Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Need a Plan

It's time to address the elephant in the room.  Now that Rock has successfully dumped two people in his spooks, I need a plan to correct the problem.  First, I'll describe what is going on.  Up until my accident, Rock never spooked under saddle.  Sometimes he'd jump if I brought my hand up to his face too quickly back when he didn't know me from Adam, which made me think he had been hit in the face by a previous owner or trainer.  Sometimes he'd jump and take off bucking if I cracked the long whip in the round pen.  But he seemed totally comfortable and confident on the trails.  When Christine trail rode with us, she referred to him as "unflappable".

So, it is quite a surprise that twice now he spooked so unexpectedly and violently that my husband and I both got dumped.  His pattern of behavior was that he threw his head up, jumped sideways, spun on a dime, and took off running, only to stop just a few feet away from where we fell.  We fell off in the spin.  It's so fast and violent that the laws of physics say that without a seat belt, the rider is bound to end up eating dirt.  People have asked me if I'm going to hire a trainer to deal with this, but I don't feel good about putting anyone else in the line of fire.  I don't care how good a rider someone is, no one can possibly hang on in one of these spooks.

At least with the Arabs, their spooks have warning signs.  Their muscles tense up, they balk, the head goes up and the neck arches, they look in the direction of whatever is scaring them, they snort, and then they teleport sideways or spin.  Usually, you have time to sit deep and grip with your thighs to prepare for it.  Bombay's spooks are actually fairly comfortable and easy to ride out compared to Rock.  With Rock, you are already flying through the air by the time you realize that he just spooked.

The big mystery is what he is spooking at.  Nobody knows, because nobody saw anything.  I thought he might have stepped in the thorny bush and got stabbed when I fell off, but he was holding still on a wide trail when he spooked with my husband.  All I could think of was that maybe he saw the top of a car going down our street off in the distance and the movement startled him, despite all the cars driving right past him on the main road in front of his face.  Maybe there was a rabbit or coyote in the distance, but he sees those all the time.  I wondered if there was something in our tone of voice when we spoke that scared him, but we talk to him all the time and he never spooks at our voices.  His tack is fine and get inspected before each ride.  Maybe he caught a glimpse of a bicyclist?  But the horses usually pop their heads up to watch them instead of just running away.

It was almost as if he had fallen asleep or had a small seizure, and upon coming back to consciousness, he experienced extreme fear over not knowing where he was.  Then within a few seconds, he immediately settles down, cocks a hoof, and relaxes as if nothing ever happened.

So, how do I fix this?  

I'm going back to basic groundwork with him.  It's going to be hard to teach him to spook in place because there are so few objects that scare him.  If I shake a plastic bag in his face, he'll just grab it with his teeth and shake it around himself.  What do you suggest?  I need to do something before anyone rides him again, because so far we've been lucky in not getting hurt too badly.  I can't just keep riding him and hope I don't break a bone next time I get thrown.  Any ideas?


fernvalley01 said...

I want to say, you are maybe over concerned about this, its a spook, and as fast as it is it doesn't seem dirty. That said, you don't need to get hurt nor does your hubby. It seems to me he gets bored and "dozes off" then something startles him. My answer would be to keep his mind and feet very busy when riding him, bump lightly with your legs, all the time and "massage" the reins not checking him just reminding him you are there and riding actively.
I am not intending to offend you here , just my thoughts. I will be interested to read what others are thinking

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Well, since you asked, I'm going to tell you what has been going through my mind and I hope I can say this right...

Your insistence to show your horses every little thing that moves or is different actually teaches them to be hyper-vigilant and spooky. The point of making a 'broke horse' is to teach them to ignore outside influences, not make them look for and/or worry about them.

Rock 'was' a broke horse and his training has been undone. He has learned to spook for no apparent reason because it's almost like it's expected. He doesn't know why, but he's starting to think that this is obviously an expected behavior.

I'd also say that you are wrong about a trainer or experienced rider not being able to ride out Rock's spooks. I ride out Frosty's frequently and that big lug can teleport sideways faster than he has ever attempted to move forward. Thing is, I just melt into my horse and go with him. And then I ride on. Most of the time I have no idea what made him spook and to be honest, I don't care.

My honest opinion at this time is that you should probably forget about ground work and further desensitization. You should probably need to get a trainer that will ride Rock for a month, out in the desert and get his 'broke horse' brain back. And in the meantime, you might want to re-think the need to point out every thing to your other horses and instead get them focused on being aware of and yet ignoring outside influences and just trekking along.

That is just my 2 cents and I hope it doesn't come across sounding mean. It's not meant to be.

Jennifer said...

In the video of your unintentional dismount, I noticed his ears and head "flagged you" of the impending spook before it happened.

Watch his ears - watch his head. They go up, I'd either turn him quickly, give him a "different job" - a distraction that's bigger and/or more interesting than the one he found on his own.. OR... learn how to hop off quickly, and "see what he sees". Be ever-aware of your body language. Are you sitting relaxed? Does your bum feel like a sack of potatoes? Are you 100% focused on your surroundings? Are you tense, looking around waiting for a scary imaginary object to eat you both?

All spoken from experience.. I *thought* I was riding calmly until I realized I held the "oh cr@P I hope I don't die" in my bum muscles...

good luck

Tina said...

What I would do, in this sort of situation, is always be aware and when he does spooks and goes into the spin, make him continue to spin until he offers to stop. Then continue the ride.

Another thing, just to be on the safe side, would be to get his eyes checked.

TeresaA said...

hmm. One thought that springs to mind is maybe he has a vision problem?

if not that then I would work him hard before the trail ride- it will decrease the desire for antics.

Sam said...

I'm so puzzled by his behavior - the Rock I saw that day doesn't seem like a horse to do this. Could you pony him? I could recommend our trainer - he helps owners with problem horses and sort of expects to get dumped. Let me know.



Laura Lee said...

Hi, Can't wait to read any suggestions/remedies/training plans people will have for this. Everyone has different ideas and opinions that work for them and their horses.

Riding a horse who will dump you at any given time can make for a tense ride. And it happens so quickly!

Now that you know the beginning signal he gives, throws his head up, I wonder if there was anything he did just prior to that, a quick intake of air? a slight pause in his step? a tail swish?

The times I've been tossed I played it over and over in my head looking for the signals predicting a buck or spook that I may have missed when in the moment.

My suggestion would be to focus on directing his attention on his rider. I would avoid riding in a straight line down the trail where it sounds like he just zones out. Gently squeezing each rein-play a little with the bit--he'll think, hey what's she doing up there?, stop and ask for some flexion along the way at random, do some little bending exercises or ride some little circles along the way, ask for some side-passes or leg yields from one side of the trail/road to the other, back him up, make weird noises to keep him guessing and focused on what you're going to ask or do next rather than him thinking about how he can be getting out of work by fake spooking :)

Ground work is always great too!

gowestferalwoman said...

If i were a desert rose with a disrespectful horse I would -

1) develop a stronger three point seat / half halt so i can almost reactionary sit anything my horse does - spook, spin, trip etc. This also means developing my core better - there are some great workout videos out there for riders that i would try.

2) look for respect issues that my horse may have concerning my leadership - by checking it out by groundwork, then under saddle in an arena - once I know my horse is listening to my aids, then i would feel comfortable in going out on the trail.

3) find a good patient friend with a good patient horse to trail ride with for the first couple of trail rides - good behavior rubs off, and I would make my horse follow, not lead. Submission to me and other horses on request is a good trait to learn and have.

4) and if it warrants, Im not against using solid aids such as a better bit (not stronger, BETTER - there is a difference) to communicate - a better bit fits properly in your horses mouth, and touches contact points only when you are requesting something of them with your hands - good hands that can "feel" are required too so you can give to your horse when he answers your request correctly... or when using a riding crop with a popper (it doesnt hurt, it makes a slap noise) as an extension to my short legs. When used appropriately at the right time with the right measurement, a riding crop is a great way to make your aids "louder" when they wont listen to the minimum - as in "feel my leg, im mean now, move, not later" :) I usually start out with minimum pressure each request and if they dont respond, then increase "pressure", until I get the response I desire...the crop tapped once with a loud pop in back of my heel would be considered the heaviest pressure used in my world.I have found that when i ride with the crop, horses will respect it, respecting me. Having done catch ride for a few years, when you get on a strange horse youve never ridden before to take him over 3'2 jumps, its a necessary tool for strong horses -they sure respect it if it was used in the right way before on them. Thats why it should only be used as the last aid request, not the first. (Hitting a jumping standard with my body because a horse balked hurts lol - a crop with a popper can eliminate that balking if done at the right time)

5) Recognize my horse's shortcomings. Sometimes they cant be trained out of something, but you can turn that spin into a controlled reining spin,and then spin the other way, making your horse end up doing what you want him to do... or you can turn that spook into a 20m circle back to the orginal area of the spook, making him once again end up doing what you want him to do etc etc etc. And forward motion is always a good motion to work with...

6) If I cant do any of the above, or dont feel confident enough, then i would get a hold of a good trainer that I can understand, to work with me and my horse, not just my horse.

7) remember that its all suppose to be fun, you desert rose you. Otherwise you wouldnt own horses!

One of the best horseman advice I ever got was "every ride is a training ride"...