Thursday, September 18, 2008

Watchin' the Sun Go Down With My Dude

As soon as I could break away from my computer for the night, I ran outside and tacked up Bombay. Since I started riding on my neighbor's 8 acres, my little 1.3 acres seems like such a claustrophobic place. I hurried my dude up the road to my neighbor's place, ready for a great ride since my last equitation lesson was fresh on my mind. I reached for the gate and was struck by the silence. I looked around to find that all the horses had been put in their stalls, the garage door was closed, and no one seemed to be home.

Usually, someone is around on her property. She has a lot of friends and relatives who visit her. Most nights her granddaughters are out riding in the evenings. However, on this night everything was so still. A sudden sense of fear overtook me. I forgot to wear my gloves. I forgot my cell phone. Images of all kinds of disasters flashed through my mind, and I had no cell phone. I contemplated turning back to get my gloves and cell phone, but forced myself onward. I had to be confident that I could handle riding in a semi-deserted space.

Of course, my husband and son were right across the street, but my husband often falls asleep in his recliner in the evenings while my son gets immersed in his computer programs and television shows. Someone would have to be outside to hear me calling for help. I decided I just had to have faith that nothing would happen.

I did the routine that my instructor usually does with me: Walk, jog, posting trot, then lope, switch directions and do the same thing. Bombay started showing signs that he was going to spook over the same dumb chairs that he always spooks over, so I spanked him with my riding crop. He understood that I wanted him to forget about his apprehension regarding the chairs.

Things were going really well. He jogged so gently and slowly that we weren't covering much ground. I've always heard about horses that can jog in place (especially some Dressage and Western Pleasure horses), and Bombay was there. His trot was smooth and controlled. His lope was relaxing.

Then we changed directions and when we came around the bend where the sun was directly behind us, Bombay was either startled by his own shadow being in front of him, or by the shadow of the swinging reins because they looked like snakes. He reared up -- something he has never done when I was on his back, but it made sense. If a horse feels like he is under attack from the front, he has to rear up, move backwards, or spin and run. I loosened the reins so as not to pull him up and back further, and he dropped back down. I then corrected him with the riding crop on his belly. He didn't make that mistake again.

Obviously, I understand how my horse could be struck by a sudden fear and react to it, because that is exactly what I was doing when I stopped at the gate and considered turning back to get my gloves and cell phone. I was halting and rearing up in my own way. The only difference is that I didn't have the potential to hurt anyone in the process. We have to expect horses to control their fears, because the other option isn't pretty.

On another note, I'm about ready to strangle Blogger. First, we've had this bizarre bug in which the number of Comments is not being cleared from our Dashboard once we publish them. So, you think you have Comments when there is nothing there. Then my hand accidentally spazed out and hit some key on the keyboard. The result was that my post got published before I had even started it. I think I had one word in the title and that was it. Then I went to do something else, and my picture got deleted in the process. This problem with inadvertently deleting my pictures has been persistent, so I need to remember to copy and paste the HTML for my pictures into Notepad before I start typing. I also keep losing my own comments. I respond to people's comments, but when I push the button to save, my comment gets lost in a blank white screen. So, I have to get into the habit of writing comments in Notepad, and pasting them into the comment window. That way if the server crashes, I still have a copy of my comment. It's like riding a horse. I have to anticipate that something stupid will happen and head it off at the pass.


Mrs Mom said...

Look at how fuzzy Bombay is getting to be!! It has got to feel great to ride in the evenings there NM!!

Good for you to go on and ride. I am so happy for you that you are gaining so much confidence and covering so much ground! It is really paying off for you and your horses, and I truly hope you see all the progress you four have made this summer. Way to go!

Jenn said...

I can handle bucking horses and spooky horses, even horses that bolt on occasion, but rearing really scares me. I've had one horse go over backwards on me and it was horrifying. I'm so glad Bombay got over his silly self and no one got hurt!

You're absolutely right about horses and fear. We can't expect them to not ever be scared, but we can absolutely expect them to react in a safe way. A looky, snorty, jigging horse is okay if that's the way they deal with their fear. One that bolts or rears or reacts violently and completely ignores the rider/handler is not. They can be taught how to react safely, and you're on the road to safer fear reactions with the work you've been doing with him.

Good luck!

ranchette said...

Good for you for getting out and riding even without anyone else around. Sounds like despite Bombay's case of "shadow snakes" that you guys did well together and that you're getting more confident together. Your confidence will rub off on him!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Mrs. Mom - It's not that cold. That picture was from last winter. I got so pissed at losing my other photo to Blogger and my spastic fingers, and I couldn't find it on my computer again, so I just uploaded an old one. I do that a lot. I've been way too busy these days to carry a camera around with me, and now that my son is in school, I've lost my photographer.

Jenn - Yeah, I'm not willing to deal with rearing. Fortunately, this was a very small rear. I think he forgot I was on his back, then came down quickly because he remembered. My instructor would say that is my fault, because I have to constantly be doing something with my legs or hands to keep the horse conscious of me.

LJB said...

You wrote: "Obviously, I understand how my horse could be struck by a sudden fear and react to it, because that is exactly what I was doing when I stopped at the gate and considered turning back to get my gloves and cell phone. I was halting and rearing up in my own way."

So, I'm wondering... how would you feel about your closest friend "spanking" you when you were worried at the gate? Would you it help you feel good about the situation? Good about your friendship?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

ljb - If I were panicked, I'd appreciate my best friend getting my attention on her and off whatever is scaring me, so that she can reason with me. What would you suggest? I was adamant against using a riding crop as a form of correction at first too, but like I said in a comment, I'm not using the riding crop any harder than a horse would hit itself with its own tail when swatting flies away, and it is an effective way to get the horse's attention back onto my cues.

Perhaps my writing is too forceful when I use the term "spanking". When Lostine ran sideways, we were stuck between two fences and it would have been difficult to turn her in a circle without running into a fence, plus I suspect she would have ignored my rein cues and continued running sideways anyway. I kicked her harder than I whipped her, and no one is complaining about the kicking. Kicking seems to be perfectly acceptable when riding horses. In truth, I don't kick or whip any of my horses unless I'm in trouble. I use mostly voice cues, hand cues and gentle leg cues. I would never use spurs, yet everyone I know around here uses them. It's a whole different horsemanship culture.

My other point was that when I felt fear, I couldn't hurt anyone by my reaction, but a horse can hurt someone when it loses its mind to fear. It's important to get it back and focused on the rider. My instructor has me do that using the riding crop. I had one suggestion of turning the horse in small circles. What other suggestions are there?

Jenn said...

I've never owned a horse I had to use a crop on, but I've always had extremely sensitive horses that respond very well to voice commands. I've been in situations where I needed their attention FAST and NOW! and learned that sharply giving a loud "whoa" or a low, calm "Easy" command, or just making any kind of attention getting sound, gets them back on track pretty quick. I've been known to growl at them when they are being naughty or not focusing and most do respond. Sometimes a quick smack on the neck with my hand works, too.

However, I also have friends who won't ride some of their horses without a crop or without spurs. It really does depend on the horse. the rider and the situation. I don't need one, some people do. I truly don't think you are "spanking" any of your horses hard enough to hurt them or even destroy their trust in you. Their buddies bite them harder than a thinking horseperson would ever discipline with a crop.

Circling is a good suggestion, and voice commands, sharp, loud voice commands, might also help to get their attention back on you quickly. A quick smack on the neck with your hand might work, too.

LJB said...

I think I was wanting to make a point about doing something forceful (and certainly when you said "spank" I assumed you meant "spank") to punish or correct a horse. I've come to believe what I've been told -- that any punishment or correction is already too late, and meaningless to the horse.

You ask what I might do? Spend a lot of time in a quiet predictable setting developing whatever is needed in communication between me and my horse so that I am confident that my horse will do what I ask assuming he/she is not terrified by something.

Our horses need us to be clear and understandable and present and directing them, moment after moment after moment. Quite a responsibility!

If something unusual happens and my horse acts in fear, I accept that, and do my best to stay out of harm's way. It is horse nature to freeze, assess, and flee, and sometimes just flee without any thought to stop and assess first.

I am at risk of course around horses. I know that before I ever halter a horse or mount a horse. In the past when I have not managed my own fear, I have reacted by hurting the horse that scared me. Common, yes. But necessary? No. Helpful? No. And certainly if I am scared when my horse gets scared, I cannot offer the support and direction my horse needs from me at the time. I want my horses to think I am someone worth looking to when something scary arises. They did not look to me for guidance when I used to get scared when they got scared.

Circling is a fine thing to do when a horse is frightened. But then circling should be something you do regularly when the horse is calm, so it becomes something the horse thinks of as familiar and comforting to do with you when you ask. Not just 'I have to do this now because she is making me circle'. Does that make sense? The familiar pattern can be anything you choose, but it will only become a familiar pattern by doing it many times in many situations. Like cleaning a hoof during the grooming process.

The other day I was loading a horse who was uncomfortable with staying in the trailer. One of the things I did was pick up her feet while in the trailer (it was a fairly open stock trailer). She understands having her feet picked up and feels fine about that. Tapping into that familiar routine activity there in the trailer broke up some of her habitual worry about being in the trailer. It was interesting.

Anyway, perhaps all I can really suggest is that you match your words with what you actually mean. Because as a reader, and even if I knew you personally, I would be listening to what you say and assuming your words reflected exactly what you wanted to express. It's a starting point, the only one I have to go on. *g*

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jenn - "Easy" is a good one because you can draw it out in a calming tone like "eeeeeeeeeeeassssssy".

ljb - I really like the concept of having a familiar activity done within the horse's comfort zone, and then cuing for that activity once you are in situation that is perceived to be scary by the horse.