Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maisie Chooses the Long Way Round, and the Pre-emptive Circle

It was a beautiful day after the rain showers cleared through. By mid-afternoon, we had a temperature of 58F, with bright sun - just amazing! When I went to get Maisie - she made me hike through the mud and water to the round bale to get her - Dawn was lying flat out in the hay sleeping. She rolled up into regular lying-down position as I got nearer, and I was able to walk up and rub her sleepy face and feed her a treat while she way still lying there.

Maisie and I were able to ride a bit. The arena is a soupy mess of ice, snow and water, and the trails aren't much better yet - there's a lot of ice and the areas without ice are very soggy, but we took a little ride anyway. As we picked our way along, we came to a point where there is a choice of which direction to go, and Maisie opted to turn away from the barn. She used to routinely do this on trail rides - I think to explore - but hasn't in a while. I guess she's tired of just hanging around in a muddy turnout. As we turned towards the barn, we had to walk in the street rather than on the trail, as it was too icy - we don't usually do this but she didn't mind. Our street is normally very quiet, and we met no cars. As we got near the barn, instead of heading there she opted to turn down the driveway to the organic farm. I can't remember the last time we've gone that way. She was very interested in all the things we saw, including some truck tires halfway embedded in the dirt that are part of a playground, an assortment of trash cans, greenhouses and other interesting things. She was looking around and a little bit snuff-a-whuffy, but very willing to walk forward and not spooking at all.

We came up to a large shed that is full of equipment and all sorts of farm stuff - the opening was in shadow and we couldn't see too far inside. She was intrigued (perhaps that's where I got her show name - Intrigue - from - she's often intrigued!), and we walked up closer. All of a sudden there was some clattering and crashing from inside the shed - she was on full alert as clearly there might be predators making those noises. But she stood her ground on a loose rein. I called out to ask the person inside the shed to say something, and he came out and did. This somewhat reassured her, but then the clattering and crashing resumed. Although she still stood there, it was that tense stance that's often a prelude to a spin and quick exit. I kept my reins completely loose - tightening up on the reins when a horse is nervous usually isn't a great idea, in my experience - and took a handful of mane in my left hand, just in case there was a spin coming - I can usually ride a spin just fine without mane, but it never hurts to have a little more stability. Then we did a move I call the pre-emptive circle - actually until I wrote this post I've never called it anything, just done it. Keeping my left rein completely loose, I used a right opening rein to ask her to circle to the right, and even though she would have preferred at this point to leave, we circled in a small (but not excessively tight) circle a couple of times until we were facing back towards the shed again and she stopped. We stood there for a bit on a loose rein (all those standing-around exercises really help with this), and then repeated the circle, and stood again. She was calmer at this point, so I turned her and we walked away about 50 yards. Then we turned back towards the shed and approached it again. She stood for a bit, not as worried, and we turned around and walked on a loose rein back to the barn. My thinking in doing the pre-emptive circling is to get ahead of the spin and possible bolt before it happens by directing the horse's feet, so I'm making the choice and offering her some direction - sometimes turning the horse will initiate a bolt, so I'm prepared for that, but since I'm already circling, the bolt doesn't usually get too far. And doing the circling of course presupposes that there's a safe space to circle in.

I was delighted with her, both for choosing the paths she took, and for dealing so well with a scary situation.

Fred got some good gate work in with Sugar's owner at bring-in time. Scout had started the geldings to running - this is something he often does at bring-in time. Joe and Noble ran around a bit, then, being sensible older guys, stood to one side as Scout, Fred and Fritz madly raced around and rolled in the mud, getting all hot and tired. Sugar's owner left Fred to last, so he wouldn't have to worry about another horse on his tail. After a few tries through the gate - I told her to just let him go back and forth through it on his own while she stood to the side until he calmed down - he was able to walk through calmly. It probably helped that he was tired out!


  1. Getting ahead of a full fear response works with people, it makes sense it would make help Maise. I'll have to give that a try.

    You kept saying "she decided". Can you describe that process more? It always seems like I hear we shouldn't let the horse decide and I'd like to hear what you think of it.

  2. Breathe - We were out on a low-key trail ride, and the footing was awful, so I would have been happy to just go back towards the barn. But she asked me if we could go the other way - we often ride on a loose rein and that's the way she started to head - I sometimes let her choose at forks in the trail. Now, if we'd had a particular objective - say to take a certain trail, I might have said, no, let's go this way instead and she would have agreed. It's pretty subtle sometimes. For example, when I was taking her out of the pasture today, as I was starting to take her out of the gate she stopped and when I turned to see what she wanted, she indicated that she wanted to go to the water tank, which is near the gate, for a drink, which I allowed her to do. So I guess I see it as I'm in charge but I listen to what she asks, and if it's reasonable and I agree, we can do that. I guess I feel it gives her a sense that I'm listening to her and not just talking, if you get what I mean. But I'm the leader too, if that makes any sense.

  3. I really loved this little story of letting her choose trails Kate.
    Aren't these the best little rides? You go out, not expecting much... the times have not been conducive for riding and the footing may not be great..but you go and spend time with your mare. She did seem to be wanting to explore...she has the neatest character, that Maisie!
    I like the fact I have heard of another mare...choosing the longer route..very cool!

    I have had similar times, just did not think of posting on do also have a lovely way with I do photo's!

  4. I love this story, Kate. It sounds like Maisie really enjoyed herself. When I was reading this post I felt like I was there on Pie. He is very much like your Maisie. I was picturing myself grabbing a handful of his mane and just then you said that you got some of Maisie's. That is my new trick - if I feel unsure, I take some mane rather than reins. It really works. I've not done the circle you talk about. I'll have to try it! I let both horses decide where they want to go. Pie always decides to go away, and Sovey always wants to go back and check on Pie.

  5. Sounds like a great ride,good work helping your horse to stay calm and focused

  6. Sounds like the "pre emptive circle" is a perfect name for it

  7. "So I guess I see it as I'm in charge but I listen to what she asks, and if it's reasonable and I agree, we can do that. I guess I feel it gives her a sense that I'm listening to her and not just talking, if you get what I mean. But I'm the leader too, if that makes any sense."

    This is exactly what I strive for as well. I know I don't always achieve it but it is the goal.

  8. The outdoor arenas here are pretty soupy right now too. I can't wait for spring and hopefully it will be a dry one.

  9. Grabbing the mane is such a good idea! I need to do that more when I sense a weird moment. There are times I have felt we were just about to come across a BEAR! But also, like you and Maisie, big hunks of shed and farm equipment, or those wrapped up hay bales do the same thing. I LOVED reading about how you got her moving her feet. As Clinton says: backwards forwards left and right. You could write your own training manual, I swear.

  10. Good exercise. Whenever I finish that article I promised on spooking, you'll see some similar tactics.

  11. I think it's neat that you invite your horse to choose the direction you take sometimes. I like to do that at times, too. It's interesting to see where they decide to go, isn't it?

    You said: "snuff-a-whuffy" hehe! I just love these words together. I may have to use that someday, if you don't mind. :)



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