Sunday, June 13, 2010

I Rode Out My First Rear

I'm still having problems with Gabbrielle's steering. Her steering is perfect when I ground drive her, but once I get in the saddle and try to use the reins, a tug of war pursues. I'd be happy to just work on the gas and brakes at the moment except that Gabbrielle has this bad habit of wandering over to the step stool I use to mount and stopping next to it to tell me to get off. When I try to move her away from the step stool, she moves closer and closer until it is under her belly.

Some days I dismount and pull the stool out from under her belly, and remount. Other days I get someone to remove the step stool from the round pen once I mount. On this day I was lazy and didn't want to go into the house to get someone to remove the step stool. I figured I would just be more aggressive in keeping her away from it. However, without steering, that's easier said than done.

I kept trying to push her to the outside of the round pen, and she just kept making this tight turn around the step stool in the center of the round pen. For her first few lessons under saddle, it seemed all she could do was back up. She backed up to leg pressure and she backed up to rein pressure. I spent a lot of time trying to break her habit of backing up in order to get her to move forward. So, when she walked straight up to the step stool and had it up against her chest, I thought no problem. I'll just ask her to back up. She knows how to do that.

I sat deep, pulled back on the reins and alternated squeezing each leg while giving the verbal "BACK" command. What did Gabbrielle do? She walked FORWARD right into the metal step stool knocking it over.

She is always walking up to the step stool and knocking it over for fun, so I figured it wouldn't phase her, but no, she reared... with me on her back... twice. I immediately lost my right stirrup as the saddle and I started sliding down her left side as she twisted in the air on her hind legs.

She was fighting the bit again, so I let the reins slide through my fingers, and she instantly settled down. I readjusted the fender, which was bent back and twisted underneath my thigh, placed my foot back into the stirrup and rocked the saddle level. I stroked her neck and let her rest, then clucked to walk again.

Amazingly, she made a beeline for the railing and walked at a decent clip all the way around the outside of the round pen with one ear cocked toward that now suddenly scary step stool. Ironically, that accident was just what I needed to get her to move forward along the railing. I gave her a ton of praise and pets, happy that she was now scared of that step stool.

Once I dismounted I realized that my joy may be premature. How would I mount her if she's afraid of the step stool? Time for desensitization. I walked up to her repeatedly and threw the step stool on the ground, making a metal crash. She continually shied away. I kept it up until she just stood there and let me throw it to the ground all around her.

I actually impressed myself with how I handled her freak out. The first few times I mounted Gabbrielle, my legs were shaking uncontrollably. I didn't know what to expect from her and she didn't know what to expect from me, so we were both nervous. Now I feel more confident on her, because I realize that she will always stop when I ask her to stop and she spooks a heck of a lot less than the other horses. Overall, she's a quiet, easygoing horse who is willing to please.

Because I now understand what makes Gabbrielle tick, I was more concerned about helping her relax than I was about falling off. I stayed calm and let my mind go into problem solving mode while I tried my best to keep my balance. I knew the first thing I had to do was to loosen the reins, so that I didn't pull her over backwards onto me. Then if she bolted, all I needed to do was say "WHOA" and she would stop. Fortunately, she didn't bolt. I expected to be shaking after the incident, but it seemed my usually high-strung nervous system was on vacation. I remained relaxed throughout the incident and afterward. Gabbrielle relaxed pretty quickly too, which made me glad because the last thing I need is a traumatized horse.

The irony is that all this time I've been preparing myself for a bucking fit. I figured that if a green horse got frustrated, she'd try to get me off her back by bucking. I have plenty of experience riding out bucks, because that's all Lostine did for the first several years that I owned her. Fortunately, she was always too fat to buck very high. I've never been on a horse that reared before, but I knew enough to shift my weight forward and loosen the reins. You're supposed to stand in the stirrups and lean on the horse's neck when it rears, but I couldn't do that having lost a stirrup, so I pushed up and leaned forward using my knees. Hopefully, rearing won't be Gabbrielle's reaction of choice each time something frightens her.


Katharine Swan said...

My first thought when I read that title was, "You go girl!" After reading the full post, I think you need a few more of those. :o) Good for you for working through it, AND staying on her back! Like I said, it's always a win if you stay on the horse's back... Hopefully she learned that rearing doesn't get you off, and won't try it again.

Rearing probably scares me the most of anything. Back when he was scared of the indoor arena, he would sometimes threaten to rear by popping up in the front end, but he never actually tried it, and he did get into trouble (a growled "QUIT" and little circles) for threatening to. I tend to associate pulling on the reins with stopping a little too much sometimes, so I'm afraid I'd keep pulling and we'd go over backwards if he ever reared.

fernvalley01 said...

SOunds like you handled it well.And if she taught herself a lesson about the step stool in the proccess!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Scary! Let's hope this is a one time occurrence. Maybe it will change her mind about stopping at or on the stool though so hopefully all good things come out of it. Horses are always full of surprises aren't they?

Breathe said...

Holy cow. You get the blogger horsewoman belt buckle this week, girlfriend!!!!

How fantastic that you were able to remain calm and in a great mental space.

Congratulations - and LOL on the adversity spurring solution. Isn't that always how it is?

Stephanie said...

Way to ride through it and keep the nerves from taking over!

Now if you can figure out how to reproduce the forward movement sans the rearing action!

I have only had one horse that I used to ride that like to be naughty and rear. The solution was exactly loosen the reins, grab some mane and a good smack with the crop behind the leg to move forward. They can't really rear and move forward at the same time! (although it did take a little nerve gathering to loosen the reins and smack the crop when the horse was misbehaving, it did work though :)

Hope Bombay's injury is healing well.

Lulu said...

I've had a couple of horses rear over on me, and it is NOT fun! Luckily I saw it coming each time, and was able to avoid being pinned by the saddle.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Whew! I'm so glad you weren't hurt!

You're so brave!