Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cibolo, the meltdown king and riding a line

Well, after a rather promising trail ride with Sierra and Lily yesterday, today was a setback day.

Ironically I had recently left a comment over at Kate's blog that I was the Mayor of Set Back City. I was hoping that my term was almost up, but today, I was RE-ELECTED!

The opportunity to make a
"I felt like an Jack---" comment is just too easy.
So here's your gratuitous Pepe pic.

So let's start with the good part. I led Sierra on a trail ride on Saturday, she on Lily and me on Cibolo. It was great, after about 15 minutes of stopping and bending I had Cibolo's mind. We had a great ride through the trails around the barn and it was a fantastic day.

See Sierra? Post ride glow. :)

Then today - fegeddabottit.

I've been re-reading a few horse books, one of which is Tom Moates' A Horse's Thought. On page 79 begins a passage that really seems to speak to the issue I have with Cibolo.

Tom was talking about his horse nemisis (although he doesn't call him that) Niji. He describes his horse melting down to a point where he has to dismount and walk him back for safety. And repeated pressure and release doesn't work.

Tom understood that the issue was he didn't see the build up to the meltdown, much like the head check with Cibolo. He asked a trainer to "call out when she saw the horse's though leave me."

He said the answer shocked him (italics are my clarifications).

It shocked me how far before the noticeable trouble area she (the trainer) spoke up. Hardly two steps into moving at all, let alone near the spot where Niji pushed left (the precursor to the meltdown), Terrie called out.

She indicated he left the scene mentally while we were still straight, so I asked for a bend to the left (his favorite direction) and disengaged the hind quarters to check on his mental status. It didn't go very well. Then Terrie (the trainer) suggested I hold that rein until I see his though come throuh to the direction I asked for...

I grew completely agahst to find out that with every step or two, Neiji left me menatly. I knew I lost the mental trail earlier than when we reached the big trouble, but I never guessed just how much support it required to keep this horse on board with me mentally!

...his mind was long gone elsewhere, and he wasn't real happy about changing it. In truth, I lost him nine steps ago and possessed no idea that the horse really was on his own all that time. Talk about being delusional.

Ah yes. Delusional. That does describe our ride today.

We went out to the barn with Brother in law (BIL) to ride and saddled up horses. We borrowed one from the BO and began our ride, warming up in the hills behind the barn.

I worked to warm up Cibolo, but didn't feel like I had him yet. But I'd stop, bend him, wait for him to soften, then move on. Then we went up the hill.

Cibolo has a thing about mud. We've been working on it, but he has a big thing about it. The hillside was muddy and his left hind started to sink in the mud. He yanked it out in a panic (it was a very, very mild crow hop) but then he was a mess. Jigging like crazy, his neck tight, over reacting to everything. I eventually dismounted and sent them off to ride so I could lunge the sense back into him.

He was snorting and carrying on like a lunatic. Being soft was not working, so I pushed back, hard, and raised my intensity to get his focus.

I became a witch. With a capital B.

Every time he snorted, I turned him. Over and over. I backed him hard. It took 15 minutes of being extremely intense to get the first licking and chewing, and another 15 minutes to get him to the point where he was re-engaged. Hubby and BIL were long gone, so I did the one thing I have yet to do with this horse..

I took him out on a trail ride by myself.

I did have to dismount twice to get him back on me, but in general we pushed through two scary moments. One when the darting chickens behind the bushes looked precisely like mountain lions, and once when we were by the road and I got a sense that he was past a point where I could gather his thoughts in the saddle - I'd missed the early cue. I didn't want to risk his safety, so I got off and bend him on the ground and calmed him down.

As Tom goes on to describe the advice he got, it's advice I used to work through today (after melt down):

Harry (Whitney) works hard to get the point across that to a horse, a sudden unsupported moment creates a mental vacuum that can at times even seem life threatening.

That horse, in his mind, lacks any choice but to make decisions when he feels the human drop out. It is his survival instinct. In a horse like Niji (and Cibolo, I think), it is very strong. If he notices lack of guidance, he needs to take care of number one, and he does so by making his own decisions. If you missed the point when that change occurred, it's not the horse's fault. It's the human's. (damn. It's ALWAYS my fault. Why couldn't I get involved in politics where it's always someone ELSE's fault?)
(Harry Whitney describes to Tom riding a line as a way to work with this issue)

Harry rides a line, I remembered. A line is unbroken. Ride a line with a horse and there's not a single point at which the support breaks from the human, or it wouldn't be a line. (emphasis mine)

So that's what I worked on during our trail ride.

I never felt that I had Cibolo completely - it was as if his meltdown couldn't completely fade.

You know when you go to a scary movie and you can't sleep (or at least I can't, which is why I don't go to them anymore)? I think it's a bit like that. Cibolo just couldn't/wouldn't move on, but became stable enough to get through. Don't get me wrong, he was a safe ride, but now I know when he doesn't have it completely together.

When I talked to the BO about it briefly afterwards, we agreed that it's like he has these little panic attacks. Mud is his panic attack (this happened in the arena too, in one really bad muddy spot).

I'm satisfied that I did work through it in a way that was safe and productive, but it drives home a point I realized when I was riding with Sierra.

She asked me "How's Cibolo doing these days?"

I said, flatly, "He's OK."

She was taken aback. I gush over Lily, shoot, over horses period. So this understated comment is out of character. "Just OK?"

I laughed. "Yup. Just OK."

I'm in a matter of fact place with Cibolo. I guess it'll have to do for now.

To buy Tom's book, which I highly recommend click here.

Contest announcement: Congratulations to Wolfie! Send me your snail mail winter (at) winterdprosapio (dot) com and I'll send you your book and your surprise! Thanks to everyone for participating...

One bonus trivia fact about Texas:
The pink and purple pearls of Concho River mussels, found along the banks of the Concho River near San Angelo, TX, are among the world's most rare pearls.

If for any reason you want to order the book, you can do so on line at amazon, or I can order you one (they are just $14 and I'll toss in shipping) and will sign it before I ship it out. I don't make anything from sales of these, I was paid a flat rate to write it. I used to have a ton, but in the two years since I've gone through my stock...


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

This situation reminds me of the time I rode one of my lesson barn's dressage horses out on a trail. He hated trail and was terrified. I expected him to watch out for me, but he wasn't even able to watch out for himself. He was terrified of walking through tall grass and when he looked down a steep hill I could feel him shake from fear. We ran down it and he did fine, though.
He held it together until we came to a ditch covered in tall grass. He leapt over it and his back feet came down into the ditch and he leapt up so high I thought we were doing airs above ground.

After that his mind was gone. He was just waiting for the next terror to come sieze him. We rode around in the fields for another 15minutes and I worked with him disengaging his hips, bending, flexing, etc, but he was too far gone. On the way back to the lesson barn, he refused to walk on the side of the road because the grass was too tall. But traffic was driving by and I kept having to push him back over.

Finally he'd had enough and he started doing dressage moves back and forth across the road, followed by leaps into the air. Pretty scary with school buses driving right by us and cars slowing down to watch the show. lol!

Finally my lesson instructor gathered me and my horse and ponied us back to the barn, about 1mile away.
My horse seemed much calmer after that, as if he needed to feel that tether to a calm horse.

But he will never be a trail horse because too many things scare him on the trail. He likes his comfy stall and the raked, clean arena only.

People think trail horses are a dime a dozen and any horse that doesn't excel in other sports can just be a trail horse. The trail can be a scary place for a horse, though. Some horses will just never be comfortable or happy riding trails.

I admire your hard work and time spent trying to learn how to work through Cibolo's issues, but if it were me, I'd be riding Lilly instead. She sounds like the level headed, safe, confidant kind of horse to enjoy riding the trails on.


Cactus Jack Splash said...

Good job handling this trouble spot.
I find it interesting how often our horses are not truly "with us" when we are riding. I also find it interesting how often we are gathering daisies while we are riding our horses. A friend of mine always gives their horse a job while riding; serpentines, circles around a bush, touch something with their nose-all things to keep both their minds on the task at hand and connected to eachother

Leah Fry said...

I can really relate to your experience, and the one Lisa related. Jaz has the head for trail, but he's too tender-footed. Poco has the stamina, muscle, power and feet for it, but not the head. He disengages just like Cibolo. I can take Jaz out on the road, but actual trails, with uneven terrain? Unfortunately not.

Wolfie said...

I believe this experience, although it may not have seemed like it at the time, was a success. You now know when Cibolo is not together and you were able to work through a situation safely. Success!

Thanks for the book!!! :-) I will be emailing you my address shortly.

lytha said...

The ability to predict what a horse will do next is what makes a true horseman/woman, IMO.

I wonder if I will ever learn that?


Anonymous said...

Tom Moates (and of course Harry Whitney) is very good at describing this. I think most of us get used to riding with our horse not there most of the time - you can get away with it most of the time unless the chips are down when you need them with you. And you're so right about losing the horse well before you notice. Good work on your part to deal with the issues!

Trailrider said...

I really agree with "Laughing Orca's" comments, which are very well written.

I'm really wondering if Cibolo is ever going to be the solid trail horse you want him to be? I can tell you that Vaquero is not NEARLY as solid a trail horse as Woody, and I'm not sure it has anything to do with me - Vaquero is just a lot more jumpy than Woodrow.

A couple of thoughts: could Lily pony Cibolo, so that you could ride Lily and bring Cibolo along and just expose him to every thing along the trail without a rider? And the other thought is: any time you need to go out of town or leave riding for a bit, I could take Cibolo and ride the heck out of him daily on the trails in my neighborhood, just to keep exposing him. This would have to be when the weather and time change allows for more riding, but it would give you a second opinion on his habits.

By the way, I really enjoyed what you did with Cibolo in not letting him off the hook and sticking with it! Based on my limited time with Cibolo, I really think he benefits from a strong leader.

Susan said...

It sounds like you did everything right when he got goofy, especially making him go off by himself. Keep it up and I believe you'll have a trail horse yet!

Shirley said...

One of the things I don't like about trail riding with other people is that it takes your mind off your horse. I tend to ride alone, and it's easy to focus on my horse and stay connected with him. Teaching Beamer to be a trail horse was interesting, but he is a brave and trusting horse- a great combination.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I think you did the right thing by making him work. Getting him to focus on you is much easier when he is concentrating on the small tasks you've assigned him. Also, try to control his footfalls, circle around, stop, back up, trot away and back, and when you get home, ride past the barn and keep on working. When he realizes that you are always in control he will not want to challenge you and try to assume control himself.

I suggest ponying the two of them together because my Scout is much more settled with Nadia nearby, however if he is misbehaving with Lily along that may not help.
Try riding Lily first with Cibolo being ponied alongside. Maybe he just needs some 'steady' miles on him.

There are lots of possible solutions to equine problems- the hard part is finding out what really works in your particular case.