Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider

Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

When the Un-Expectant Happens

Horses are so unpredictable sometimes. When you think they are riding just fine, they will, all of a sudden, get ansy, jumpy, snorty. What just happened?

As I concentrate on my Centered Riding exercises, I ride with "open eyes". I see the world around me. I know when I do that, I'm breathing better. This doesn't stop my horse from spooking at that bird that just flew up, but I'm more prepared for the spook. I sit more relaxed these days. I have even a deeper feel for what my horse is going to do. And when I feel that spook starting to happen, I sink deeper into my center. By doing so, I've deepen my seat and I have a greater grounding feeling in my stirrups.

I’m aware that my horse is a little goosey or jumpy. I’ve only had Savannah, a 4 year old, TWH, for about a month. Yes, that’s not very long. Yes, she is young. But yes, she didn’t use to spook. What changed?

First off, I’ve been feeding her very well. About 6 hours of grass and the rest of the time is spent on a round bale. She is eating all the time. I thought she was a little lanky. I slowly increased her pelleted grain from 1# to 2# to 4# per day over the first 2 weeks, changing the increments about every 3rd day. I felt she was still lean, as I‘ve been riding her every week and she has been sweating with this heat and humidity. What I have been graining her is probably at maintenance level for the amount of work that she is doing. I slowly increased her to another 4#’s, but this time, she was on a very good grain mix that is high in nutrients, but also high in molasses and fat. I think my young girl is feeling very good. Too good. I’ve decreased her feed back to 4# of the pelleted feed. No more high energy feed for her until her energy level drops!

In the outdoor arena, she used to ride fine. Then one of those gigantic black flies landed on her one day. I saw her out there, running and bucking. I think that monster fly bit her, and now every time I ride out there, she is watching for it. I make sure to totally fly spray her croup and back legs. And I’m watching out for those black flies. I have never seen so many as I have seen this year. It must be the heat and humidity bringing them out!

She also started seeing monsters in every shake or sound in the trees. I have desensitize her to every sound out there, and she never spooks when I’m on the ground. She is a little better when there is another horse in the arena or in the adjacent lot. I think she is very insecure, and maybe a follower. When I’ve had her on a trail ride, she leads out fine though. I have started lunging her before riding. I want that energy level decreased and her attention on my cues increased. This has helped.

I have also stopped pushing her into the gait as much as I had been doing when I ride her. I’ve left her to walk the arena and outside areas. Walk and relax. And I relax and breathe and use my soft eyes to see the area around me. By doing so, I’m watching for things she can spook at. Not to anticipate, but to be prepared. I’ve ridden enough to stay relaxed, even if my horses isn’t. This has helped to ride her at a slower pace.

As I relax, breathe, and use my soft eyes, I also feel very grounded. My feet are solid in the stirrups, as if I’m standing on the ground. This doesn’t mean that I’m pushing down into my stirrups, but my legs are laying in a relaxed, balanced position, and my feet are “grounded”. This grounded feeling gives you a more secure position.

I have also started lunging her with the backpack on, with a slicker thrown over the saddle, and with water bottles in the backpack. I want her used to the items that she will carry, BEFORE we are on the trail with them. She was a little bucky today at the lunge time, feeling the backpack behind the saddle. I had it secured down at 3 spots, but the sounds were still there. And the sounds were coming from behind her head, which seems to cause her to be a little bit more scared. But it seems with Savannah, once she gets over being spooky about something, she never spooks at that again. She could care less if I swing the slicker over her neck, but on that first day of showing her the slicker, it took 15 minutes of waving it around before I could approach her with it.

She took her time to realize that some items won’t hurt her, and she is fine. Just like when I opened the wire of the fence to let her in the grass area. She wasn’t going to stand by me as I moved those wires that first day. She was at the end of her lead rope, but to her credit, she didn’t pull back to try to run off. Now, 4 days later, she is a few feet from me, at a safe distance so as not to get the wire tangled in her feet, but the lead rope is slack.

If you’re wondering why in the world would I be opening up a wire section of the fence, with my horse standing near me, it is to desensitize her to the wire. We never know what we may come up on out in the real world of trails, and fences, and pastures. She knows that she doesn’t have to be scared at what has scared her in the past. She has an old wire cut on her back leg, and I’m sure she has been caught in wire before.

I’m hoping that with all the desensitizing that I am doing, the next time Savannah is spooked, she’ll be brave enough to stand and wait on my cues. I hope to build her trust in me. I want her reflex to not be scared and for flight, but to be stop and stand, and trust!

As I work with Savannah, I continue to work on centering myself. Just as I want a more relaxed response out of her to be natural, I also want to have the centering to be natural to my body. It is true that as you search for the correct balance point or a specific feeling, that it becomes natural. Your body wants to naturally seek to find that spot. I not only want my body to naturally find that spot, but to always be in that spot.

Come along on the journey!


Tammy said...

I always open the wire fences with the horses in hand. They watch where it is but they trust me that I am not going to shock them with it. I think it's great practice. And I dont recall any of them ever pulling from me when I do it.

I can't believe I haven't met Savannah yet! Good idea about putting the saddle bags on now.

I'm sweating, but I'm riding tonight! Not to late for you to join me! :)

Horses Are Our Lives said...

ah, noooo. I just stuck my head out the door, and it is still humid! I promise, that when I get back from my camping trip next week, I will go on the next Wed ride! Promise!

I can't believe you haven't seen her yet, but then I have only been on 1 ride, so not too many people have seen her! I'm hoping the trip to SD will settle her down. At least, it should wear her out.

I'll have to start thinking of the "unusual" but helpful, things to desensitize this girl to. Any ideas?

JJ said...

You are right about those black flies - eck! The other day, there was a huge black bomber fly stirring up the poor horses in the pasture.

I wish you luck in desensitizing Savannah!


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