Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Back to Reality: The Ups and Downs of True Horsemanship

Saturday, after my wonderful day with Leah Friday, I was dreading going back out and working with her again.  You know what I mean, further to fall?  Like, Oh dang, I have high expectations now, I can only be disappointed.

I chose to work with Beautiful first, but before we went to the arena, I needed to fill a trough up through the orange hose in the picture above.  For some reason, Beautiful was scared to death in that area, and somehow managed to get turned around and caught in the hose!  It wasn't pretty and, in the process of her trying to escape the hose, she crowded my space. Quite. A. Bit.

When she does things like that I start to wonder if I really want to ride her someday.  But then I remind myself that any horse can panic in the right situation and it just shows me what we need to work on.  And, we did work for a while on being comfortable in that space and comfortable with the hose.  Then, we worked in the arena, and after she was calm and engaged, I put her back in with the others.

When I went to get Leah, she walked away.  Self-fulfilling prophecy?  But she didn't walk too far, or too fast, and stopped pretty quickly.  I worked on lowering her head and then progressed to some mouth work.  Most of her tension is held in her mouth--she grates her teeth when she's really pissed off--so she wasn't about to give me her mouth happily.  I'd say we didn't do very well at all with that part of it.

Fast forward to Sunday, I got to ride Cowboy at Palisades Park.  My job in the Palisades group is to maintain the website, social media and park kiosks.  There are 4 kiosks spread over 700 acres, so I generally ride Cowboy to each kiosk and refill the flyer boxes with trail maps.  We also have our annual clean up coming April 23rd, so we needed to staple advertisements for volunteers to the kiosks, as well.  My  husband did that part for me.  It was a fun ride and Cowboy was sweating from tail to nose at the end.

Fast forward to Monday.  Cowboy walked away from me as soon as he saw me coming to the pasture! Surprise!

Fast forward to today, Tuesday.

I had a lesson with Leah this morning.  First off, when she saw me coming to get her, she and Cowgirl started running to me from across the pasture.  I have no idea why they did that because when Leah arrived at my side and thought about it for a second, she backed away.  Like, oops!  But it was too late for her to change her mind and she was soon haltered and heading down the road to the lesson barn.

We had a wonderful lesson and I think I'm going to take her on her first spring trail ride tomorrow to test all of this out.  Also, there's a trail challenge coming up this month, hosted by my instructor, and she thinks we're ready for it.  I just might try!

I did ask her about the mouth thing, and she watched me with Leah and gave me some suggestions.  What she had me do is tip her head in and massage/rub the outside of her nose and muzzle.  When she relaxed a bit, I let her head go to give her time to think about it.  Then, I tipped it in again and continued to massage her mouth and the corners of her mouth with my knuckles.  Relax.  Release.  And, on and on, until I was massaging her gums with my hands from both sides.

She also had suggestions for my ask on lowering the head.  She had me cup my hand into a "C" shape and place it just behind the boney party of the poll.  Put pressure there, wait until she lowered, and release.  If her head bounced right back up, I put the pressure back on.  I only used the halter to position her head, not pull down.  Then, she wanted me to pick a spot--the height of my elbow--and make that the goal position for her head.  If she raised it above that spot, the "C" pressure was put right back.  It worked pretty sweet, I must say.

I'll update my blog tomorrow and let you know how the trail ride goes!

*** My thought for the day***

A horse walking away isn't necessarily a rejection of you, more likely, it's a rejection of the idea or proposition you're presenting.  (ie. a trailer ride away from her/his buddies and an hour, or more, of pretty hard physical and mental work.)


  1. Oh my, part of your JOB is riding around the park on a regular basis?
    That sounds simply fantastic Linda!

    1. Ha! Yes, I'm pretty lucky. Mind you, this is all volunteer--not a paid job. ;) The payment is the enjoyment of being out on my horse...and having the park itself. Visitors go through those flyers pretty fast, so I have to fill them pretty regularly in the spring/summer/fall.

  2. we don't have the options of riding in parks here at all. I hate that! I fantasize about winning the lottery and buying a large tract of land for riders and horses to explore.

    1. No parks? That would be tough! Do you know why that is?

      We are very lucky.

  3. I love that you can ride through the parks there and help out. Wish we had some decent parks around here but we don't unfortunately.

    Sounds like some good work with Leah and her head exercises.

    I do wish I could read their minds and know what they're thinking or why they do some things. Like Beautiful with the hose or Leah and Cowgirl running to your and then Leah deciding it wasn't such a hot idea. I can say it keeps me on my toes trying to figure them out.

    1. Yes, they do keep us on our toes and surprise us, don't they? Life with horses is an adventure. You always have to expect the unexpected. :)

  4. Your thought for the day made me realize that it's been a while since I've had to deal with horses running away. I suspect it's because I mix it up and catch them for different reasons, and they like half of them: Grooming, taking walks and exploring, grazing, meeting other horses in the neighborhood, getting carrots and peppermints... You can see the wheels turning as they try to guess my intentions for walking up to them with a halter. A couple of them actually do like being ridden, and get upset if I don't pick them.

    The technique I used when they were running from the halter was to keep pressure on them until they stopped moving their feet. Then I'd approach them in a relaxed manner. If they moved away, I put pressure on again. If they held still and looked at me, I backed away. Eventually, I could work my way up to them, pet them with the halter, back away, pet them again with the halter, back away to let them relax, and then halter them. Now I can hold out the halter and ask for a volunteer to stick his or her nose into it.

    1. That's the exact technique I use if they don't want to be caught. Ours our on pasture now--and they'd much rather graze than get hauled off, but they are pretty good about it. Like you, I go out with a halter on days I don't ride, too. Sometimes I just walk up their side and pet them, or give them a treat. You have to mix it up. When Leah ran to me, she was probably expecting something else. But she did good to stand and let me halter her then haul her off. I think, with time, hauling becomes easier and more enjoyable for them. Cowboy likes to be the one to go...most days. It wasn't like that with him at first, years and years ago, but I think he built up his confidence away from the herd and started to take pride in himself. And, yes, I agree it also satisfies some curiosity in them--no doubt about that.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.