Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Nerve-Wracking Ride

In Nevada, Sunday was my best horseback riding day because the neighbors were in church.  In Arizona, Friday is my best riding day because most neighbors are still at work, but my husband is home to help out with my nervous Nellies.  Half the houses on my street have been empty all year, but with each week more and more new neighbors filter in, and I never know what to expect.

I rode Bombay in the sand arena for a while, and he was not being very responsive to my cues.  I decided to blame it on the depth of the sand, because 3 to 4 inches is way too much of it.  2 inches would have sufficed.  He was struggling to slog through it and as a result kept ignoring my steering cues and choosing to take the paths with less sand.

My neighbor's visiting parents, who were there on a Friday because they were on vacation (or so I thought), were dragging heavy objects around, fixing stuff and pounding on things while I was riding.  I wanted to go out on the trails to get away from the noise and give Bombay more trail riding practice, but knew it would be risky because Bombay was high energy and I didn't have much control.  My husband offered to walk along side us.  As we moved up the driveway away from the screaming mares, Bombay was pussy-footing it, showing his resistance to leaving them.  I managed to get him across the street, but when we reached the gate to the trails, he balked.

He never balked at the gate when we led him, as opposed to rode him.  I tried to encourage him through, and his response was to rear up.  The thing about rearing is that you don't want to have such a tight grasp on the reins that you pull the horse right over the top of you, so I loosened the reins for safety thinking, "We'll just stand here a bit and I'll let Bombay decide when he's ready to go through."

I remembered my farrier's dire warnings to never push a horse through one of these gates because he's seen some of the nastiest accidents happen that way.  He's told me this multiple times, so I suspect he had a bit of a sixth sense telling him that the same thing could happen to me if I don't handle the situation correctly.

Unfortunately, my horse decided not to go through at all, but snorted at the gate like he'd never seen it before, ran backward, then spun around to bolt.  He had his haunches underneath him and was ready to gallop across the road back home.  I pulled back and he reared up a bit again, so my husband grabbed the halter.  It was then that I realized I had left the lead rope at home.

Bombay was just way too pumped up for me to go in either direction safely, so I dismounted and my husband led him back to the yard with just his hand on the halter.  He's stronger than I am and Bombay had his head so high that it was easier for the taller person to hold him.  I wouldn't want to lead a horse by the reins who was acting as crazy as he was.  One time my horse trainer tried leading Bombay by the reins and when he corrected him for balking at a different gate, he hurt Bombay's mouth and snapped the rein right off.  Back at the yard, we attached the lead rope and I mounted again. This time my husband kept a hold on the rope and led us.

Bombay will follow him, but won't listen to me in the saddle, which means I'm due for more horsemanship lessons.  Of course, Bombay went through the gate with no problem on a lead rope.  But the ride was far from pleasant as he did the jig the whole way out and the whole way back.  He was champing at the bit, and I remembered my equitation instructor telling me to alternate between squeezing each rein to get him to stop playing with the bit, and if that doesn't work, see-saw the reins.  Neither effort worked.

However, when his jog in place turned into a more forward jig, and he was trying to leave my husband in the dust, I had to keep pulling back, and releasing as soon as he'd slow down.  The problem was that he would only slow down for a second, I'd release my grip as a reward, and then he'd push forward again.  It was frustrating because I wanted to concentrate on steering him around rocks and cactus, but I spent all my time trying to just keep him at a walk.  He knew he was misbehaving, so I gave him a whack with the riding crop, which is what my equitation instructor always had me do in these situations, and his response was to buck, and to just continue with his resistance to being held back.  Not very effective, I'd say.

Only when he got within eyesight of the mares, did he lower his head and slow to a walk.  I'm guessing the first ride out into the desert was better, because he was interested and didn't know what to expect, but on the second ride he had decided it wasn't interesting enough or was too scary for him to cooperate.  One would expect him to get better with each ride and feel more comfortable, but he just got more rebellious.

Lostine's arthritis has improved since I started her on Legacy Pellets, so there's a possibility that I can ride her, especially since she's very adept at galloping around the paddock when I take one of her buddies away, but she's even more resistant to leaving the barn.  If I simply walk her 10 yards out away from the other horses, she screams and runs circles around me.  I suspect she would require just as much re-training as Bombay, if not more.

Gabbrielle loves her walks, is curious and gentle for the most part, but I haven't ridden her in a long time and probably won't if she doesn't kick this habit of taking off like a racehorse whenever she feels like it.  She's been pulling that stunt with me on a long line, so I'm sure she'd do it under saddle.  She's like a Maserati accelerating, pedal to the metal.  At some point here I'm going to have to send her off for more training.  My old desire to train her myself is long gone.  I've got too many other things going on.  I'm sure that sending her off to a trainer will result in more trauma rings on her hooves, which will lead to more lameness issues.  I'm hoping I can find a trainer who will come here and work with her.  Better yet, work with all the horses, because right now they are a wild bunch.

We went out for several hours and when we returned, there was an empty moving van in front of our neighbor's house which drove off a short time later, so I guess his parents are moving in.  Sigh.  It sure is getting crowded around here in a hurry.  This has always been my problem with training horses.  They are so sensitive to sudden movements and noises, and just when the weather gets nice enough for me to ride, all these people start swarming around my riding space, and my horses are always looking for excuses to spook.  Some days I think about trading them all in for some old nag that just plods along while I sit in the saddle picking the wax out of my ears.

You'd think with all the years I've been riding both Bombay and Lostine that they would be solid, but the two of them act like they need to be put into straight jackets as soon as I try to show them the world.  When I was younger I enjoyed the challenge of working with inexperienced horses, raising them from yearlings, but things are so very different now.  My own body has become fragile and I have enough stress in my life caused by other things that I really need to be able to rely on getting a nice, quiet, relaxed horseback ride to help me get away from it all.

I look at all the work ahead of me to train these horses to get over their fears, and instead of being enthusiastic about facing the challenge, I just feel weary and beat down.  I watch the other horseback riders around here do amazing things with their horses and wonder if that will ever be me on a horse that is moseying down the street, reins sitting on its neck, and the rider resting her hands on her thighs, unconcerned about losing control without the reins.

I thought back to the times I rode Bombay in the Sierra-Nevada mountains before his ongoing panic attacks and blood baths in the trailer began, and I remember him being nervous, but he didn't feel out of control.  I think having him work so hard to get up the mountain tamed and tired him out somewhat, while riding on this flat desert floor allows him to have all the nervous energy he needs to fulfill his flight instinct.

Fortunately, the trails have been empty and quiet so far.  No coyotes, no rattlesnakes, no dogs off leash, no hikers.  However, I know I can't rely on that.  My husband and I took a mile walk before my ride and picked up trash along the way.  There were plastic bags waving like flags from branches on the sides of the trail, broken beer bottles, and even a Mylar balloon stuck in a bush.  We filled up two trash bags, and I filled up one more the day before.  Anyway, while taking our walk, this low flying helicopter flew past that was very loud.  The rotor sound beat right through my rib cage   My husband thought it was utility workers surveying the power lines.  I thought, "Thank God I wasn't riding a horse when that thing came along."

So, if Bombay can't handle being out in the desert when it is perfectly still, just imagine how nuts he could get if something unpredictable like having a helicopter fly a few hundred yards above his head happened.  I also think about how having three horses and two people is a scenario that really works against me.  We could take another horse along on the ride to settle Bombay down, but then there will always be the one left behind screaming like she's being tortured.  I suspect I would just end up with two horses trying to gallop back to the barn.  I know the riders I see who don't have problems just have one horse.  The rider is the horse's herd, so the horse enjoys being with the rider and feels protected.

Originally, I intended to only own two horses, but when I tried to sell Lostine, I was bothered by some of the callers who wanted to buy her.  I didn't think I'd be leaving my horse in good hands.  When these callers took up too much of my time, I pulled her ads because I didn't want to sell her to any of them.  I decided to just keep her for a while, and of course, now she's a senior horse with arthritis who can't be sold and we've built such a strong bond that I don't think I could ever let her go as long as I am capable of taking care of her.

So, in the meantime, I'm in a bit of pickle.  I can ride just fine on my property, but I would have to trailer a horse out to avoid the herd-bound behaviors, and even though Bombay survived his last two horse trailer rides, I still have a lot of work to do to get him comfortable while in a moving trailer.  Each day I wake up and ask myself if I have the time, money and energy to deal with worst case scenarios with these horses, and the answer is always no.  So, it looks like we'll be taking baby steps for a while.  Sorry.  It doesn't make for interesting blog stories, but I'm just not up to it.

My NaNoWriMo isn't going so well, because this has turned out to be the busiest month I've had yet, and I didn't like the pressure of having to write 50,000 words in a month when the great outdoors was calling to me after being cooped up in an air-conditioned house for five months.  I'm still working on my novel, but I've pretty much given up on trying to meet the NaNo goal.  It was easy last year, because I was stuck in my house due to extreme cold and snow.  I think NaNoWriMo needs to hold a NaJuWriMo in July just for Arizonans, because our summer is like everyone else's winter.  (Imagine whistling music of wind blowing through an old, deserted ghost town.)


lytha said...

i wish you could hook up with a neighbor who rides a steady horse who would make it fun and relaxing for bombay.

i learned from your blog that having three horses is not necessarily better than having only 2. my question is, if you did ride out with two, would the third endanger her life while left behind, worse than what happens now with leaving 2 behind?

i hate to say it but truly having only one, i never had this issue. now with the donkey, i cannot even take baasha out into the driveway to bathe him, she'll go nuts and perhaps through a fence. in her mind, it's a good thing he's retired and i cannot ride him.

Cindy Durham said...

I guarantee as faithful followers of your blog we would much rather have a years worth of boring in arena riding stories, than even one exciting trail story in which you or one of your beautiful horses were injured.
Safety is smart and knowing the limitations of your horses is even smarter. Working through this with them slowly is the right thing to do for sure. But you know that. :)

Katharine Swan said...

Ha! The "No" in NaNoWriMo actually stands for "Novel," not "November." But they do have summer NaNoWriMo now -- "Camp NaNoWriMo." This past summer there were two, June and August.

Crystal said...

I'll give you my two sense which you can throw out the window if you want. But maybe if you don't worry about everything being perfect to ride your horses and work them when stuff is going on (start with a little distraction at first of course) then they should be able to focus on you even if its a tornado going on and it wont bother them, hopefully.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lytha - In my case, the problem isn't that the horses left behind will hurt themselves. It's that their panicked screams frighten the horse or horses I'm taking off the property, and in the desert their voices carry a long way. So, the horse I'm leading or riding suddenly becomes a freight train trying to get back to the barn.

Ultimately, I know the horses get better with routine work, but the trick is to avoid breaking your neck in the first phase of starting that routine or you won't be riding your horses at all. Had Bombay dropped me when he reared, I had nothing to land on but big, sharp rocks. Bones and rocks don't mix well.

Breathe said...

Working with herd bound horses is like watching concrete set. Takes for ever and if you don't let it take the time it takes, it's a mess.

Do any of the horses pony? That might be worth working on in the arena. I found it helped me work things out when I had two.

Lily doesn't get herd bound, but her companions really don't like it when she leaves.

I guess you haven't found anyone to ride with? A steady horse can really help, but I know how hard it is to find the right riding partner.

As for Nanowrimo, I'm with you. November is a crazy time to give up every evening. I'm thinking of trying in January.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Looks like CnJ and I will just have to come ride with you this winter. ;-)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Breathe - They all have ponyed in the past, but to lead one horse through the gate on horseback and pull the other through on a rope would be difficult. First off, I need a longer rope, because we'd have to do it single-file. If both horses tried to go through at the same time, there would be a wreck. If one horse went through and the other didn't, I'd probably have to choose between dropping the rope or being pulled out of the saddle. I think I have to get control of the horse I'm riding before bringing another one along in a ponying arrangement. Also, there seems to be this perception have having another horse along calms the nervous horse, but I've seen the opposite happen: One horse spooks and they all spook. I guess you just have to try different things and see how it goes.

I did have a riding partner for a short while, but Bombay was such a jerk that the other rider felt he was holding her back, and she started avoiding us. She was so confident that she could have him riding anywhere within a week, but when she saw how bad he was, she changed her mind.

I actually do have a play date set up with someone to ride with. (It's a surprise and I'll blog about it later.) Considering the distance she has to haul her horse, I want to make sure the ride isn't a complete bust. That's why I'm trying to get Bombay ready. I want to at least be able to get him up the driveway and through the gate by myself.

BEC - Thank you for your offer. I don't think I ever thanked CNJ for her offer either. I'm sure it will happen someday. I'm just trying to get my horses and myself back into the swing of things. As you can see, so far it hasn't been going so well.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I'm sorry these herd bound issues are slowing down your plans to finally head out onto those beautiful trails to explore.

If it's any consolation, even though I only have my one horse, she shares the fence line with my neighbor's 4 horses, and recently, over the past 2 months Yalla has started becoming more needy and demanding towards my mare.

My friend came over last week to head out with me and explore the ridge line trails behind my house and our horses were relaxed and happy to head out until we got up into our neighbor's 200 acres on the ridge and Yalla started screaming.

My mare kept trying to get me to let her turn around and head back, but instead we had a few discussions about it and I and my friend just decided to ride over to the other side of the ridge where the sounds of Yalla couldn't be heard.

Apache was still very forward and energetic, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that I hadn't even ridden her in almost a month.

So we did a bunch of trotting and cantering on the flats to release some of her energy, and she was much happier and finally having fun.
My friend's horse was so excited and frisky that he went to bucking when cantering, so we eventually stopped cantering and just focused on trotting again.

But once we rode back over the ridge again, and we could hear Yalla screaming again, my mare was eager to get back, leaning towards the direction of home. We did a lot of arguing about which way we were going to go, and I made it clear that it wasn't back home.

We ended up riding right past the turn into my neighborhood and back out to the back 40 trails and roadways for about another hour, until she and my friend's horse were calm and accepting of the route we were taking and that we weren't going back home until we said so!

And by that time, Yalla had finally stopped screaming, too.
But still it was very annoying to have Yalla screaming for my horse and my mare being affected by it, especially since my Apache is not even a member of her herd.

Hang in there and just keep working on it. There is always hope :)


achieve1dream said...

Wow, that really sucks. :( I've never dealt with your exact problem, so I don't really have any advice. I hope you can figure something out without having to sell one of them. Maybe you can find experienced people who want to ride your horses with you, so they can all go together (well I guess Lostine would have to be ponied because of her arthritis, but having someone there would be easier to lead through the gate at least). Good luck!

lilyrose said...

Dealing with herd bound horses is a pain. Hopefully, you can get them over it. I do know a really good trainer who will come to your home to work with your horses if you are interested let me know and I'll give you his name and number.