Friday, February 1, 2013

A Ride on the Trails

I'm fortunate to have my husband home from work on Fridays when all the kids are still in school, the neighbors at work, and the trash trucks parked in their yards, because it makes for a perfect trail riding day.  I don't know what I'd do without being able to bring someone along with me either on foot or on another horse while I train my horses to behave themselves out there in the wide open desert.  It's a psychological thing, I know.  Somehow I feel better knowing that should something happen, at least someone can call for help.  When my horse trainer walked with me that one day as I rode Bombay on the trails, she said, "I'm not going to let you get killed out here, so you can stop worrying."

I thought, "What's she gonna do?  My horse can take off way faster than she can grab him.  It's really all up to me to remember what to do and have the right timing."

With that thought, I realized that it almost doesn't matter if I have someone with me or not, but still I feel better having someone with me in these initial test runs with each horse.  Plus my husband likes his exercise and it gives me someone to talk to.

With each ride, I try to do something outside of my horse's and/or my comfort zone.  I know that in horse time we are making a lot of progress, but in my time progress feels painfully slow.  Everything involves such tiny baby steps, but once we are past a hurdle I know that each day forward that hurdle will get easier to jump.

One thing that's been on my mind is whether or not to do extensive groundwork right before a trail ride.  When I was taking equitation lessons, my instructor showed up early one day and watched me from his car.  I didn't have a wristwatch, so I wasn't aware of what time it was.  I didn't want to make him wait while I lunged my horse a long time, so I cut it short after about five minutes and then mounted.  He got out of his car and started yelling at me for not lunging my horse long enough.  He said that for safety's sake, I should lunge him for at least 20 minutes, preferably half an hour before riding.

Then when I sent Gabbrielle off to a dressage trainer, she told me not to waste time lunging, because the horse needs to learn to be ready to take you where you need to go when you need to go.  Doing all that preparatory work just sets the horse up with expectations and makes it more difficult for both of you should you not have all that extra time to spare some day.  I knew that in reality the horse trainer had so many horses to train and not enough people on her staff, so she literally didn't have the time to do groundwork and lunge a horse before riding.

Out here in Arizona, I never see people lunging their horses.  They just saddle up and go.  I love that.

Realistically, I do have to lunge my horses a little bit to help get the bloat out of their bellies so that I can tighten the cinch.  So, today I only lunged Bombay for a couple of minutes and then mounted him on the driveway without riding him in the arena before the trail ride.  I wanted to see if he was any easier or harder to control.  I found that he was more willing to move out to the trails without being worked hard beforehand.

The ride out was extremely pleasant.  He walked at a nice pace on a loose rein.  My husband suggested that we cross the street and go further out into the desert.  Up until this point I have only ridden within the one by half mile rectangle of desert in front of our house.  Since Bombay was doing so well, I thought we should give it a try.  He was willing to walk through the gate, but we found that this gate's bottom bar was about six-inches higher than the one by our house.  Bombay got his front hoof caught on the rubber.  That made him nervous and he backed up.

I was working on trying to get him to stand and wait for cars before proceeding, and then trying to get him lined up so that he'd go straight through the gate, but he kept walking sideways into it and by the time I'd get him straightened out again, more cars would come and we'd have to wait.  With each minute that ticked by, he got increasingly nervous and just wanted to get the hell away from that gate.  When I circled him to get him lined up, he'd trot toward home and balk toward the gate, so I had to do really tight circles.

The traffic was worse than I expected.  Cars were coming and going from the school parking lot, so I suspected that kindergarten was letting out.  I decided not to push it.  I haven't even hand-walked Bombay through that taller gate across the street into that unfamiliar part of the desert yet.  It's right next to an elementary school and a middle school, so there were a lot of new sights and sounds my horse would have to get used to.  I'd rather he get used to them with me not in the saddle, at least until I'm a stronger rider.

Unfortunately, my nice, pleasant ride was over.  Bombay's nerves got the best of him and he started jigging his way home, which meant circling bushes, stopping, backing, and going everywhere but home.  You should have seen him when I made him pass the main trail to home.  He was like, "Whaaaaat?  This isn't the way home..." and all of the sudden the jigging stopped and he started staggering like a drunken sailor away from the house.  At least it gave my arms a break from working the reins, but my legs got cramped up from all the squeezing I did to keep him moving forward.

When we reached the other end of the mile stretch of desert we turned back and the jigging started all over again.  I had him circle bushes and he trotted as soon as he faced home and walked as soon as we faced away from home.  I realized how little control I really did have over his speed because these were tight little circles and he still did what he wanted with his feet.  I'm good at getting a horse to back, so I worked on standing and backing, but then Bombay started swishing his tail and stomping his hind legs.  Then I felt the telltale jerk of a buck as we were backing up.  I realized that's why circling is better.  A horse can't buck as easily with its head pulled around.

With me not letting him go home, I had crossed into his anger zone and he got pissy.  I knew it was more important than ever to hang in there and keep on him.  Just then a man came trotting his horse and dog along a trail that crossed ours in front of us.  He greeted us while Bombay did his best giraffe imitation.  I could feel that Bombay wanted to run with the other horse, so I made him stand and watch it disappear in the distance.  After that his jigging progressed to busts of energy as he threatened to run home.  His attitude was, "If that horse can run home, why can't I?"

The bush circling turned into one-rein stops.  My husband is trying to wean me and Bombay off of him, so he kept either hanging way back or walking way ahead of us.  When he'd get ahead of us, Bombay wanted to chase after him, so I made Bombay stand and watch my husband walk off.  Still, as soon as I cued him forward, he could not contain himself and started to take off at the speed he chose.  It was frustrating, because I felt like I wasn't getting through to him.  When he got like that when my trainer walked beside us, she'd grab the lead rope and jerked him all over the place.  I don't like to jerk a horse around with the reins when he has a bit in his mouth, so I used my threatening voice to capture his attention.  I wondered if I should dismount and start doing some more aggressive ground work with him using the lead rope.

All I had to do was make him walk around the final bend to home and I knew he would relax once we made that turn, but those last few yards were a bitch.  Would he have been better behaved if I took the time to lunge him and ride him in the arena first?  I don't know.  What do you think?


Judi said...

I doubt if the lounging would have made a difference. Now, if he was misbehaving when he was going away from home--that's a sign of a horse feeling his oats. On the way home, means he just wants to go home.

You could have tried lounging when you got back, though. It would have made him less in a hurry next time.

I bet he will be better, next time, just the same. He needs to think this all over.

I think you did well. The only other good alternative would be to dismount and try to get him to walk quietly. Some horses will settle down quicker that way--some won't. I don't think more aggressive ground work would have done anything but make him angrier.

Keep up the good work.

appydoesdressage said...

His behavior probably wouldn't have been different if you lunged him beforehand. It sounds like Bombay was screaming that he was the boss and knew better and was completely ignoring you and the efforts you were making so I agree that jerking him around was the answer.
Do you ride with the rope halter/rope on? If so you can try yanking on it while mounted and leave the reins alone. If that doesn't work then try dismounting. Good luck!

Marissa said...

As per the lunging...I think it has its time and place and is a good training aid, but an aid and not something that needs to be done every ride.

Since you use it to help cinch, what I do is cinch to a comfortable tightness when I first saddle, then I start to walk wherever were going and cinch a little more, then walk some more and cinch a little more...usually I do it three or so times. Maybe you could mount at the end of the driveway and cinch a little during that walk?

As for the ride, I personally would have gotten off and walked him through the gate a few times, then gotten back on and walked him through on it. But in general your rides have been going in a better direction and are improving overall, so I'd take today with a grain of salt and remember that everyone has shitty days!

Cindy D. said...

Hi Nuz,
That is a tough one to predict, I think. I feel like it is important to know your horse. I have a horse I don't lunge at all, and one that I ground work pretty well just to remind him that I can and will move his feet. The one I ground work is the one I ride the most, and truthfully I can just get on him and ride, but taking that extra time seems to make a difference in his mind set. It isn't so much lunging for him as it is the mental refresher of who is in charge. When I on the ground I do some round pen, but mostly I push him sideways, I move his feet in all different directions. I make him think. But that is MY horse. What yours needs, only you will really know. It sure is a good question for your trainer though.
I will say that I am impressed with how much your confidence has grown since you started working with her.
Leaps and bounds! :)

Katharine Swan said...

I actually agree with Gabrielle's trainer that they have to be able to work through their energy and do what you want, when you want it. A tired horse does not necessarily equal a good horse, and they don't learn anything from being made to feel exhausted before you ride (except maybe to dislike being ridden). Plus, I discovered with Panama a few years ago that he was actually better behaved when I didn't run him before hitting the trail -- he doesn't tire easily, so all it did was get him more excited and thinking about running.

Anyway, that's where I stand on the "lunge them first" debate. But I have to admit I think it's different for horses that are kept in stalls instead of pastures or corrals. If my horses were stalled, I would probably turn them out before riding (though I would still only lunge first if turnout was not available). It would just be to get the wiggles out, though.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Well, if it makes you feel any better...The other evening when I went riding with Mikey and Mercy, I ended up getting off and hand-walking Moon in the last 1/2 mile. I don't ever remember having to do that with a horse before, but I was getting soooo irritated with him for the exact same behavior that Bombay was displaying. If it hadn't been getting dark, I would have stayed in that desert circling, stopping and backing until Moon regained his senses. Walking fast toward home is to be expected. Not being able to maintain a walk? Unacceptable for one of my horses, but I was not in a position to duke it out with him over it.

So...might I suggest that IF you have your husband with you, on the way home let him walk along side Bombay (take a leadrope) and let him do what the trainer did. Or jump off and practice making Bombay walk beside you. Just for the time being. There is no sense undoing all of the progress you have made over something that is going to take awhile for you both to work through.

As it worked out for Moon and I? I got my daily cardio in and he was nice and cooled out by the time we got home.

fernvalley01 said...

nope it was going to happen once you guys had your troubles at the gate. to be honest a broke horse (and that is what you have ) should not need a lot of prep work, sure if you want to loosen him up or warm him up a bit longe him, but as you said most just saddle and step up. It is coming , as much as it was frustrating , you go through it and it will get better!
You are doing the work and it is making a difference for both you and Bombay

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Lunging, especially with Arabs, I have been told is rather pointless. Arabs can't be lunged to wear them out and make them tired or to get the bucks out. Arabs have too much energy for that.

Besides, IMO, lunging really means nothing to the horse, once you're in the saddle. It doesn't necessarily carry over from lunging to riding.

I always lunged my paint mare Baby Doll before every. single. ride. When she was really naughty and terrible barn sour, sometimes I would come back to the house after riding the trail, lunge her in the round pen for 20 minutes and then get back on and ride out on the trails again.
None of that lunging really made any difference. She was still highly reactive, spooky, sensitive, cranky, and barn sour. And she was a pro at the drunken sailor routine.

It didn't matter if I lunged her because she would still try bolting, bucking, crow-hopping, spinning, and running backwards. It was very unpleasant to say the least and lunging never made a lick of difference. She just hated trail riding. And I couldn't convince her that trails were a great place to be.
Thankfully Baby Doll went to a home where they only planned to ride her in an arena.

I have never ever lunged Apache...not once, ever. Not before any ride, not for any reason at all. And none of the friends I ride with lunge their horses before we head out on the trails either.

It is so nice to be able to just hop on and ride. If I had to lunge, I probably wouldn't ride because I don't have the time to spend on lunging when my ride time is so precious. Plus, I'd be holding up my friends and I know they'd stop inviting me to ride with them if I was always lunging before every ride.

I'm very grateful to have a horse that enjoys trails and exploring new places as much as I do. When I'm ready, I can just hop on and ride. Apache's the type of horse that can sit around for months or even a year and I can just hop on and it's as if no time has passed at all. She's just ready to go...and is calm, respectful, quiet, and always takes good care of me.

I hope you can get to that point with Bombay. You deserve to finally have some calm, relaxing, enjoyable trail rides. You've worked hard to get to that point.


Johara said...

I only really lunge my 4 yr old Appy gelding when he's being super bouncy and fidgety while saddling him. It doesn't happen much anymore, but there were days during the first 6 months of training him where lunging was the most I could expect from him.
However, after saddling him I will send him out at a jog using just the lead rope, a couple circles in each direction just to see where his brain is and loosen him up. He stands around a lot, so I think of it as his stretching exercises. :)

My old Arab mare? Never. She's always been too competitive, and lunging would just pump her up from "Arabian!!" to "ARAAABIAAAAAAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" lol.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Although I didnt lunge Solis before our ride, I do lunge her on occasion just because. And for being 25, the old girl can still rip around like a youngster and buck with the best of them. I didnt lunge that day because she had been turned out before I brought her in and loaded up.

Give the horse the benifit of the doubt. Have some respect and show them the consideration you would anybody else deserving of such. Lunging is not to wear them out but good for letting them stretch, blow off a little steam and relax. When they relax and stop on their own- then its time to proceed. I also use that tine to see if they are 'off' or sore. If they are- we are done and this needs to be addressed.

And the breed stuff is all BS as far as I see it. Our Arabs, my OTTB and even Kat know this is the time to stretch and relax, not act like an idiot. And if they do? Fine, get it out now, but you still don't need to be ripping my arms out of the socket while you do. Doing so will get them corrected on the spot. Its all in your attitude.

And that all being said- Kat was a bit lit when I harnessed and jumped in to go. I didn't lunge him first so we had a refresher on walking and circles, but I also had to work him through it with some serious trot work before we hit the trails.

Willow said...

Found your blog a while back and have been checking in from time to time I really enjoy spending time here . Figured I would finally say "Hello"
I had a registered half Arab Padron grandson for a while, awesome wonderful, magical gelding he was. Actually have owned two half Arabs in my lifetime both magnificent horses. Now that I'm just a wee bit older I'm riding a good ole Paso Fino mare, she is a little gem and easy on the my joints! Hope to be chatting more in the future . Thanks for all the info and entertainment you post!

achieve1dream said...

Everyone else has given great advice and answered your question, so I just thought I would mention something else. I was told (don't remember from who) that when a horse "bloats" to avoid a tight girth that they are actually tensing their chest muscles not holding their breath (you can watch and see them breathing). Then when they relax those muscles the girth is loose (that's why the old timers beating them in the belly didn't help because that just made them more tense). Backing them works great to make them loosen those muscles so you can tighten it, or just walking them. Anything to stop them from bracing. :)