Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things Go Sideways

I didn't really have the ride I wanted on Pie today.  My plan was for a fairly low-key confidence building ride, not that long.  Instead I had a somewhat nervous horse who never really relaxed and showed signs of herd-bound behavior once we turned for home.  He never did anything truly bad or dangerous, but he was on edge and not all that happy to be out.  There was a lot of head-high staring and looking, and looking back in the direction of the barn.  When I turned for home, he wanted to walk faster than I liked, and we had to do serpentines and occasional halts to keep things from escalating.  When we came in sight of the barn, he did one little hop and I told him to quit.  We did some standing around work on the field behind the barn, and some loops and serpentines.  Once I untacked, we did a little bit of standing around work in the parking area.

On a good note, we did go by one very loud barking dog - he was very nervous about this but managed to do it.  He also went by the place where the Scary Chickens In The Grass had been the other day, but they weren't there, which was a good thing.  He saw several sets of bicycles.  And he never did anything truly bad; but it wasn't a very fun ride - I couldn't relax for a moment and enjoy the lovely weather.

I don't have many good options to work through this except to keep plugging away at it.  I also want to start working on his physical and mental softness - the head-high stuff doesn't help his relaxation - but I can't do that until the sidepull comes.  I don't have many good options for people to ride on the trail with - a nice walking ride would build his confidence back, I think - there are only three other horses that are ridden at our barn (four riders - two people ride Charisma) and they're all experienced trail horses and the rides tend to be fast, which is the last thing Pie and I need right now.

I expect some of this is due to the incident where I tried to take him away from the other horses, and also to the fact that he's settling in and getting attached to the other horses - he was calmer and better on the trail when I first got him but I expect that was because he wasn't fully attached to his herdmates then.

I'm not feeling too good right now - perhaps I'll feel better about it later - he is a young horse after all - but I had perhaps unrealistically expected things to go better than they are right now, and they had been.


  1. Sounds a little like a blip or a bad day for Pie, that said if thats as bad as it gets... You two will be going through some growing pains for a while , and I am sure will have better days and some not so great ones. The consistency that you have and use in your wor will pay off in time and the more work and bonding you do as well

  2. A couple of thoughts: 1) those faster rides in company may not be a bad thing. Good steady trotting gives them less time to find monsters in the bushes and keeps their brains occupied with where their feet are going. And makes a quite ride or even a chance to walk quietly the last mile or so home something he'll be thankful for.

    2) When you're on you own, start taking along a couple cups of grain or something yummy. Stop at a different point each ride, get off, loosen your girth, drop your bit and let him eat and relax. It makes the barn/home not the only place that nice things happen. (I've never actually tried this, but I've read about it being tried successfully with a very barn sour horse - which Pie definitely isn't!)

    Things go in phases - as you say, you've passed the honeymoon period where everything was new for Pie and he wasn't really sure where "home" was yet. Now he's sure where home is and good things happen there, so of course he wants to go back - LOL!

  3. As you said yourself, he's a young horse, and if young horses are anything, it's inconsistent. Pie has behaved exceptionally well so far and perhaps set the bar a little bit too high for himself. Maybe do some low key rides in the arena for a few days (even though I know ideally you want him to be a trail horse) until he's more relaxed? It seems like he's getting a little overwhelmed with the anxiety of leaving home.

  4. There's always a bit of "the honeymoon is over" to everything, whether it's the start of the school year and ... so far ... the kids have been really good but then The Day comes when there is a problem. Or the new puppy is good until The Day comes and you've got piles and puddles (or chawed and shreds) everywhere.

    Pie may just have had "one of those days" today, but the next time you repeat the same ride, same routine, everything will be perfect. He will turn himself inside out trying to give you what you want, offering what he thinks you want because that seems to be the kind of boy he is.

  5. Your descriptions of Pie makes me think of my young mare Rosie. I just got off of her... my son and I took a fairly regular trail route for us, (him on our 16 yr old gelding) but she was also, like Pie, very "head held high" and looky. She spooked a bit at the sound of a car coming down the road at a distance, and even turned (slowly but still) and tried to scoot home. All I can figure is that the leaves are all finally off the trees and every lump on the ground is now a horse eating monster. That combined with really nice weather probably had her a little froggy? Maybe Pie is feeling a little cool weather, everything's now visible, frogginess too?

  6. I know those kinds of days. I have them sometimes too. Like you said, it's a young horse thing.

    I think it may also be because, as you said, he is getting more attached to his herdmates. I could see him being super buddy sour for a little while, and then relaxing over time as he becomes more comfortable and realizes neither he nor his buddies are going anywhere.

  7. I think for a young horse in new surroundings he's doing exceptionally well. You've only had him for a short time and there's still an adjustment period for both of you. But I still think he's behaving admirably being in a new setting with many new and unusual things to get used to. Hang in there and don't get depressed, it will all sort itself out.

  8. Would some of your stablemates agree to go on a "walking" ride with you, just as a favor? Its my inclination to think Pie just needs to let down and relax on the trail--and the easiest way to make that happen is to follow an experienced horse on a good long ride at the walk--long enough he gets tired. If he's calm, swap off leading. I agree with the others that new, young horses are bound to have some less than perfect days. He sounds like a really nice horse. (This is Laura Crum, if blogger will only accept me as Anon, which often happens.)

  9. I don't know what you are feeding him, but is there a possibility he's more "grained-up" than he's used to? Either way you could feed more hay less oats during his transition period.

  10. We had a similar ride with our horses today -- high energy and heads up. Maybe it's the colder weather.


  11. Think about it have not even had him for a month. He has been removed from his surroundings and is being exposed to things he has never seen. I'm sure his point of view is different from ours. Pie is a young boy...give him a chance to grown into his new life. I'm pretty sure you won't regret it.

  12. I feel for you and I'm sorry you're frustrated and dissapointed. Maybe you're just doing too much too soon. I've been surprised and also impressed with how quickly you started riding after he arrived, as well as how often you ride him, too.

    Maybe he just needs some time to settle in and become confident with his surroundings and environment, including sights, scents and just getting to know you, without the obligation of riding or any other expectations?

    From what you've written about him, he sounds like a sensible horse, even though he is so young. Like you always talk about, the two most important training aspects are time and patience.

    Hang in there. :)


  13. I believe there is something in the air! I can't offer anything more than anyone else has, but I can tell you that when I hopped on Bonnie last week for a walk around a hay field she stared down a CAT that was in the middle of the field for the entire ride. High head and blowing. We are talking Bonnie, rarely a bad trail ride, never a bad open field ride, Bonnie.

    Hang in there Kate. You'll get your baby where you need him with time and patients.

  14. I'm sorry that you're having a bad day, Kate. We've all had those. I think you're right--he's made some friends now and doesn't want to leave them.

    My thoughts are:

    1.) I agree with Sunny. Every once in a while I take out my horse and use him at all gaits. The trotting and loping actually help him feel more confident.

    2.) I agree with some of the other bloggers that it's good to find a riding buddy.

    3.) And my last thought is that you're riding him every day and giving him a "work ethic". Sometimes the every day thing takes a horse about 2 weeks to get used to--for whatever reason. After two solid weeks, they usually start to progressively get better.

    Please don't get discouraged--I think this curve is fairly common with horses--and people.

  15. Kate- I wished you and I lived closer (or at least that I owned a trailer since I'm just one state over). I would go riding with you in a millisecond! Grif loves the trails....but only in the company of another horse....and we mostly walk. I don't care much for fast paced trail rides as you don't get much chance to take in the scenery that way :-P
    I agree with the others that Pie just needs some more time to adjust...and to know that his "new found" friends will still be there when he returns. I think the riding buddy is the best plan, but if that's not possible...I'll share what Grif and I do which may or may not work for you.
    My best trail riding friend has had 2 very bad falls over the last 2 years and now she is dealing with some pretty strong fear issues. She sold her horse, so now the only riding she does is on borrowed horses (that are quiet) in an arena. It's been hard for Grif and I because we ALWAYS rode with her. Needless to say our trail riding has been limited to just around the farm now...solo... :-(
    This is what we do:
    I begin by riding down the drive and look for any sign that my boy is getting uncomfortable (which in Grif's case, means he tenses and slows his steps). At the first sign of discomfort, I turn him and head back into his "safe" area. We ride there until he is relaxed - and then I ask to go farther away again...then repeat.
    It IS a lot of back and forth, but I find Grif's confidence builds a little more with every ride. We are able to go a little farther each time. I also stop and get off and allow him to eat Grass away from home as well -- reinforcing that being away isn't a BAD thing (treats also work when there is no grass).
    It takes patience, but it helps. I think you and Pie seem to be a good match....and you are a kind, smart rider....I have faith that it will work itself out for both of you :-)

  16. I have to agree with Laughing Orca...IF I was lucky enough to own a horse like Pie:), I think I would back off riding for a day or two or even three. Let him settle in. Let every day not be something new he has to face. That doesn't mean you don't work with him (although again, if it were me, I would keep it to a minimum, like grooming and maybe some hand grazing or light ground work), but let him settle in.

    He is telling you something. Before, when everything was great, you were doing the exact right thing and keeping at what works. Now that he's telling you he's not happy in his work, a new game plan may be in order.

    Of course, these are just my measly two know this horse best and I'm sure you will figure everything out. You are great and Pie is great-hope everything is back to as it should be soon:)

  17. Great advice above. It doesn't make it easier, but know this too shall pass. Sometimes you gotta go sideways (or backwards) for things to move forward - and I've no doubt, at all, that it will get better! Take a break and try going back to what is working, and build from there.

    In my opinion trail rides (or anything for that matter) should always be set at the pace of comfort for all. Maybe ask if they'll go on a walking ride? Anyone worth their salt would be happy to help out.

    I love everything you've posted about Pie, he is awesome!! It will work out :)

  18. You're doing great, Kate. He probably has started to settle in and now worries when he's too far away from his new herd.

    I think you got a lot of great suggestions so far, so the only thing I would add is to give yourself credit and give Pie some time.

  19. Yes, I was also struck by how quickly Pie started "school." Not so much that you've been working with him almost every day since you brought him home, but how his tasks have been expanded a bit more each day. I wonder whether he's become just a little worried, between settling in and being asked for more each time you're out with him. He may have just hit an adolescent meltdown -- "I can't do all this!" Your groundwork skills are so good and seem to build trust in the horse easily, so maybe it would do Pie good to have a bit more of that. Remember, in so many ways you are giving him a very different experience from what he's known. That's a lot for a kid to absorb. He needs your reassurance along the way to learn that where you're taking him is great.

  20. I like Sunny's idea about stopping for a break, maybe a nice treat out on the trail. I know my horses like it if I just get off and walk with them for a while. In my world it's all about friendship/partnership and trust. Sometimes I do what they want and then they do what I want, if that makes any sense. You'll work out, I know you : ).

  21. I feel your pain.

    That moment we'd make the turn for home, she'd turn into another horse and suddenly my life would be in danger.

    The question I have: Is Pie more barn sour or more buddy sour, or both equally? If he's more barn than buddy sour, going out with friends will help, in my experience. If vice versa, going out with friends will mask the problem.

    I joined a TB board for help with that mare. Since I was using every trick in the book to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult, I thought I could accomplish something. The forum said "You're doing too much. I'd be barnsour too!" But I never rode far enough for it to be work, and only 3X per week, so I disagree that I was pushing her.

    We would still be within sight of the property when I'd loosen the girth, feed some grain, let her graze 20 minutes or so, get on, go home and lunge her at a canter. This 6 month program of going out to eat, and coming home to work did not help. In my opinion the way to fix her would have been to ONLY ride out with other horses, in large groups if possible, and make sure everyone walked on the way home. Since she didn't care about other horses at all, it wouldn't be "masking" her problem to do this, but the calmness of the group might eventually get thru to her. In fact, I've heard from her owner that this scenario has helped and she's put less people in the hospital this past year than ever before!

    But if Pie is more buddy sour than barn sour, I think your plan of riding out with friends and then separating is the best way to help, but it sure takes good friends!

  22. You know if it was any of 'us' who experienced this you'd be full of good advice :) and tell us that it isn't a big deal for a young horse to have these days or issues.
    I've had this happen with my Appaloosa when I got another horse, but with repetition it disappeared. If anyone has the skill and patience to deal with this you do. You'll work through this successfully and you're probably thinking already that it wasn't that bad. I know I always feel worse right after a ride that didn't go well, and then think about the good points later. Good luck and stick with your program.

  23. Sorry it's been such a hassle with his herd-bound habits. Jimmy has been getting that high-headed-ness a lot at the new barn because there are ponies turned out just on the other side of the arena and at night he can't see them but he can smell them so it makes him nuts. I just coo and talk to him and keep riding. When his head goes up I give him a "Hey!" quietly and he's now learned that means "head back down, young man". Repetition is the thing that I've found to be of luck!

  24. Kate,
    I am late here and everyone said wonderful things,mostly,pretty sensible.
    You are very sensible and Pie is too.

    Having ridden with so many other riders and so much of the time, by is ever changing.
    Once I've gotten something down to feeling very secure...then, sometimes...the mare changes her mind(it seems).

    She LIKES NEW things...and riding the trail for me, is like planning a warm up or ride, in the arena. Sometimes...just wanting the calm ride not enough.
    I have to have "The PLAN and Answer"- for questions, she presents to me!

    I plan for a new destinations, directions or ways about places...with stops and sometimes, dismounting involved. It debriefs her and settles her.

    THAT- is the biggest plan I ever have...being in the moment -instead of being an overall,have toi achieve it all today rider. If I get too "big picture", I can deflate the cool things to be achieved by slowing the pace or stopping at the great place(before I think I am done).
    Like a photo, sometimes the balance is off the way it was shot naturally so...but if you crop becomes special and focused.

    Every ride is it's own pleasure and I find great pleasure in taking the training issues as they come...that is a good ride. No failures or lack of control issues, but the smarts to deal with the animals natural instincts and make them something we work with in trust and respect.

    All this babble to say...for me and the mare- trail riding is just a bigger arena!
    There are the scarey ends, and open doors with fluttery objects, the "Gate", every ride-A TRAINING RIDE- is my motto.
    IF I manage to get a smooth ride with or without someone...I REVEL in that and keep it IN MIND for the times that are despirate and I get to feeling degected!

    You and Pie are sorting things out, he sounds so willing and the issues, are so very normal.

    Hang in, I know you are.You have a fabulous horse and partner in Pie!

  25. KK - thanks so much - lovely thoughts that I will keep in mind!

  26. When I have a day like this, and I have had quite a few, I always get depressed immediatley. I call everything into question. I am the person who gets global right away, letting the one s,all droplet of color ruin the whole glass of water. But then I think: my horse is no robot. She is not an automoton or a machine that is totallyredictable. She is a
    Iving breathing, heaving feeling creature! Every day doesn't have to be perfect! I think deep down you know Pie is and will be a fabulous trail partner! I sure wish I xould ride with you. I'm a very leisurely trail rider!!


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