Monday, April 20, 2015

Teeter-Totter Bridge, Car Wash, & Fire Pits, In Other words, Hell for Horses

What looked like an easy course, as we arrived with our trailers to the De-Spooking Trail Clinic, turned out to be not so much.  A teeter-totter bridge, side-passing across a long, fat log, burning flares, revving chain saw, opening and closing gates, popping balloons, various animal skins, car wash, and, oh, so much more.  Cowboy thought he'd died and gone to hell for horses.

But what a great opportunity to help them through their fears. 

I took my grand-daughter with me who has been riding since she was 3 years old and has a gentle strength and quiet way of working with horses.  She had her sweet trail horse, Penny.  Cowboy loves Penny and, as you can see below, wanted to be with her.  Working on herd-bound issues turned out to be our #1 concern.

Mom, you go play with those scary things, I'll go hang out with my girlfriend until you're done.

These pictures were taken during the in-hand portion of the clinic which we hadn't even signed up for, but since we arrived early, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity before the riding class.  What I learned is that since Cowboy and I don't do groundwork anymore, he's only confidant when I'm joined to him in the saddle or he's joined to my side.  That's not so good.  In fact, at the very beginning of the clinic, he was more of a cautionary tale for everyone else.  He was frightened and he felt trapped in the obstacles when I'd push him away.  He didn't really settle down until about half way through.

Penny, on the other hand, did great.  Or, as great as any horse is going to do in an arena full of every scary obstacle a horse will ever encounter.

The trick was getting them to acknowledge the obstacle first, get comfortable (haha), then lead them through it.  Cowboy did not want to acknowledge the obstacles.  He wanted to tell me that we needed to get the hay out of there!

Not surprisingly, Cowboy did much better during the riding portion of the clinic, and several of the trainers remarked at what a different horse he was.  After five hours, though, he was happy to hit the trails and get a little break.  Trails=easy, Clinic=Super-scary-hard-work.

But it was great!!  Everything I value in horsemanship, real job-related stuff: opening and closing gates, pulling logs behind, side passing in tight areas, crossing water...or foam that looks like water, SCOPE outdid themselves in this course. 

They also had plenty of volunteer trainers on hand to help us through the hard parts.  The picture below is Penny getting ready to side pass over the log and a trainer there helping them learn to do it.  I didn't get Cowboy to do it in-hand, but he had no problem in saddle.

The teeter totter bridge was probably the most scary of all, but was actually kind of fun when the horses got the picture.  It became like a game for them..or me...or both.  I'd be on one end of the teeter totter and then as soon as he started walking across I'd go right down with him at my side. 

Any day with horses is a day well spent, but this one was better than most.  I got to spend the day with my grand-daughter, and I couldn't have been prouder to see what a sensitive horsewoman she'd become, and we got to spend a whole day with the horses we love so much.


  1. That looks like fun! Challenging, but still fun. I thought about driving all the way up there for that, but with Scout still blowing snot, I couldn't. And Luc isn't ready yet.

    1. Andrea, they're doing it again in July, and I think I'll take at least one of my green horses for in-hand and Cowboy for the riding portion again. Also, Riverside has finished their trail obstacle course and it is NICE! They have the log pull and other obstacles directly outside of the large arena. It's there for anyone to use anytime. I took Cowboy and Penny yesterday and Cowboy did a little bit worse than usual on the log pull, so I'm going to go back a lot until he's comfortable.

  2. I lend a hand @ a similar yearly event - this year I hope we can add a teeter bridge like the one you've shown. Never thought of a revving chainsaw either, but it'd be a great de-sensitizer! Thanks for the ideas!

    1. Mrs Shoes, that's great that you're helping out with one. It was a lot for the horses to accomplish in one day. I think next time I'll only take one horse through either portion--in-hand or saddle and then give them a break while I work another. Doing both in one day, for my horse, led to frustration.

  3. Looks like a good day all in all. Fun yet challenging. Not sure some of my horses would have been too thrilled with some of the obstacles either.

    1. The other thing going on is the energy from the other horses. It ramps the fear factor up another notch. I think I'm going to work with him on the obstacles for the next couple of months and do it again in July.


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