Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Love a Sunny Sunday


Sundays are my best days to ride as the majority of my neighbors leave for church or long visits with friends or relatives, and the neighborhood settles into a welcome quiet. There are no construction noises, no loud engines revving, no vehicles rolling up and down my road, no doors slamming, no voices yelling -- just me, the birds, the horses, and an occasional bunny rabbit. Sunday mornings are a form of heaven for me, and today had the extra bonus of being warm and sunny.

I removed the horses' blankets and made a beeline for Bombay. He's my safest horse, and I trust him to take care of me. Anytime there is a gap of several weeks or months between riding the horses, I know that some of the recent lessons learned have been lost, but I don't know how bad it is until I ride again. I checked his teeth before mounting and saw that he has some sharp points. I made a mental note to call for a ranch visit from a vet so that all the horses could have their teeth floated and get immunized. Knowing that the points might be hurting him, I rode with a loose rein and used mostly leg cues. He was throwing his head around quite a bit, and avoiding one area of deep footing despite me pushing him into it. The ground in my round pen has a slight slope, so he sped up downhill and slowed down uphill. Maintaining a consistent speed is one of the last lessons he mastered in 2007, and I could see that we needed to go back to square one. He was huffing and puffing from being out of shape, so I didn't push it. I mainly wanted to find out what we need to work on.

I spent some time longeing Gabbrielle. She did a great job following my speed and direction cues at first, and then she turned to face me and refused to move away. I kept trying to get around behind her shoulder to crack the whip, but she just kept turning to face me. I had that same problem with Bombay when he was her age, and the only way I could get either of them to move out was to shake a plastic milk bottle filled with pebbles. It's a method that works, but not exactly the lesson I want to teach. I feel like I'm teaching her to run from the noise rather than to follow my cues to change direction and move off.

After relocating some composted manure, I saddled up Lostine. She's always been grumpy about cinching, and usually pins her ears back and wiggles her lips as soon as I touch the cinch. However, coming out of winter weather and a long respite from riding, we always have to start all over with the usual power struggle. She's testy when I haven't ridden her in a while, so she reached around and clacked her teeth in a warning bite a little too close to my arm. I pushed my elbow up into her cheek to block the bite. My elbow hit the metal square on her halter, and I think it ended up hurting me more than her.

I free-longed her in the round pen with the saddle on and no rope. She's an awesome horse when it comes to following verbal cues like "walk", "trot" or a tongue-cluck and "canter" or a kiss sound. She responds instantly and does not change her speed until you give her another cue. Whoever trained her when she was young did a really good job.

All was well until something spooked her and she took off at top speed, running around totally out of control, tail and neck arched, nostrils flared, blowing warning snorts to the herd. She wasn't looking in the direction she was running and nearly trampled me a couple of times. I bailed out of the round pen and waited for her to settle down. This is the one part of horse behavior that I dread. Horses can completely loose their minds when they are scared, and you as the leader and trainer become invisible. You have to figure out how to bring the horse back to you in the here and now. A friend of mine once saw Bombay go insane in a sudden hail storm, and he said that he could see by the horse's eyes that his mind was vacant. He just became this thousand-pound locomotive pumping adrenaline to escape these predators that were jumping on him from the sky. There was no thought behind his behavior. He was just a train following the tracks of his prey instinct.

After a couple of minutes of running from nothing, Lostine regained her senses and we continued our work. Just when I was about to put her bridle on, she whipped around and fired off a warning bite at me again. I sent her off to run some more, ordering more frequent changes in direction. She turned away from me into the railing and somehow managed to take a large chunk of fur off her forehead in one bump.

I wanted to clean her wound and put some soothing medication on it, because she was obviously in pain, shaking her head repeatedly. I made the decision not to ride since the whole thing seemed to be stressing her out. Once I got her untacked, cleaned up, and medicated, she seemed content.

I put all three horses in the same paddock, and they played together, occasionally challenging for a higher ranking. The pecking order has always been me at the top, then Lostine, then Gabbrielle, then Bombay; however Bombay challenges Gabbrielle, Gabbrielle challenges Lostine, and Lostine challenges me whenever I put us all together after winter weather kept everyone separated for some period of time. I always win, but feel a bit frustrated that I have to be so tough on Lostine in order for her to re-accept me as her leader each spring. I have to first see signs that she's respecting me from the ground before I will ride her. Then I have to be tough with her from the saddle before we can start having those wonderful sunny Sunday rides together. She is smooth as butter at all paces, and feels like a rocking horse when she canters. Despite all of our power struggles, we always end up being best buddies throughout the rest of the year.

Right now Lostine feels the need to convince me that she's a broodmare who should be out to pasture warming a bun in her oven, because that was her job at her last home. She foaled and raised four beautiful fillies, but now she is retired from the job and I need her to be my partner in riding. She tells me she hates being ridden, so it's my job to help her enjoy it. I have to find the balance between being strong enough to hold my position in the pecking order and being kind enough to help her change her attitude about having me commandeer all decisions from the saddle. I know it can be done, because I do it every year, but I keep hoping that one of these years she will just remember where we left off and be the same horse I knew before the snow fell.

11 comments:

Rising Rainbow said...

Sounds like you had a busy Sunday.

Mrs Mom said...

I know that look well- its like a flashing sign gets turned on and says "Vacancy"...

Stay safe out there...

Callie said...

Sounds like a rewarding Sunday. Can't wait for the warm days to come here!

Twinville said...

Glad you had such a beautiful quiet day to work with your horses.

Sorry about the challenges, though. I found your post interesting and helpful at the same time, though.

I'm looking forward to catching up with some past posts I've missed.

Callie said...

I've just passed on a blogger award to you, come on over and pick it up!

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Very interesting post! I'm new to your blog, having found you through the recommendation of twinville over at Laughing Orca Ranch. I've worked with animals all my life but am living on property for the first and hoping to build a wonderful animal family around me shortly. You sound like you have an incredible way with horses - I'm very impressed.
-danni

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Hi, Danni. Thanks for leaving a comment. I'm still learning and making a lot of mistakes with horses, which is the main reason why I started this blog. I wanted to share my experiences and get some give and take going on how to solve horse problems. Once the weather takes a permanent turn and allows me to ride more, you'll see more of these types of posts.

Strawberry Lane said...

Sounds like a perfect Sunday ... everyone gone.

I've always said I belong to the Church of the Happy Trails.

Beautiful photo!

Jenna Blumer said...

I'm in the process of reading your blog start-to-finish (just weird like that) and I had to comment here. My half-Arabian is herd bound and if his marefriend is out of sight he loses his mind. It is definitely one of the worst feelings when you realize that your horse isn't even there.Thankfully it is something that we can work through and prevent from happening in the future.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jenna - You want to read THE WHOLE BLOG? Please let me know if you succeed. I'm one of the most proliferate horse bloggers, and you've got another 8 years of posts to go. I fear that I might pollute your mind.

The herd-bound issues are still there for me, but the reactions are more manageable. There's no longer a bunch of screaming and running around. Now it's more like quiet refusals to leave the barn or their buddies, in which case you have to train them to think that they have to work harder around their buddies, and can relax once away from them. Training a horse is really something you do constantly throughout the horse's lifetime, and personally, I don't think horses live long enough to work through all of their issues.

Jenna Blumer said...

I enjoy reading blogs, even those that span several years, because there is so much to learn. It also helps me to look at my own horse in a very long-term way.

I agree that we can never truly train the horse out of horses, and why would we want to? Horses are spooky and herd bound for a reason, that is how they instinctively survive. Thankfully we can teach them to respond in less dangerous ways. Sometimes I think if Gambler didn't have so many issues, I would find him boring. :P