Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pause in the Journey

Today was the last day of the bi-weekly lessons I've had since January with the horse trainer.  We had planned to ride all three horses out in the desert together kind of as a last hurrah, but the Parelli Student called in sick.  So, the horse trainer rode Gabbrielle and I rode Bombay, while Lostine cried over being left alone back at the barn.  I did not anticipate any trouble, because Bombay has plenty of experience on the trails now and the trainer can handle anything from a green horse like Gabbrielle.

We rode until we hit a 4-way intersection that was quite busy.  We didn't plan on crossing, but we hung out there to expose the horses to all the traffic noises.  There must have been some special going on down at the dump because there were a lot of trucks hauling trailers loaded with trash rolling past with their tarps flapping and their cargo banging around.  At the same time school was letting out and buses were roaring past us.

The trainer walked Gabbrielle as close to the road as possible without going through the gate, and turned her to face each loud vehicle, and then turned her to have her follow it as it passed.  She said, "You've got to keep your horse busy and his mind working."

I was just sitting there on Bombay while watching her work Gabbrielle when Bombay suddenly decided he was ready to head for home.  He lurched forward, spun around and headed back the way we came.  I circled him and then when I stopped him I did lateral flexation exercises.  But he chose to keep spinning instead of holding his feet still.  My trainer has a rule that the horse has to hold his feet still through three flexes to each side before he can continue in the direction he wants to go.  We were there a while with me flexing his head from side to side while all these trucks were roaring past us.

Upon leaving the intersection, the trainer picked a path we had never taken on horseback.  I warned her that it is narrow and bushy, so we have to watch out for snakes.  It also meanders alongside the road where school is letting out.  She opted to go back the way we came since this was only Gabbrielle's third or fourth trail ride.  We discovered that Gabbrielle packs along like a seasoned trail horse as long as she's following another horse, but once she gets in front, she's nervous about being the lookout.

The trainer was having to circle her on the way out, though, because Gabbrielle wanted to keep her nose planted in Bombay's tail.  After a few circles, Gabbrielle caught on and left a horse-lengths distance between her and Bombay.  As we turned to head back, Bombay's demeanor changed drastically.  His muscles tensed up, his head popped up, his neck arched, his ears pitched forward, and he started to jig.  I began correcting him with the lightest cue of checking him with both reins and then releasing, but he wasn't responding.  He just jigged higher and faster.

The trainer was talking to me, so I didn't want to circle Bombay because I wouldn't be able to hear her.  When I saw him throw his head up and back, and pin his ears back, I alerted her to the fact that I was having trouble.  She stopped and turned toward us, and I circled Bombay.  Right then a bug flew out of his ear and I realized that he was throwing his head up and pinning his ears because of that bug.  However, even after the bug flew out of his ear, he was still tense and doing the jig.  We switched places so she could watch me ride him in front.

She coached me through it, telling me not to circle him until he actually breaks into a trot.  I tend to circle him when he jigs, but still at the speed of a walk.  The trainer wants me to wait until he jigs at the speed of a trot before correcting him.  He knew his boundaries and didn't break into a trot, but the trainer had trouble keeping up with us because Bombay was covering a lot of ground at the jiggy walk.

The trainer pointed out that he finally settled down after she saw me take a deep breath and relax.  She said that I need to do more work in showing my horse that I'm the leader and I'm not worried.  I explained that I usually don't get worried until he gets out of control and tries to call the shots, so I'm not the one who is starting this ugly cycle.  He starts it, I react with a little flutter of nerves, and his behavior gets worse.  She said I've just got to get control of my own nerves.

I don't know how to do that.  If I take a deep breath when I'm nervous, the horse is still going to know that I'm nervous.  It's not until the jigging stops that my own nerves settle.  I equate being on a jigging horse as sitting on the hood of a dragster as someone is revving the engine.  You never know when the driver is going to kick it into gear and peel out of there.

The trainer assured me that my horse won't run off with me.  I'm not sure how she knows that.  I think she just says that to try to help me settle my own nerves, because nobody can really predict what an animal is going to do.  But I appreciate her confidence in my horse.  She said that it is all about trusting your horse.  I trust Lostine, but that's about it.  Which is kind of funny, because nobody else trusts Lostine.  She and I have a special bond because we are both crabby old ladies and we understand each other.

But, I'll work on trusting Bombay and Gabbrielle more.  Bombay is really a good boy overall, just a bit unpredictable and inconsistent.  He kept his head up and ears pitched forward the rest of the way home.  A couple of times when I said "Uh huh" to respond to something the trainer said, he spooked sideways in response to my voice, which was annoying.  I started thinking about why we have such successful rides when we go out alone vs. going out with the trainer on another horse.  I think it's because the trainer takes charge and I never know what's going to happen next.  That makes me nervous, and my horse picks up on it.

When I ride out with the Parelli Student or alone, I'm in charge.  I know where we are going and what challenges are up ahead.  But when the trainer is picking our route and randomly taking different trails away from us, she causes anxiety in both me and my horse.  I don't know what we are doing or where we are going.  My anxiety and my horse's anxiety feed off each other and it ends up being an unpleasant trail ride for both of us.  In other words, if I were a horse, I would have to be the one in front.  I'm not good at following the crowd.

The trainer explained that a lot of horses, especially Mustangs, have trouble being at the end of a line, because out in the wild the horse that brings up the tail is the horse that gets eaten by predators.  I admit that even as a human I feel uncomfortable being at the end of a line.  I don't trust other people to make the best decisions for me.  So, overall it was actually a pretty good trail ride because it allowed me to reflect on my own psychology, and I was able to learn something.

The trainer actually got bored riding Gabbrielle since she was so well behaved, so she veered off the path and took her over to a log just to spook her on purpose.  She likes to circle her with this approach and retreat technique to teach her to be brave.  She spent about 10 minutes having Gabbrielle approach and retreat our wheelbarrows before leaving the property.  I knew we'd be there a while as the trainer worked Gabbrielle up to the log, so I took some pictures.

I gave my trainer a thank you card as a parting gift.  If it weren't for her, I'd probably be struggling with three pasture ornaments.  We've come a long way since January.  My horses can all now walk through the public land gates and travel the desert trails with wildlife flitting all about around them and not overreact by spinning and running for home.  I can ride them out alone or with a friend and have a pretty good idea of what to expect and how to handle various behavior problems.  We've still got a long way to go, but we've also come a long way, and I wanted to make sure that my trainer received credit where credit is due.

Next week we will be hitting triple digit temperatures.  I enjoyed the trail riding while it lasted.


Crystal said...

I'm glad you got her to come out too, Sure has made a difference with you and your horses, at least now they are usable to you. You are gonna have to get up pretty early to get out riding before the heat, I don't envy you that hot weather there this time of year.

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like a pretty good last lesson. As for the big breath thing, I wouldn't discount it even if you are faking a relaxing sigh the effect can be the same .An example is when I was riding my filly Cat (Whoa Dammit LOL) last fall. She bogged her head and bucked like a pro on the longe and frankly had me a little scared, then when I stepped up, she was tense and bunched up, wouldnt respond to my leg and walk off.So there we sat ,her not wanting to move, me not wanting to ask harder. I finally decided , there was nothing for it I had to insist (not safe to step down at that point either really) and figured things were about to get a little "western" took a big breath in and let out a sigh of ,quite honestly resignation to the "ride" I was about to have. And she sighed too then walked off calm as you please!
SO even when you don't believe it , sometimes they do

redhorse said...

Beautiful photos. You've done a wonderful job.

C-ingspots said...

Congratulations on all the progress you and your horses have made! Even though you still have room for improvement, it's still wonderful to feel good about how far you've come. I can so relate to having fears and nervousness when I ride. I never used to feel fear, but I do now. Not sure why, but my confidence has taken a nosedive, and my horses know it. Sure doesn't give me incentive to ride Eagle who I have no history on, but do know he's spooky and green as grass. Not a good combo, but we're working on building a good foundation relationship on the ground first. We need to start riding though, we're ready for the next step, and I'm so scared. I need to find someone I'm comfortable with to help us through this first step too, it really helps having someone you can trust. I'm proud of you for your accomplishments. I am a firm believer in breathing exercises, deep breaths, letting out exaggerated sighs and singing, which all help me relax, and that in turn, helps my horse relax. Fake it til you make it! :) Have fun!

Cut-N-Jump said...

What Sherry said. Even if you get them used to the *sigh* on the ground, and then start sighing when you are on them. Every time you ask them to stop and they do- deep breath and sigh.

As far as trusting your horses more- you already do. Think about it. Every time you step up there and throw a leg over- you are putting all of your trust into that horse. Even the best of riders and trainers-> We are all passengers of some degree. The horses are merely doing as we ask because they choose to accept it.

Cindy D. said...

For me and Trax, that big sigh is as much a cue as anything else I use. I have been using on the ground with him since the beginning because he used to hold his breath while lunging. It was the only way I could even get him to consider a downwards transition.

Now as we progress onward through our lessons, and Mark says to me, "Ride him through it." (As my horse is doing circles at mach 9) I use those audible deep breaths out to tell him that "I'm not going anywhere, it is going to be ok, go ahead and let your breath out Trax, and you can stop moving those feet anytime." At the same time it helps me relax too because I try hard to internalize the message I want to convey to him.

Reddunappy said...

It has been great reading about all the progress you have made! With all your horses.
Keep up the good work!

achieve1dream said...

You've come a long way with your horses and I'm so proud of you! It's kind of sad to see the trainer go, but I think it's time. I'm glad you still have P.S. though. I hope you get a few more cool days for some trail rides. I hate having to take time off due to weather, but it's necessary sometimes, especially with such dangerously hot temps.