Goldfish-brained scaredy-cat
   

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Goldfish-brained scaredy-cat

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  • How to fix a scaredy cat
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  • 1 Post By BlueSpark

 
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    01-12-2014, 03:27 PM
  #1
Foal
Question Goldfish-brained scaredy-cat

Yeah, that pretty much describes my horse right now.

Background: I started teaching my horse to jump last summer. We had some issues with his anxiety and bolting problems, plus some other unrelated drama related to the barn, and so we took a break until fall before starting again. We (my trainer and I) started off in the fall putting Kalo over ground poles and eventually little crossrails. The problem was, he was scared to go over the poles and then scared to go over the crossrails. We'd work him on it, he'd relax, and then the next day, he'd be scared of the ground poles again. That's been going on for quite a while. We've gradually worked up to a small vertical and a crossrail-vertical 1-stride within a session, but the next day, he's back to being scared of ground poles. We took December off from riding him over poles/jumps and did a lot of free-jumping and ground work to get his confidence back. However we started riding him over ground poles again last week and it's the same as before.

What we know:
-He doesn't like his rider losing their balance. He also has a tendency to stop, or "teleport" to the side when he figures out he's really truly supposed to be going over a pole.
-He's normally not unusually spooky. He's spookier in the arena than outside on the trail; he's extremely brave on the trail, untroubled by bunnies, birds, brush, logs, ATVs, etc.
-He is wary of poles when led over (no rider) but will go over them much more easily than when ridden over. He can be led over by someone on the ground and me mounted to "get him started" more easily. He is also wary but significantly better with free-jumping than with a rider.
-He can spook at a pole 5 minutes after he was going over it easily.
-He goes over at a trot more readily than a walk, and a set of 3 more readily than a single.
-If it rolls, gets moved, looks funny at him, or is approached from a different side, it's not the same pole at all and must be approached with great suspicion.

None of these would bother me in their own right, except for the "goldfish-brain" where he can't remember that the poles aren't scary. Does anyone have any insight as to why he might do this? I know part of it is my riding, and I have tried to focus on being more forward and resolved while keeping my seat solid and back. But it's not the entire problem. I am willing to be very patient as long as I have some hope that he might get over this one day, but everyone I ask has never quite seen this problem to this extent before.

This is him free-jumping—no problems at all:

     
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    01-12-2014, 04:27 PM
  #2
Foal
Hey there,
It seems like both of you have become fixated on jumping. Try to take a step back.
Stop jumping altogether. Find some fun flatwork drills, and do those. Try mounted games, pairs riding, dressage... anything to change up his routine and relaxe both of you. Get your mind off the jumping.

Then, if possible, have a jumping lesson yourself on another horse. Build up your own confidence again, fix any balance issues on your part and have some fun!

Try join up with him. I won't explain it all here but there are many videos/tutorials to show you how. This will build your horses trust in you and establish you as the "herd leader" and therefore someone to follow for your horse. Then try joining up, and taking him over ground poles that way.

Keep it happy and if he or you gets stressed, stop and do something else.

Begin incorporating poles in a flatwork routine or dressage test. Don't think about it, concentrate on the flat work and get him listening to you. Be confident and believe he will feed off your emotions.

Keep everything positive and believe in yourself and your horse. He can do it!

Hope this helps!
     
    01-12-2014, 08:12 PM
  #3
Foal
Unfortunately... we've tried all that.

Quote:
Stop jumping altogether. Find some fun flatwork drills, and do those. Try mounted games, pairs riding, dressage... anything to change up his routine and relaxe both of you. Get your mind off the jumping.
Tried it. Took December off from any pole work at all. (Free jumping was once a week at the most, on the weekends, because we had to monopolize the arena to do it. And we didn't do it every week because it was December and very busy.) We did only flatwork from about US Thanksgiving to last Wednesday. We also do only flatwork regularly during any given session, and my lessons lately have been dressage-focused.

Quote:
Then, if possible, have a jumping lesson yourself on another horse. Build up your own confidence again, fix any balance issues on your part and have some fun!
Have done, multiple times. Especially because a friend and I are hoping to go to our first beginner eventing competition, and for obvious reasons I have to use another horse.

Quote:
Try join up with him. I won't explain it all here but there are many videos/tutorials to show you how. This will build your horses trust in you and establish you as the "herd leader" and therefore someone to follow for your horse. Then try joining up, and taking him over ground poles that way.
I think I know what you mean, and we've worked on that, too—or at least, groundwork and establishing me as leader. Like I mentioned, getting him to go over poles with me on the ground isn't a problem.

Quote:
Keep it happy and if he or you gets stressed, stop and do something else.
He gets stressed/anxious easily so I'm very used to doing this. We take lots of little mental breaks—a lap of forward trot, some circles, a bit of walking, whatever helps him calm down and feel better.

Quote:
Begin incorporating poles in a flatwork routine or dressage test. Don't think about it, concentrate on the flat work and get him listening to you. Be confident and believe he will feed off your emotions.
That's what we started on last week. We haven't attempted jumps, outside of free-jumping, since US Thanksgiving or so. The first person to try to ride him over poles wasn't me, it was a very good rider I know with a very confident, solid, quiet seat. It still took her quite a while to get him to go over any poles. (And we've just been doing ground poles—one or two trot poles and a single, on the ground, no jump standards or anything. As one might do beginning cavaletti, for example.)
     
    01-13-2014, 10:28 AM
  #4
Started
I would really tend to blame this one on the rider. He free jumps fine, its just under saddle. So either a)his saddle hurts him when he jumps, or more likely b)he has learned that poles and jumps make you nervous/potentially off balance, so he is following your lead.

I think it might help to get an experienced, confident rider up on him for a few rides, and see if he improves.
loosie likes this.
     
    01-13-2014, 10:33 AM
  #5
Foal
We're doing our best to try that approach. I mentioned above that a really good rider (a former student of my trainer's, and a current eventer) was the one to start riding him over poles again, but she doesn't ride at our barn and can't come out that often. I'm thinking of having my friend (who has a pretty solid seat) work with him too, which she did yesterday, but other than that there's not many more riders who have a solid and quiet seat. (I used to have another girl work with him, but while she's very good at sticking she's not necessarily quiet or perfectly balanced.) Do you think it would help to do polework in a western saddle for more security and hopefully balance?

I just got a new saddle, because my old one fit him badly. I'm pretty sure this one fits him much better, so I don't think that's it.
     
    01-13-2014, 11:16 AM
  #6
Weanling
Ignore it, ride the horse that comes in that day. That said, what happens when he looks/stops? What do YOU do specifically on an approach? When lead? When lunged? When ridden? (As in what does your body do? Do you look at him in hand? Tried walking and stopping and walking and stopping and ignoring them? When he does 'go' how long do you continue over them? (And if he jumps them ok...albeit a little too big...have you combined caveletti with them.) Have you back him through a key (in a halter, turning between sets of poles which are parallel)? (LOTS of questions ehhh)

If it is a single pole, rather caveletti then who really cares? Use the caveletti and get on with life. A horse with a great self (and rider) preservation instinct. Not a goldfish at all, a very smart horse.

And lastly, has his eyes been checked ...just to cover all the bases.
     
    01-14-2014, 09:02 AM
  #7
Foal
Okay, let me see if I can figure out how to answer all of your questions. When he looks/stops I usually try to push him forward, whether we're doing groundwork, free jumping or riding, but a lot of times he gets "stuck" like this so I have to redirect him, go to the side or circle and try again. He does well with more forward momentum so if he stops the circling helps. Whether I look at him in hand depends on whether I'm leading (yes, if he stops, I try to just look forward unless there's a problem) or lunging (yes, because I'm already looking in his direction.) I haven't done the stop-start thing but I do try to pretend like there's nothing there. He doesn't fall for it, LOL. I know that when I ride him over and he stops I tend to fall forward (not actually falling, though) it is a known flaw in my riding ability that I'm working on and probably a big contributor to why he gets nervous.

I try to continue over them until he starts being relaxed, but not drill him to death. I try to take breaks, even little ones, every time we get a success, whether it's "yay we went over it the first time" or "yay that was really relaxed". But if we don't get a good "go" we do do more repetitions before a break. We've done the "going through parallel poles" and it helps a bit, he gets nervous to even go near them at first but going near and through them helps. He does jump single poles once he gets going over them at first, sometimes he will jump them and bolt off.

I'm going to try the cavaletti my next ride and try a western saddle for a bit to see if it helps (keeping my seat more steady) and not worry about the single pole. I agree, he does have a good preservation instinct, and he is a clever boy, just a bit silly by my thinking. The good thing is that he always means well, so he doesn't do this just to be naughty or get out of work.

I've thought about his eyes as a possibility since he seems to duck a lot and look at the pole right before he goes over it, but that mostly goes away once he relaxes, and he doesn't seem to have any other vision-related problems. Are there any other possible signs that would warrant calling my vet out? He doesn't seem to have a problem seeing everything else.
     
    01-14-2014, 10:47 AM
  #8
Super Moderator
What I would do is look at the rider!
He jumps freely loose and misbehaves when you are on him so that tells me you are expecting him to misbehave. He can read your mind.

As for what to do I would have poles scattered all around the arena randomly and work him on the flat so he has to go over I them as and when he comes across them.
I would have jumps set up and work him around them and continue to work around them until he is blasé about them being there. I would use the fences for training purposes.
One or two of these fences would be nothing more than a rail at a foot high and every now and then I would turn him short into it so he trotted over it, no long distance there is no need for that he can step over it if need be.

Make sure that you are confident and determined, work from the trot, work over the random poles until he is tripping over them, don't let him turn or run out, just treat them as something normal.
     

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