corner of her eye--or hear me from the side on which we're traveling. Rebecca came up with the stuck description. She said it's like a cog is stuck. I had seen that before in her early training and I didn't like it--it was abnormal--and I didn't know how it would manifest itself later. I told my other trainer, Regina, about it, and she always tailored our lessons around getting Leah to think, think, think, and choose, choose, choose--which helped her think.

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  3. "Doesn't go right" got me thinking. If you haven't already done this, try standing in front of her while she is wearing the bridle you ride her in, and have someone pull each rein straight back and out to the side. Watch the bridle and see if it slips or slides and causes buckles to either pinch her skin or poke her in the eye. I had that problem with Rock. There was a buckle on one side but not the other, and he kept spinning and bolting when I'd turn him abruptly to the right. Only in his case he spun and bolted further right to get away from the buckle. He was okay as long as I turned him gently, because the bridle didn't slip as far. The whole problem started after I loosened the nose band.

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    1. Interesting. I'll do that. You never know. But she bolts when we're going straight--no pressure on the bit to move the headpiece into her eye.

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  4. Oh gosh, I'm sorry you're having trouble. Exasperating! The part that worries me is that this could be pain related, and if you ride her that long (2-3 hours), you could be making things worse. Even for a horse who is in shape, that's a long time to work, but could be torture if something is wrong. The best horseman I've ever, ever had the privilege of knowing always told us that, "the slower you go, the faster you'll get there". They just don't come any better than Ray Hunt. He also told us that most of teaching horses is done at the walk - engage their minds before worrying about their conditioning. If you're adamantly against having a thorough vet exam to rule pain out, maybe have your vet check her neck. It's bizarre behavior for sure and I hope you get some answers soon. I'm sorry if I sound pushy, it's not my intent, but working for a vet we see SO MANY horses being worked who are in pain, and their owners many times, believe that it's their attitude. It's very sad because how else can they try to tell us except "misbehave"? I wonder if the massage, the talking, singing and everything is soothing because you stop asking her to move? Just my thoughts. Horses are so honest, something is REALLY bothering her, and you will get differing opinions from everybody you talk with. The previous ride was good wasn't it? Were you doing anything differently then? Or, do you think it was "wrong" right from the beginning because Leah became nervous with the mare & foal? Just trying to figure out what happened right before the bad thing happened ?? *sorry*

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    1. The previous ride was out in an open field about an hour after we'd arrived and warmed up. She also had Cowgirl there with her. She did great. The mare and foal were really crying for each other, which made her nervous. It was also darker in the arena than it had been. When she bolted left, we weren't doing anything except walking slowly and we were heading to a corner she didn't like with a bunch of horses running around. She was like, no, let's go back to the gate.

      As for the two hours, everything we do, except some of the lunging over obstacles, was at a slow walk on a loose rein with lots and lots of rest. She didn't break a sweat the entire time, so that should tell you how hard she was working. The going to the left happens only when walking counter-clockwise along the rail. It happens on a loose rein with no other input. The other way she does fine--so I don't suspect it's pain related at this point. I'm not asking her to do much more than she does in the turnout all by herself. She walks, trots and runs at liberty. The only difference is me in the saddle, but wouldn't she react the other way? Wouldn't she be bothered to have me in the saddle at all? Anyway, I don't completely rule out pain, which is why I spend all our time at a slow walk and I massage her along the way and bend her gently. No matter what the issue is, she can only benefit from this.

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    2. Oh, and the talking, singing, rubbing is all done at the walk. I don't touch her when we stop. Her reward is just to rest.

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    3. I want to add one more thing--the only difference in going right or left around the rail at the walk is which eye is facing the rail and the outside of the arena. I'm sure that played a part last night as we approached the dark end of the arena where a bunch of stuff is stored.

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  5. Leah is a mystery that will have to be solved. She does remind me of my Dusty years ago. She wouldn't bolt but she would run backwards or spin which wasn't easy to handle. I can only tell you what worked for us. Dusty and I worked both sides at the walk for a very long time and by long time I mean months. I'd do her good side first and we simply walked and worked on her bend until she did it right. Then we would switch to the stiff side and walk and bend until she got it and then we would call it a day. If it was 20 minutes or a half hour it didn't matter. As soon as she did it correctly her reward was me getting off and praising her. We always ended on a good note and she headed for the barn and her treat. I didn't want to overload her with too many requests and confuse her so we took it one step at a time before we moved up the ladder to the next step in her training. So we took it slow and eventually we got where we needed to be. She was a responsive, forward and very safe horse but it took a lot of time for us to form a partnership.

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    1. That does sound similar. I've already come to terms with taking a few steps back and doing all our riding at a walk until she is so happy and eager that I know beyond doubt we're ready for the next step. If that's months, I don't care, we're just going to enjoy our time together. I do think I rushed her a bit this year, especially the day I asked for the trail ride (with three other strange horses) and the gate training.) I'm going to take Cowboy to the rest of the clinics unless Leah and I have some major break-through. There are seven of them, one a month, so they'll go for a while. She was definitely more confident and happy when Cowgirl was there to protect her at Saturday's clinic. Regina always told me that she was a horse who needs a lot of support. Cowgirl was her support Saturday, I need to be her support in the future, and I'm we're not there yet.

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    2. And what Leah is doing is a bit like spinning. She turns real quick and backtracks.

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  6. It's all so interesting because the more I hear, the more it sounds very similar to what Eagle does. Not exactly, but he does the quick turn around and doesn't want to continue. And with Eagle there's no pain either. One ride at a time on this journey...if we're open to it, they are offering us wonderful learning opportunities.

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    1. Yes, it does sound similar. One time it started when I wouldn't let her bend down and eat grass while we were walking. She got a hard eye and yanked to the left. Sadly, she's found that it works well with me. So, part of what I'm doing is providing consistent success going forward along the rail. If she fusses, I get her sweet right eyes attention by talking or rubbing, and return to the rail. Luckily for me, she's very slow. Some horses are fast and surprising like da da da da da boom! Leah is da da da do do no no no boomish.

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  7. I have no advice to give, and I admire your determination to get this lovely mare figured out. Sometimes something from their past has scared them enough to cause an ingrained flight response, and since you have done a lot of diagnostics, perhaps it is something from her past that is still troubling her.
    Have you ever heard of Neil Davies? He is an Australian trainer that has a little different approach that works well with troubled horses. Here is his website https://www.fearfreehorsetraining.com/

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    1. By the way, I loved your song- would love to hear it someday. I was just on Neil's website reading this post: https://www.fearfreehorsetraining.com/blog/don-t-get-in-a-flap-say-neigh-to-tarps-and-flags and there is a song on the video at the bottom of the page that made me think of you and Leah. Here is the You Tube version:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcWN4R_GeGU

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    2. I follow him on Facebook ,but I should really order his book. Conventional training doesn't work for her. Getting bigger only makes her get bigger. If you get her right side to think about you, she softens. I went to his site and read the poem/song. It makes sense. Why would they want any of that? If you don't have a partnership, you don't have a horse. And horses don't give their hearts easy in the saddle. I have her trust on the ground (pretty much) but not in the saddle when she can't see me.

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    3. That song is so sweet. "When my feet will not stay on the ground, you anchor me back down." Beautiful love song. I hope to be that for Leah.

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.