Monday, January 9, 2012

Pie Loses His Mind

Today my husband and I went on the trail again with Pie and I can't say that any of us had much fun.  Pie had a complete and total meltdown, and although we all made it back to the barn together and in one piece, it was a close thing.  We took a very familiar loop around the pastures - it was the first part of our successful outing yesterday.  Pie has been around that loop hundreds of times, both ridden and hand walking.  But today was different - it didn't help that it was very windy (gusts to 25mph) which when combined with a temperature around 40 made things downright nippy.  Pie was fine for saddleing and mounting, and we headed off down the trail without any problem with my husband walking with us.  Pie was more alert than normal, that was all.  When we got about 300 yards from the barn, Pie was starting to really tense up, so I jumped off and led him, which turned out to be a very good thing.

His tension, I think, was due to the wind as well as the noise of a playground of children just out of sight behind the houses and a couple of hundred yards away.  At this point we were halfway around the loop so just kept going as that was the shortest way back. Once he could see the playground in a gap between houses, he went on high alert - there was a lot of childish screaming going on.  At that point I was leading him with just the halter, and he was holding it together but just barely.  Then a barking dog that had gotten loose came running up behind us.  Pie tried to scoot and I switched to holding the reins just below his chin - he was in a snaffle bit.  My husband shooed the dog away.  Now we were much closer to the playground.  Pie went on ultra high alert - he was on his tiptoes and was completely tense.  Now a friend came up walking her two rambunctious, barking, leaping dogs - she had to take them through the tall grass to make a detour around us but that made a lot of noise and Pie wasn't happy about that either.

Now we were at a turning in the trail where we had to turn our backs on the playground of shrieking children to walk towards home.  At this point Pie, who had been anxious and nervous, completely lost his mind and would have bolted if he'd been able to.  There's a big difference between a horse who is nervous and worried, but still able to listen to you, and one who's mentally gone - Pie's eyes were blank and as big as saucers, his muscles were rigid and he was completely not with me.  I had my husband take the lead rope on one side of him while I held his bridle.  We managed to go a ways in that configuration but Pie was getting even more agitated - it was getting hard to hold him even with the bridle and he was determined to bolt.

So I turned him to face the playground and we backed - he backs really well which turned out to be a good thing.  I was able to keep him straight which kept him from turning and fleeing, although he was still focussed on doing that, and he had to soften his neck to keep backing which may have helped him mentally a bit.  We probably backed 200 yards by the time we were done.  The first part I had to use the bridle, and further on I was able to switch to asking him to back with the halter, although it still wasn't possible to turn him back towards the barn without him wanting to bolt.  Finally, when we were about 100 yards from the barn, he was able to stand still for a few minutes while we reassured him, and his eyes started to return to normal and his head came down a bit.  After that, I was able to turn him around and walk him back to the barn, first using the bridle and then switching to the halter and lead as he started to calm down a little more, and although he was still very nervous he was back with me again.

When we got back to the barn, I remounted and we walked around on the grassy area behind the barn for a few minutes - he was still pretty tense.  Then I put him away.

I'm still feeling sick to my stomach with stress.  I suppose I should feel good that I was able to get us back to the barn safely, but I don't really - there's nothing like dealing with a horse in full panic mode to get your adrenalin and other stress hormones going.  I had to get us back - there was no choice other than letting him bolt - and I did what I had to do but I'm still somewhat surprised that I managed to do it.  It's not an experience I'd like to repeat, and I expect Pie feels the same.  Not the best day for a ride with the wind and chill, and the dogs and screaming children didn't help.

My daughter and I were going to work on Drifter's lungeing this afternoon, but the wind's getting stronger and I'm just plain exhausted so we're rescheduling.

27 comments:

  1. I think you did really well getting him back to the barn without a serious incident or having him break away and bolt. I know what you mean by mindless with blank eyes. That's the way my horse Erik was when he spooked. There was just no reasoning with him because he wasn't there and it was very scary. Some of the worst accidents I've had came about because of wind or a storm coming. So needless to say I just don't ride in those conditions anymore.

    You made a good decision to reschedule work with Drifter I'm thinking. Relax and take a break today and when there's no wind or screaming children or bouncing dogs then I'd try it again. I'm sure he's over it by now.

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  2. I'm glad you were not alone. It sounds like the distractions (one right after the other) were more than Pie could stand. Is the playground less busy when school is in session? It sounds like you need to go out when there is not so much going on. Also, I am sure he can feel you if you tense up or hold your breath and he thinks there is more reason for concern. Does your daughter ever ride him? What if she goes on the same route and you are along on the ground?

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  3. It seems that Pie is no longer a confidant, easy going horse. I hope he gets over it soon. For your sake, as well as his.

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  4. My last ride out and about on Huey was last October. It was sort of your outing it was a fairly warm day with little wind. When we got to The Corner From Hell (same corner he's gone by for 10 years and it's always scary, though we've never had a bad thing happen there, EVER, yet he reacts like he's going to die), Huey was not only refusing to walk forward nicely but he began running BACKWARD into vacant lots which, around here, are filled with holes, wire, hidden chain link fence rolls, boards with nails, glass, metal ... people are losing their homes and won't spring for $30 to use the dump, so they toss their garbage onto vacant land. We also have cholla cactus and Joshua trees, nasties in their own right.

    In a word, it was AWFUL. I finally got him stopped with the backing, so he began pawing FURIOUSLY. He was TERRIFIED of something, but I had no idea what. I told him to STOP! He does listen to me, thank goodness. I then said, "I am going to dismount now and lead you home. If you do ANYTHING while I'm dismounting and I get hurt, I will KILL you as soon as I'm out of the hospital."

    I know it sounds stupid, but he apparently understands tone of voice as much as anything, and he stood like a ROCK. I dismounted and led him home, no further panic. We even had a rattly truck drive by, and he walked with me like a good boy. As the vet said later, "He gets his confidence from you."

    We saw the vet the next day for fall shots and worming. I think the problem Huey had with going home was a new pen (about half a mile away) of GOATS. Goats are a common companion animal on the track, and I'm thinking he was having PTSD: Post TRACK Stress Disorder. (ha).

    You do what you can do "in the moment" and try to get through it without getting hurt or hurting the horse. It DOES make it less fun to "look forward" to the next ride, however, but wind, dogs, noise, children--none of that is helpful. Fingers crossed all is better (warmer, quieter) the next time you venture out.

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  5. Kate-
    I'm so sorry about the stress of this experience. It sounds like you handled it really well though, especially making Pie do something that engaged his brain (backing). don't forget to let the stress out of YOUR body by having a good cry or taking a long walk (with OUT a horse).

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  6. I wonder if screaming children had something to do with the time you came off. It may have shattered his confidence in some way. It certainly does not sound like the Pie we know and love. You guys have your work cut out for you. I don't envy you this incident -- and I know what you mean about the adrenaline rush making you feel sick and exhausted afterwards. Not any fun, that's for sure. Pour yourself a glass of wine...

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  7. Oh, gee, my heart is aching for you on this one. That spacey look is just what you think--brain disconnect. In your case, Pie just went into overload with all the stimuli hitting him at once.

    Glad you had help with you.

    I can't offer much help with this one except "been there, done that." I would be nice if you could get Pie out there with just the screaming children on a less blustery day so he could sort it all out. He just needs lots of miles and lots of experience and I'm sure he's going to be a super trail horse.

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  8. Really frightening! The unfortunate thing is the timing--you seemed to be just past the lack of confidence that resulted from your fall last summer, and now this!

    It's funny. I just looked down at my desk, where I have some notes for upcoming lessons, by grade level. The three words that jumped out at me, from three different places, were "trust", "trust", "trust"! (shorthand for trustworthiness). This is what has been shaken, for both you and Pie, and it is not something esily earned back. I hope this latest incident is only a temporary set-back, for both you and Pie. Good luck!

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  9. This must have been a big moment in Pie learning that he can trust you. he probably already knows but after today (and what a day it was!) you and Pie have probvably acheived a new level of trust and leadership. I feel so bad for Pie. All those things happening to him. I also feel badly for you having to stress out an all. NOBODY likes to feel uncomfotable like that. This post just makes me realize that wind is no good. My horses was not very composed this weekend and I know the wind and strange weather had something to do with it.

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  10. The backing was brilliant. You should definitely find a way to decompress after that one. I am glad that everyone got home safe and sound. I wonder if Pie has had unpleasant experiences with similar activities or noise.

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  11. I'm sorry you had to go through that experience. It's probably hard to say exactly what set him off or why, but sometimes a horse will be like that one day and dead solid the next. He's still young. I've been there, and I know how you feel, and it's miserable. Tomorrow's a new day though...my favorite saying with horses.

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  12. You handled a really frightening experience really well. I hope after you reflect, you feel really proud of yourelf. You did everything right.

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  13. Kate, what a day! Oh, my, I feel for you. I've seen other people do that- make a horse back for a while- so that was a brilliant suggestion. Even when something difficult happens and your adrenaline is running, you came up with a brilliant way to handle it. I understand you don't feel great about it, but good for you!!

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  14. You handled that beautifully Kate. Try not to stew over it... the drink suggestions is a good one! ;)

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  15. that sounds like a rough outing ! Glad you made it back safely!One suggestion that might or might not have helped ,I find when they are that "gone" I don't hold them short , rather I let them have a little leeway and keep them circling , either from on the back or on the ground . they are able to move, but not bolt and also able to release that nervous energy to some degree . I sm just putting this out there, but keep in minfd I am well aware I don't know the entire situation or location, and that in fact may not ohave worked

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  16. So glad you both came back to the barn safe and sound. Poor Pie. Who knows what scents and noises were floating in that wind?
    Miranda takes Pippi for a ride on the same dirt road all the time, but every once in a while Pippi will tense by the gasrigs. Most times she is fine, so Miranda thinks she is just being a "nut." I think they may sound different and smell different whenever they are actually pumping up gas than when they are just pumping. Or maybe I am the "nut?" When Pippi tends to get tense with me, I try to use the same tone and words to reassure her " what are you looking at? oh that, naaaahhh, I'm not worried about that." Deep exhale. Works to varying degrees, but if I catch her tensing early it works better. Prey and Predators...hard to get on the same page sometimes.

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  17. Hi Kate!....Sounds like a bad day. Sorry to hear that. i have to apologise for not reading your blog for a while. been trying to get my own one back! Between Blogger and Windows 7!!! Argh!

    Any way glad to hear you got back ok.

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  18. Kate--I'm so sorry to hear that you and Pie had such a difficult day. I think days like this just do come along when you're working with young, not yet completely broke horses--at least they did for me. A windy day can really lead to this sort of thing--I know you know. One of the training barns I worked at, the trainer simply didn't have us ride the horses when it was windy. He said they wouldn't learn anything and it only created problems. I don't ride my horses when its windy--even though they're broke and solid. I don't know if this is helpful or not, but could you consider giving yourself permission not to ride when its windy?


    Like everyone else said, you handled what could have been a real wreck in such a way that everyone stayed safe--that's a huge achievement.

    Please disregard this suggestion if it doesn't work for you, but is it possible that you could work Pie in the arena for now and save the trail work for the warmer, mellower days of late spring and summer? I honestly think it might give you some much needed peace of mind and it won't change Pie's overall progression towards being a well broke horse. Young ranch horses are routinely turned out for the winter and brought back in to work in the late spring, and they still progress just fine. Again, its just an idea to kick around...I know you will make the choice that works best for you.

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  19. Our horses were up today too, our Midwest weather is changing.

    I think you handled the situation very well Kate. Kudos to you for getting back on Pie in a safe place, and ending on a good note.

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  20. Kate - I'm so glad you weren't alone on the trail and that you got off Pie when you did. Sounds like Pie is having confidence issues too. The wind and the change in the temperature could have really stirred him up. And if he's not used to kids - Years ago, we moved to a barn that had bicyclists flying by on the road and Silk had never seen a bicycle. She freaked out until I was able to convince her that they weren't going to hurt her. Now, our neighbors have little kids that scream and yell all the time. At first, the horses were really concerned and alert when they heard the kids, but very soon they got used to it. Poor Pie - but I know that you'll help him regain his confidence and this too shall pass.

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  21. Sorry to hear about your day. It sounds to me like you did the best you could with Pie's empty head. You safely got he and you and your husband back - all in one piece. Not always easy, and not always pretty, but you have to do what you have to do at those horrible moments. I do think wind is the worst nemesis for our horse friends. They just can't hear properly. I try to keep my boys as close to the barn as possible on those days and only ask for more distance if they suggest it. I still get stuck out too far sometimes and then a gust hits us and my Pie melts and I have to dismount and fly my Pie kite home which is horrible. Like you, the adrenaline through my body doesn't leave me feeling too well the rest of the evening. I am no good on the ground - I can barely lead a pony. I am trying to get better at it, but my heart races and I can't remain calm for some reason. Especially, when I feel that bolt winding up inside my horse.
    You did exactly the right thing after getting stuck in a wind tunnel with children. Not fair to Pie and not fair to you. It just happens sometimes.

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  22. I feel for you. Dixie used to freak out and "shut down" all the time. She's gotten so much better, I can't even tell you the last time she melted completely down, but it was so hard to go back out the next day and work with her again. You did a great job handling Pie!

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  23. Oh god. I read that post and so feel for you. I know that feeling in your gut and it totally, totally sucks. I'm sorry. Ms. Denali has lost her mind on a variety of occasions and it is just no fun trying to calm a 1200 pound animal that is unable to listen. I hope it gets better!!! Hugs!

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  24. I feel for you Kate, been there done that as well. G is a fearful soul and when something rattles him, its near impossible to get his mind back on me. Those are the days I go home, sit on the couch and tell my husband it's not working. Then two days later I go back to the barn and we work through something else no problem. Backing is a great solution to keeping their feet moving but at the speed you control versus I see the light, I'm running for it! That was one of the first things Mark Rashid had me do with G when he would zone out or try to refuse a request. It works well. I hope your next venture out is peaceful and enjoyable! These horses sure do keep us working don't they?

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  25. Really good job with him, Kate. I like the backing trick, too.

    Bar is very wary of small, screaming children. They set him on edge-even more when he can't see them.

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  26. What a terrible experience for you, your husband and sweet Pie. Pie was so confident, brave, and so willing on the trail when you first bought him. The two of you were having such fun and you were always so happy during your rides and I enjoyed reading about your pride and happiness with Pie. Is Pie a sensitive horse that you share a close bond with? Could Pie still be traumatized from your fall last year? Sounds like it will just take lots of time to rebuild both yours and Pie's confidence again. But it must break your heart that both Pie and you are having such difficulties.
    Dealing with the children is something that Pie is going to have to get used to if that is a trail you often ride on. Perhaps you could have a show and tell day and invite some kids over to pet and feed him carrots?
    Because I have 3 kids and they have all their friends, I often have kids running around and making noise, climbing fences and trees, riding bicycles, skateboards, shooting bb guns at a target, flying kites and doing lots of crazy things around my animals.
    None of my critters even bat an eyelash anymore, even when I am hand-feeding Apache right beside our trampoline while the kids are jumping on it, laughing and screaming.
    I like what Clinton Anderson says about treating horses like sleeping babies and not wanting to expose them to loud and strange noises, unpredictable movement, and odd things in their environment. He says, "Heart attacks are Free" and recommends inviting kids over to help desensitize nervous and spooky horses. It really works.

    ~Lisa

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  27. Ack. Those windy days can just plain SUCK. There are days where Laz acts like that too, the scary "I DONT SEE/HEAR/CARE about you" and it's just not ok. It's like flying an Equine 1000 lb kite. Maybe more ground work with Pie will help his attention on you and in a space where you feel more comfortable. Sometimes, I view things that are scary to me, as needing to rebuild that foundation a few steps back. Horse foundations are always in the remodeling phase ;) Good for you for putting it in words. It's all a part of healing :)

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