Friday, March 29, 2019

Arena Anxiety in Our Horses

"Start her in the round pen, then get her out on the trails after a few days."
My farrier's advice about training Beautiful girl

But I didn't take that advice, and I didn't have a very good outcome either.

My trainer, who has started all our young horses, works on a ranch.  She gets the horses working from day one or two by ponying them out on the trails packing a saddle. When they learn to stand tied, pack a saddle, work from the ground, she moves to mounting--and then very quickly, she's out on the trails with them.  She trains 7 or 8 at a time, and has done so quite successfully for about thirty years--rain, shine, snow.

She has a great formula for a solid foundation, and she has sustained very few injuries in an extremely high risk occupation.

Sixteen years ago, I acquired Cowboy, my heart horse.  I was his fifth owner in 7 years.  He was a show baby, and he had won many awards from yearling forward.  He'd also been a stallion, and he even produced a live foal (I don't know where it is.) He had 120 days of "reining training."  But he was a challenge in the arena.  

In fact, Cowboy was such a challenge in the arena, that I was quite scared to take him out on the trails.  I could ride him at all gaits, but he was a fight.  

I confessed my fears to my trainer, the one who starts all our young ones.  She told me I might be surprised with his behavior on the trails---it might be BETTER.  

I was in SHOCK and DISBELIEF.  Better?  Hmmmm...I was skeptical.  

Long story, short--I loaded him up and took him out to our local trails, and  yes, he was better.  Much better.  A different horse.  From that point forward, I was a trail rider, and I never looked back.

Fast forward to today and Leah--and even Beautiful Girl--

Leah is golden on the ground.  I ask her to move half a step, she moves half a step. Stand with one leg on the bridge--she stands with one leg on the bridge waiting for instructions.  Calm. Smart. Trusting. Willing.  

Beautiful Girl.  Last year I started taking her to Riverside State Park to work the obstacle horse.  She did EVERY obstacle as soon as I asked it, and perfectly.  The tire. The bridge. You name it, she did it.

But the arena, in, there is another story entirely.

I've known this for a long time, and struggled with it. Starting Leah again, after four months off, I knew my challenge was going to be in saddle, and I was right.  Yesterday, when I mounted, I could instantly feel her tense up.  Then, she started to move, before I asked--something she does not do on the ground.  It's like she's over-anticipating, and she is such a sensitive soul!  She so wants to please.  Add to that the fact that she can't see me anymore, so she doesn't have visual cues which tend to soothe her.  

This isn't new.  We deal with it every season, and every season I try to find new ways to help her calm down--in the arena--with me in saddle.  

By the way, she is not like this on the trail.  It's only in the arena--and only in saddle.

I was talking to my daughter about it last night and we both think it  has to do with the fact that the arena means detailed work, whereas, the trail is, again, a visual, intellectually stimulating, relaxing job.  The arena is about doing circles, changing gaits, side-passing, opening gates, obstacles--well, you know what I mean.

Yesterday, in saddle, I did intuit that, and immediately shifted gears away from circles, and straight work, to obstacles.  It helped tremendously.  She takes great pride in working over an obstacle, and they're something she can see, concentrate on, and understand.  

When I first started her, I spent a year working with her in an arena as we were learning to communicate with each other.  Maybe that soured her and created this.  I don't know.  

However, the arena does serve a valuable purpose.  1. It's an enclosure-thus keeping them from completely running away with me. (although, Beautiful Girl tested that theory last summer.) 2. It has better footing.  3. It's close to the herd and barn. (That can be good and BAD.)

Tomorrow there's a group ride, and I'm not sure we're ready.  I rather prefer my first rides out to be in smaller groups of 2 or 3, not 12 riders.  I may take Leah and just see how she does, walk her around, and bring her home.  I don't know yet.  I'll go out and ride her again today, then make a decision.

But this year, I would like to finally say I've figured out how to help her calm down in the arena.  I helped her overcome her fear of opening and closing gates, allowing her heart rate to slow down between each step and side-pass, so maybe I'll get a grand epiphany on the arena, as well.

Please feel free to share your own wisdom on this topic in the comments. I read an article today that said the number one training issue with horses is anxiety--so I can't be alone here.  This over-anticipation in the arena is most certainly an anxiety--and anxiety is no small thing to conquer.


I rode Leah today and started her on an obstacle.  She did it, then trotted out, so I worked her in a couple of circles both ways and then took her back to the obstacles.  It seemed that a light went on for her that she doesn't have to trot circles as long as she just walks out and does the obstacles--which is all I'm asking for.  She walked the rest of the time and did all the obstacles really well, even side-passing over the hollow white tubes both ways--something she had just started doing well at the end of last season.  So, maybe this will solve it.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Horsewoman's Prayer

I've been working with my mare, Leah, this week, but I haven't ridden her yet.  I'm really trying to be patient, and to listen, and build on her trust and try.

As I was grooming her today, I started to say a prayer for this riding season--and realized, as I was thinking the prayer, that it is not so much "safety" that I'm praying for, because our horses aren't out to get us.  Instead, it's wisdom.  Wisdom to know how to be a smart horsewoman who listens to what they're saying to me.

All the information we need is there--but do we understand what it means?  Do we know when to be patient?  When to have courage?  When to change our plans?

So, here is my prayer for myself, my herd, and all of you and your herds.

A Horsewoman's Prayer

Each season,
I say a prayer,
not for safety,
because want of safety
is always there,
but for Wisdom;
Wisdom to listen,
and hear
my horses speak,
the magic language
of their needs;
Patience, to wait
upon the softness
of their hearts opening to me,
which is the exact part
that starts the journey of try,
without which, there’s nothing.
I pray for Courage,
when they, in communion,
ask me to fly with them,
either on the ground
at their side
or, on their backs,
where I can grip tightly
to Trust,
and Heaven,
and what it means
to be fully alive.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Operation Cowboy Foxtrot Freedom

Since I can't geld Tumbleweed yet, I had to move from Plan A to Plan B--Operation Cowboy Foxtrot Freedom.

It entails:

1. Start working Tumbleweed away from all the other horses as much as possible.

2. Replace Cowboy (and eventually Little Joe, too) with Foxy because T'weed can't be put in with the mares, but still needs buddies.  Foxy will then get her freedom back.

I moved Foxy down a stall and Cowboy next to T'weed.  At first T'weed didn't like it, but when he knew Foxy was still close, he settled right in with Cowboy.  I fed them in their runs next to each other, rather than in their stalls, so that Tumbleweed could get a calm introduction.  He loves to play with Cowboy, when Cowboy's loose in the turnout and can get over to him, so I think he's going to really enjoy this change.

Another great thing about the Cowboy-Tumbleweed duo is that my heart horse will have time to imprint on my other heart horse!!  How GREAT is that?!?  Cowboy is an Omega, but he is one of the bravest horses in our herd--the most likely to enjoy being alone, and least likely to freak out when anything happens.  All of that will be so good for Tumbleweed.  And, Tumbleweed will most likely be his boss, but Cowboy is also very affectionate--which Tumbleweed will also soak up.  Cowboy is a gentle people horse--and I would like Tumbleweed to be the same.

Once they gel, I'll throw Little Joe into the mix.  He is the current herd leader, and also brave, playful, and affectionate--the two geldings will be the perfect companions.  Plus, it will keep Little Joe from mounting the mares.

So, Day One was a bit dramatic for the boy.

I want my mama!  

Look at how pissed off I am!  

If I could, I'd stomp your dog!

I had enough of watching him run around, and I put him on the long line and made him work.  I figured it would help him work off steam and his brain in gear.

Which it did.  He settled down quite a bit after line work. He understands circle work now, and I give him credit for being a fast learner.  The videos I shared in the last post were his first time ever on a long line, two sessions later, he was near perfect--even being away from the herd.  I just realized, however, that being in the arena may have also helped. 

I released him again and sat on the step behind him.  My hope was that he would come to me for comfort. 

And he did.  Over and over again.  We even did some At Liberty work over the obstacles.

All and all, a good day.  Like I said before, this is going to be a very fun spring with Tumbleweed!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Shake, Rattle, & Roll--Tumbleweed on the Long Line

Today seemed like a good day to put Tumbleweed on a long line.  I felt like he understood the principle of going forward, and that his resistance is basic baby naughtiness.

What Tumbleweed thinks: You don't tell me where to put my feet!  I'm the boss!

What all the dogs and cats think: Damn, it's the crazy horse who chases us--run for your lives!

What I think: Yay, my daughter's here for a visit--I'm going to ask her to videotape so I can show all my blogging friends how cute crazy spoiled ornery normal Tumbleweed is for a 10 month old colt.

At his young age, I really don't want to do a lot of long line work with Tweed, but he does need help understanding boundaries.  I'm going to compromise by keeping his sessions short.  I'll put in some time this week (on the line) because he has a lot of spring naughtiness to work off, but after a couple more days I'll give him a break and let him be turned out to play every day with maybe some basic tying, loading, and grooming lessons.

But for we go...

My daughter and her puppy came by and, surprise!, T'weed wanted to stomp on her--the puppy that is.  In the video, you will see him prancing their direction a lot, like he wants to go kick her butt-- then get tugged back into the circle.  He also wanted to run off to the other horses, so when he's on that side, you'll see him being tugged, again, back into the circle.  And finally, the barn door was open, and his Foxy Mama was in there--so on that side he will try to get into the barn.  You'll see kicking, farting, rearing, turning, bucking, running, prancing, and an attempt at rolling.  All the tools in his toolbox.

Video One is rather short, but you'll see a little of that, Video 2, you'll see much more of his antics, and, at the very end, some nice circle work.  Video 3 is his "bad side," which today was his "good side"--going to the right.  And last, a short clip on how easily he walked into the puddle on first try today.  Demonstrating that YES, it does get better!

Have I said how much I love working with T'weed?  He is full of personality and, despite his antics on the line, is quite a loverboy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Day 2 Spring Training with Tumbleweed

Today's session was short and sweet, and really progressed from yesterday's session.

Here's are some short video clips.

Water.  I want Tumbleweed to willingly come into water with me, stand, turnaround, play, and basically, relax.

If you fast forward to the 1 minute mark (1:00) I ask him for circles to the right.  You'll see that he's trying to back up and evade me, and position himself for a good rear, but thinks better of it when I push him forward.

When you realize rearing as just stopping on two legs, it's easy to fix--just make sure they're always going forward.  At this point in his learning, I still have to keep him close enough to me that I can direct both ends.  The crop works great for this close work.  He's young, and I don't want to do too much of it, but he does need to know how to lead well and safely--so I think it's pretty essential right now--in small segments.

This second video is our second time through the water today.  You can see how much he improved after I directed his feet with the circle work.  It's all connected.  At the end of this video, you'll notice him trying to get his mouth on me.  That's pretty common for him, so I'm turning straw into gold....

Straw into gold?  Yes.  Since Tweed loves to mouth everything, I'm taking that opportunity to run my hands all up under his lips and gums, in his nose, basically, everywhere I can get them.  It seems to satisfy his need for touch, and soften his muzzle and head.

This is one of the things I do during TTouch sessions, and horses love it once they finally figure it out it feels good.  Starting it sooner, rather than later, is a good thing.

Monday, March 18, 2019

No Balls for Baby

I called my vet today to schedule Tumbleweed’s appointment for a gelding, but the secretary asked if his testicles had dropped. I wasn’t sure, so I had my husband accompany me to the barn where I was able to hold Tumbleweed while he checked for the baby balls.

Surprise! There were none.

 So, now we wait.

In the meantime, my little monster sweetheart needed help with manners, balls or not. Which isn’t  his fault, we have just been so snowed in, it made training difficult to impossible, and he is a BABY after all.  So. Much. Energy.

Today, we worked on moving in a circle, both directions, on a line, and following me into large puddles and standing. I broke the sessions into three parts because during the first one he just had a helluva lot of energy and needed to work through it.  There was bucking, running, pulling, and rearing, and he worked up quite a sweat. I ended on a positive note and put him back.

Later, I came back out and he had improved 100% following me into puddles, but didn’t want to do a circle on the lead to the right. Again, he did some rearing, he even appeared to be striking, but with the help of a long whip to block him, he finally let me onto his right side and circled right.

The last session, I armed myself with my crop ahead of time. He did excellent into and through puddles, he explored the arena, through tall, wet snow, and he backed up with a wave of the crop. But again, he wasn’t happy with me on the right side and he didn’t want to go right. However, I was faster than him, and able to consistently beat him and stay at his side, allowing me to both push him forward AND keep his head turned in. No rearing. Oh, he thought about it, but that door was closed.

Touché!  I won.

Poor thing looked dejected without all his tricks, but he was also much sweeter.

Now, if those baby balls would just drop down so we can chop them off and turn him out.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Rearing While Leading

When it comes to training Tumbleweed, I have a few things going against me:

1. The turnouts are icy, thus, Tumbleweed only has his stall and run to let off steam.

2. He hasn't been gelded yet. (That's pretty minor, but with all the mares, some coming into heat, it is preoccupying him.)

3. He is a dominant little guy when it comes to herding other animals or people.  He chases the dogs, cats, Foxy--and  he would love to chase me.

Which all means there is a bit of a battle of the wills between us right now, who's going to put their feet where and when, and no place to safely work it out. (Also, not enough opportunity for him to work off extra energy or get some of these lessons from the herd. Highs of 51 degrees are predicted a week from Monday, which will be game-changer.)

Yesterday, the farrier came out, and he did great for his trim.  He's also doing okay standing tied--he'll dance around a bit, but he gives to pressure, and is coming along nicely for longer and longer periods of time.  I love the Blocker Tie rings--I'm using it on level ONE with T'weed, and will soon advance him to level TWO.

So now that we have the good out of the way, let me tell you what he started doing.

A couple of days ago, as I was working with him in the breezeway--on leading--he reared up when I asked him to make a turn with hind end yield.  I just kept going, pulling him over to the side and down, and eventually he stopped, but he did it a few times.

The next day, no rearing.

Today, rearing started again, but when I asked him to back up. 

I thought--okay, I'm missing something here, and I finished the leading lesson with him settling down and doing the backing, then I put him away, and began to research the issue. 

Here's what I found:

1. Rearing while leading is not a big deal, and is quite common in young, fresh horses. (double check)

2. Rearing is a fear, or pressure, response.

3. Rearing is STOPPING. Not moving the feet.  Whatever you want to call it, but basically, stopping with two feet in the air.  It's a version of not going forward.

How do  you solve it?

Make them move.

Now, Tumbleweed isn't even a full yearling  yet--he won't be until May--so I am hesitant to do too much with him or put to much pressure on him--especially when we don't have a big area to move around.  However, I decided to take the pressure down a notch and work on the same concepts--backing up, moving forward, and front and hind yields--in his run--at liberty. 

Well, it worked brilliantly. 

He did great at liberty except on his right side, front yield--which told me that I need to do a lot more on his right side--as Tom Dorrance suggested in his book, True Unity.  He basically said--do double to the right what you do to the left--and always start with the right just to make sure you get that side done, should you run short of time.

We worked and played, and he got petted, and moved around--he tried to stop at his water trough--I pushed him on--he got pissy--he moved some more--he ran into his stall to escape me--he peeked out to see if I was still there and came back for more--it was a great session and he didn't go up once.  And it was a good lesson for me, should it happen again--just relax and keep them moving.

I can't wait until the snow melts and we can really start working together again.  It's going to be such a fun and exciting spring!!