I am (God be blessed) on vacation, for the next to weeks, and intend to go work with Dandy every other day, or so (in winter, with the foul weather, and the call of the warm couch, “or so” seems a reasonable oratory precaution..).
I went to ride the colt yesterday, and while he came to meet me and got out of the paddock willingly, he hadn’t led a few yards that he was already having the first of many meltdowns. I didn’t pay much attention (mistake, mistake), took him to the arena, and started doing some thorough groundwork with him, which he completed with much focus and interest. Since he felt good I quickly asked him to parrallel park next to the fence, from the difficult (the right one) side, and he did so after only a few tries. From there I rode him bareback and in his halter, with just a simple rope attached under his skin. To steer him I used either the rope as a simple rein (to turn right), or I waved the flag in front oh his right eye (to turn left). We walked and trotted this way, however some inner voice prevented me from loping him, I just didn’t feel him mentally present enough for that. Rather than spending much more time on the bareback riding, I took him into the barn aisle, put him in the coss-ties, and got ready tack him up. There, tied on both sides of his face, he heard two people from the back door right behind him, and had a first real big heart attack. I was minding my tackbox, bent over it and not looking at the horse, when I heart some major and precipited hoof action. I turned around and saw Dandy, wild eyed and high headed, who was just coming back into his skin from a severe leap in place, nearly shaking. One interesting thing with this horse, is that, because of his hypersentitive nature, he is quite prone to this type of meltdown, and has kind of worked up an “immediate back down” from these episodes. Only a second after having the attack, he stood there, lowering his head as much as the cross ties would allow, and busily chewing his lips. I patted him on the neck matter-of-factly. I never wanted to give those episodes more importance than they have, I’m just seing them as the natural exhibition of his extreme sensitivity. The two people who had spooked him so bad apologized for showing up unannounced. “Not your fault, I said, you committed no crime, just walked through a door. This young man needs to grow a thicker skin”. They petted him as they walked by, and he was totally chilled with it. Going back into the barn once saddled he was fine, as well as going back to the fence to pick me off of it, still from the right side (we’ll do the left side next time around, and will alternate from then on).
Not longer after I hopped in the saddle, the senior lady who had spooked him walked in on one of the farm’s horses, a placid and very finely trained grey Quarter-Horse. Didn’t take me long to find out she had zero control over that horse and that the team was going to be a major nuisance for me to navigate around in the arena, given the antsy state of mind my own colt was in that day. Without much thinking about the implications, I headed for the gate and the trail. Our gait opening was hectic and untidy, positively ugly. But we got it opened, and then closed, and off we went on the trail. From the first steps, I could tell he was walking on eggs, and it wouldn’t take much to make him jump out of his skin. Yet, because he’s always a little concerned going out (that being said while in the arena he often goes to the gate by himself, ASKING to go out), I didn’t freak or change my mind about hitting the trail. I just sat as relaxed as possible, one hand resting on the horn of my saddle (which has the double benefit of looking very cool AND being very secure, in case…), and directed him on the path. He obviously was concerned with several different things on the way, so he maneuvered to kind of snake between those, keeping his body as far from them as he could, while making his way to the entrance of the trail (which borders the farm’s stallion, pasture). Said stallion walked with us from his side of the fence, soon to be over our head (the path goes down, the pasture remains level), which suddendly caused Dandy another mini meltdown. We made our way down the forest path, at the next cross Dandy wanted to check one of the two empty pastures that stand there, so in we went, and I said, you wanna check it out, ok, but you have to either trot or lope. We did both. The gait was reasonably relaxed, but the direction wasn’t all available, he clearly wanted to go to one side more than to the other. Once he was at the far end of the pasture, we loped our way back to the entrance, and back on the original path. Up we went, later down the trail he looked intently at an ancient piece of crumpled tarp on the ground, but I gave him a second of a pause by it, and he was OK to go through, in fact so much that he didn’t want to deviate to go sniff it, which he usually does when something bothers him. We loped our way up the next grassy path, the direction all wonky, he wanted to lope in the field instead, but I managed to push him back to the middle. Up the slope he wanted to go right, which was the plan, so right we went. A bit further stands the opening to another rather vast pasture, and he showed some interest to go in, so we went. As soon as he hit the downslide slope, he picked up a trot, the anxious kind, and broke into an wonky lope. I ain’t loping downhill, especially not a nervous, runaway kind of lope, so I reached to bend him to the side, but he braced his neck and picked up more speed. I could envision a wreck not coming, but possibly shaping up, and I wanted none of that. I softened the ineffective rein, got a good hold of the other one, and pulled, stong. His body made and up and down motion from being caught up in speed, my butt raised from the saddle a frightening number of inches, and I’m glad to honestly report that I grabbed the horn firmly to pull me back into the saddle. By the time I was on my butt again, the horse had come to a stop, puffing. I headed him down the pasture again, he picked up another few strides of nervous trot. Oh you want to do that, I said, wait a minute, we’re gonna use that energy of yours. I gathered my reins (which are dangling lose 95% of the time, I like to give him a lot of opportunities to make the right choices, and only intervene when he doesn’t), and put him on some medium sized circles. I wanted a nice bend to the inside of the circle, and made sure to bump my rein and apply my inner leg as well, to get it. Much bumping was needed, but each time he yielded his ribcage, and tipped his nose the proper way, he got an immediate release.
Here you can easily see how “hard” and tight his whole face looks, there is no relaxation, whatsoever…
We went through the circles routine a handful of times. Each time I’d check how relaxed he was, and how reliable direction was after that, and if I felt too much pushing in one direction, I put him through more circles. Once I was reasonably satisfied, we left that pasture and went back to the bath. He was rather quiet once back there, and I decided to investigate the next empty pasture we’d find. There, I was losing direction once again, and there was some rushing in the trot, so we trotted a bunch of circles again. When we were at the far end of the pasture, I decided to lope a nice straight line to the exit. Dandy picked up a controlled lope, and I took a bet and “opened him up” a bit, asking him for a bit more speed. He started building it nicely, got faster… and lost it. I felt him lowering his head and bringing his rearend up, I grabbed one rein instantly and bent him to a stop. More trotting circles, more bumping to bend nicely and follow the rein, then we walked quietly back to the main path. Up the last portion before the farm, all hell broke lose. A tractor was working in the distance, causing a bit of roar, the stallion was towering above us in his pasture, and the farm’s dogs were standing vigil at the end of the path, barking their heads off. Dandy spinned on his rear and decided to leave. Again, I got him back on just one rein, flexed his neck both ways to get his mind back to me, and asked him to go ahead, one step. We went through that routine many, many times, before we could finally emerge in the farm’s courtyard, and head back towards the arena. The gate opening was just as ugly, if not uglier, than the way out, but we made it.
He had a couple of more heart attacks once back in the cross ties, and a last one on the way back to the pasture. Overall I think he never really relaxed during the whole session. Some friends mentioned the full moon might have had something to do with it. I really have no opinion about it. I’m just glad I could “stay with him”, high water and hell, and just work with him through his troubles. Sometimes they’re having a bad day, and you need to be there for them, just as on the good days.