Monday, November 22, 2010

Working With the Wild Mare

Many people had good suggestions for things to do with Dawn, our wild child.  I do want to continue to work with her since it builds her confidence and connection with me.  But with Dawn, I've got to put safety (primarily mine but also hers) first, and that's not always the easiest thing to do.  She's not one of those horses that power down - she's always on her toes and ready to rock and roll - and she's the type that will spin and bolt when alarmed or worked up, not like Pie, whose first impulse is to stop and stare.  And I think she'll always be that way, no matter how much work she gets or what exercises we do - that's just who she is.

First a note on her diet (because diet can often be a source of excess energy).  Not much I can do there - she only gets a vitamin/mineral balancer pellet - no grain - and grass hay.  I am going to increase her magnesium/chromium supplement to 2 ounces a day (she usually gets 1 ounce a day when the grass isn't rich and 2 ounces a day when it is - the primary purpose of this supplement is to help her borderline insulin resistance).  Magnesium oxide often has a calming effect on the nervous system.  (If she were a horse that needed grain due to heavy work, I would use vitamin B-1 as a supplement.)  She also currently gets Mare Magic and U-Gard.

Leading/in-hand.  Dawn did a lot of this work in the arena when I was first working with her, to help her with her ground manners and to help her learn to pay attention to me and focus on me.  We should do more of this, including some more advanced work and some obstacle work.  Leading her on the trail, however, would be another matter.  Dawn is one of those horses who can lose it completely, and when she's gone, she's gone.  Being on the end of the line with a crazed, spinning, bucking horse that's trying to bolt isn't my idea of fun - even my daughter won't lead her on the trail.  I think she wouldn't run me over, but I would have trouble managing her if she got upset, and I'm just not up for that.

Ground driving.  I'm a big fan of ground driving, and have used it with great success to introduce horses to the trail and to new situations.  Maisie and I did a lot of it when she first started trail riding.  It is easier to keep control of a horse that's exploding on the lines than in-hand, but it can still be a pretty scary experience - I had some episodes with Lily when ground driving on the trail that made me ask later "what was I thinking?"  A horse doing levades and caprioles (unintended by me) while ground driving is a little too much excitement for me, and I know Dawn is capable of some pretty fancy moves.  I'm just not up for that either.

Ponying.  This would be a great idea - I've done this too with my horses - Maisie and Norman were both ponied (not at the same time!) off Noble from time to time - except for one problem.  Dawn has what could be politely described as "personal space" issues - she's very dominant - an alpha - and can be extremely aggressive with other horses - biting and kicking would definitely be strong possibilities.  She actually doesn't even like other horses anywhere near her when my daughter takes her on the trail, and has the ability to kick sideways and reach even a horse directly next to her.  If she were showing, she'd be a red-ribbon-in-the-tail girl.

Lungeing.  This is something Dawn and I have done together.  I think we need to do more of this, perhaps with some obstacles to negotiate and also using two reins and doing some more sophisticated in-hand and long-lining/ground-driving exercises.  I could see her enjoying this - just lungeing in circles bores her (me too) and isn't great for her joints.

Getting a saddle.  I'm debating with myself about this.  My daughter never rides with a saddle - she strongly prefers bareback and in fact feels more secure on the horse bareback - good for her!  I've seen her stay on for Dawn moves that resulted in clear airspace between my daughter's butt and Dawn's back, but usually my daughter's pretty well glued on - she just goes with the motion, whatever it is.  So any saddle we get for Dawn will be for me only.  I do need to get one, but if possible I'd like to get one that fits both Dawn and Pie (if that is even possible), but until Pie finishes filling out I don't know what I've got there.  I should probably just bite the bullet and get a saddle made for Dawn (I want a lightweight Black Rhino and the lead time for them is several months, unless I luck into a used one that fits her), since it's probable that what fits her won't fit Pie anyway.

Galloping to get the ya-yas out.  In fact my daughter employs this strategy a lot with Dawn - they do full-out gallops (very fast - Dawn's an ex-racehorse) frequently, and Dawn really enjoys this.  Just not happening with me - Dawn is also perfectly capable of doing big bucks while running flat out; she's that athletic.

Clicker work.  We've done some of this to help Dawn with scary objects, and we both enjoyed it a lot.  I need to expand my horizons here.  I have a good Alexandra Kurland book to use and there's a lot more we can work on.  I'll bet Dawn would even be capable of some interesting liberty work (once I got her to stop tearing around), although I know one trick I'm not teaching her - rearing - she already does this just fine, and frequently, although no longer (thank the powers that be) when ridden.

So there you go - one high-strung, highly reactive and sensitive mare, with a dominant personality, plus one middle-aged lady focussed on self-preservation.  The two of us can work together, and I'm a reasonably capable rider, but keeping safe is my first priority.  Although I do love Dawn - she's one-of-a-kind, full of personality and expressiveness and my daughter's special "soul horse" - I need to accept that there are limits on what I will do with her.  She would have made an outstanding competition horse - say for jumpers or eventing - she's fiery, fiercely competitive and fast and extremely athletic, but that's not where she ended up in her horse life.


  1. I haven't ridden Panama on the trail since mid-summer because he has been acting so goofy, so I definitely understand and support your hesitations. I don't think you should go out on the trail with her until you feel comfortable doing so.

    However, I suspect that if she is sensitive and jealous, she is definitely going to notice if you are NOT riding her, only lunging (which you say she doesn't like much anyway -- probably because it's not the same level of interaction with you). Perhaps you should try a variation of the 10-minute rule with Dawn -- lunge her as needed, but afterward, try to get up on her back for about 10 minutes every day. If Dawn is how I think she is, she will view that as a reward, even if you aren't taking her out on the trail. And as much as she seems to be like Panama, I suspect that if you get on her every day, even if it's only for 10 minutes, it'll help iron out her energy levels so that you CAN get her back out on the trail.

    I think this all ties into a question that Fugly asked on her blog the other day -- whether horses enjoy their work. I agree with her that most love their work, but that the interaction with a person is the primary reason why. Then when we don't ride them for a while, they get so overly excited about finally going for a ride that they behave rather silly, kind of like a kid at Halloween.

    All this to say that I think if you get on her back more often, even if it's only for 10 minutes at a time, she won't get so overly excited about it, and you'll be able to feel more secure.

  2. Sounds like a lot of people had some good ideas. As for mine on ponying, after reading about her, I'd scrap that one. There's a lot of options other than that. If it were me I'd go ahead and get the saddle. Even though your daughter rides bareback, she's not home much and you're doing lots of work with her, so I'd treat myself to one for safety's sake.

  3. I vote for clicker training. You can keep her mind engaged and your bones in one piece. That said, get the saddle. You need to be able to ride her on occasion, and there's no point in not having anything that fits.

  4. Sounds as if the ponying wouldn't work. Too bad.

    But long lining in the arena is great. I spend lots of time working it as the double lunge with the horse going around me on a circle. You can work at a distance that way and go over obstacles and everything.

    Too bad Dawn is as reactive as she is, because if you could teach her to ground drive, you might eventually be able to actually drive her...but she does not sound like a horse that would be safe pulling a cart. My TB's wouldn't be either. On the other hand, a plow sure would slow them down....*LOL*

  5. it's a shame your daughter can't take her to college with her, probably would be the huugest distraction anyway! how about doing some western riding with her, those huge saddles should surely keep you on if she gets a little kooky ;)

  6. Perhaps even showmanship would be fun, or in hand trail courses inside the arena...

    It sounds like she will enjoy just about any time you spend with her. :)

  7. Mare's are fun! Might be time to get a saddle for her and your daughter.

    In the meantime, when my ladies are full of themselves, I will do ground work first to ensure my boundaries are clear, then go for a hand walk.

    Good luck with her.

  8. I admire you and your daughter for being such stellar and committed horse people. I love that your daughter rides bareback, and that she rides an all-out gallop! That sounds very dynamic to me. Dawn is certainly an interesting, complex horse. Every time I read more about her, I feel like she is onion- like with all of her layers. Complicated mare! Do you think it is true that geldings are simpler ? In any event, it is never a relaxing ride when you are worried that your horse might bolt while on the trail...or even in the ring for that matter. I am curious abour Mare Magic. what is that? I will have to Google it.

  9. baystatebrumby - Mare Magic is pure raspberry leaves - and it seemingly helps mares who have strong heats be more, well, not marish! There is also a tea made of raspberry leaves for humans - it's actually pretty tasty!

  10. I'm a huge fan of driving myself. It was one of the skills I learned early on that has helped me more than once.

    Wish my butt was as sticky as your daughter's (to that saddle, that is LOL).

  11. Sounds like she's a hand full. I don't have anything to add, but think you're wise to be safe.


  12. I'm just imagining your daughter riding Dawn bareback at a full-on! Sure wish I could do that. The fastest I can ride bareback is at a slow trot. I've often wondered if I could ride bareback at a canter, especially on Apache. Her canter is so smooth and feels like a relaxing rocking chair. So fun!

    Will your daughter be home from college for Thanksgiving? Maybe Dawn will have her best friend ride her out on the trail then. :)


  13. Kate...before you got Pie, I thought that you and Dawn were doing very well. You sure got a lot of suggestions! I would vote for getting a saddle so you are more secure when you do work with her. Was she that "wild" when you were doing things regularly? I don't remember you saying that.

  14. Kate, When I can't ride, I like to do regular ground work: clicker training and ground games. It helps the horse keep his mind on specific activities, and it gives us a good amount of time together, developing our relationship. I'm a big fan of this type of ground work. Good luck!

  15. Kate, I totally hear you. Bar, as you know, can be wacky, as can Lena.

    Bareback can be scary, but the breakthrough I made with Bar was because one day after round penning, I decided to climb on bareback.

    What do I mean? I gave him trust. I didn't ask a lot. I didn't ride him long. I just told him I trust him.

    But.. taking care is also good.

    Listen to your gut. That's actually what I mean. :)

  16. It would be nice if someone else who needs a horse would ride Dawn so you could concentrate solely on Pie. She probably is jealous (as you said in the previous post)--I have an alpha mare that gets very jealous when others are being worked and she isn't. And sometimes two personalities just don't click. My daughter's mare (the alpha) is a wonderful horse with my daughter, but not so much with me.

  17. You could be descibing my mare...sounds exactly like Maddy when I got her. Regardless of how you feel about Parelli...using the seven games was a great way to build a relationship with that type of horse. Let me know if you have any questions about how to play them. There really help direct that mind and all that energy.

  18. Thanks again to everyone for the good suggestions - I suspect Dawn and I will make use of many of them!

  19. Sounds like a saddle, even a decently fitting one, is a good self-preservation idea. Not sure how you feel about it, but on days when Panache is particularly "up" I may use a touch of Ace to take the edge off. I don't use it regularly but since I can't get out every day to work with her I need to be able to ride when I am at the barn. That being said, if I feel like she's being dangerous stupid in the barn area before I tack up, then I call it a day at that and just do a lot of grooming. I definitely won't use Ace to mask a dangerous attitude from the horse.

  20. well, you've got a lot of great suggestions to try. i'm also a big fan of groundwork in general, and slow, controlled longing and long lining in particular (i'm not a fan of letting them yahoo on the end of the longe to get the bucks out.) when i have an excitable one we keep it at walk and trot and do a lot of easy walk/trot/halt transition work with voice commands, easy patterns and cavalletti, etc. with lots of breaks and rewards. and then we transition to mounted work doing the same, keeping it slow, relaxed and easy until they settle into the work a little more.

    sometimes it gets boring and predictable, but sometimes that predictability can help the wilder ones settle in and be more confident and focused (and i find the voice commands help tune them in to you) before you add the more exciting stuff ;-) but it may not work for every horse and you know her best. good luck with whatever you decide!

    (ps- i know what you mean about dangerous longing and ground driving - longing my nate is sometimes like flying a ginormous kite on the end of the longe :-\ years ago the BHS drilled into me the habit of always wearing gloves and a helmet for ground work, just in case....)

  21. I like the idea of grooming Dawn and tacking her up to give her the sense that she is still important in your life and has a routine too, like Pie. Then, you can take her to the ring and walk with her. Not so much making her "work" but make her walk WITH you, beside you, giving her the feeling of being with you like she feels when you ride her. I find this so much more comforting to a "hot" horse than the separation of lunging. I walk with them until they are relaxed and making that soft snorting sound. And then I do the same thing the next day and the day after. If the horse starts looking around, I walk faster or slower, but I don't ask the horse to perfom a task without me beside him. I personally get very tired, but I don't get hurt and I keep that "we are a team" feel to the exercise. It sounds like it wouldn't do much in the way of exercise for the horse, but I have found this to really work.

  22. I may have missed am initial question...but, I'm with Lori, I was sending some very excellent teamwork & relaxation with Dawn...right before you got Pie.
    I don't know if this is true with you, but if I miss too many days...into weeks...I'm kinda insure again, with my mare.

    Its going to be difficult with 2, but time in, and a timeline for what you'd like to do and accomplish. That seems to be what you did before.
    Pie and diverse. Like you said...she is the horse that she is. It would be nice to improve 1 or 2 any of the directions you mentioned.
    But, you are realistic, A SADDLE may be the first step!

    My mare really did improve with the seven games, as Jules mentioned. I don't go much further into the natural horsemanship than those...

    Thanks for the continual inspiration!

  23. Kate,
    I love your blog and I love the way you are with your horses. They are so lucky to have you! What a wonderful summary of what you have done and what you are thinking of doing.

    Simply put-you are a wonderful horse mom!

    And, after having been trampled by my sweet wild mustang girl just a few days ago I understand your desire for self preservation. I am proud of my record of not having even been nibbled or stepped on in the 2.5 years I have had my herd of 8 rescued horses. I listened to my trainer instead of to my instincts and I got hurt. Best lesson of my life!

    I am so happy that you are being true to your own gut feelings of what works for you and what is beyond your comfort zone.

    A big hug to the whole herd,
    Sue and the Crew

  24. Sue (Dream Valley) - thanks so much for your kind comments, and I hope you're OK!


Thank you for commenting - we appreciate it. No spam or marketing comments will be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.