Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Journey Takes Another Direction

Due to the injury I got as a result of getting bucked off, I don't feel I have what I need to get back in the saddle and be 100% ready for what ever comes next. My chest and back are much better, almost normal but every now and then if I move a certain way, I'll get the twinge and I know I'm not ready yet.

I worked on the lunge with him Monday and Tuesday as well. And I'm noticing issues popping up all of a sudden. He will pay attention and then just as I'm about to end the session, something happens that blows it all away. For instance, I lunged him Tuesday. He was really trying and doing well at just the walk and trot. I had him keeping to the circle and forward even on his less willing side. We were at it for 20 minutes and I was about to "whoa" him and turn him to me and quit when he heard a horse down in the lower barn give one of those snort/whistle sounds and I lost him. His tail went up, he got all puffed up and stupid and I had to work like crazy to keep him out of my space. Damn it! I don't need to get crowded by a big doofus and I'll admit he rattled me again.

I got him to stop and stand facing me, Then shortened up on the lunge line and began hand walking him slowly in small, 10 meter circles over ground poles and talking to him. I was watching his body language the whole time. As soon as his head began to lower and he seemed more relaxed. I halted him, stroked his neck and walked him into the barn to end the session.

Last night I opted to just groom and really study his body language and expression. He was very good about it all and then we hit another stubborn roadblock. I've been working on having him move over and give me the most space in the aisle when grooming. Today was no different and as I worked on each side and switched, I would give a firm but gentle push against his side with my hand and say,"Over". And he'd move.

Then we got to about the 3rd time I needed him to move off the left side and he stubbornly planted himself. I pushed harder and said it a little more firmly. And he leaned into me! I gave him a bigger push and firmer command and he lifted his hip at me! At that point I growled at him, the foot went down and he moved slightly but not what I wanted from him.

Then I walked to his head and asked him to step forward. He took two steps with me, I went back to the side and pushed again and asked for,"over". He didn't move as far as I wanted but he did move away more willingly and I stroked his neck and went right back to grooming.

And after that nothing else, he gave me his hooves when asked so I could clean them. Then I decided before returning him to the stall to just walk him on the lead up and down the aisle. So we did. He was willing until one of the horses pinned it's ears and banged the bars as he was walking by. And then he wanted to stop at that horse and not stay walking with me. I quickly got his head forward and urged him to walk with me, at first he balked but he was focused on me. I could see the confusion in his reaction, "do I stay and find out what the why the horse in the stall did that to me or do I just go with her?" And then he put his head down and followed me. With that I led him into the stall and gave him a good face rub and ended our session.

What I am trying to understand is why we have gone downhill so fast. Did I miss something? All seemed to be moving forward and well. If you read back a few posts, this was the horse I plucked a plastic bag out of a tree with while on his back and he had almost no reaction. Now we're back to the very beginning. I have tried to analyze the bucking incident and where it came from. I'm trying to figure out where this reluctance is coming from to trust me. And I'm not sure I have the right answers. He has so much good, but I need to understand more and we need to fix this now. I want to want to ride him again but I want to do it knowing we're a team, not that one of us is tolerating the other.

I've ridden and worked with horses for almost 40 years and never hit a wall like this with any of the horses I've been involved with. Except maybe for one. There was one young horse years ago that I was schooling for the owners of the barn I was at and was doing really well with until another, less skilled rider took him to a show to try him and overfaced him at the jumps. He dumped that rider into a few fences at that show and was never a willing jumper again. After that, even with me, he was hitting the brakes in front of jumps all over the place.

I tried everything with that horse. I went from jumping 3'6" courses with no stopping all the way back to trying to build his confidence over ground poles. As soon as the jumps went to about 2 feet, he would stop and quit all over. He's the horse who dumped me into a jump at a show without any inclination and after that I told the barn owners it wasn't worth it, I didn't want to risk getting hurt on a horse I didn't even own. I actually felt bad that he couldn't even trust me again after he was so rattled by that other fool's attempt to jump him like I had done. He was sold after that as a trail horse with clear instructions not to attempt jumping him.

Well, now I'm at an impasse again. I have called a trainer in Natural Horsemanship who's results I have seen on 3 of my friend's horses. I think I need a different direction and a new outlook and from what I have seen and heard, maybe he can give me some tools to work with that I haven't tried before. So, the journey takes a another direction.


Anonymous said...

Could be that the bucking was a sign - of some sort of pain? Back? Saddle fit? Teeth? I've found that steady progress is unusual (at least for me!) - more often it's two steps forward and one step back - sometimes three steps back! Having a plan of where you are going and what you want to accomplish in each session is good too. It's good that you are willing to try something different - but do have him checked out for different possible sources of pain - it'll be impossible to make training progress if there are physical issues.

English Rider said...

He May be "Feeling his oats" as they say. Is he on a hotter diet than before and so feeling cheekier and stronger?

SolitaireMare said...

I am really welcoming the comments on this one. I'm hoping I have all angles covered when I talk with the NH trainer and can get to the bottom of this.

Kate - That was one of the first thoughts I had - was something hurting him? But the saddle, girth, bridle and bit were all the same as I'd been using previously. And when I got back on to ride after they brought Sparky back out, he was fine and didn't try anything. If something was wrong that was causing him pain, it would have still been there and should have kept irritating him. I did have splint boots on his front legs and he'd only worn those two other times. I'm wondering if he didn't like the feel of the boots this time and was reacting to that. But again, they were still on after the buck and when I got on to ride, he didn't keep reacting.

His teeth should have been floated this past week. I need to check that it has been done and when. I don't know if there was some reaction from that.

So I'm still puzzled from that.

English Rider - I thought of that. He should be on Senior feed, same ratio as he was getting at his previous home. But I have a feeling the Senior feed we use is not just a pellet feed it's a sweet type feed and I don't think sugar is what this boy needs. (and I thought it was me but he DOES look even rounder since he got here) He's a super easy keeper.

Promise said...

Nothing in your posts indicates he's cold-backed like my mare is. But, her being cold-backed was considerably worsened by outgrowing her tack very quickly until she was 6 years old. For years, every time I got on her, she'd either buck (i.e. buck so hard, I would bale if there were others in the arena), or would be so tense through the back that we had to take one step at a time for about 10 minutes, until she relaxed. Once I was on, and she was relaxed, she rarely misbehaved beyond what I would consider normal for a green horse.

I had her back adjusted by a chiropractor, but was told she really didn't need the adjustment. I had the vet do basically a full physical. I had the two mysterious bumps that had appeared in the middle of her back treated with cortisone injections, and gave her 8 weeks off to recover. The bumps going away helped considerably with the soreness. I still don't know for sure what they were. They never came back.

When I got my current saddle, when she had finished growing, the bucking and tension lessened. It fit her, I had about 8 different people, including vets and trainers and chiropractors check it; it fit me - we both love it.

I had an animal communicator speak with her about a year after we moved to Florida in 2003. She told me Promise said she was feeling better, but needed more time off. Boy did she get it. During my last two years of school, I was lucky if I rode once a month. But every time I rode, she was well behaved, only occasionally, and very slightly, tense through the back, but nothing like it had been at 4, 5, even 6 years of age.

She's a different horse now...and I know it's for a variety of reasons, but the tension in her back is gone when I get on now. She sighs, lowers her head and walks off. It's been a long road...

I can pretty confidently say I've felt the same way you do right now. Don't be discouraged with him, or yourself, the horse you fell in love with is still there.

My suggestions are the obvious =)

Definitely double check on the float status, although I can't imagine it didn't get done, maybe they missed something. Does he have wolf teeth?

Have someone check the saddle fit. I never realized how important this was, until Promise. Of course, I was a kid and was still learning back then, too! But, as you probably know, if he's gained weight, it might not fit him well anymore. If he's grown (even if he's only widened/filled out), it might not fit him.

And consider changing or lessening his feed.

I'll try to think about some of the other things I've tried through the years.

OnTheBit said...

When I was told about this horse I was told he was very used to getting his way. His owner was scared of him so she let him kind of get away with murder because she was scared. And then her friend rode him and the same thing happened. So in my book it sounds like this horse has learned that he can just do his own thing. I stil have faith that this is the right horse for you because I know you can be consistant and firm in your expecatations. I think getting some outside help from someone is a great idea. Horses usually do better with a clean slate then if we place expecations (good or bad) on them. I don't blame you at ALL for being a little nervous after the fall. I would be more worried if you as a wife and mother were not feeling your nerves. Why did things go south so quickly? I don't know. I have lots of ideas though. Maybe he thinks that he needs to be a big baby in order to get attention? Maybe he likes not having a job? Maybe he is doing the best he can becasuse wasn't sure what you were asking of him. I do know that being herd bound is a dangerous vice and so if this natural horseman ship guy can help you with that already you will be in a better space. I also think that these things take time. For the past 4 of his 5 years he could do things his way and all of a sudden you want him to change will take time. I have faith that you are just the person for the job and please don't get back in the tack until you feel ready. He seems like a smart horse who needs a security blanket. I think time and consistancy will help you become that for him. And I am sure that I am going to get called cruel and a bad person for even suggesting this, but is there anyway he could be turned out alone for a bit? I know I can't focus on work when my friends are around.

SolitaireMare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SolitaireMare said...

Hi Promise - No, I don't think he's cold backed, especially after reading your description of all you went through with your mare. (And by the way, kudos to you for persisting through all that to the horse you have today!) My saddle is a Wintec with the changeable tree gullet plates. I switched to the wide plate to ride him with and the saddle seems to fit perfectly. Even with my weight in the tack it doesn't touch his spine and fits well everywhere else. The girth is an anatomically shaped girth so no pinching and it has elastic on both sides for good expansion when working.

I'm double checking on the teeth situation. And I'm also asking about the feed.

Hi OnTheBit! - I'm getting the feeling that based on what you and I were told about him, he's being a spoiled brat who has gotten his way before and thinks he will do it again. I guess he's had enough time to feel comfortable in his new home and he's testing the waters with some of the stunts he's tried before. That's unfortunately the only reason I can think of for it. That's why I've changed focus and become all business with him and no more indulgence. No treats from the hand and I've backtracked to the simplest interactions so I can control the outcome more easily. Right now I feel I need every session we have together to end with me in control and him respecting me for it.

He's smarter than I gave him credit for and I want to channel those brains to doing good and not being a beast. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I'm hoping the NH trainer can help me, too.

Jean said...

OK, one more absolute physical suggestion.


My horse was very unpredictable. Yes, he might buck, spook, and stop and refuse to move at all. I sent him to a John Lyons trainer and that helped a ton...but not entirely. Finally went to a clinic with a wise trainer who observed some of his behavior. She walked over, touched him on the side, noticed his reaction and said, "He has ulcers."

I treated him first with a short course of ranitidine (zantac), then used the omeprazole (Ulcergard for horses...expensive.) The next horse show I took him to, he was a completely changed animal, calm, relaxed, amazing.

Equine ulcers are much more common than we realize. The problem is that when the horse starts to work, at some point, the stomach acid is churned up, aggravates the ulcer and causes pain. The pain can lead to all kinds of behavior problems.

Trouble is, omeprazole is really the only treatment that has proven successful in curing ulcers, and it is very costly. If you need more info, email me.

SunnySD said...

Hi SolitaireMare - sounds like you're getting lots of good advice and checking out potential physical stuff.

Like Kate commented, I've found that steady progress is really unusual, and there've been lots of days I've gone home feeling discouraged.

On the mental end of things, your boy is young yet, and he's starting to get comfortable in a new place - and comfortable enough with you to start focusing his attention on something other than you, too.

Keep up with what you're doing. Don't push the riding until you feel ready, but do make sure that you're working him. Vary your routine - work him with the saddle on some days, even if you're not going to ride him. Insist on his attention, and try to end on a good note for both of you if you can.

Check the feed, too - and I'm not sure what your turnout situation is, but if you can arrange for him to be out for a couple hours before you're there, that might take some of the edge off, too.

Good luck! I've been there :)

SolitaireMare said...

Hello Jean! - I did see you post a reply once before about ulcers and I have also been keeping that in mind as well. I have been watching his reactions to things like girthing and grooming in the belly, chest and flanks. I agree it's another question to ask the vet.

Hi SunnySD - You and Kate are right about progress being not always forward. And I have thought about the last 4-5 weeks with him and in hindsight, I know we kind of rushed things because I had a decision to make. I had to get on and at least walk/trot to know if I liked his ride. But I guess I liked it so much and he seemed so willing that I kept going and maybe he's much less "broke" than what I thought. SO that's why 'm going all the way back again to the beginning of handling with him.

Jackie said...

I think taking a step backwards on really focusing on basics is a great move. I got my TB Ace 8 months ago. He spent 2 years standing in a pasture doing whatever the heck he wanted, and the owners before that sold him because they didn't have enough time. That tells me he was used to doing him own thing.

At first he seemed thrilled to be getting my attention. He was smart, willing, and learned quickly. And then we hit a major roadblock with balking issues under saddle, and sometimes on the ground. Part of it was confusion and part of it was him exerting his will and saying he didn't want to have to work. And we worked through it.
Then he developed an abscess and was off for a month and a half. When I started working him again, he was great at first. Then he just propped those front legs and refused to move. Again, a few weeks back to ground work to encourage the forward, back to saddle and just taking it a little bit at a time.

We had two months of really great work after that, and had successfully started canter work. Then, he injured himself and was stall bound for 3 weeks. We finally just started back, and much to my surprise he's been amazing!

All that is to say, I totally feel your pain. And I agree with the commentors who said it's a back and forth process. Taking time to hammer the basics, develop trust and respect, and consistency will smooth things out over time.

I've just been learning some natural horsemanship methods in the last year. While I'm not completely head over heels, they have been incredibly useful for Ace and I to develop a language and relationship. I'm looking forward to hearing what you learn from the NH trainer and if it help you and Rugby!

Hang in there. It sounds like you are a doing a lot right ... it just takes time!

Anonymous said...

He sounds like your typical warmblood baby to me, at least the one's I've been around (which, isn't a ton, but enough to see some similarities). We have one at our barn who is your guy's age and acts a lot like him. He's a BIG boy with a stubborn and lazy streak, plus he's smart. No sugars, no treats (by hand or otherwise). Lots of turnout and he's not allowed to screw around when being worked -- no bucking on the lunge even. She does a lot of long-lining and lunging, but in smaller circles, larger circles, all over the arena. She rides for maybe 30 minutes a session, 45-one hour during a lesson twice a month, always keeping his mind very occupied. If he's not paying attention, then circles, side-passing or shoulder-ins. She's really good at being consistent with him and she has strict rules she enforces at all times such as not moving a foot on the ties, bringing his head down when she needs him to, etc. It's a lot of work, but with her consistency he's really a good boy, just with the brain of a baby. I'm sure he'd get away with anything you allowed him to get away with.

So, no real advice, but sharing my thoughts based on this horse. If I were to give advice, it would be to take all sugars out of his feed, to include oats. Otherwise, I think that you're doing some good things.

I'm sure you'll hear a lot of saddle-fit, ulcer and discomfort advice, all of which should be checked out to some degree, but it sounds like it's a big spoiled warmblood baby thing to me. : )

Oh, and my horse is a tad herd bound, too. It's a pain in the butt. He's a sensitive TB so he becomes upset instead of angry. I just work him through it. Forward, forward, forward.

Nicku said...

Natural horseman training is really amazing. I've seen a couple of really intense horses at my barn re-started using the method and it is pretty incredible. I am starting my baby using a Natural Horseman trainer and he is cool as a cucumber (now part of that is his personality, he's a mellow little guy by nature). I just highly recommend that route as it just seems so much more humane than having them knocked around by cowboys or worse, hurting you in the process of trying to figure out what's causing all the issues. Best of luck!!!!

Mrs Mom said...

All I can offer (since you are ruling out any physical issues,) is:
Slow, Steady, Consistent.

Keep things on a steady track, and have a goal in mind each time you have time to work with him. For example: the Over command. Work with him on it outside. Use something to extend your arm: crop, dressage whip, end of a longer lead line, and ask him to step away from you quietly, gently, but firmly. If he refuses, time to move his feet. Control the feet = control the brain. He will soon learn it is easier to move over when Momma asks, then it is to trot one way, then the other way, then back the other way- no wait, lets go this way again....

Young (pushy) horses are a lot like kids. We have to be just as firm with them as we do a big strong horse. Biggest difference? You can trot a horse out with out someone calling you in for child abuse, AND you can toss them back in their paddocks/ pasture and WALK AWAY... (Walk away from a child and they just FOLLOW YOU!)

Chin up. Talk to this NH trainer. Talk to several trainers. Go back and fill in holes, one step at a time. Be steady, strong, kind, and consistent, and he will come around well for you. ;)