Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gabbrielle's First Big Spook Under Saddle

After a seemingly endless series of seven-day work weeks, I was finally able to get back to training Gabbrielle under saddle. There have been so many interruptions in her training that I have to keep starting from square one. In these hundred-degree temperatures, I find that I don't have the patience nor stamina to do all the work I should be doing with my horse.

I had plans to take a couple of horses to the Fairgrounds Sunday morning, but when I walked out to the truck, I found it completely covered in dust. I couldn't even see through the windshield, so I had to wash it. By the time was was done washing the truck I was too exhausted to work with the horses. I went back inside the house and sat under a ceiling fan for half an hour to get my body temperature back down.

I decided to ride Gabbrielle in the round pen before the temperature rose even higher. I didn't want to waste precious time getting her into the trailer, driving to the Fairgrounds, getting her out of the trailer, getting her used to being off the property... By the time all of that would have been accomplished, we both would have been dead from heat stroke.

I lunged her a little bit just to make sure she remembered the forward and stop cues, then mounted her. Just as I suspected, she forgot the forward cue from the saddle and started backing up. I had to tap her fairly hard on the rump with my riding crop to move her forward. She kept lurching forward, then stopping, lurching forward, then stopping. I had to kick her in the rhythm of a walk to keep her moving. I don't like doing that, because I don't want her to learn to ignore my leg cues because I am giving them all the time. I prefer to only use cues until I get the response I want, and then release. However, in this case, as soon as I released, she stopped. I had to keep kicking her to keep her walking.

At one point she completely locked up on me. She stood stock still with her back humped up, completely ignoring my kicks, clucks, and taps with the whip. I tried turning her head to the side to get her off balance, and could not budge her head. "This is bad," I thought.

I knew something very wrong was going on, but was baffled by Gabbrielle's behavior. I couldn't read her. She had her back humped up. Was she going to launch me? She's normally so easygoing, and bucking isn't in her character. Did she need to pee? Did she hurt herself? She wasn't behaving like she was on alert or scared. Then it happened.

She bolted. She launched into this weird gait halfway between a trot and a canter. I pulled back on the reins saying, "Whoa" and of course, it had no effect. Something had scared her and I was having trouble bringing her back to me. I started pumping the reins instead of doing a steady pull, and she stopped. I looked over to see my husband standing in the backyard. Apparently, he had walked outside and was making noises that I couldn't hear, but Gabbrielle could.

My husband worried about me after seeing me nearly get into a wreck, so he came and sat in the middle of the round pen while I finished my ride. Even though Gabbrielle really didn't get further than half a rotation around the pen in her spook, I was shook up. The whole experience was reminiscent of the time I rode Bombay when he was only a few days under saddle, and he took off on his own accord. Only in his case he reacted to having the bit pulled in his mouth by launching into a bucking frenzy. After several minutes of bucking with no end in sight, I tried my own attempt at a dismount and broke my arm. Thank God Gabbrielle has a more level head on her shoulders.

I did my deep breathing exercises to calm my nerves. Gabbrielle was on alert now, feeling my nerves buzzing and wondering what is going on that is so scary. Horses never seem to make the connection that their action was the cause of their human's tension. They are always looking around for something outside of your partnership that is threatening.

Once I settled down and she was moving forward at a consistent walk, I decided to ask for the trot. I preferred that her first experiences with a rider in the saddle at the trot be controlled and relaxed rather than a spook. I kicked and clucked and tapped, and she walked faster and faster, but wouldn't move up into the trot. She'd get close to a trot on the downhill slope, so I decided to only put the pressure on as we were approaching the slope, and release the second she sped up, even if she was just speeding up her walk, then give her praise so that she would know that it is okay to go faster.

Because I had used so much force to stop her when she ran away, she now worried that going fast was bad. She didn't want me pulling on that bit again. I finally got her to trot a couple of strides and then she came to a stop before I gave her any indication that I wanted her to stop. She just knew that when she went fast before, I stopped her, so she was anticipating the request for a stop. I praised her for the trot, then dismounted before the heat killed us. I wanted to end on a good note where we had a breakthrough. When the weather is cooler, we can try the trot again and I'll work on keeping her going.

It feels so strange to have to use my heels and riding crop so much with Gabbrielle. Lostine responds to voice cues, so I don't have to use my legs on her at all for gait change cues. Bombay needs the leg cues, but rarely does he need a tap from the riding crop on top of it. Gabbrielle is such a sweet mare that I feel guilty having to put any pressure on her at all.

After our ride, I gave her a drink, then walked her over to the trailer to see how much she remembered of her trailer training. She not only remembered everything, but she did a new trick of backing herself out voluntarily with no pressure from me. She went right in, waited a few seconds, then backed herself right out. That was without me in the trailer. I then had to work on getting her to get in and out of the trailer while I was inside. That took a bit more time and patience. I think she worried about squashing me, so I had to tempt her in with some treats, however, she eventually got so satiated by peppermints that she lost interest. I got one more loading effort out of her and ended the lesson to give both of us some rest.

By the time we were done, I had sweat pouring down my face, raindrops literally falling out of my helmet onto my boots as if there were a thunderstorm under there. When I removed my helmet, my hair was so wet that I could shake my head and water sprayed everywhere like a wet dog that just got out of a pool. Amazingly, Gabbrielle didn't sweat at all.

During the winter months we are usually in a weather pattern where it's clear all week and then rains or snows on the weekend. During the summer months, we have decent temperatures during the week, and then the thermometer skyrockets over the weekend. I wish we lived in a society that planned its work week around good weather, allowing employees to have the nice days off. Either that, or I wish Mother Nature wouldn't be so cruel.


fernvalley01 said...

"Horses never seem to make the connection that their action was the cause of their human's tension. They are always looking around for something outside of your partnership that is threatening."
Well put, and so true , I tried explaining that when you are nervous the horse is looking for the monster on your back , he/she has no concept thet they, in fact are the "monster"

Katharine Swan said...

Panama is like Lostine, and responds to voice cues, so I try to keep my heels off of him. He never had any problems with a go cue, so I'm really bewildered by Gabbrielle. But then Kate's post about the Mark Rashid clinic suggested that imprinted horses have a harder time with a go cue. Was Gabbrielle imprinted?

Good for you for keeping your head and getting her slowed down. The first time Panama spooked and bolted with me on his back, I fell off. :o) I find that Panama always interprets things as scarier if he is tied or being ridden, probably because he feels he has less control over the situation.

Mary Olson said...

I concur with your idea of arranging work days and/or hours around the weather.

It sounds like you really stuck with it and worked through the training that was required, making adjustment as needed. Shows a lot of patience. I hope you can get another ride soon. I've been done the start and stop training rode myself and it gets to be very frustrating.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Katharine - I don't know if Gabbrielle was imprinted. I suspect she was, because I could tell that the breeder had spent a lot of time working with her. As a yearling she held still for grooming, respected the word "Whoa", was curious and very friendly.

AareneX said...

NuzMuz: I am a heat-wimp too! Temps above 80 degrees here in the Swamplands (where we get major humidity when it gets hot!!!) have me scuttling for the shade.

HOWEVER, sometimes I can't hide. Then, I usually end up doing whatever task can't be avoiding and b*tching about it...until somebody slapped a hydration vest on me two years ago.


You can buy the expensive vests marketed to equestrians:

or take the cheaper route for a similar vest marketed to stingy motorcyclists and construction workers:

Since Gabbrielle wasn't too flattened by the heat, maybe it would help you?

The cheap vests aren't as pretty as the equestrian vests, but dang. Feeling cooler feels so good.

Hoping this helps!


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Whoooeee! I;m just glad that you're ok and that nothing terrible happened to either you or Gabbrielle.
But good for you being able to stay on, know how to handle Gabbrielle while making sure to end the training on a positive note.

Goodness. It must be triple digits where you are. I tell ya, maybe you want to consider coming here during the summer. We rarely ever get above the mid 90's and even then we have nice breezes up here.

Stay cool and well hydrated. We don't want you to suffer from heatstroke.


HorseOfCourse said...

To me it sounds as if she doesn't quite understand what you want, NM.
Can you get help from someone that can longe her while you are riding for some sessions? So she might get the connection between leg=forward a bit more clear in her head?
Being a mare might also play a role here. Many mares have a natural tendency to stop up if you squeeze with the legs. With her being so green it might play a role.

Leah Fry said...

I wish a I had a nickel for every time I've tried to comfort Poco with the words, "Did you scare yourself? You scared me too!"

Callie said...

You're braver than me, that's a for sure. Makes me grateful to have my middle aged easy riders. LOL! And I agree on the weather bit for sure!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

AareneX - Thanks for the tip. I'll look into them.

Lisa - I'm still considering New Mexico as a place to move. Climate is everything when you own horses.

HorseOfCourse - No one in my family works with the horses, so I would have to train them on how to lunge. I taught my kids a long time ago, but they don't remember anything. I'd ask my equitation instructor to do it, but really don't want him putting the fear of God into my little girl. She's perfect the way she is, and I don't want anyone ruining her. He's one of these, "Whip 'em, beat 'em until they respond" kind of trainers.

Lulu said...

Generally, when trotting a youngster for the first few times, I only get a few strides at a time. Keep at it and she will start to remain at the trot for longer and longer. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes you 3 or 4 rides to get her to trot all the way around the pen.... To me it sounds like she is doing great!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

I'm with Lulu. The stop and go is very common with green horses. It sounds like Gabrielle is doing pretty darn well for just the few inconsistent rides she has on her. Cadence comes with time and consistent riding. Muscles and mind need lots of time to get in shape to walk out like a "big horse". And as with everything, you'll find that greenies have good days and bad days. They will try to test you to see if you really mean what you are asking for with your cues-they don't even have to be confused. Doesn't mean you have to get mean, just that you will have to be firm and concise with your commands.

When I first started riding young horses, I was very careful about how much I bumped them with my legs. I wanted my cues to be specific. However, a very good trainer told me to just relax and let my legs bump along with them. It will not deaden their sides to cues, if you are just bumping along in rythmn with their movements. Rather it seems to lay the foundation for them to start feeling for cues. I don't use voice commands-so training that way could be different. But it doesn't take long for my horses to associate a squeeze of the leg with a miniscule lift of the butt and a click(for walk), two clicks(for trot) an a mooch(for canter). I ask and then back it up with leg-however much leg that takes to get them moving. Start light, work up to however much bumping or kicking it takes to make the motion happen and quit when it does. It's not about making the horse move to avoid the pressure, although it feels like that is what you are doing to them at first, but rather to hunt the release, as in, when they do right the bumping/kicking stops.

Shirley said...

My mare Gussie was one of those that didn't want to go forward; she did a lot of backing up to evade work. I rode her in an outdoor arena, and kept her going- some times I'd have to tap her but with the reins, and I had to do a lot of "pumping " with my legs, but she finally got the idea.
As far as the runaway spook goes, one of the safest things you can learn is "doubling". Basically what you do is run one hand down the rein and bring the horse's head around while keeping the other rein slack. This keeps them from bracing on the bit like they do when you put double pressure- from both reins- on them. Not a good idea with a green horse. Then you kick the hind end out of gear, by pushing their hip over with the leg on the same side as the rein you are using. It is important not to lean forward when you do this; sit up straight, or you'll end up on their neck if they stop and turn.Practice this move at a walk until you're comfortable with it, then at a trot, then at a lope. It takes away the forward momentum and engages their mind, while keeping you in the saddle and safe. I'll see if I can get my husband to do a video of me demonstrating it.

Andrea said...

My goodness!! This is why I have no desire to ever start another horse, ever. I am just lost in the guts department. You are a brave woman. Every colt has a "freak out" moment and I prefer not to be on them when it happens. I like it when my husband rides them up and down the road and gets them used to stuff before I get on!! :) I am a scardy cat. I am glad you were okay. And it seems like you've got it all under control!! Keep up your good work!! It will all pay off in no time!