Wednesday, June 16, 2010

That Was A Lot of Work!

Maisie and I both worked hard yesterday. Once again, we were by ourselves at the barn - I'm beginning to think of it as the "ghost stable" - except on weekends there often aren't many people around, which suits me at this point as a quiet atmosphere is what Maisie needs. After about 10 minutes of walk warm-up, our first trotting set of about 10 minutes went very well. She was very forward but able to respond to my half halts and pace herself. Then we walked for a bit on a loose rein until she caught her breath.

As soon as we started our second trot set, I could tell she was started to get revved up - she practically leapt into the trot with almost no aid. This isn't just something she does under saddle; I've seen her do it in a herd situation as well. She start out running and playing with the other horses but become more and more excited, and well, wild and a bit silly. While we were trotting, I got the "bird flies up and you spook and scoot" and other maneuvers like attempted small bucks. She wasn't really listening at this point. A quote about the People Pleaser personality (this is pretty well Maisie) from the fun little book Is Your Horse a Rock Star?: Understanding Your Horse's Personality by Dessa Hockley (the book that relates to the web site I linked to several days ago - the book elaborates the ideas and has some good suggestions for working with different personalities - I don't agree with everything in the book but it's pretty good):

Some riders will think that they can lunge or exercise this horse to get him to quiet down. As the speed increases, the internal chatter increases until nothing is making any sense and you can both feel frustrated and upset.
When she starts to get excited and work herself up, she starts to worry, and it becomes a vicious cycle. With a horse like this who gets excited, I'd do lots of challenging figures - small circles, serpentines, etc., and lots of lateral work - to engage their brain, give the energy someplace to go and give them work they can feel they are doing well - this is what settles them down. Since Maisie isn't fit yet, I can't do that more strenuous work without risking her stifles or soundness.

So I did an alternative to get her to focus. I dismounted, closed the arena doors and took off her bridle - another advantage of being there by ourselves was the empty arena. I asked her to move away from me - she trotted and sometimes cantered, but didn't really run - until she started to focus on me again and pay attention. Then I let her stop, went up to her and petted her, and turned and walked back to the mounting block - she followed me.

I rebridled and remounted and we started to work again. I spend about 5 minutes doing walk figures to engage her brain again, and then we trotted. She was still too forward, so I did a few minutes of sitting trot on a 20-meter circle to help her focus - I didn't want to do more on a small circle - and then we were able to do 30-meter circles at the posting trot in both directions, and then also with changes of direction. She was still pretty up but as long as I kept the bend with inside leg to outside rein, she was able to maintain her pace and listen pretty well. We trotted for about another 10 minutes until we were reliably getting the pace and listening I wanted, and then we were done and walked out on a loose rein. We were both pretty sweaty by that point, so she got a nice rinse off.

It was tiring, but I think productive. Every time she can successfully listen and feel like she's able to do what I'm asking, we make progress, however small the progress seems.


  1. This sounds like most of the sessions I have with Dusty. Until we do the work to calm her down she's always up and raring to go. Once she can focus and settle down we get some good work done.

  2. Wow I like how you handled her energy! That is so neat that she listened to you with her bridle off that says a lot about your bond with her. You guys are probably both tired but she learned something AND got a good but safe workout. :)

  3. Bonnie is another one that you can't "work down." You can work her up but not down! Engage the brain and getting her thinking is always the solution with her.

  4. Ah, the infamous 'bird flies up...spook and scoot' move! I love your description - I KNOW that move!
    It's very interesting to read how you worked with Maisie. Do you think she was getting bored in the 2nd set and that led to her lack of listening? Maybe she's just too smart!

  5. Dreaming - good question! I actually don't think she was bored - she doesn't bore very easily - I think it's possible that she started to worry that she hadn't done something right which is why we were trotting a second time. It's hard to tell - I'll be doing some experiments with it to see what works.

  6. Wow. Good for you recognizing what she need to get refocused.

    I also liked what you wrote: "engage their brain, give the energy someplace to go and give them work they can feel they are doing well - this is what settles them down."

    This is what works for Apache, too. She seems so much happier to have a job to do. She loves the appreciation I give her for a job well done.


  7. Wonderful! I really like your new place...will be great for you two to connect like that, having the space to yourselves more.

    I have to Shake it up...nothing really ever works twice with mine. Once she is on to my techniques and I MUST have new and different ones handy- all- the- time...then her brain engages and we may work together.

    Loved reading of the progresses...give me hope and inspiration..for when I trailer out..soon I hope, to an arena nearby.

  8. Sounds familiar! Since Jimmy was a baby, I have always tried the "walk it out" method - when he gets overwhelmed I just stop and walk until he's forgotten what he's so worked up about in the first place. When this doesn't work, my plan B is to let him "RUN it out" and we gallop and gallop and G-A-L-L-O-P until his little heart can't stand to gallop anymore. This is right about the time he has a light bulb moment and thinks "Oh hey, I should listen to Mom!" haha Find what works and stick to it! Keep up the great progress!!

  9. If you have trotting poles set up, that might help too...or is she the one who gets too forward at the poles? (That was Dawn, wasn't it???)

    This gives you some options as to something she needs to focus on. As well, some cones or jump standards set up to weave or circle. If you focus on a marker of some kind and try to make a perfect circle around it with Maisie, it will help focus your attention which will then transfer to her.

    Just some ideas to add to your obviously successful strategy for dealing with her "too forward" attitude.

  10. Progress can be little for a long time, then suddenly gel, can't it? That's what I've found in my limited experience.

    How long will you continue to close things in the arena - I mean, when do you work on having her deal with the distractions? Or is it still mare time?

  11. I think it's great that you're creative and confident enough to try new things. If only more horse owners would think about the situations they get into and the root causes...

  12. Your Maisie reminds me of my girl. We're doing tons of groundwork right now. Before we start to work I like to turn her loose in the ring first to check the place out. She walks around a bit sniffing at things; when she comes back to me I know she's ready to work.

    I think it's nice to give them a chance to look around even if they don't take it. Especially if they're a nervous little hothead.


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