Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Limbo - Round Penning the Wild One

Not sure what's tougher. Horses or politics.

When I got back from DC, having been gone for seven days, I headed to the barn with some trepidation. I wasn't clear how I felt about being at the barn, whether this was part of my life that needed to continue.

But on the trip the one thing I came to realize was that this was not the point where I could quit.

Brief background jog:
About nine years ago I had this idea. (Like many of my ideas, it's become a bit of a pain in the arse. Someone stop me next time I get that look on my face, please.)

I decided we needed a family motto. I heard some guy on the radio talking about his family crest and the family motto that's been in his family for hundreds of years. I thought "how wonderful to have that kind of history, wish I had one."

Then I thought "you know, history starts every day."

So I contemplated for a few months what kind of motto would be the best gift I could give my children and those that would come later. The one I came up with was: Non ti arrende

Never give up.

Back to the present. Given the very real life lesson I was trying to teach my children I couldn't quit at this point, because this would be incredibly defining. I have fallen rock climbing (sustaining a concussion and a broken thumb and one of the most hysterical rescue stories in history), taken a beating while fencing, and each time I've gotten back to the sport and dealt with my reticence. I've faced the fear, swallowed the bile in my throat, and gotten back on the rock (or in fencing, the line). I hate being irrationally afraid of anything (by this I mean where it gets out of proportion, not the reasonable fear of getting injured any reasonable adult has) and the only way not to be is to get back there and get through it.

So I came back determined to ride and work both horses for a month. But when I came back to the barn, Smokey was unrecognizeable. Usually patient for the gate to open to his feeding area, he was tossing his head, snaking about, keeping Lily (who is usually the boss) back. He kept charging back at the mare across the fence. Who the hell was THIS horse?

When I took him out he had zero leading skilz. It was as if he'd never had a round pen session in his life, and this is the horse who has some of the best ground manners around. He was acting as if I didn't exist, being downright dangerous. He pulled loose on the lead line and that was it.

After calling him many, many, inappropriate names, and doing what I could to get his attention (backing and backing until I felt we could cover the 25 yards) I took him to the round pen. We spent 45 minutes there, having one of the hardest round penning sessions I've ever had with a horse. Turns on a dime. After one outside turn I sent a message - there were to be no more of those. Period.

He fixed that, but was still being a jerk.

When he refused to listen to the gaits I was signaling it was time for repeated turns over, over, and over.

By the end he was more compliant that I'd ever seen him. Zero nonsense. Zero dancing around. Zero movement when we were in the wash rack.

No more chasing off Lily. No more charging forward. Hasn't done it since either.

So. There's one thing I can do as a horsewoman.


I take the comments I've gotten to heart. I appreciate the support, the tough talk, the permission to make the hard choice.

I have since ridden Smokey in the round pen and arena and in the immediate trails. No issues. But, as was pointed out, we all have a line. Maybe Smokey is on the other side of mine. I still have three weeks on my "think it through" process. Where I am now is:
  1. I can work this horse with no issues in an arena and round pen and on familiar trails. I could limit my use of him there until... I don't know, till I can get over it or I can get him over it.
  2. I can step up my discipline to keep him in compliant space, since he needs that.
  3. Barrier: I don't know if I can deliver the miles on the trails that it will take to get him beyond this point.
  4. This horse has potential to be a great trail and endurance partner - but I don't know that I have the time to get him there any time soon. Demanding job and family don't afford me the time.
  5. He is my ideal horse on many levels - temperament, capabilities, breed, color. What happened on the trail stems from youth but also not enough regular trail time. He's a forward horse. He needs a confident rider on a trail that can do some cantering here and there to get some of that energy out. I'm not quite there with him (and certainly less so now).

When I bought Smokey, I was in a different financial situation. I figured I could get training and get him training at various points along the way when I needed it. Now, not so much. That will change at some point, but right now it's a consideration.

The thinking continues.

On another note, Lily is doing fantastic. We have at least two more arena sessions to go, then we'll be working on trails. She is taking a bit (although I'm riding her bitless anyway), lifting her hinds much better and holding them gently much longer. She's even coming up to me in the paddock instead of being evasive. I've catered on her in the round pen with just a thought and slight weight shift and her transitions have gone from bolting to smooth as silk.

So there's that.


Anonymous said...

He sounds a little like Drift - will take over leadership until you prove to him that you're the one that should be in charge - otherwise he doesn't feel safe, and what horse would? I wouldn't worry too much about long-term goals or overthink things, just work with him one day at a time, expect progress and also steps backwards, and just see where you get - no prejudgement. (and good luck!)

Anonymous said...

I have so enjoyed these posts--been really good for me to read this week.

I have an old mare that I adore who magically seems to know when the fillies need reassurance and emotional support. I've noticed that in order to be a good teacher I have to do the same thing with my students--I have to "see into" them. Sometimes they need praise, sometimes they need me to get on them. Trying to keep my perception open like that all the time is absolutely exhausting. I don't know how horses do it!

Rising Rainbow said...

Sometimes I make decisions based on what kind of example I want to be for my kids and it's usually pretty strongly motivated by the idea of not giving up. Although I have come to change my perception some over the years and decided that changing direction isn't necessarily the same thing as giving up. It's ok to not want to work as hard as the task is going to be. I have to remind myself of that sometimes.

lytha said...

i have a training question for you. how do you correct a horse for making an outside turn in a roundpen?

Unknown said...

Quick answer to your question on correcting an outside (or butt to me) turn

First I make sure it wasn't my fault. Did I have my shoulder out of position or set my horse up inadvertently?

If it wasn't then I :

Make a disapproving noise,
Speed them up in gait,
Pop the whip so it makes noise,
Move toward the horse to increase pressure.

The next turn, which I call for within that first run around, if it's the right, then I really pull down the pressure.

I learned in the clinic with Kathleen that I was being too cautious about raising my reaction/ energy that way.

Maia said...

In the past, when dealing with something that spooked a horse, I would walk them up to it enough times that it ceased to be scary. If I remember correctly, it was crossing the road that made him crazy. Now that you have his attention, could you take him in hand and walk him down a few roads, crossing roads, etc., until he's desensitized to that.

Wishing you all the best. Your heart is so in the right place and you will get on top of this.

Muddy K said...

I just want to thank you for continuing with these posts. There's something useful and comforting about seeing what becomes a wall for another person. I didn't put that very well, but the moment when fear takes over is so real and so distorting at the same time, and the things we do in the immediate aftermath have so much power to shape us. I don't feel like quitting was ever an option for you; I think it was only something hanging on the wall. It's clear you can still reach your horse. Good for you.

Unknown said...

I've been catching up the last few days and I'm so sorry you have had another huge hurdle to get across. I'm thinking of you! Carmon

jane augenstein said...

I like what Kate said a lot! My Gilly is a head strong very opinionated boy who is nothing like the first two horses I had. After being out of riding for over 20 years, getting an 11 month old colt at 53 years of age (what the heck was I thinking????) We have had our share of ups and a lot of downs, on the ground....I have been on the ground more times now than with the other two! (the angels have watched over me because I haven't been seriously hurt!)

At times I have wanted to give up but somehow gotten the courage to climb back in the saddle. Gilly wants a strong leader, someday's I am not that at all, that's when he takes over, not good. If I am having a bad day, I can be assured that Gilly is going to be a real handful and we are gonna have problems. I have learned that I have to either change my thinking or don't ride! Horses can read us like a book!

Horses try our patients on a daily basis and sometimes Gilly is the Big Bay Bastard and someday's he is the 6 Million Dollar Horse.

I am reading a really great motivating book right now by Jane Savoie called"That Winning Feeling". It will work for anything you are doing not just dressage and not just with horses. It's an amazing book it has really helped me through some rough spots and it WORKS, it really, really works!!!

Good luck with your boy, I hope things work out....only you can decide which path to take.
Jane and the 6 Million Dollar Horse (at least he is today!) :-)

Shirley said...

I love that you have a family motto, and that you took into consideration the example you are setting for your children when you were deciding how to deal with your situation. You're a good mama!
It sounds like Smokey really picked up on the emotional truama surrounding him, and I like the way you dealt with him.
Since you mentioned the constraints you have with time in furthering his training, have you thought about leasing him to a trail rider or a partial lease to someone who has the capabilities needed and wants a horse to ride?

Trailrider said...

Yep, yep...agree...I'm willing to bet that Smokey was already getting away with some subtle things, or sensing a lack of leadership prior to his bolt, something you were missing or letting him get away with unknowingly. You didn't ride or work him afterward, so his last memory of you was as a scared, weak leader. And so you came back to him and found him in charge and ready to run you down and not think twice about it. You had lost your position as herd leader. And you had to earn it back.

Right now, Lola is in heat and so is the mare next door. The geldings are on "10" with nervous anxiety and lots of positioning is going on in the herd. Woody is being a total jerk; I've had to move the colts away from him because he was biting them so severely. I've had to really work hard to maintain my position as herd leader, and the first 15 minutes or so on the grullo have been all about taking away any ideas he has about being in charge.

This is the way of things. Be the herd leader or get out of the way. One doesn't have to be a jerk, but you cannot let them get away with much when they are in "challenge and test" mode. You know all this girl. You've been down this road before.

Trailrider said...

I think you know what to do with Smokey and any horse, really. I don't think he's out of your reach. It sounds like you did EXACTLY what was needed in that round pen session. So you can decide to do anything with Smokey, sell or keep, but you will still have to learn how to get your horses consistently following your lead.

Been watching a lot of RFD-TV, watching those top horseman AND women work horses. I really enjoy Julie Goodnight. I've also thought back to our Mark Rashid clinic. What is easy to see in someone else, is when they are being timid with their horse, missing the cues that their horse is being disrespectful. And it is equally apparent when the horse's behavior changes under the tutelage of a better trainer. And they don't have to be cruel to the horse to get the change in attitude, they just have to be firm and consistent.

You can't let these boogers get away with anything. Really. They are very perceptive, and are just waiting for you to "miss" the fact that they have nudged you with their head for days now, and you have stepped back. You didn't notice it, but it happened. And now he's thinking he doesn't really have to be haltered anymore, because you really aren't so tough and maybe there needs to be a new herd leader. And he thinks he's the one to take over. And the trail ride you're about to embark on is about to become a test for leadership, when you were thinking you were in control!

You've got this. You've done this before. You know what to do. And you're never going to be done keeping your position in the herd, with this horse or any horse. Even the finished horses like Woody challenge, and they ride better and perform better when our positions are firm and I'm in charge.

Dan and Betty said...

I know you'll do the right thing as you understand it.


Funder said...

Just to play devil's advocate w/Trailrider - did anything physical change in Smokey's environment while you were gone? The way you described him sounds more like a physical issue than a training respect issue - he was chasing mares over the fence and couldn't focus on you? Did his hay or hard feed change? Sure sounds like he could've been overloaded on sugar and really not able to focus on you because of that.

Keep up the good work! Even if there was a physical component, you still handled him just right!

Carol said...

I really like your family motto. ALso, great work in the round pen. You obviously have the talent and tenacity to do what you want with the horses. The catch is having the time. Good luck with whatever you decide.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

I admire your tenacity and personally don't think that Smokey is too much horse for you. The one thing I haven't heard anyone mention is his age. He's a youngster yet...and oftentimes these well-bred youngsters...well, they are what they are bred to be. Smokey is a product of his breeding-intelligent, athletic and a doer.

The way I look at my horses is...time is on my side. What may have been a silly or erratic 3, 4, 5, even 6 y/o, often mellows with age. If you can keep going with Smokey, doing what you are doing, stretching when you can...eventually he will become the horse you envisioned.

I realize, this is not always what people want to hear. Everyone wants a horse to become solid and safe as soon as possible, but very few people have the time to devote to making that a reality and it is an investment of years of work. If this is not a possibility for you or you want something better now...That is understandable. There is however, no quick fix to immaturity and inexperience.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Rock climbing and fencing. You are an interesting woman. I hate having irrational fears too. I've had my moments since my mother passed away unexpectedly in which I don't want to let my son out the door out of fear that he may never come back. My husband gets a cough and I think the worst. I don't want to get in a car, yet have to show up for that volunteer job every once in a while and run errands. After a while, you realize that you are mentally crippled and you don't understand how things could go downhill that fast. Then you just do it and everything turns out okay, and you do it again, and again everything turns out okay.

TjandMark said...

Hi, saw your comment on Dan's page and thought I would come over and see what is going on, and then I see a lot of bloggers I 'know' over here and will have to come visit more often.

Good luck on your tough choice. We have all had to make them in the past. Sometimes, horses and riders don't click perfectly at no one's fault.

Laura Crum said...

I own a solid, sensible horse that I have to "beat up" once in awhile to prove I'm the boss--or he isn't happy. I know "beat up" isn't a PC term, so substitute your own favorite (dominate, prove you're the leader...etc). What it boils down to, in my experience, is that some horses do require this in some form or other on a periodic basis. I don't enjoy it, but I recognize the testing signals when they occur, produce the required discipline, and my horse and I have a very successful partnership. In the past, where he got away with a bit too much with a previous owner, he developed some quite obnoxious habits (trying to kick..etc). If I handle him as I described, this stuff doesn't come up around me. Smoky may (or may not) be a similar personality. And, as BECG pointed out, he is young. I think I said this in my other comment to you--young horses do things that can be scary and truly dangerous--even the good ones. Its why I don't ride young horses any more. But if you choose to persist with him, there is still every chance Smoky can make a solid horse over time. And if you don't choose to persist with him and want to ride something more solid now, that's a good and reasonable choice, too. Good wishes to you.