I'm writing this based on the last post about spooking and such.
Candy Girl wrote about her solitary rides on her young horse. She has one tough spook-o-rama area to get through in order to reach the best trails.
Up until the last incident she has been able to urge him across the bridge with minimal fuss, but he is always worried about it.
I am always concerned when it comes to offering advice to a horse and rider I don't personally know,especially when there is a potential train wreck in the picture.
I have no visuals to guide me, so I can't suggest working the tar out of a horse until he crosses the bridge.This is a disciplinary action I would only use for a refusal, not on a horse who is terrified.
The first question I would want answered, did the colt have a valid point?
I've written about an above and beyond spook from Pete, a bay gelding I was training.This horse was known to spook when he was out by himself, but the day he really fell apart was a day we were being stalked by a mountain lion.I trusted his judgement and we made it home together and in one piece.
Was something terribly wrong that day and while the colt heard, smelled, saw, felt whatever it was, could Candygirl have missed it?
The next question I need an answer to is where is the rider the safest?
On the horse's back or on the ground?
If I am on a horse that will feel free to crawl up my back if I try to lead him I'm going to stay on board. I am pretty confidant in my seat and can often handle my problems from the saddle.
If I'm on a young horse that I have trained on the ground, then I have no issue with leading him if it will build confidence.I have found it takes a while for young horses to trust their rider's leadership, even if they are trusting on the ground. I mean, we're behind them on their back, pushing them forward. On the ground we're in front taking charge. I have always thought you need to build confidence twice, once on the ground and again from their back.
If I decided to stay on Candygirl's colt then I would ride him forward until he quit on his own. Then I would bump him forward steadily with both legs until I got a single step forward.
My reins would be loose except to keep him looking straight at the bridge, so he can go forward, but I'll get after him for trying to leave.
If he starts backing I'll keep my reins loose and kick pretty hard until he quits.If I think he might rear I'll work his haunches, kick him to the left, then the right, all the while making him look at the bridge.If he's throwing his head I'll do the same.
Eventually I'm going to get my step and then we'll sit and rest. He has to keep looking at the bridge and I'm not, I mean not, going to tell him he's good. Because he's not. I'm just going to let him breathe. Then we go again.
How much am I going to ask for? Depends on the day, how much time I have and the mindset of the horse. But we will come back to the same place over and over, day after day until he crosses the stinking bridge.
My primary goals are to keep him looking at the bridge.
Keep my reins loose but don't let him turn left or right.
Keep his haunches moving.
Rest after each forward try, but not before.
If this was a horse I was leading then I would give the horse plenty of slack in the rope or reins so he is actually following me not getting towed.If he locked up I would work his hindquarters and get him moving forward. I prefer not to have them go around me, because that can turn into quite the evasion too.
I'll send them right and left and only pause when we're all looking at the bridge.
One of the best things Candygirl can do is to simulate this situation at home. Get a large piece of plywood and get him to walk and stand on it.Drag out a tarp and get him walking on that.
I don't think work like this is desensitizing, because I'm not saying the horse needs to wear the tarp or eat off the board.When you work up a consistent set of cues and end up getting him to handle the plywood and tarp he'll know he's alright as long as he listens to you. This will go a long way toward keeping you both safe when you have to insist he listen in a scary situation on the trail.
Kate was talking about the purpose of free longing.I agree with her and don't do it. I will give a stalled horse turn out to run off some steam, but I don't participate. I undo their halter and walk away before they run. I don't think my horses should play when I'm in the arena and I don't want them to kick at me, so I don't chase them.
When my horses are young I either longe or round pen them before I ride. I quit as soon as I can.By paying close attention I can tell when they have their brain turned on and we go ahead with our workout. It never fails, eventually they will just look at me like, "Really? Do we need to do this stupid round pen stuff?"
I almost always agree and that's the end of it From then on I just saddle up and ride.
The joining up process is really magical. I love the feeling I get when a horse clicks with me and follows me around. But it's such a minor part of training I can't justify spending too much time with it.
There's a young woman at my barn who has a cute little paint. She spends half her life dinking with that mare in the round pen. The mare is so bored she goes through her drills with her nostrils wrinkled and her ears pinned.She is dull and plodding and extremely sullen.I've been watching this for a year. The horse was bright and engaged when they started but I think she's just about fried.
The horse still doesn't know here leads (neither does the owner) and moves at a slow dragging pace everywhere they go. The worse she gets the more this girl round pens her.
I want to ride, not teach my horse to walk at heel. The thing is, the manners, the bond, the excitement and sense of accomplishment from a thrilling ride, they come with time, patience and always looking ahead.
I do have a bright spot. I took the willful Madonna out on the trail. We had a lovely, no seriously, time. She only whinnied twice. No half passing, head shaking or major blow ups. I kept it short, she kept it together and we went back to the arena and worked until she was completely calm. So hang in there guys, miracles happen.