Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Scary Thing Behind You

I went out to say hello to the princess before I leave for Arizona.  Her leg was looking puffy and hot and was tender to the touch.  Laura has started her on antibiotics and she is still on stall rest.  Surprisingly, though she had not been turned out since Friday, she was very well behaved.  I let her have  a romp in the arena and she mostly just walked around looking for things she could play with.

Laura suggested I walk her down the driveway, the flattest non-muddiest part of the property, to help move some of the fluid around in her foot.  So, we ventured through the scary gate and down the driveway.  Our walk was short, both in distance and in time, since the pony had a hard time keeping it together.  There was lots of freezing and blowing and snorting.  But, I remained relaxed and calm and we did go a little ways down and back a few times in a row.

But here's the thing....I think Tessa was trained to face the scary thing and if she can't face the scary thing, to run away.  I know some of this is inherent in horses, but I also know it's a popular training method to have them face the scary object, walk up to it, touch it etc.  I understand how this might be helpful when you're riding and if your horse TURNS to face the scary object.  But when you're going for a walk and your horse gets scared and SPINS to face the object at warp speed, it makes for a dangerous walk.  Poor Tess just couldn't handle any noise coming from behind her.  She would tuck her tail and try and bolt and spin at the same time.  Some folks say to disengage their hindquarters and get them working, but her hindquarters seemed pretty disengaged as she spun frantic circles around me.

So, tell me your brilliant ideas for how to instill bravery in a horse.  How exactly do you teach a horse that they do NOT have to face the scary object/noise.  I know trust is part of it, but is there more I can be doing.  Today, I did not want to do a lot of fancy groundwork that might have aggravated her lame foot any more than it already was, so I just stayed calm until she came down.  And when she lowered her head and licked and chewed, I praised her effusively.

Also, she shed off enough hair to make a pony sized sweater.

Not from today, but a good example of her giraffe neck right before she whirls and bolts.
I'm off the find some sunshine for a week!  I'll be on the computer a bit, but it's been so long since I've been warm I'll probably be spending most of my days poolside.


  1. I'm a big fan of the "doesn't matter, carry on" approach. Ride the horse and keep riding the horse. If something wacky happens, incorporate it and carry on without getting all offended and/or involved. It takes a little practice for those of us who are not highly Zen by nature, but it _can_ be learned, and I've yet to meet a horse who doesn't appreciate it.

    (My own was, as a youngster, a wickedly reactive spook-spin-bolter with a rodeo-quality buck. So I had plenty of opportunity to practice! And he is very, very solid now.)

    (I'll depart from the above on a case-by-case moment-by-moment basis. But that's the general plan.)

  2. I have found that when distracto poneh is focused on me those scary things are magically less scary. Working on a big "WHOAH" means all feet stop till I say go will help, like when something scary happens (deer jumps out of woods on trail ride) My theory is if they are spinning then it is still a flight response, just one that some people find permissible. If there is a "monster corner" in the arena then I like the ignore and carry on approach as well.

    Trail riding is great for teaching the horse that something unexpected might happen but it is no big deal, being around scary things might lead to fun, also making sure you don't carry the experience (let go of tension after spook so as not to make her look for more things to spook at) Not making a fight about it helps as well, My attitude with a hot horse is not that I am going to make them "get over it" but that it's not important, what we are doing over here is important.

    A dressage instructor once told me that Arabians have a high survival instinct and are just going to notice everything, so riders have to learn to live with it. I know Joy with notice the patch of sunlight on the indoor arena floor and will either freak out like it is eating her or side step it, but I know she will notice it.

    I think trust has a lot to do with it, once Joy and I got to a point where we really trusted each other, I was amazed at how brave she can be. But she is not without her quirks, Little mare can rock out on a cross country course with scary jumps (that she hasn't seen before) but spook at HER trailer because HER grain bucket is in a weird place.

  3. Totally true about the higher survival instinct and the sunlight! Tessa freaks out when there is a new shadow. The hardest part with her is 1. keeping her attention on me. She has pony ADD still. It is getting better though. and 2. keeping her forward. She completely freezes up when she's scared and no amount of kicking gets her forward. We turn her head and get her moving that way, but when we're on a hand walk there isn't as much room to navigate getting her attention and getting her moving in a different place. Still a work in progress......