Saturday, October 24, 2009

Safety as We Age

My friend Kathy called me last night. She took her good mare Rosie out on a short ride around her neighborhood, or I should say tried to take Rosie out.

Rosie didn't want to go. She wanted to scream and yell at her corral buddy and refuse to leave sight of the barn.

Kathy said she wasn't that bad, but she was thinking about it.

The unfortunate part of this situation is Kathy let her go back to the barn.

"I didn't let her go straight back," Kathy told me, "I rode her past the barn the other way and turned her back before she got too bad."

"She'll give you the "got too bad" next ride," I told her, "she completely won this round."

Which as we all know, guarantees she will be twice as rotten next time.

"I should have made her go, but I got scared," Kathy said.

There are extenuating circumstances here. Kathy is the friend who was put in the hospital by Captain about a year and a half ago.

Captain slung her into an iron rail fence.

Kathy suffered a punctured lung, several broken ribs, a fractured clavicle and cracked vertebrae.

She had a long, painful recovery and came out of her accident with a healthy dose of fear.

Kathy is a hand. Pre-accident she would have straightened Miss Rosie out and continued on her way. Things have changed for my friend.

"I don't think you should have made yourself do anything," I said, "there's no reason to scare yourself and not enjoy your ride."

The fact of the matter is, Rosie's insecurity and resulting butt-head behavior are probably coming off of Kathy's fear.

Kathy has owned Rosie since she was 3 days old. Rosie's about to turn 11. Kathy broke her, trained her and has put hours of solid all around riding on her.

These two know each other inside and out, and the barn sour nonsense isn't really a big problem. They both know it too, but Kathy has very legitimate fear to deal with and Rosie can feel it.

So what to do?

I have had a slow and gradual change in my approach to my horses over the past couple of years. My sense of urgency is slowly seeping away.

I have more fear than I used to also. So I accept this as something I need to be aware of, but not cave to.

Pete is my favorite example lately, since I'm on him most of the time. I went on a beautiful trail ride with my daughter last weekend. We hit some nasty boggy stuff during a creek crossing.

Neither horse wanted to cross the water. Pete never wants to cross water, so I wasn't surprised, but my daughter's horse, Snicket is quite the water hound. He'll crash across just about anything, and is all the happier if he ends up swimming.

When Snicket flat out refused, I decided to step down and look things over.

The kidlet said, "What are you doing? They can ride across."

"I'm over 50 and I can step off if I want to," I told her and I was only joking a little.

Pete and I found a not-so-scary part of the creek and I jumped across. After a second, so did Pete. I hauled my carcass back up on his back and we were ready to go.

The kidlet fought for another 10 minutes or so and finally stepped off. She jumped the creek and Snicket went to follow. His hind legs landed in the creek and he was immediately sucked down into horse gobbling mud up to his butt.

Snicket hauled himself out and was fine, but there was a couple of good points made here.
1. We should have listened to Snicket. He never refuses. He was trying to tell us something.
2. Getting off made everything easier. The horses still crossed, no harm no foul.

I find myself approaching things this way a lot more than I used to. Afraid of the flapping flag in the mailbox? Fine, I'll get down and lead you by.

Don't like the low overhang in the trees? Fine, we'll walk around it.

On the flip side, I do make Pete go by the flag. We don't go sniff it, we just pass it.Then relax a second and go on with our day.

We stop and at least think about the overhang every ride. Eventually Pete decides to go under, it's easier than going around after all.

We're in the process of learning to drag a roping dummy.

The younger, feistier me would have knocked Pete up to it, grabbed the rope and messed and fought until he drug it around.

The older, mellower me doesn't care that much. I end my ride a little closer to it every day. Pete has quit fretting over it. He knows we're about done for the day when I ask him to approach it. So next ride I'm going to pick up the drag rope and rub him with it. I'll do this until I can pull it and move it and he doesn't care. Eventually he'll lope around dragging the thing. It will look great on his sale video.

So will his water crossings, because we're sneaking up on them.

The irony here is this is exactly how I approached things before I carried the trainer label. If I needed to get through a gate, stream, scary place, whatever, I just got it done and continued on my way. If I had to get down I did. My goal was to get from A to B, not train my horse. In the process of getting from A to B my horse ended up trained anyway.

So with this in mind I had a few suggestions for Kathy.
Don't scare yourself. At this point in life we just want to have a good time.
Work the tar out of Rosie in the arena, then get down and lead her out of sight of the barn.
Let her graze awhile.
Lead her back.
Keep this up until one day you (Kathy) don't feel like leading her.
Then ride her to her grazing spot.
Next day ride her to a new grazing spot.
And so on.
Don't get scared, just enjoy the day with your good horse.
My guess is Kathy and Rosie will be riding around the neighborhood in no time.


rockymouse said...

Mugs, you're a big help!
I'm a 42yo re-rider with no trainer, no arena, no horsey friends...just me and a couple of horses in a pasture trying to figure it out and get better.
I sometimes get off when something abrupt or unexpected happens, or when I just get a spidey-sense feeling that something might be about to happen. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who searches for an answer - or safety - from the ground occasionally.

Chelsi said...

What a fantastic post! I had an ol'guy tell me once to never send my horse to a male trainer under the age of 45 because before then they are just to full of ego and fueled by testosterone...I'm not sure that should be the golden rule but I see that he has a point...

I think Kathy has proven herself to be braver than most by riding at all after an accident like that! I know a few people that have ridden after a major accident but pushed themselves to try to reclaim that fearless rider they once were and lost the love of riding in the process. There is no fun or joy in being scared.

What you said about a horse getting broke as a biproduct of using him to get from point A to point B is interesting. Would love to hear you expand on that idea.

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for another good post, Mugs.
Kathy is one brave girl. And a horsaii.

As I get older, I find I try to avoid conflictions if I can, and instead see if there are other ways to solve the problem.

Somtimes I have not presented the question in a way the horse understands, and I have to "rephrase" it.
Sometimes the thing is not important enough to fight about; it is better to insist those times that you really need your horse to comply.
And sometimes I can find an alternative way to solve the situation, like dismounting.

I believe that by behaving in a sensible way we build trust and confidence in our horses.That comes in handy the day when you are in trouble and you need to trust your horse to get through it.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

As you know, I am getting my horse used to trail riding. There is a local preserve with miles and miles of trails. When I was younger, I would have just hopped on my old horse and gone. Since I am riding alone with my mare, I am riding the trails close to the parking area; I know there is a ranger who hangs there during the day and makes sure all is safe.

When I showed my farrier (who lives down the road, and has been here all his life) the map of the trails, he laughed and said I was always about 1/2 mile from the parking area.

At this point in her training, I don't care...I want to be where I will be found if something happens. It doesn't mean I won't go out further alone, I just need to be sure of my mare (who is *very* brave and goes past what I ask her to) and myself. At 52, I also don't need any injuries!

I am blogging about it as I go ;)


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

You know I did this the other day. Training my own horses and several other peoples I feel like I have this pressure to get on and get it done. We had a scary experience for Indigo the other day (I blogged about it) and the dreaded horse eating bush + some deer. Normally I would have rode her hard through it and made her think about working and not about spooking. Instead I got off and I am glad I did because right after that first deer bolted out of the bush another one right beside us did not 5 feet away. She started to get all spooky and jump around. I find she respects me perfectly on the ground but when it comes to me being on her back it's like she has lost her herd when something scares her and shes gotta run a few feet before she realizes oh, I am there. Hopping off and walking her worked quite well.

FD said...

I've never been a big fan of feel the fear and do it anyway - at least not as applied to riding horses. The fear infects your horse, and then you have a horse that's scared as well as confused / naughty / obstinate.

I prefer feel the fear and find another way to do it. Of course, that's led to me being called a wuss. But at the end of the day, it's the result that counts and I've mostly been happy with the results.

D'you think that being a professional and your time literally being money affected how you approached things? I know I've made mistakes in the past because I needed to stick to a schedule. And this despite consciously knowing and (preaching) that less haste makes more speed when it comes to training.

Respect to Kathy - it's hard to come back from a fall like that. I know that the first time I got a on a horse to do fast work after my last serious crash I puked before and after. Fortunately for me, horse did not take advantage. And it got better, but I'll admit, unless my blood's up, I still have a moment or two of oh god every time I go down a slope at speed.

LuvMyTBs said...

I consider myself a somewhat "handicapped" rider at this point in my life (age 53) due to a very serious injury(non horse related) requiring multiple surgeries and a very lenghthy rehab. I was told to be happy to be able to walk normally again,let alone be able to ride.
I have had to rethink my riding abilities and limitations due to the pain and loss of flexibility.
Along the way I also lost some of my former "feel,muscle memory" as well as having to stuff down the "fear" issue each and every time I get on a horse now. I have absolutely no fear of riding but I don't have the old feel and reaction time I used to and bottom line for me anymore is always my safety.I have adopted a new mantra "When in doubt get the hell out!" If that means I get off and walk beside my horse so be it. I also have developed a keener sense of reading my horse....not so much like waiting for a spook or a buck but for exactly what you wrote is refusing intently on NOT doing something we've done hundreds of time I'm gonna listen to the horse now. So far they have been right every time
as in horse sucking mud, ground bees that I didn't see or heading down a steep trail that literally was collapsed and gone farther ahead than I could see but somehow my horse felt or sensed it and would go NO further NO WAY. I got off and walked ahead while my husband held my horse. I came back and really hugged my horse for having the trail radar!!

I also am greatful and thankful to my friends and my husband that I still ride with for always being there to help me and cheer me on as they know how much I enjoy riding even more than the anxiety I sometimes get when we get into some sporty situations.

stilllearning said...

Sometimes I wish I had a shorter horse.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Kathy!
I am exactly where she is and I didn't even have an accident to take me there. I'm just 43 and spooked! I've only had my 8 year old gelding for 7 weeks and I know he is feeding off my fear. But thanks to you Mugs I know that I can take it slow. That I don't have to be in a hurry and that it's okay to get off whenever it just gets to be too much. Well I know that I can get off once we actually get around to riding :o)For now we are just getting to know each other really well on the ground, and that is okay with me!
Rockymouse, it's too bad you don't live in my area, your situation sounds very much like mine. Good luck with your search!

AareneX said...

Y'all are totally reading my mind.

I just finished reading _Backcountry Basics_ by Mike Kinsey, (mugs, did you recommend this book???). He advocates *never* allowing the horse to get the idea that he can make a choice--the horse is an employee, not a buddy. Horses who think they are able to make choices will choose to do things like bite, buck, kick, balk....etc. Horses who have ever gotten the idea that they can make choices under saddle are "spoiled" and it's nearly impossible to break them of the potential of rotten behavior.

And yet.

Snicket proved that there was a *reason* to refuse...and just because you didn't know the reason didn't mean that the reason wasn't a good one.

Yesterday, my "spoiled-before-I-got-her" mare refused to canter up a hill we've cantered up for years. While WALKING up it, I found that the center of the sand had eroded in a recent rainstorm, and the trail literally fell apart as we walked on it. At a canter, it would have been disastrous. At a walk, we got our feet muddy.

Good choice.

I felt clever for trusting her ability to make good choices (sometimes her choices aren't so smart).

The book isn't a complete throw-away, but that one message was strong...and not useful to me.

Muriel said...

Yep, I think that is why OLDER trainers are better than the young ones. They got hurt, they used their BRAIN, instead of their b@*ls for training.

I know you are not keen on PNH, but they say it again and again, be safe! dismount, but then have a plan, and work &*se off the horse from the ground, or use other strategies, it is not because you dismount that you have lots the battle of will.

One day I did not dismount, all my inner warning-bells were telling me NOT to go, I did, I broke my back, one month in bed, 3 months in brace and back problem for the rest of my life. For what? For nothing!

BE SAFE, listen to your fear. They help you to survive, and you can also use them as a motivation to become smarter and to be creative about strategies on how to overcome the problem, in the end a BETTER trainer!

Candy'sGirl said...

My husband's horse sounds like Snicket. He'll go through, over or around anything on a trail. The one weekend he REFUSED to cross a log despite me booting the living daylights out of him. He was right. He finally sighed, crossed it and promptly got tangled up in fencing that we assume had been washed onto the trail from the flooding a few months earlier. Then he stood very patiently while we cut him free.

Yeah, now we listen when he says he doesn't want to go somewhere or when he is adamant about sticking to a certain part of the trail.

He's definitely worth his weight in gold as a trail horse.

mugwump said...

I'm posting my comments, this discussion is too good to leave in the comments....

gillian said...

There are a lot of things I try to approach in a mellow way too. Before I read your blog I thought I was just wimping out of a fight and that the training would suffer for it. Looking back on it, I agree that this is not so.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Sitting down for a minute and reflecting...

When I rode Starlette last Sunday, ride #2 alone, she was scared of all the trailers we would have to go past to get to the trail we took the day before. I just asked her to take a step forward towards them...which she did, and then we went another direction on a different trail. She did not know I wanted her mind she did what I asked.

Sometimes I think we can get caught up in the goal, and not give value to the little steps to get there.

Later on down the trail, someone had covered some wood with a big blue tarp...her nemesis...and guess what! She went by it...twice as we had to double-back. It wasn't just walking by..she had to stop when she first spotted it, and let me know it was there; once I saw it and acknowledged it, we did four steps at a time to get past it. But she did it! And on the way back, she let me know it was there, but it took less stops.

And I did feel comfortable enough with her behavior to ride past, although I thought at first when I saw the tarp I would have to get off. I concentrated on relaxing my hips/seat so that she felt confident in me that it was safe to go by.


Horses Are Our Lives said...

I'm glad you commented about starting to drag a rope dummy. I need to teach my young horses to start dragging the rope, and whatever it is tied to, around. I can't wait to read how you teach your horses. I have also started to get back to just riding my horses, not actually training all the time. I never thought of riding with the idea of going from point A to B, but you're right, as a kid, that is exactly what I did and I had very broke ponies. Now, I start approaching things with a lot calmer and slower attitude. I never thought of the comment that Adventure and Muriel said about younger trainers vs older trainers. I think that is correct also - the young get hurt and bounce back, but the older you get, you remember the hurt and you don't want to have any cause to go there again. I know I take it slower these days, and am starting to have the horses "more broke" that way. Don't get me wrong - I know manner young, talented riders, many who have the patience to train and have a very broke horse.

maryka said...

Sadly as we get older we do have to be more careful.At 63 yrs old & having gone through surgery, chemotherapy & radiotherapy a year ago am now back in the saddle. Sadly I've now got osteoporosis & can no longer risk a fall as it's at it's worst in the bottom of my back & pelvis.Did actually have a nasty fall earlier on this year but was lucky as nothing broke. But for a month or two after I was a tad twitchy when riding in the school where it happened ( this of course made my old boy a tad twitchy too ).I do think about things more & no longer jump as doc says too much risk,also don't go flat out in the fields as same applies. Mostly am grateful to be able to continue riding even if a bit wimpy.

Unknown said...

As someone who came to horses is my late twenties I'm always having to play catch-up somewhat because I never had that fearless childhood around ponies. Not that I was that fearless as a child anyway. A few years on I'm having to learn to give up some of my fears and just go with my horse. I'm not sure I've ever had to do anything like that before, not in such a complete way. It's not easy, but it is very rewarding and it's one of the many ways that learning to be with horses is changing me as a person.

mugwump said...

maryka- I don't call that wimpy. Wimpy wouldn't even qualify if you had quit.
You are still riding where and when you can.
That's Horsaii.
Glenatron said- A few years on I'm having to learn to give up some of my fears and just go with my horse. I'm not sure I've ever had to do anything like that before, not in such a complete way.

That sentence is so huge (in a good way) I'm going to think on it a while and then write about it.

Michelle said...

Great tip, I really like your way of thinking on this.

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