Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dawn Does the Maze

This is Dawn, my younger daughter's horse:

She is almost 12 years old, and we have had her for almost 8 years.  She is a Thoroughbred, and raced briefly until a bleeding episode ended her career.  She is small, about 15.1 hands, and stocky for a Thoroughbred - some people mistake her for a Quarter Horse.  She is the beta of our mare herd, and is quite dominant over all the other mares except for the supreme alpha, Lily.

This photo captures Dawn's fire, spirit and alertness:

She is always vigilant, and is one of the most hair-trigger reactive horses I have ever met.  She spooks fast and hard, and has an amazing ability to bolt and is very athletic - she can do acrobatics that would put a rodeo bronc to shame.

My daughter rides her bareback only (although she goes well in a saddle) and has the ability to ride through, and stay on for, almost anything.  My daughter mostly rides her on the trails, and even gallops.  My daughter and Dawn have a strong bond.

Partly due to her disposition, partly due to her confirmation, and partly due to her history and training, Dawn tends to be very stiff and bracey.  Part of her issue is that mental softness and the trust it requires doesn't come easily to her.  She also tends to be focussed everywhere but on her handler/rider.

When my daughter goes to college in the fall, Dawn will be my responsibility to work with.  There is a lot to do with her, starting with groundwork and in-hand work.  My daughter is on a school trip right now, so I did a little work with Dawn today, using the maze that I had set up for Lily several days ago - our ring is too hard-packed after rain and drying out to use for lungeing until it is dragged.  Part of the reason we did the maze, in hand, was because it was a good way for me to assess her attentiveness and softness.

As I expected, she had a tendency to want to rush when parts of the maze, particularly the turns, were difficult for her.  She often exhibits anxiety by rushing when she finds something difficult or stressful.  To do the maze successfully requires attention to each step and each shift of weight.  She also was more bracey and stiff when we were turning to the left.

We did the maze in hand several times in each direction - by the end she was beginning to slow down and listen to me, even in the parts she found difficult.  I'm looking forward to doing more work with her - she is a wonderful, capable horse who is a real challenge for me.


  1. Kate, she sounds just like my 6yr old Anky, except(thankfully) Anky hasn't shown any inclination to buck!! I'd like to hear more about the maze work.

  2. I think you are going to have a lot fun with her. Good on you for spending the time with her! I love reading what you do with your ponies everyday. I wish I had longer to spend with Sam. Soon I will!!!!!

  3. Di - in my May 25 post "Working With the Alpha Mare", there is a picture of a sample maze, and a description of what I was trying to do with it - but really, your imagination is the limit!

  4. The maze sounds intriguing - what is it, exactly? Is it permanent, or something you can set up and take down?

  5. Catching up after my vacation. Glad to hear Maisie is doing well and did have a serious case of laminitis. What a relief!

    Your maze sounds like a great way to work with Dawn. I'm looking forward to hearing of how she progresses with training.

  6. Neat story about Dawn! Now that I have "met" her, I understand how much she sounds like Arwen! Best wishes to both of us and these reactive mares! :)

  7. A maze sounds like a very good idea for her...Can't wait to see how she ends up doing with the rest of her training.

    Hopefully you won't have to be quite as sticky as your daughter :)

  8. I wish I were a kid again. My husband said he was watching me ride and then watching the neighbor's grand daughters ride. Then he followed it up with the comment, "They kicked your butt. They are way better riders than you." Of course, I had to get on the defensive and remind him that I didn't have a grandmother who owned horses and paid for my lessons since I was 4-years-old. It really helps to learn to ride as a child, because the flexibility, soft bones, and fearlessness work really well together.

  9. SunnySD - look at my May 25 post "Working With the Alpha Mare" for a picture of a sample maze and a description of what I did with it - you can design any pattern you like!

    NuzzMuzz - I know what you mean - although I rode as a child and young adult, I stopped for almost 20 years before picking it up again - and I no longer have the flexibility (or unflappability) of youth. Also, my daughters - both of them - both have unbelievable "stickiness" - they are both exceptional horsewomen (one is 18, the other 19).

  10. Lovely looking girl.

    I'll mention ulcers again. Treating him made a world of difference in my guy's spooky, unpredictable disposition.

    Regardless, I love TB's and especially nice chunky ones like Dawn. And, I certainly do understand the bond she has developed with your daughter. They tend to be very intelligent, loving horses. Do explain to her what is going on so she will understand you will be her new caretaker now and you will need to rely on her good judgment to keep you safe as you work with her.

    Some people think that's a silly approach, but horses understand far more than people generally believe.

  11. Catching up on posts again.
    Glad everything seems to go well with Masie. On the photo she looks so very much like my old, much beloved gelding that passed away three years ago - so I think she is VERY beautiful!
    And thanks for the review of Mark Rashid's latest books. I have now read four off, starting from the beginning, and I love them. Again, I envy you to have been able to attend his clinics.
    And good luck with Dawn. Sounds like a good strategy with the maze. Something to think about but low speed work, which should keep the stress factor low...

  12. I think working with her on the ground with the maze is a great idea. This way you and she can start to work together as a team and she will come to trust your judgment when she gets stressed about something.


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