Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ever Changing Goals

I've been struggling to come up with things for my horse trainer to do with my horses, because it seems that they always behave well for him.  He hasn't had the pleasure of experiencing their freak outs, perhaps because the novelty of having someone new on their backs distracts them from the things that usually spook them.  He does have a way with horses.  Every time he rides one of them, the next person who rides that horse always notices a huge improvement in the horse.  So, even though he hasn't seen what I've seen my horses do when they are scared, simply having him ride them for a few minutes a week is as good as sprinkling pixie dust all over them and having magical things happen.

In our last lesson, he rode Bombay while I rode my bike.  We began with me walking my bike beside Bombay.  I think because Bombay knows me, he wasn't concerned.  Then I rode in circles around Bombay while the trainer sat on him.  Then he followed me, and even squeezed Bombay up to a trot to chase me. Then I passed them from behind.  Still he had no trouble.  He suggested that I ride around in the distance, because sometimes it is unrecognizable movement that gets a horse excited.  I thought it was ridiculous that we were having to try all these different things just to get Bombay excited, because every time I ride him, if he sees anything moving out on the trails, he gets nutty nervous.  A lot of times I don't even see whatever he sees, but I know he sees something because he pumps himself up real tall and gets the jitters and snorts.

The trainer had me turn up the trail he was on and ride toward him.  Finally, Bombay pumped himself up tall and gave a little snort.  The trainer said he felt his nervousness that time.  I guess going away for a while and coming back made me a stranger in my horse's eyes, but once Bombay knew it was me, he relaxed again.  We talked about setting things up differently in the future so that we don't ride out together, but meet up in the desert from a distance.  I started thinking that maybe I should just ask the old, deaf, retired guy who normally scares that crap out of my horses when he rides his bike to just help out by riding when my trainer is here.  I mean, if this bicyclist has got time to spy on me in my back yard from behind bushes, he's got time to help.

The trainer then worked with P.S. and Gabbrielle on cross-firing.  Gabbrielle has always had this strange, hyper-speed gallop in which her legs just get spastic and out of control.  I constantly worry that she's going to break a leg when she gallops, and it is difficult to get her to slow down.  She also still carries her head like a giraffe, which isn't good for her back.  Of course, Gabbrielle didn't cross-fire much at all when P.S. lunged her in the round pen in front of the trainer.  No one has ridden Gabbrielle at anything faster than a trot since the dressage trainer worked with her back in 2011.  We weren't sure what to expect, and considering how fast she goes when lunged, neither P.S. nor I were inclined to experiment with the pace under saddle with this horse.

Of course, the trainer had no problem teaching her to lope under saddle.  He's fearless and up for anything.  He recognized that Gabbrielle was nervous having a new rider in a different saddle, so he kept her at the trot at first since she was experienced carrying a rider at that pace.  She had never been in a breast collar or back cinch before, but she was experiencing that now.  When he felt her start to relax, he pushed her up to the lope, but she spazzed out and kept going faster and faster like she does when we lunge her.

She spooked at something on the outside of the round pen and ran sideways across the pen.  I held my breath and prayed really hard that he would stay on.  I've seen Gabbrielle dump two riders already while spooking, and I didn't want anyone else getting hurt.  He rode it out with no problem, and once he got the direction of her legs under control and got his stirrup back, he just put her right back into the lope like nothing ever happened.  This time she sped up and gave a pretty good sized buck, which he called a little hop, but it looked like a rodeo bronc moment to me.  Her legs were stretched straight out and up in the air at a 45 degree angle.  Again, he just resumed riding and even made her go faster, so that she would learn that she can't get out of work by trying to dump her rider.

At some point she started limping.  Memories flooded back of the time the dressage trainer led Gabbrielle to the riding arena, mounted, and Gabbrielle suddenly began limping and falling all over the place like she had broken her leg.  I was shocked and scared.  The dressage trainer dismounted, examined her leg and hoof, didn't see anything, said, "She's faking it," got back on and put her through her paces.  That "broken leg" healed miraculously, and she moved just fine.  So, in this incident, I watched quietly to see if this was a true injury or another episode of faking it, and the limp cleared up real fast when the trainer didn't get off to give her sympathy, but moved her up to the lope.  What is it with mares faking injuries?  I've got two of them who do that.

At another point she leaned so far to the side like a motorcycle that the trainer said she almost dragged his knee on the ground.  I guess her speed was what kept her upright.

The trainer said that the turning point was when he decided to just give her a loose rein and let her go as fast as she wanted.  It had a reverse psychology effect, and she slowed down to a more controlled pace.  He felt that her biggest issue was a lack of confidence, and that the best way to get her down to a controlled lope from her crazy gallop would be to just keep riding her at the pace until it's not so scary for her.  Then move her out of the round pen and lope her on a straight of way.

After seeing how she behaved, I certainly didn't feel comfortable riding her repeatedly at the gallop and I really didn't want P.S. taking the risk, so I decided to shift focus and put all the other horses on the back burner while the trainer works this out with Gabbrielle.  We talked about getting her into a better, more collected frame.  He's going to teach her to lower her head on command.  I did teach her to lower her head when you place your hand on her poll, and she's happy to oblige and drop her nose all the way to the ground as long as you aren't trying to bridle her.  But I haven't taught her how to drop her head when someone is in the saddle.

Gabbrielle does really well on the trails with the exception of the occasional spook or refusal to pass garbage, a cactus, or a stranger.  We could just keep her in her comfort zone, but P.S. would like to ride her in endurance competitions some day.  So, it's imperative that the horse be confident and comfortable at all paces with all trail obstacles, and that she know how to carry herself in an optimal manner in order to avoid injuries.  But what's even more important is that she be a safe horse to ride at all paces.

It was good to see that even with her petite bone structure and size, she could carry a heavier person and saddle.  So, perhaps I shouldn't be so concerned about planting my fat butt on her.  I've just always been bothered by the way she sways and falls to the side, catching herself at the last second, when I mount her.  The last time it happened, I decided to just let her become P.S.'s project horse, because P.S. is light as a feather and she has a really good relationship with Gabbrielle.  With P.S. riding her regularly, I didn't think much about goals for Gabbrielle.  I put all my focus on the geldings.  Now it's time that I shift my focus back onto her training.  I feel like Gabbrielle got the short end of the stick, because her training has been interrupted so many times by unexpected events, and as a result, there are holes in her foundation that could come back to bite us if we don't address them.

I went outside today to take pictures of Gabbrielle, but Lostine photobombed the shoot...


Betsy H said...

We have a mare who fakes injury too! Going to the arena she limps on the left foot when we reach the arena she limps in the right! I never noticed the switch in legs until in teenage daughter pointed it out :)

achieve1dream said...

Love that picture of Lostine!

I'm so happy you found this trainer! I don't think I would have the guts to gallop her after that display either lol. I wish I had his confidence!

I'm sure you would be fine to ride Gabrielle. The endurance Arabs carry a lot of weight with no problem.