Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Riding to Conception Part 3

So we waited for the riders to arrive and once Rudy ate and let Vaquero have some hay, he offered to ride Cibolo and see what was up.

About Rudy and horses: At one time when he was younger, Rudy had a horse that was just plain mean. It reared, tried to run him into fences, trees, all of that. After that horse he gave up on them for years, then came back to it, taking lessons and learning all he could.

His approach has always been more firm than mine, more demanding. Not cruel, not at all, but harsher than my approach.

He tried to help me with Canyon, but Canyon didn't respond well. Harshness sent him to the moon.

But although I was concerned about his safety on my freaked out horse, Cibolo seemed calmer. So I saddled him up and during the break he rode him out. First he did some ground work, "hide your rear" kind of things to let Cibolo know who he was. Then he took him out, cantered him, used a quirt on him, and basically rode him.

"There's nothing wrong with this horse," he told me when he got back. "He's just lazy and trying to get out of work."

So I got on him and rode him up the road, even cantered. He did fine. So I decided, relunctantly to try again. I attempted to rejoin the trail ride.

We made it about half a mile before we were back in freak out land.

Then Rudy offered to switch horses. I got on his Paso, Vaquero, and he got on Cibolo.

And we rode. And Cibolo, after a very brief argument with Rudy, rode fine.

"He's just being a jerk. He's got your number," he said.

He rode him for about a mile and a half and I floated on his Paso. Then we switched back before the parade. Cibolo was unhappy about the separation and took his time loading.

I got in the truck, finally. And I was crushed.



So it's not about Cibolo, is it. It's about the rider. About me.

On the road back I was grateful for my mirrored shades.


We talked about leadership. About little things, the things Rudy noticed. The subtle ways my horse was not respecting me.

When we got back, I brought out that fierce, angry, alpha mare. I moved him around like he was livestock. If he hesitated I whacked him with the crop and he jumped away. If his attention moved to the other horses I moved his feet till he only had eyes for me. I snapped the lead rope and made him back with energy and intensity. I was angry, feeling betrayed to be terribly honest, and when I turned my back to him, the tears flowed again behind the mirrored sunglasses on my face.

Because I don't like to be like that. Which is where the soul searching comes in. But more on that in a minute.

Rudy, a real trooper, offered a ride around his ranch for us (after a break, of course) and when I rode on Cibolo he stood still as a statue for me as I saddled him, still as I mounted. No more dancing. He listened, responded flawlessly, side passed up to gates, allowing me to make minute adjustments to his body position to get the gates open and closed perfectly.

We rode around to get memory cards out of the cameras on the ranch. While we didn't see anything other than a few cows, here's what's often out there.

We came back when it was nearly dark. We cantered on the trail a few times, trotted a good bit.

And I was not particularly excited about riding. The ranch is beautiful, the company wonderful, but being on a horse was suddenly not that great. Something inside just had curled up and was either licking its wounds, or dieing.

I don't really know which. I just wanted to handle the situation. To complete my task.

Afterwards we untacked and I referred to Cibolo by his new name, which is an obscenity that doesn't bear repeating. I put him up and walked away.

The next morning we loaded up. Cibolo did not do his usual "one hoof in, then back" routine three times. I did the harsh ground work (again, not whips, but a firm whack on the butt to make him move with energy, back quickly, etc) then I brought him up to the trailer.

He immediately jumped in and waited for me to close the gate.

Which I did.


I hated the energy, the anger, the distance. But really, did I have closeness before? Was it all just an illusion, a game I played in my head?

My real job is in politics. I work with strong men and I'm no push over. I have to be firm and stand up for my view and opinions and bulldoze through things often. When I someone tries to push me around, I stand up and go right at it. I can mow down a room and very few people are willing to take me on.

That's why we call it "work." I don't consider that side of me fun. I consider it necessary at times, and generally try to avoid using it.

Maybe I'm not up to do it in my "off time." Or maybe I don't know how to walk the line between firmness and bitchy, demanding, dominatrix (minus the corset and boots). Maybe I'm an on-and-off instead of shades of grey.

Because I really thought I had been firm enough. But clearly I wasn't.

"You won't have to be like that all the time," Rudy told me. "You just have to establish it."

I don't know. It seems like this is an attitude that you have to adopt and carry around like a scepter or sword. I know the "respect" I get at work requires vigilence because in my business you have to push back or be seen as weak. It is constant. Someone is always looking for weakness. It's exhausting.

So the question is what do I have to do to have appropriate leadership of my horse - and will all the fun be gone if I have to be a jerk the entire time.

For me this is a hobby. An expensive one. We don't have a ranch, we don't compete, and no one else wants to ride but me.

And I'm not sure even I want to ride anymore.


When we got back, I had to re-establish myself with Cibolo because in the old environment he was doing those subtle things that now weren't so subtle. They screamed at me as clear signs of disrespect - dancing, not facing me properly, little bits of resistance. I snapped. I pushed him around with intensity. Made him jump when I asked. Tolerated nothing.

I rode him in the round pen two days later. Trotting, cantering, circling a mounting block in a "drive the hindquarter" exercise. Other than a moment of resistance at the canter, he responded well to everything. No more dancing, no more wandering attention.

At the end of the session he lowered his head and I rubbed his forehead for the first time in three days.

And I cried. Again.


I don't want this to be the only way to be with horses. But I can't forget the ride to Conception. I can't.

I don't know if I'm up to this. But I'm giving myself 30 days to figure it out.


Paint Girl said...

I am so sorry you are going through this.
Ever since my fall from Fritzy, I have been doubting myself, and my confidence hit an all time low. I have been really working on this. You know what I found to be the most helpful? Especially with a very strong minded, dominant, pushy horse? Groundwork. Yep, once I started doing a lot of groundwork with Fritzy, she started to really turn around. She is very slow to respond to most cues but she gets it eventually. She has learned to back off and not push me around.
I think you are doing the right thing, by getting your horse to listen to you from the ground. Because what you do from the ground, also moves to when you are in the saddle.
Hang in there!!

lytha said...

i hope you can find the joy again with cibolo.


Kate said...

I'm sorry, but I disagree completely with Rudy. I know he's your friend, and you may not be comfortable with what I have to say - that's OK and it's your horse and your blog. Horses don't just "try to get out of work" - that's just "force the horse to do stuff" training, and although if you use enough force and intimidation you can get a horse to do anything. Horses don't think like we do - they don't scheme, they don't plan and they don't "act like a jerk to get out of work". Horses are troubled, horses are worried, horses sometimes can't comply with what we ask. Your horse had a meltdown because he was scared and overfaced - to be harsh with a horse in those circumstances will destroy whatever trust has been built up. The horse may comply if forced, but he'll never be with you on the inside and may in fact become either shut down or dead, or dangerously explosive or angry. Please read my comment from the day before. If you're feeling bad about it, there's a reason why. Trust you gut.

That's my opinion, sorry to disagree with Rudy, but I couldn't disagree more - I used to feel like Rudy does and train the way he does, and I've seen what it can do to horses. I do things differently now, and yes it's harder, and yes it takes longer, but it works and you end up with a horse that trusts you and will do anything for you because the two of you are together and a team.

Kate said...

One other thing - sorry for posting twice. You do have to provide the horse with leadership - otherwise he won't know what to do and will have to make his own decisions - but that's not at all the same thing as coercion or forcing. The "respect" thing - why in the world should the horse respect you if you don't respect him and listen to what he's saying and help him out when he's troubled? Often what people mean when they say a horse "respects" them is that the horse will do what they want, often because it has no choice - but the horse isn't soft on the inside.

That said, if you need to find someone to help you with the horse, don't feel bad about that. But find the right person who uses methods you are comfortable with - again, trust your gut.

Trailrider said...

I was going to remain mute on this post, but I feel I need to provide some details...

In no way did I "force Cibolo" to do anything. But I did work hard to make good behavior easy, and bad behavior hard for him to do.

At the beginning of the trail ride, EVERYONE'S horse was nervous. Several horses were fidgeting, circling, shifting their feet, etc. It's expected when 300 horses are brought together. But no matter what the excitement level or energy, the rider's goal is to get the horse from point A to point B. There should be no option to do anything else.

Cibolo demonstrated his nervousness by sidepassing, backing up in an exaggerated fashion when asked to do so, and crow hopping. In my opinion, he was next going to rear and buck if he had been pressed further; he was that nervous. Winter felt unsafe, and dismounted. My concern was that by dismounting and placing Cibolo in a trailer with hay and not having to move on with the other horses, Cibolo was given training that bad behavior gets him out of situations he would like to avoid.

At the half way point, when I didn't have my own horse to worry about for a few minutes, I took Cibolo away from his hay/grass, did some ground work with him, and mounted him. I moved him on down the trail. When he tried to act squirrely, I let him no IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that this behavior was not going to be tolerated. I did NOT beat him. I just used my legs to direct him firmly in a straight line. I spread my reins to make going straight the best option. And I worked on getting him through his gaits: walk, trot, and canter. I circled him and I stopped him hard. I asserted my leadership by moving his feet and disengaging his hindquarters repeatedly. I did the same things the herd leader would do to him, things he would understand. I felt him "get it" and he was no more trouble for me after that. No further firmness was required, and I could then be softer with him.

When Winter remounted him, he AGAIN turned to his bad behavior in a very short time. Had she more confidence, which I'm sure she's capable of, she could have used the same or similar techniques to assert her leadership and re-direct his focus. There are a number of ways to achieve this, and I'm not saying my methods are the only ones to use; I am NOT a horse trainer. But SOMETHING had to be done, and teaching this horse that he has an option OTHER than going from point A to point B is NOT an option.

Trailrider said...

And I was not afraid to be thrown. Of course I was scared; I had seen Cibolo's behavior with Winter. But I was going to do what was necessary to move this horse from point A to point B, and the easiest way to do that was to assert my leadership over this animal quickly and decisively, lest he think he had a chance to hurt me and get out of moving down the trail. But being thrown was definitely a possibility, and in front of 300 riders no less. But better riders than me have been thrown from their horses on this ride, and I was ready for, but not paralyzed by, the possibility.

I am tired of people "humanizing" horses. I don't have a problem with calling a horse a jerk, or saying they try to get out of work. They DO. We make them carry us at times they would rather eat and stay with the other horses, and they try to get out of that if they can. It is only our intellect and leadership that gets this 1,000 pound animal to respect us and carry us at our bidding. Yes, horses "feel" some things, but to make them human is what keeps us from doing what is necessary sometimes to ride these animals well. If they can feel worried and troubled, they can also feel mean and spiteful. If you're going to give them human qualities, give them the bad ones too. Or better yet, don't make them human and leave them as HORSES! A horse herd leader doesn't say please and thank you. He doesn't allow his members the OPTION of moving their feet. Horses bite, kick, and beat the hell out of each other to assert their leadership. I was mild with Cibolo in comparison, but I did speak his language.

I didn't destroy Cibolo's trust. I established it. I let him know that he had a strong leader that was going to take care of any situation on this trail ride, and that he didn't need to be nervous. I let him know that he could put away his fear and I would direct his feet and see us through. I acted like a horse herd leader, and I didn't beat him to do it.

Kate said...

Trailrider - thanks for your clarifications - it's good to get your perspective on this. If anything I said in my comments mischaracterized your intention or what you did, my apologies. It could very well be that the horse was unable to do what she asked because he sensed her nervousness - nothing like a nervous rider to make a nervous horse more nervous. But I expect that wasn't just it - I guess he's got some big holes in his experience and training that will need careful fixing, and I hope she can get that done. I still disagree with you that horses do stuff to get out of work - I've been around many horses over many years and have yet to see it - I've seen a lot of horses who are fearful, or worried, or just don't know how to do what we're asking, but none that scheme to get out of work. If he acted like a jerk, it's because he felt really awful on the inside and he needed help from his rider.

And on the subject of humanizing - I actually think that horses do experience real emotions that they express directly with their bodies - but they're not human emotions. Horses most definitely aren't humans in any way shape or form, but to say that they are "mean", "spiteful", "jerks" or "trying to get out of work" IS humanizing them, big time - and interestingly enough, attributing to them all the worst human characteristics. I have met one or two truly vicious horses, but they were made that way by severe mistreatment by humans.

I also don't buy the "herd leader" or "alpha horse" training methods - they do work, after a fashion, but there's a lot more of making the wrong thing hard than the right thing easy, and I think you often end up with a horse that is compliant on the outside but not really willing on the inside.

But all that said, I'm not a horse trainer either, and those are just my opinions. If what you did helped the horse, then good, and I certainly think you were trying to help. I'm a "strong" rider too, and able to get most any horse to do most anything (although I'm just as worried about getting injured as the next person), but I do things somewhat differently now. We all have to find our own paths with horses, and I respect you for saying what you did.

Kate said...

Breathe - sorry to "talk around you" with Trailrider. I visited his blog - don't know how I hadn't before. He's doing some interesting work with his horses, and I'm following along. He and I have some differences of perspective, but I believe we also have a lot of agreements. Give yourself some time to calm down from the bad experience you had so you can think things through. We're all in this together, and we're rooting for you and your horse.

Trailrider said...

Kate, thank you for your feedback. I've heard your critique, but after re-reading your post, I haven't read any of what YOU would have done under the circumstances.

In retrospect (always 20/20), if Cibolo were mine and he was my mount to ride for this trail ride, I might have done a few things differently. When he started to act up, I probably would have dismounted for safety, but I would have used my training halter and lead rope and done 30-60 minutes of ground work to get him focused. This would be safer for me and easier on him. I would then attempt to re-mount and ride in the back of the herd, with only a few horses around me. Only if he felt more comfortable would I try to ease up the herd and try different positions within this large group of riders.

I had my own horse, who was also a bundle of energy and nerves, to control. So I couldn't lend assistance to Winter until the half way point, and I had 60 minutes to water and feed my horse, eat lunch myself, and see what I could do with Cibolo. Trying to change Cibolo's mindset in that short period, on MY time and not his, could have blown up in my face. I took a chance, and it worked. Normally, I don't like to force the issue, but I felt it was important to try to salvage something from this ride for Cibolo.

Kate said...

Good points, Trailrider, and a good question. It's a hard question for me to answer without seeing the horse, and besides I wasn't there, and as you said the best way to fix the problem would have been to do some work ahead of time so the problem didn't come up. I've gotten into situations like that myself before, and what I try to do is find something the horse can do successfully, however small it is, and have him do it - sometimes this helps them calm down and then you can do more - but as you say you were hampered by having another horse to deal with. It really depends on the horse - sometimes I get off and lead for a while if the horse leads well (mine do because I've trained them to) - this helps some horses and not others. I've gotten better about knowing how far to push, and the best solution is to not get into the situation in the first place if the horse isn't ready for it. The fact that he was calm standing by the trailer meant that there was a "safe zone" where he was comfortable to work from, even if it was pretty small.

Life at Star's Rest said...

Wow! You certainly inspired some deeply felt and good comments. I'm not going to say anything about training, this is about you and your feelings.

I have felt just like you in the past with both strong willed or excessively fearful horses. There were times when I thought it just wasn't worth it, that I wanted to have fun, not be the hard ass all of the time with a horse who wanted to plow through me or hurt me.

But here is the thing...once you *have* those horses, you have a partnership that is magic.

If Cibolo is truly a strong willed horse who is looking to dominate, in time it will only take a touch on his chest, asking him to step out of your space to remind him you can't be pushed and then he will give you his heart on everything else.

If Cibolo behaved the way he did because he was afraid, it is going to take time and steady work for you to build that bond. Remember, you have only been together a short time and neither of you trust the other yet.

I imagine Cibolo was cowboy trained and having Rudy get firm with him put him back into a way of being ridden that was familiar and comfortable for him in a scarey situation. It might be that you have to be firm with him for a while since it is where he has been trained to get a sense of safety, but it won't stay that way.

My grey horse, Griton, was severely abused and bought as he was being led to load on a slaughter truck headed for the old plant in Texas. It took a year for me to gain his trust and when he gave it to me, it was complete, like he handed his entire heart and soul to me and I feel a bond with him like I've had with no other horse.

So give yourself some time and give Cibolo some too. You hardly know each other at all and like any relationship, you have to build it slowly. You *will* get through this and hopefully, together. Carmon

Laughing Orca Ranch said...


Your post was painful and sad for me to read because it could have been written by me. The difference is that whenever I try to get the words out on my blog, everything comes pouring out in a rush of feelings: frustration, dissapointment, anger, shame, and sadness. Having my own horse was a dream of mine for more than 30 years and when it finally happened, it ended up horribly wrong.

I have learned some very important vital lessons along the way, though. And I suppose that is what is meant by a 'horse teaching us'.

My horse has taught me to be fearful and less trusting, less confidant and sometimes bitter.

I've learned that horses are NOT our friends. They are animals. With only their own needs in mind: food and comfort.
I've learned that we humans place human traits onto horses and get into serious trouble with that eventually. Because horses will always do what horses do: make sure they have food and comfort.

No matter how much we think our horse trusts us and loves us, if either of those two things (food and comfort) are not available, the horse will do everything it can to get them back, including hurting you if you get in it's way.

Horses act first and don't think about the consequences. No, they don't usually purposely hurt us, but if their food or comfort is at stake, they will always choose food and comfort.

I also learned that horses are lazy animals and don't naturally want to work for humans It's not normal for them as animals. We have to convince them to work for us, and that often back fires, because of that same: food and comfort aspect.

My mare has always been barn sour. She would rather stay back at the barn where she can stand around and eat and do nothing all day then head out on the trails with me. And she spoke up about it, in her horse-way, each and every time we headed out by crow-hopping, doing small bucks, swaying towards the barn like a drunk sailor, spinning....anything to convince me that taking her back to the barn was in her best interest.

So, I learned that I should take her back to the barn....but on my terms. I made her work. We did ground work, we rode all around the paddocks and house.....and then we headed back out on the trail again.

I changed her way of thinking. Barn didn't mean no work. Barn meant even more work than a slow, relaxing trail ride.

And we were working towards that goal, but it was an every-ride-experience. And it was getting old. Sometimes it's just nice to be able to take a willing calm horse out on a trail without having to beg, plead, demand, and discipline.

Like you, I've learned that owning horses is very expensive, and I, too don't have anyone in my family to ride with. I've spent the last 9months soul searching, and still haven't come up with any firm answers, but I know that horses are dangerous and they can injure you and even kill you, both on the ground and in the saddle. And I have my 3 kidlets to take care of and I can't be selfish.
These last two accident and injuries caused so much hardship for my family. I don't want to put them through that again.

I also have many other interests and want to be able to pursue them, too.

I just want you to know, you're not alone. But this is your own journey and only you know what is in your best interests and what path you should take.
Whatever you decide, we'll support you and lean a listening ear.


Breathe said...

Wow. Wow. Wow.

I can't tell you how much all this support means to me. I swear if I stick this out it'll be because of this group of people.

Paint Girl has it right. I've been doubting myself and one thing about being tougher is you almost can't do that without being confident. Even if you fake it, some confidence sneaks in there.

I think that it would have been better for me to have done some ground work and then tried to ride at the end of the trail ride. Since Rudy was at the front and preferred to stay there, and I was reluctant to ride alone, I opted out. I should have stayed toward the back when we restarted, it would have given us a better shot at it.

Sure, I was nervous when he acted up. Mostly because I was shocked. I'd never seen this aspect of him. And I truly didn't expect it.

I'm very glad Rudy did ride him through it, because it did force him to cope. The reality is that I would have ad to hit reset to get him to do that with me, because we had another pattern going, one I would need to break with ground work.

I suspect that I have to find some balance. I think Carmon is right, the more firm hand of Rudy was enough to get him through. But I also know it'll be no fun for me if that's how I have to be all the time. If I can't just relax after a while.

Maybe for now I have to hit reset with Cibolo and draw nice dark lines for him. The fact that he did well when we rode out that evening shows that he is, largely, a safe trail mount. And that he did respond to my firmer hand.

But the hardest part is right there what Lisa said. I remember looking at Cibolo as I was making him move and saying "You are not my friend."

That just about shattered me completely.

Because I guess I want my horse to be like my dog. It's stupid. But my dog loves to be with me, wants to please me, is happiest when we're playing.

That's not horses. And I have to figure out if I can find another place with horses that will bring me, as Lytha said, Joy.

If I can't, then ... then I've discovered some truly wonderful friends.

Kate said...

Sorry for my comments, which I expect weren't of much use to anyone but me (if that) - I got carried away with my conversation/debate with Trailrider and clearly didn't think about just supporting you, which is what I should have been doing. My opinions don't really matter in the end, and may not even be very good ones when it comes to it and goodness knows I talk about them too much as it is. Sorry again, and hope you find a place in your journey with horses where you and your horse are comfortable together. Sending good thoughts your way.

Breathe said...

My goodness Kate - no apology needed!!! I take your comments in the intention they are given - teaching and I've learned so much from you!!!

In fact I was quite tickled that my two favorite teachers were debating the possible solutions. That was fantastic and I learned so much from that back and forth.

Please, give me feedback. I desperately need it. :)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Thanks for reply comment, Winter. It is truly difficult to come to that realization that horses are just animals...and cannot be our friends. Yes, they can our partners, but their loyalty will only go so far if their food or comfort is being threatened. It's just the way it is and I had to learn that the hard way.

You might remember how hurt I was when I was finally able to walk up to the paddock on my own two feet (and my walker) for the first time. I was so excited to spend some time with my mare. It had been so long, and I wanted her to be happy to see me, too. I wanted her to nuzzle me and let me bury my face into her soft fur, like she had always done before. I assumed she, like any good friend, would know how much I needed that.

But that was not to be. She was scared of my walker and was probably disconcerted over my neediness and tears. To a horse, those things are not normal behavior and my mare isn't the 'giving-type' anyway. Unless there is something in it for her.

But that time, not even cookies or carrots would bring her closer to me, and I stood there and cried.

Now, my dog would have been all over me, snuggling, licking and letting me hug her and be needy as all get-out. But like you said, horses are not dogs. And even though we've all been brainwashed as young girls, via horse books and movies, that horses yearn to be with us to give and receive hugs, kisses and's not true.

We can watch horses, even mares and foals together, and see that the extent of the 'love' they give to one another is just mutual grooming and protection.

So, to deal with horses we have to re-program ourselves to not expect horses to fit into this 'friend, dog, love' role we place on them.

Once we do that, we take the pressure off of our horses, and ourselves.

I think it's even tougher for us women, and those of us who are mothers, especially, who tend to be more nurturing. I'm not there yet either. I think this reprogramming thing takes a while. lol.


Flying Lily said...

What a great account! My heart was out there with you; you are such a great writer.

IME the person who comes along 'next' almost always has better luck with a fizzy horse. And: every horse has bad days when the world just looks too strange. Sometimes this weird world is right at home in the most familiar place. I think horses have some natural LSD in their brains!! LOL

Agree with PaintGirl about the ground work and with Kate about leadership. I work on this stuff all the time with my horse John who is quiet and mellow but draws his little lines in the sand and then can be extremely bullheaded.

Horses are such a mind trip; what else in the world can so bring us to our knees mentally and so shatter our self-esteem?

Last word: That ride sounds like the kind of thing where just about any horse I know might, just might, you could not predict it, have a complete and total nervous breakdown.

cprosapio said...

You need a horse that is trained and ready to ride. One you can love and jump on. It reminds me of the time that Adam came over to work with Malcomb and I realized, this dog is never going to be trained because I am not a trainer. Not consistent, not firm, not disciplined. I just want to play, go for a walk and pet and love this dog. Hell, how was I ever an effective parent?
Maybe you will need to be trained first. In how to teach a young horse to be confident and respond appropriately.
All I know is you do love horses so I know you will persevere. Im with you sister!