Sunday, February 24, 2013

Red Loses It (for a Little While), and Pie is Perfect

Dawn had the day off.  I rode both Red and Pie in the afternoon.  Red and I faced some challenges.  When we went into the arena, both big door were open to the outside - it was a beautiful winter day, with temperatures in the low 30sF, no wind, and bright sun.  Red did a very nice walk warm up, and I focussed on "riding a headless horse" as described in my last post - it worked like a charm with him - we did turns, figures, and even walk pirouettes just with my eyes and focus up and my horse hind legs. At one point he was very alert about something outside the doors - I didn't see anything - and was both attracted to the doors and wanting to move away when we got there.  We just kept working and eased up on the doors - that worked well.

Then two other boarders came into the ring and started lungeing/doing groundwork with their horses at both ends of the ring.  That left us very little space to work in, as our arena is quite small.  I'm not generally comfortable passing on my horse along the wall with a horse being lunged so close that there's almost no room to pass, particularly if the horse isn't under complete control.  One boarder was vigorously snapping a lunge whip to get her horse to go, and the other was using a lariet rope to slap on her leg to get her horse to move - I guess their horses needed that in order to move out.  Red, I expect due to some bad experiences in his past, gets extremely worried - even frightened - when whips or ropes are loudly snapped or slapped - he isn't yet able to distinguish between someone doing that to another horse and doing it to him.  He was quite concerned, and we parked ourselves in a corner since there was really no where else to go.  We stood there for a bit, and, although he was trying so hard to hold it together for me, his anxiety level got to the point that he gave a mini-rear - the reins were not tight - to tell me that he just couldn't cope any more.  I dismounted and stood there for a moment, but that didn't reduce his anxiety - he started swinging around me and although he didn't run into me, he was very upset.  If I'd had somewhere to keep him moving under saddle - doing circles or small figures to keep his mind occupied - he might have been OK, although maybe not.  With our small arena, it just wasn't an option.

Since he was so upset, I took him out of the arena and we walked up and down the barn aisle with the big door to the arena closed.  Just getting close to the door when the whip and rope were snapping, even with the door closed, made him so nervous that we had to go back down the aisle again.  Once the boarders were done making noises, I took him back into the arena and remounted.  He was nervous for a while but was able to stay with me and work, and his focus improved as we went.  We did our usual canter straightline work and then moved on to trot - he was very forward and engaged and worked well.  I told him what a good boy he was and put him away.  (Later, after I rode Pie, I took Red back into the arena and hand-walked him around - his eyes were big but he was very good, and I hope it reassured him somewhat.)  I felt bad that I'd allowed him to be put into a situation that was too much for him to cope with - this is the first melt-down he's had in almost a year, and a first at the new barn - but I was very pleased with how he recovered from it.  His trust in me at this point is strong, but it still will only take him so far, particularly if I have no way to direct him while allowing him to move his body - we were basically trapped in a corner.

Neither of the other boarders seemed to notice that we'd had a problem, or if they noticed, to care, despite Red's visible agitation.  That was a little discouraging, but I guess they had their own agendas and were going to pursue them no matter what.  I'll just have to be sure to look out for my horse and my own safety without assuming that others will be look out for me and my horse - that's useful learning for me, even if a bit sad.

Then I rode Pie.  Neither of the boarders who'd caused Red and I problems were in the ring any more. Pie was very, very good.  I again worked on riding the headless horse.  Pie's trot work was excellent - forward, with good bend and impulsion - and his canter work was outstanding.  On both leads, we had the best departures from trot we've ever had - he just stepped easily into canter the instant I thought it - and he sustained the canter on both leads around and around the ring, stepping deeply into the corners with no real effort on my part - he made an excellent headless horse.  After that ride, I felt a bit better - tomorrow is another day . . .


  1. I simply cannot imagine carrying on with whatever I was doing if another boarder in the arena was on a horse that was reacting as Red was. Obviously both parties have a right to work in the arena in a manner that they prefer, but a little communication and common courtesy can go a long way. Geesh.

  2. I'm sorry to hear that the other boarders were so insensitive to what was going on with Red. At my barn we also have a very small indoor, but most people ask if you don't mind before they lunge, and try to leave enough room for you on the rail -- and I can think of very few boarders who wouldn't stop if what they were doing was causing another horse to freak out.

  3. When I worked at the Arab farm, we didn't have a choice on where to lunge the horses, so they had to be lunged in the pretty small indoor while horses were being rode and lessons given to clients. It could get really frustrating when a lungeing horse would start to get out of control, trying to keep that horse under control and paying attention to the riding horses. I totally understand your frustration.
    I have been to horse shows where someone is lungeing their horse with a plastic bag on the end of their lunge whip, which set off my horse. Especially if it's a halter horse, plastic bag on a whip means "get movin'"! But we don't want our performance horses to get all hot before a class. Some people have no common sense at all.
    Common courtesy does go a long way and the other boarder should have realized Red was upset and should have stopped the whip cracking.

  4. That was very inconsiderate of the other boarders, and I was cringing for Red as I read your description. I do think it shows how much he trusts you that he was able to go back in the arena and be okay after it was all over. It's so interesting how an incident from the past can make a really lasting impression on a horse and cause such anxiety for many years after. I used to run into situations like that with Silk - she's terrified of ladders - and I think it's our duty as caring horse owners to be patient and understanding - like you were in this instance- rather than just brush it off with an "oh, get over it" attitude.

  5. It is very discouraging that so many other "horsemen" have so little consideration or regard for other people and other horses. Those same people probably have very little consideration for their own horses either. Sounds like Red did his very best, but was just a bit overwhelmed. Overall, another trust building exercise and it ended well.

  6. I've been reading your blog for a while and I think you have some great insights. I've never commented before. I hope you don't mind me saying hi.

    One of my horses is inclined to the anxious end of the spectrum. When you described how Red stopped and stared and then threw in a mini rear, it reminded me of how my horse reacts to things that scare him. He will freeze up and stare. If I don't do something to distract him he will start to shake all over and eventually try to turn and bolt. I imagine if this happened in a corner with a wall behind him, he would rear.

    What I've found is that the best way to keep these moments from coming to a head is to not let him stay focused on what he's worried about. Even if I don't have much space, I can practice things like stepping the hind under, or moving the front over, or backing a step, then going forward a step. Just me asking for something little that he has to think about is often enough to at least keep his fear from escalating into panic.

    If I have a little more space, short serpentines are a great exercise. Basically you do tiny, compact figure-eights with the horse's head at 90 degrees. If you have enough space to turn your horse in a circle, you can do short serpentines.

    I agree with the others here that your fellow boarders were behaving inconsiderately. Unfortunately I have been to plenty of barns where people seem to overlook how their actions affect others.

    1. Robin - thanks for commenting - I appreciate it. You're exactly right - keeping the horse moving and directing the feet is the best way to deal with this sort of situation, and is in fact what I usually do. The problem Red and I had was that we had absolutely no space to move - we were essentially pinned in a corner. No wonder the poor guy got frantic. Taking him out of the ring and letting him walk up and down the aisles was the best substitute we could come up with. In hindsight, instead of just being amazed and appalled at how the other boarders were acting, I should have said something.


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