Thursday, February 7, 2013

Testing the Waters

Our horse trainer came out again today.  She's been working me into her schedule one way or another, and as the time of day that we meet changes, my horses and I are met with new challenges.  When she comes in the mornings, the biggest obstacle is crossing the street on horseback with trash trucks racing up and down.  The speed limit on our street is 25 mph, but since the trash trucks don't stop at every house, but leap frog around, the drivers really gas it.  They're as bad as the delivery truck drivers.  And they always turn around right at the trail head.

Mid-day appointments are hard, because I have to feed the horses a little bit of lunch before our lesson so they won't be grumpy, but not too much because if I smush breakfast and lunch too close together they get gassy.

Today our appointment ran late into the afternoon when the kids were getting out of school and the neighbors were coming home from work, so the horses really got tested on paying attention and not spooking.  The first thing that happened was while we were doing ground work a monster started shaking a tree next door.  It was like this bush that was as tall as a tree and the whole thing was shaking back and forth loudly.  The branches began parting, and while the horses weren't concerned, my trainer and I were a bit freaked out because we had no idea what kind of animal was coming out of there.  The only thing I know that could shake a tree like that is an elephant, and I don't think we have those in Arizona.

It turned out to be two of my neighbors' horses.  I guess they were laying down in the bush to get some shade and stood up and pushed their way out when we started talking.  We got a chuckle out of that and finished working Lostine from the ground.  Then my trainer rode her to see how she would do with her mounting.  She only tried to walk off once.  She then worked on moving up and down between a walk and a trot.  Lostine was so sensitive to her every movement that she kept anticipating what she was going to ask and doing it before she asked, so the trainer worked on circling her when she took off without a definite cue, and then letting her go when she waited for the cue.

She felt that Lostine's sensitivity to both leg and rein pressure makes her a really good riding prospect.  Even though it's a pain right now because we have to be totally aware of every little move we make so that we don't inadvertently rub our leg on her side and cause her to lope.  She wants to take off.  I think the trainer was surprised about how much pep a 24-year-old horse can have.

When it was my turn to mount, she wanted me to move the step stool in closer and grab her mane rather than the saddle.  Those two adjustments helped me to mount quieter and gentler.  She didn't walk off probably for the first time in years.  I'm just so used to working my foot into the stirrup while she's walking that it felt alien to have her stand still.  I was like, "Is this my mare?"

I worked on switching back and forth between the walk and the trot and making her wait for my cue.  As soon as I moved my hands down the reins she wanted to go.  She didn't want to bother to wait for the cluck or leg squeeze.  I understand that, but sometimes I'm going to need to adjust the reins and it won't mean that I'm about to ask her to go faster.  Each time she took off without waiting for the cue, I circled her until she walked.

My trainer was telling me something and I could see this helicopter flying really low to the ground headed right for us.  It was getting louder and louder.  I said, "Good God!  That's outrageous!"

My trainer just kept talking even though I couldn't hear a word she was saying.  Sure enough, it flew right over our heads while I was sitting on Lostine's back.  If the pilot had it just a couple of hundred feet lower, I probably could have reached up and touched the helicopter.  But my horses didn't care, so that's all that matters.  Now I know I don't need to fear how they will react to all the low flying objects around here.

I wanted my trainer to experience leading Gabbrielle out into the desert.  My husband led her out once and she pulled really hard on the lead rope the whole way.  My trainer threw an added twist into the lesson by making me ride Lostine across the street and out onto the trails for the first time while the trainer led Gabbrielle.  I was hesitant because Lostine kept taking off on me in the arena and we were still doing a lot of circling.  I definitely didn't want her taking off on me on the trails while my trainer is busy battling Gabbrielle, but I figured she wouldn't ask me to do it if she didn't think it was safe.

So, I led the way on Lostine and as we approached the street, a big truck came along.  I'm always worried my horses won't stop when I tell them to stop if a vehicle is coming, so this was the first real life test, and Lostine got an A+.  She stopped and waited for the truck to pass.   It was a diesel truck, and the driver gunned it to get past us so we wouldn't have to stop, and I thought, "Oh poop, please don't spook."

She didn't.  I guess all those years the horses ate in a pasture by a busy truck route really helped desensitize them to loud engine noises.  We crossed the street and got to the gate and at the last second Lostine stepped sideways and was going to nail me in the knee with the metal post, so I had to stop her on a dime and back her up.  Once I had her lined up, we went through the gate and waited on the other side for the trainer and Gabbrielle.  Gabbrielle refused to step through, so the trainer used the stick to work her a bit away from the gate and let her rest while pointed through the gate.  Little by little she urged her through.  It took about five minutes and twenty tries, but she finally stepped through.

We rode out just a little bit because our time was up.  The trainer told me to park Lostine by a cactus and wait for her while she separated the horses for a little bit to see how Gabbrielle reacted.  When it was time to join up, I urged Lostine forward, and she started backing into the cactus.  Criminy!  That and not stopping before crossing the road have been two of my biggest fears since moving to Arizona.  I had to turn and spin her away from the cactus, which meant practically running over my trainer, but she got out of the way.

Bombay was back at the barn screaming his lungs out the entire time we were on the trail.  Going out the gate, Lostine balked and kept backing away from it, so I had to work her in figure 8's, get her lined up again and keep pushing her.  The trainer had to get beside us with a whip before Lostine would go through.  Then she made us come back the other way.  Lostine was even more reluctant, because she wanted to go home to eat instead of heading back out onto the trail.  Each time she backed away from the gate I had to keep kicking her until she took a step forward and then I stopped kicking her.  She decided she didn't like being kicked and it was just easier to walk forward through the gate.  Lostine and I did it several more times in both directions, then the trainer did it several more times with Gabbrielle in both directions.

While we were working on that, cars were driving up and down the street just a couple of yards away from us.  My next-door neighbor came home and began pulling her garbage can down her driveway, which did make Lostine concerned, but the trainer said, "I don't care if she's distracted or worried.  Keep her mind on this and make her work."

Probably the best lesson I learned on this day was that it is possible to get a horse so engrossed in an activity that it will tune out all the scary stuff going on around it.  I don't have to stop every time something scary happens and make the horse face it.  I can tune out the world, and if I expect my horse to tune out the world as well, it will.


Marissa said...

Sounds like you and the trainer are really making strides! Look how far you and your horses have come in the short time that you've been working with her!

What comes to mind when I read this is the first thing you learn when you begin trail riding (at least, for me) is to ignore potential spooks. If you see something that could spook them, drawing your attention to it tells your horse that theres something scary. Obviously be prepared if there is something potentially scary, but act as if your horse won't react, and their more likely not to care!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

YESsss!!! I have been waiting for all these years to hear you say those words, "I can tune out the world, and if I expect my horse to tune out the world as well, it will."

Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!

The rider's job is to be observant and aware, but if you worry about everything, so will your horse and horses are good 'worriers'.

Yaayyyy for you!!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Well, it's a heck of a lot easier to tune out my new neighbors because at least they all act normal and do normal things. My old neighbors were just plain weird and they seriously freaked both me and my horses out. At least I know I can ride around here without some old guy yankin' and wankin' away in his truck while he watches me.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sounds like a great training session! And you rode Lostine out on the trails finally! Such huge strides forward you are making with your horses. I am proud of you!

And what you said,

"I don't have to stop every time something scary happens and make the horse face it."

is so true!

I used to ride with someone that believed you have to force your horse to face up and get close up and personal with every little thing that scares or worries your horse.
But I have learned that is not necessary nor even a good idea.

Just the fact that you can walk past something worrisome or scary is huge! Just the fact that your horse will focus completely on you and do as you ask even with something scary nearby is huge! And so much more important than forcing your horse to face his fears up close.
For instance, you can ride your horse past a field full of llamas, but you don't have to make her walk up to the llamas and sniff their noses. If your horse is willing to walk past those llamas and still focus on you and not freak at the llamas that is something to be very proud of :)


fernvalley01 said...


Katharine Swan said...

I love your trainer, and I love the "lessons" that you are giving us by writing about all this on your blog! (Did I ever tell you, by the way, that I used your trainer's technique of turning Panama's face into the rail when he threatens to rub me off on it? He didn't hit his face, but he did immediately quit doing it!)

My trainer is always telling me similar things: "I don't care that there is a tractor/dog/whatever. He needs to keep working. Give him something else to think about!" It's a good approach for Panama, but I think in some ways it depends on the horse's personality. With Rondo, on the few occasions where he has been alarmed by something (the jump blocks and then the ball in the corner of the indoor arena), she has let him face it and look, but he is a VERY different horse than Panama: He looks once, realizes it's not scary after all, and never looks at it again. Panama, on the other hand, can and will spook at things he has seen many times before -- if you let him -- so working him past things is imperative, otherwise you'd never get anything done!

KarenTX said...

Whoop! I can't believe how far you and the horses have come! I used to be concerned, but it seems like you have "taken the bull by the horns" so to speak and are getting so much more confident! WTG!!!

Johara said...

Thank you very much for posting about your lessons. :) Not just about what the trainer is trying to teach you, but about your thoughts and reactions to it as well. It's been very informative, I've learned new ways of doing things, and remembered stuff I'd forgotten about!

Mikey said...

Loving what's going on with you!!! Big, big strides!
Let me know when you're ready and we'll pick you (and your horse) up on the way to the ranch :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Mikey - You crack me up. You're all about putting pressure on me, aren't you? I don't know how my horse will handle it, but I can't wait to go back to the ranch.

achieve1dream said...

What an awesome lesson. :D