Monday, January 19, 2015

More Exposure

On Sunday I took Gabbrielle for another walk in the desert.  I went to a high spot and looked toward all horizons for signs of movement, but no one was around.  So, I just walked her up and down the main trails hoping we would eventually run into someone so that she could learn that it's no big deal to pass other horses, people and dogs on the trails.

Eventually, I heard a snort and felt the lead rope go taut.  I turned to see her alerting on something.  Way, way, way off in the distance was another lady hand walking her horse.  It looked like an Arab, because the second it spotted Gabbrielle, its tail went up, its neck arched, and it began dancing around its owner.  I thought, "Ah ha!  It's my soul sister.  I should go talk to her."

But before I could turn her way, she yanked her horse away from the direction they were previously headed, and went back the way they came out through a gate.  I guess she didn't want to have to deal with other people and horses.  Either that or she was practicing the technique of pulling your horse away from whatever is monopolizing its attention.

So, we marched on.  It took a while to get Gabbrielle to come down from her high.  Before we saw the other horse, she was walking slowly behind me with her head hanging low.  After we saw the other horse, she was barging ahead of me, keeping the lead rope taut and prancing, so I had to keep yanking the rope and twirling the end of it in front her her face to get her to slow down and get beside or behind me.

Just when I had given up on finding anyone else in the desert, we passed a trail that had two hikers on it.  Gabbrielle didn't even see them, because she was so focused on getting home.  I turned her around to head up the other trail toward the hikers, and she looked at me like I was crazy for not wanting to go home.  She hung her head low and wandered slowly behind me until she finally spotted the hikers.  Then her head shot up and every muscle went tense.

It was a Native American woman and her child.  They immediately pulled off to the side of the trail and acted as if they were scared of either me or my horse.  I called out hello before they could cut over to another trail, and I told them that I turned around and came their way because I want my horse to get used to passing hikers.  I stopped in front of them to talk, hoping Gabbrielle would settle down when she saw they were harmless.

The woman told me that she has a little mare who doesn't like to be out on the trails because she can't see what is over the top of and behind all the bushes.  Gabbrielle blew snot out her nostrils at them and I yanked her lead rope and said, "Oh, stop!"  She was acting like a fire breathing dragon.

My horse's rude behavior embarrassed me.  The lady said she that Gabbrielle is pretty, and we moved on.  I think in the future I won't stand so close to people so that Gabbrielle can't give them an unexpected shower.  She blows air out and snorts to notify other horses in the area that danger is near.


With Monday being a holiday, the neighborhood was buzzing with activity.  The race car driver's kids were up in my tree nailing their treehouse to it.  That progressed to them screaming at the ravens and throwing rocks and rolling boulders down the hill into the arroyo.  They kept coming down the hill closer and closer to the horses as they were chucking rocks.  My husband had enough and said a few words to them.  Every time I've hiked out there to talk to them about their trespassing and animal cruelty, they always run away, so I was surprised they let him get close enough to speak to them.

Then the race car driver power washed his house all day, so we got to listen to the compressor sounds.  I'm hoping he's just cleaning it and is not going to spend the next three months trying to spray paint it himself.  One of the reasons why I moved out of my old neighborhood was because every time I turned around another neighbor was either painting or re-roofing his house, and I just couldn't get a break from all the noise pollution.  If people would just hire a professional contractor to do those types of jobs, a whole crew of painters and roofers could be done in a few days and then peace can be restored to the neighborhood, but I know not everyone can afford it.  Since this guy seems to race cars for a living and usually returns from races with a wreck being hauled by a tow truck, I doubt he's rolling in dough.

The man who has been building a second house on his property since before we moved in had another convoy of dump trucks frequenting his driveway.  I guess truckers and construction workers don't take holidays off.  So, I took Bombay for a walk in the direction of the dump trucks.  He was walking behind me, head hanging low, half asleep until he heard voices up ahead.  Then the gawk and balk game began.

I was pleased to only have to give a light tug on the lead rope to keep him moving.  In the past I had to whip him with the rope to keep him moving, and sometimes even then he wouldn't budge.  The voices turned out to be attached to a man and a woman who were walking two large dogs on leashes.  Bombay nervously watched them the whole way, but kept walking beside me.  I tugged his head toward me every few seconds to tell him to focus on me and our trail, and he settled down pretty quickly.

Then a dump truck came toward us, and he got more nervous than he was with the dog walkers.  I used the same technique, but this time he tried hiding behind me and putting his nose on my shoulder for protection.  I don't like it when he gets that close, because I knew that as soon as the dump truck began dumping, there would be some loud noises, and Bombay would jump on top of me, so I tossed the rope at his nose to make him back off.

We made it past the dump truck and he relaxed.  When it came time to turn back, we wound up passing the dog walkers again in the other direction and at the same time another dump truck drove up beside us.  Bombay got very tense, looking frantically between the dog walkers to his left and the dump truck to his right, and then the most amazing thing happened.  He took a deep breath, exhaled long and loud, lowered his head, and walked in a relaxed manner next to me, tuning out everything that was going on around us.

That's huge for Bombay.  I was so pleased.  I've rarely seen him handle being outside of his comfort zone in a rational manner.  I wondered and hoped that this meant that hikers, dogs and dump trucks were now within his comfort zone.  It always seems that just when I'm feeling completely fed up with the lack of progress I'm having with a horse, he or she does something miraculous.


Then it was Gabbrielle's turn, and boy, did she get a run for her money.  I knew that with it being a holiday we would encounter more than just the usual traffic in the desert, but we hit pay dirt.

As I was leading her up the driveway, I heard a vehicle engine coming up the street, but ignored it and kept walking, hoping Gabbrielle would follow suit and mimic my attitude.  But she gawked, balked and then spooked.  I thought, "What kind of vehicle would cause that reaction?" and turned my head to see a man on an ATV coming toward us.

I got Gabbrielle's legs unlocked and led her to the end of the driveway thinking that I was going to stop the driver and ask him if we could follow him to help get her confidence up around quads.  The driver stopped next to us and shut off his engine before I could say anything.  It turned out that he is friends with the previous owners of our house, and he told me some stories about them.

For some reason he wanted me to know that they got divorced.  I know my real estate agent told me that the previous owners were under so much stress trying to find places to live when the house went into escrow, that it was ruining their marriage.  They wanted me to rent the house to them until they could find a place, but we had already paid for and scheduled everything with our movers.  I wondered if they were blaming me for their divorce.  But honestly, if they weren't prepared to move out, they shouldn't have had their house on the market.  I think of where I live now as a rural area, but certainly not a "small town" like where I came from.  Still, it seems that my reputation precedes me, because I keep meeting people who know me, though I don't know them.

Then he said the most bizarre thing.  He said, "I can't drive anymore because I'm going so deaf and blind, so I got this thing and I love it.  It's a blast.  I've been into town on it and everything."

I was baffled over how having a blind and deaf man drive an ATV is any safer than him driving a car.  I guess he just drives it slowly down the shoulders of roads.  My husband and I have both noticed that there has been a rise in motorcyclists and ATVers cruising back and forth in front of our house.  We try to discourage people from making our quiet dead end road their safe place to take joy rides on their recreational vehicles, because it disturbs the peace.  This guy was going really slow, but we've had a neighbor race his motorcycle back and forth in front of our house dozens of times in a matter of minutes while we were trying to sleep.  I got rid of him by shaking my head angrily at him after he caused one of my horses to pull back when I had it tied to trailer.

Anyway, I told this man that horses are often afraid of ATVs, so I wanted to follow him to get her confidence up.  He drove slowly up the street and we followed, he turned around and we followed, and then we followed a little ways down the street before turning into the desert.  She did pretty well with it.  She was looking all around as if expecting something to jump out of the bushes at her, but she didn't seem too concerned about the ATV anymore.

We headed up the trail head and reached an intersection.  She alerted on voices in the distance.  It sounded like kids playing.  I considered leading her toward the voices to expose her to kids playing in bushes, but my gut told me to take a different path.  No sooner did we turn up a different path and the voices got louder.  Gabbrielle locked up and no amount of yanking and whipping could get her to focus on me.  I turned around to see three teenage girls on galloping horses coming up over a rise toward us.  They were screaming and laughing.  I started laughing too, hoping that Gabbrielle would understand that they were having fun, and that the horses were not running from a lion.

The girls reached the intersection just a few yards away from us and turned on our trail, but in the opposite direction.  Gabbrielle took off running after them, hit the end of the lead rope, I gave it a yank and held on for dear life while yelling, "NO!" and she stopped.

That incident got me thinking hard about whether I should be riding her on the trails at all.  First off, I have learned that I cannot ride her trot and lope.  Her conformation issues make for a really rocky ride.  So, I was thinking I'll just ride her at a walk on the trails, but what if a group of horses come galloping past us when I'm riding her and she takes off running with them?  Will I bounce out of the saddle before I can do the one-rein stop?

I've got some thinking to do regarding how to best approach this problem.  These galloping horseback riders aren't going to go away until summer.  I know I need to do some more arena riding with her and make sure she's got whoa down pat.  The only problem is that by her reaction of ignoring me when I ordered her to keep moving in that stressful situation, I know things won't be any better if I am in the saddle.  I'm not an advocate of harsh bits, so her french link snaffle isn't going to stop her, none the less get her attention back on me if she is zoned in on galloping horses.  The best I can do is turn her in a circle until she stops, but she's so bouncy that I'm not sure I can stay in the saddle at anything faster than a walk.  I may have to cough up some cash for equitation lessons specifically on her.  I said I wasn't going to spend anymore money on horse training, but it has been a few years since I've had equitation lessons.  I just don't want an instructor who is going to threaten to tie me to the saddle if I can't keep my butt in it.  Those types of instructors just end up stressing me out and make me hate riding.

I've been spending so much time working with Bombay and Gabbrielle lately that Rock is starting to follow me around when I walk toward the other horses with halter in hand.  He nudges me as if to say, "Ride me."  I just wanted to take advantage of the holiday weekend by forcing my two chickens to face up to their fears.


FoxLair said...

This makes me so sad that I had to get rid of my Stella. She would not have spooked at anything you came across, however, the galloping horses may have done her in. She was so good about not spooking, but soooo bad about being around other horses, that I had to get rid of her. However, she would be fine if just riding with one or two and she was allowed to lead. It's been hard to find a safe horse,I'm taking my time. I haven't gotten my money from the lawsuit yet anyways. I wish you lived closer, I would come over and help coach you. I used to be a trainer, and was the state equitation champion for many years over fences and on the flat. Stella was very bouncy too,and I had the same concerns about what would happen if she ever took off....since my equitation days of having a tight seat and legs have been gone for

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

FoxLair - That's so sweet of you to consider it. Sometimes I think some horses just have such strong, deeply ingrained herd instincts that it's really difficult for us humans to train them to listen to us and leave their natural horse behaviors at the gate.

achieve1dream said...

Yeah there aren't many horses that can ignore other galloping horses. I highly doubt Chrome would (he does okay with horses in pastures galloping toward him, but if they gallop away he wants to go with them).

I'm proud of Bombay for conquering his fears!! I hope it sticks. :D