Sunday, August 28, 2011

Test Drive After Training

I know, it seems ridiculous that it took me two weeks to get around to riding Gabbrielle after bringing her home from two months of professional training, but I've been having health problems and neighbor problems and have just been plain busy.  I prepared to ride her Sunday morning, trying my best to ignore the neighbor who is still putting a new roof on his house two weeks later.  If he hired a professional roofing crew, they would have been done in two days, but this guy has to inconvenience his neighbors by doing it all by himself, and he'll probably take the rest of the summer and fall to do it.

Anyway, I had asked my husband to come out in 15 or 20 minutes to removed the step stool from the round pen after I mount.  I didn't want anymore rearing incidents.  However, 20 minutes later when he came out, I was still trying to get the cinch attached.  When Gabbrielle left for training, she would pin her ears back when I tightened the cinch, but she was never aggressive toward me.  This time she was pulling back on her lead rope, trying to slam me into the side of the trailer, and just completely overreacting as soon as I'd reach for the cinch.  I was pretty angry.  When you send your horse off for training, she should come back better behaved -- not worse.

So, I brought out my clicker training kit and worked on cinching her up in very small stages, clicking and giving her a treat each time she held still and kept her ears forward.  She cooperated then, with the exception of bloating her belly.  So, I told my husband to come out in another ten minutes, because I would need to lunge her to get the bloat out of her belly.

I remember the trainer telling me two things:  1.)  She gets irritable when you cinch her up, so do it a little bit at a time, and  2.)  Don't bother lunging her.  Just hop right on.  The part about skipping the lunging phase goes against what all of my other trainers and equitation instructors taught me.

What does that tell me?  The trainer was probably in a hurry, training too many horses, and cinching her up too fast and too tight, thus creating a monster.  I always lunge my horses to get the bloat out, so I can cinch them up a little at a time before mounting.  I noticed that when I stood on the stool to mount, she'd throw her head up into the air as if bracing herself for something terrible.  It was obvious that she felt uncomfortable having people ride her.

She did hold still for the mount, so I gave her points there.  She also had no problem with forward movement, which was one of the things I asked the trainer to work on.  Before I sent Gabbrielle off for training, she often wouldn't respond or would move backward when I asked her to walk forward.  After training she moved forward immediately and kept a consistent pace.

I worked on steering her in figure 8's, and though she tripped and stumbled, she was responsive -- just not graceful.  I wanted to try out her beautiful floating trot while my husband was still around.   At first I forgot to post, and she interpreted my butt coming down on the saddle as meaning for her to stop.  So, I tried again, but while posting.  It was awkward.  My husband said she wasn't moving fast enough.  Then she tripped and fell down on one knee and I got thrown up onto her neck.  I really didn't need that.  She didn't need it either.  We needed to build up confidence together -- not break it down.

I tried trotting a third time, making sure I had her head set and was ready to post with her rhythm, and she trotted beautifully around the pen.  My husband said she looked like one of those professional dressage horses you see on TV.  So far so good.

Then I said, "Whoa," sat back and pulled a little on the reins.

I remember the trainer telling me I'll never have trouble with her running off on me, because her reaction when she's confused is to stop and back up.  However, for some reason she reacted to my commands by going faster.  I repeated the same series of halt commands, and she started trotting super fast and going willy nilly all over the place.  She was banging my foot and knee into the round pen panels, and jerking sideways.  I couldn't get a posting rhythm, so my butt was slapping around in the saddle, then my boot flew out of the stirrup when she ran sideways.

I was trying to hold on with my thighs and knees without putting any lower leg on her and could tell that she was about to break into a canter.  I really did not want that to happen, considering how tight my round pen is and how many times my horse tripped during both ground work and our ride.  A stumble at that speed would be disastrous.  I yelled out to my husband, "Heeeeeelp meeeeeeeee!"

He grabbed the lead rope and by the time he got to me, Gabbrielle had stopped and was backing up with her back hunched up like she was ready to throw me.  I let loose of everything.  I loosened the reins, I took my legs completely off her, I let my pelvis become jello, and she stopped.  My husband hooked her up and led her to a place where I could dismount, since she had backed us into a corner.  I was just too shaken up to continue riding.  I think I've only ridden Lostine twice and Bombay once all summer, so I'm seriously out of practice, and Gabbrielle is still very green and used to the riding style of her trainer.

My husband said, "Why did you stop?  That was awesome.  There was some real riding going on there."

I got the feeling that he would have enjoyed a full-on bronc show with me being face-planted in the dirt as the grand finale.  He's worse than the nosy neighbors.

I'm thankful that she and I didn't get injured.  I've been purposefully avoiding riding this spring and summer because there were too many people depending on me to take care of things, which I can't do if I'm laid up with broken bones.  I decided to take a chance, because even though my mother's estate still isn't settled, I should be done having to make long trips to her house.

However, I was so close to coming out of that saddle that I don't know if I should take anymore chances this year.  I'm not only riding a green horse while I'm out of practice, but I'm competing with biting flies and neighbors doing construction.  And we don't have real health insurance, nor the cash to pay should I need to go to the hospital.  It's one thing if I get injured doing something mundane and harmless like stepping off a curb, but you know you are doing something risky when you ride a horse.

So, folks, I'm afraid that until my mother's estate gets settled, and either I have a job or we have some money or some health insurance, I won't be doing much riding this year.  What I really want to do is send Gabbrielle off to a different trainer who can make her safe.  This last trainer did a great job making her look gorgeous and in control, but it's all an illusion.  I need a horse that will whoa when I say whoa.  Gabbrielle had whoa down pat before I sent her off for training, but I suspect that this trainer spent so much time on forward movement that she might have inadvertently taught my horse that every cue means "go forward faster."

Her argument is that without forward movement you have nothing.  My argument is that without the halt, you could lose everything including your life. Somehow I'll have to retrain Gabbrielle so that she understands that both forward movement and whoa are good things that don't contradict each other, and neither is negotiable.  

I told Gabbrielle that if she were a car I was taking for a test drive, I wouldn't buy her because her brakes are faulty. She didn't seem to care. She just kept digging around in my pockets with her muzzle in search of a treat.


Breathe said...

She did stop when you went all jello, though. Is that a good thing?

I see so many horses come through with our trainer and it terrifies me to think of them going home after 30 - 60 days. The horses really aren't ready for their fairly inexperienced owners - of course, you're much more experienced than most of the folks I see send their horses in.

I wonder if it would be worth working on just one thing - stopping at the walk, or something. I think of an article I read that we tend to try to string too many things together with our horses because our time is limited. I've taken this approach, and it takes the pressure off everyone. And weirdly, I'm making some progress. (Now if I could just stop being a Chickensh#$!)

I bet she's got beautiful movement.

Mary said...

Yikes! I think it is a good decision to wait until things are a bit more settled. Very glad you didn't get hurt. Of course it's never a good time. I hope you get Gabriel where you need her to be for you.

fernvalley01 said...

I could throw a bunch of advice at you here, but at the end of the day your safety is paramount , and if you haven't got the timeor a reasonabley safe environment to work with , which as you say right now you don't I think the course of action you have planned is exactly right.How frustrating this must be for you

Fantastyk Voyager said...

It sounds like she's confused and you're unsure- not a good combination. You should talk with the trainer about this- as gently as possible- and ask what her suggestions are. It's too bad she didn't have you riding while she was working with Gabbrielle. Maybe she could have seen what the issues are and guided you through them.

I sure wish I lived nearby so that I could help you out. I have always loved starting the horses under saddle.

Judi said...

Cole is naturally a very forward horse. I used clicker training to install a wonderful whoa on him. We spent a lot of time stopping and getting clicked for it. It only took a few lessons, and now if I say whoa, even at a trot, he instantly stops. I don't even need reins.

I don't click him very often for it, anymore, just now and then so he still thinks he might get a treat.

Clicker made it very clear, in a positive way, just what I wanted.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Ultimately, the trainer didn't have time for me and I didn't have time for lessons, which I'm sure I would have had to pay for on top of the horse training. Every time I tried to set up an appointment with her, she had some important horse show to prepare for or go to. It's the same story with every trainer I've used. Clients who are in it for the ribbons and money get precedence over those who are in it for the fun and the best interests of the horse. Also, I know 60 days of training isn't much, but remember that I was training her, whether it be through ground work or riding during the previous 6 years. I wasn't unsure. When I gave her the cues to whoa, it's the same cues I use all the time with both her and my other horses. I simply expected her to stop.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I'm so glad that you didn't get hurt, but you're right.

Sounds like Gabbrielle's a lemon that needs to be turned into lemonade before you risk life and limb again.


Reddunappy said...

There are some different things you can do. For years I fought learning about Parelli, until I tried it. It works. Just the ground work, the seven games, it will give you a way to play with and get respect from the horses, without riding for now.
Just a suggestion. I find it fun and the horses find it mentally stimulating too.
LOL Just think how confused you can make the nosey neighbors when you start setting out cones or buckets and poles for the horses to go over and around! LOL Hang in there, I now how you feel about the safety part.

Crystal said...

Sounds like the wrong kind of trainer for you and your horse. Even though its hard to find a good one, someone whos only interest is safety of you and the horse, nothing about showing or anything is way more important. But I think you made the right choice with holding off for now, although there is never a perfect time, there is always times that work better for you.

Cut-N-Jump said...

We also cinch slowly. Snug them up, walk them out to lunge them, check the cinch, lunge them before getting on, then check the cinch again before throwing a leg over.

I have heard people say they never lunge the horse, etc. Why not give them the chance to loosen up and relax, get the bucks out if any before you get on and you can check for lameness all at the same time. What does it hurt? Pride? Ego? Yeah, I don't need those as much as my sanity and health.

Wish we were closer and could help out as Fantastyk Voyager said. Maybe some walk & stop, turn & stop, etc. Exercises to get both of your confidence levels up.

Anonymous said...

I'm with cut-n-jump 100% on the slow cinching and longeing.

A lot of trainers train the horses for themselves to ride, not the owner. This gives them a steady stream of revenue as the horse stays in training with them becasue the owner just can't ride them (and small wonder!).

Linda said...

All the things you describe sound like a very confused and agitated horse. I don't feel like any horse should be like that after 60 days of professional training and the first time you got on. The trainer we used to use was a ranch woman and used them on a working ranch...they always came back much better. Would that type of training interest you? I think it makes better trail horses.

sue said...

I know NM that you will get "thousands" of advise, and I am certainly NO expert, but I was wondering if you had ever done any ground driving with her.... I use it for "stop" and forward work, I like the idea that I am "on the ground" and unlike lounging (which I also totally agree with), it gives you some "steering" as well. You dont have to get fancy about it either, just use her riding bridle and a nice set of long lines, a cersingle is helpful, and go... so for whatever that is worth....

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

I wasn't very happy about the training I paid for on my horses either, but they didn't come home with any bad habits at least. I was only mad because the trainer did not get them out of the round pen and riding out in the open.

Sounds like G needs some long, relaxing miles on her (just like mine did/do) and not so much 'fancy' training. I think I have a guy who will take my big bay for me to ride outside. The sorrel I at least will be able to take out myself.

Oh and just for information sake, a lot of times when a horse becomes cinchy/pissy about being cinched up, they have ulcer issues. I understand G is a fine-skinned, sensitive horse, which can often lead to horses being over-reactive to being cinched, but from the way you relayed her increased bad behavior and stiff stance...may not have been because the trainer did something wrong, it may be because G has always had a sensitive tummy and the stresses of training have aggravated it. I feed Moon and Frosty ProCMC, which looks like pepto bismo, and that has helped them quite a bit. Neither are horses I 'thought' had ulcers but they sure have been different since I started them on it. When I start on the big bay, I'll be adding it to his feed as well because he is a nervous sort and I think part of the reason he falls apart when he gets stressed is because his tummy hurts.'s just a thought.

achieve1dream said...

I've read that horses don't actually bloat out their belly or hold their breath (if you watch they are still breathing the whole time), but are actually tensing their chest muscles. Often if you back them up several steps you can tighten the girth then. On some horses you might have to do it twice. It's much easier than having to longe them, although I personally think there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with longeing. :)

Also, was the trainer using your saddle or one of her's? I'm wondering if it didn't fit right which would explain the cinchiness and the raised head while mounting. It sounds like discomfort. Or it could be ulcers like someone else said.

Why is she tripping so much? Are her toes too long? Or are there a lot of rocks? That sucks that she went to one knee and unseated you. I'm glad you were able to work through it and get the nice trot though. She sounds awesome. Posting does take some practice, but it makes the trot a lot nicer to ride when you get good at it. :) If you're gentle on the sitting part of the rising trot it's a lot easier on a young horse's back too.

That's really weird about the halt . . . did you try the exhale? I think Western and Dressage are different in this, but to me leaning back is more of a forward cue because you're driving your seat in. Have you ever noticed that if you tip forward over the withers that a lot of horses will stop? I think it's a balance thing. Of course this could be different for different horses. If the trainer taught her a dressage halt then sitting up straight (you don't have to sit back), exhaling and relaxing your whole seat and legs should work, like you said you did at the end with the jelly legs. Her reaction was really weird though. It may be because she's just that sensitive. It also makes me wonder if your trainer leans back when asking for the canter . . . it was probably a miscommunication that freaked both of you out. It doesn't sound like she was being ugly . . .

It definitely sounds like the trainer has dressage background, because the forward statement is true in regards to dressage training, but if you don't know how to use the cues it's completely useless, so if you can't have lessons to teach you how to communicate with her then the dressage training isn't useful. It sounds like you need her trained Western.

You know you could teach the whoa with clicker training too. You could start with a halter and lead working from the ground and eventually move it to the saddle. With clicker training you can have her stopping on a dime and happy to do it. :) Sorry you didn't enjoy the ride. It sounds like she was trained, just not the way you need her trained. I can totally understand what you say about the no money, no insurance thing because I'm in the same boat. I'm terrified that if I get hurt we'll be put in the poor house trying to pay medical bills. I hope the estate is settled soon and you find a really nice job so that things can return to normal. Don't be discouraged!

Anonymous said...

sounds like you coulda saved some money just keeping her home