dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Continuing Education

Today was a very interesting ride and it taught me a few valuable lessons. I wanted to ride early before it became too hot. Also, I had made some plans for the afternoon involving Carmen and a young woman named Ashley (that's for a different post).

The face flies have been horrible lately. I really hate them and how they sting. When I brought Carmen in her fly mask was covered with them. I had ridden her before with the fly mask over her bridle so decided to put it on today. In the ring when I was hand walking her by C she gave a big spook and bolted by me. Nope. Not acceptable. So we did some ground work getting her to yield her hind quarters and listen to me. Then I got on. As we progressed in our warm up she was becoming increasingly spooky. I did all my strategies with some success but she wasn't doing well.

Have I mentioned it was windy?
No? Well it's been the windiest summer I remember and today was no exception.

The neighbour started banging on a something metal and suddenly she was bolting sideways and I had no steering at all. I don't normally worry about that (anymore)- I just ride it out and get her back. Except that she was careening towards the cavallettis. And I knew she wasn't seeing them.
My life flashed before my eyes.
No, that's not true. My death flashed before my eyes. I was visualizing us crashing and falling into the cavellettis and being broken and impaled. I learned that my last thought before death is 'seriously?' 

Fortunately, I'd been working on teaching Carmen to whoa when I lose my balance and grab her neck yelling 'WHOA' (Royce taught us that). This got her to slow up enough so I could steer her around the poles and get my breath back.

I put her into work and, while it was sort of working, it really wasn't going in the direction I wanted.

I had to do some thinking. My first thought was that I was so totally sucking in my riding that I was making Carmen regress. My second thought was that she was just always going to be this way. My third was that I needed to get Royce out. My bank account groaned at that idea and it wasn't my first choice because I need to ride her. Keeping her in training forever would not make sense. So I could either give her to Royce or figure this out.

Hmmm. I had an idea.

I rode her over to the gate, reached forward and unfastened her fly mask. I took it off and dropped it on the ground. She relaxed immediately. I walked her forward, she dropped into contact and marched forward. After that there was not one issue. We went everywhere in the ring with no drama. I was able to work on transitions and she was using her hind end just like I wanted. We did serpentines with no trouble switching bends, the trotting poles were easy. She was stretching into contact and sensitive to my seat. I was thrilled when we stopped. She was relaxed and willing for the post fly-mask ride.
The difference between the two parts of the ride was like Jekyll and Hyde.

I guess that the difference to her vision with the fly mask was enough to increase the scariness factor of everything. Once it was removed she could relax and work. I learned how important vision is for Carmen and she needs to 'see' to relax. That is probably why she reacts to blowing grass- she can't 'see' what is causing it.

I also learned that thinking is not always a bad thing.

pretty girl in her tiara, 
After I hosed her off and let her graze. I've been working on taking her to different places in the yard to get her used to it. I've been walking her under this tree to get her used to the branches touching her and not freak out. She used to rush away, here's she grazing quietly and doesn't care. 
the wet is from where I hosed her off. 

My last piece of learning from today? That riding a reactive, sensitive mare requires tact and analysis.  And guts.

18 comments:

  1. Yeah, those fly masks do inhibit eyesight to some degree, but it's also annoying riding an annoyed horse who is throwing its head around because of obnoxious flies. Tough choice. I hope you get out of the windy weather pattern. I just had a thought. Since you ride dressage, you probably always keep contact with her mouth and may even always be keeping her head set. That's restricting, so in spooky moments, restraining her head may make her react worse. Because I trail ride, I ride on a loose rein unless I need to turn, back up, or the horse isn't responding to other whoa cues. I've learned that if I pull back on both reins when a horse is scared, it usually blows up into something worse, so I have to keep the reins loose, let the horse spook or bolt for a few strides, and then gently pull on just one rein and guide the horse in a circle that gets smaller and smaller until it stops. Since Carmen tends to run sideways, you'll have to be careful not to pull one rein too hard at first so she doesn't fall. I don't know if that would help your situation or not. I know in this case you said you had no steering, but it might come into play in other circumstances. Observe what you are doing with the rein contact and what her reaction is to it, because if a horse thinks it is under attack, it quickly forgets it has a rider on its back, and it probably just thinks whatever you are doing to it is the predator trying to capture it.

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    1. All very good points. If I ride her on a loose rein she gets a bit freaked out. It has to be enough to be there but not restrictive. As we get going I try to get her accepting a loose rein. I do try to not pull but it happens by accident when I flew sideways. I think I will take the flies over the fly mask.

      Normally when she bolts I do just what you describe. The nearness of the trot poles caused me some concern.

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  2. My mare hates the fly mask as well. She hates the flies too so I make her wear it in the pasture, but I would not ride her in it. Some horses appreciate it, some don't. Tessa is generally the least spooky horse I have ever ridden, but the one (and only!) time I tried with a mask, she turned into a fruitcake. I do use the ear bonnets and they help some. It seems like a good compromise for us.

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    1. I have an ear bonnet- I was trying to protect her eyes but back to the ear bonnet we go!

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  3. Mark Rashid advised me to always keep a light contact with a sensitive nervous horse; that it gives them reassurance and confidence. He said going to a loose rein when they are worried, is like deserting him (we were talking about Tex). On the other hand, you can't be restrictive or make them claustrophobic so it is a fine line between "I'm here" and "you aren't trapped." I think you manage that very well. It's something I have to work on because when a horse bolts my instinct is to hang on for dear life (death grip with hands and legs) and that just makes matters worse. Like Nuzzling Muzzles said -- let them go a few strides but don't desert her. And keep thinking -- it IS a good thing.

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    1. I agree that it's a fine line! I try to avoid the death grip and succeed, I think, most of the time.

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  4. Have you tried one of those masks meant for riding? I haven't yet with Grace but, did with both Camryn & Mo. Never found them to have issue with it. mo was quite sensitive too.

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    1. I have one that I bought for Irish, but am to sure I want to try it.

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  5. Yikes she likes to keep you on your toes!!

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  6. "My last piece of learning from today? That riding a reactive, sensitive mare requires tact and analysis. And guts."

    This! Carmen is lucky to have you -- so many people aren't equipped to deal with horses like this. Watching your partnership progress is inspiring.

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    1. Thank you so much for that. I think writing it out helps me to stay focussed and motivated.

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  7. Carmen can really test your riding skills. You passed with flying colors!

    I do ride with a riding fly mask on and it doesn't seem to bother anyone. It's good to know that Carmen isn't comfortable with hers. So ear bonnets it is. Glad summer is almost over:)

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    1. It doesn't bother Irish at all! Mares are whole new kettle of fish.

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  8. The great thing about finding something that worries her is that you have found something you can work on and one more way you can show her you are a good leader. I would avoid trying to ride with it on just yet, but perhaps set up a lovely little obsticle course of barrels, poles, with lots and lots of questions (backing, sidepassing, turn on forehand and haunchs, step over a pole just one foot then back up, go through pretend gate, etc.) for your smart mare to answer with ground work. I find this kind of work really engages a horse's mind (and their owner!), reinforces you as a leader every step you ask of them and all while wearing the mask and discovering she can rely on you to keep her safe through it all. It is a process changing a horse's natural reactions, but you two will get there!

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  9. Ah.... "I learned that my last thought before death is 'seriously?' " This. So much this. I have done the same. HA!

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    1. Good to know that I'm not alone. :)

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