Monday, March 25, 2013

Pony Hair Doesn't Lie

It might have snowed a few days ago, but that hasn't stopped the shedding so spring is coming even if it's a cold one.

I haven't been able to ride much and it had been almost two weeks since I visited the pony.  I remembered the animal communicator's advice that my pony wanted more attention from me, so I made sure to go straight to Tessa's stall.  She turned to look at me when I called her name and she resembled a giant, white cotton ball.  There was fuzz everywhere.

She buried her face in my hands and when I took my hands away, they came away with handfuls of hair in them.  Well, she wanted more attention didn't she?  So we had a pony spa day.  It was too cold to wash, so I curried and combed and brushed and curried and combed and brushed.  I clipped her face a bit, trimmed her legs up and then curried and brushed some more.

I took my time.  I talked to Tessa.  I scratched her in her favorite places.  I did notice she was less pissy.  Probably because I remained relaxed and focused on her.  My energy wasn't worrying about our ride or how much time I had (which is unusual because usually I really do have to be focused on the clock.).  I was simply being there, stripping as much hair off as I could, spitting it out of my mouth occasionally and trying not to rub my eyes.

This is about half the hair I actually got off but it was kind of windy so I was cleaning it up as I went.  I got enough hair to knit a large man a sweater.  I also ended up needing to go up one hole on my girth.  No joke.

There was a lot going on in the arena with five horses and people practicing tests with half passes and leg yields and extensions, so our ride wasn't super long or super hard.  I had two goals.  One was to remain sensitive and light, while still asking Tessa to lift and use her back.  The other was to get her working at the one end of the arena where someone outside was power washing their motor home.  She only had one whirl and spook but was very distracted and tense.

It was sunny out, so we ended our ride by going outside.  I hopped on for another ten minutes and we sort of wandered back and forth and then just sat in the sunshine.  Tessa was ready to be done and despite my nerves telling me to not get on, I rode outside and felt good about that.

I really would like to work on her spooking issue though.  I know her personality is such that she may always be a 'looky' horse, but she freezes up entirely AND tunes me out.  So far, the only thing I've been able to do is to kind of haul her around and put her back to work.  It will work as long as we aren't near the spooky thing.  So, for example, if we're headed straight for the scary object and I feel her body tense I can turn her sort of sideways and push her off my leg.  But it requires a lot of 'muscling around' and then we lose all sense of togetherness and lightness.  I've been playing around with wrapping my leg around her and that does seem to help, but when she's worried she just wants to freeze up and stare at the scary thing.  Then she wants to whirl and bolt (though usually I catch her before this).  I have tried small circles, disengaging hindquarters, shoulder in.  They all work to some extent but it means we have to change course.  If I'm riding in a dressage test or on a narrow trail, I can't change my course.

My mission for this summer is to get her out and expose her, but I want to have a game plan for how to handle her spooks both for my confidence and for hers.  Since she told the animal communicator that she wants to go out on trail rides, I told her that if she wants to do that she has to get a handle on her spooking.  That's all I need to do right?  Just tell her that it's her problem and if she wants to stop doing dressage, she better knuckle down and power through it.  Haha.  Yeah....we'll see how that goes.....


  1. Ugh shedding! I hope both of your guys' confidence continues to grow!

  2. Spooking is a challenge for sure. I've got two pretty high strung horses - Dawn and Red, and Pie can also spook at things. I find that riding as though the spook didn't happen is the best thing to do, for me - just keep on doing whatever it was you were doing and try not to brace or block against it but just go with the horse and then just keep right on going. I don't force the horse to face or confront anything scary, I just gradually work my way back into the scary area, doing our regular work. We just get closer and closer and I pay no attention to the scary stuff. Pretty soon in most cases the horse decides since I'm not interested in the scary thing they don't need to worry about it either. I think this teaches horses to self calm more quickly, and oddly enough this also results in lessening a nervous horse's tendency to spook. As with most things to do with horses, it's really about us.

    Maintaining softness through a spook/buck/bolt is still a challenge for me - it's possible to be effective while still being soft, but I'm not there yet. Red has sometimes bolted in the past, and I tend to develop arms of steel and brace against him instead of just redirecting him. He and Dawn are both great teachers for me on this, and it sounds like you've got yourself a teacher too!

  3. A few weeks ago I worked on dealing with spooky stuff with my easy-startled TB. Basically the rules were "You may not go backward. You may stand and look, but you may not turn away from where you are pointed." Every step forward is praised, and you let them go past it as quickly as they need to, but just getting past it was the first step. He was very upset about having to go near these blue rain barrels at first, but 15 min later, he was walking and trotting past them.
    If he gets really fixated, I'll ask nicely for him to pay attention by fluttering the bit with my reins, but if he ignores them, a quick jerk will snap him out of it and he usually relaxes. Sometimes they just fixate and you have to do what you have to to get them to pay attention to you again rather than the scary thing. Good luck!

  4. Oooh, we are shedding too! Massive clouds of hair everywhere. How it finds its way in my bra I'll never understand.

    Gabe used to be a spooker...but the more I've gotten him out into different situations and exposed him to different things, the less he spooks. We've developed a trust - if I'm not freaking out, he figures he doesn't need to freak out. Spooky horses, I believe, tend to not have much trust that their human will properly lead and protect them, so, they assume the "leader" role, which is a role not all horses are comfortable with.

  5. I am working with a really spooky mare right now, and we have a routine that I think would work well for you. I started this on the ground for my safety, after I was sure she wouldn't run me over. We start by walking ear to ear down the rail towards the scary spot with her on the rail and me about three feet to the inside of her. I carry my long lead rope in my inside hand and my whip/stick in my "horse side" hand. Right before I think she will spook, I wiggle the rope and lift my stick to drive her shoulder out, resulting in her doing a circle around me and returning to the rail.

    My goal is to have her walk calmly past the spot. If she trots/spooks, I drive her onto the same circle. The goal is alwys to have her back at a walk by the time she gets back to the rail, but if she is really wound up, I may let her trot a few circles.

    This way, we are building a pattern that works under saddle. When I feel her get tense, I just wiggle my inside rein and take her on a circle. the better she gets, the more subtle the reminder. Most of the time, I just soften her to the rein, and I find that she is learning to calmly walk past and look at things rather than fleeing the scene.