There Has To Be An Easier Way Then This... Rant and Vent
My horse, Buck, is normally very compliant and eager to please. There's only one hurdle that we've been struggling with, and that is water/mud. He has absolute fits about moving through deep mud or crossing water - even puddles! I don't go out of my way to avoid them or coddle him about it in any way but it's still a struggle.
I am very disciplined in that I do not ask him to do something unless I am 100% willing to follow through with making him do it, and do it right. There is no nonsense or misbehavior allowed, with consequences appropriate to the behavior being consistently applies. That being said, I also make heavy use of appropriately given praise to make sure he knows when he is doing right as well as wrong.
Yesterday we were out trail riding in a new area - a nice grassy highline cut through the woods about a mile from home. We came across the tiniest of creeks - about 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep - and I decided that now would be an excellent time to work on water crossing. There are no creeks where I normally ride so most of our water work has been with puddles.
It took over an hour of approach and retreat, praising every foot placed near/in the water and bringing the wrath of mom down on him when he attempted to back up to avoid the water crossing. I don't believe that he was just being obstinate - he was genuinely terrified of walking through the mud and water. Poor guy was shaking with fear and lathered, but I could not give up and let him avoid the water crossing after asking him to do it. After an hour of effort, Buck finally crossed the stream, right when I wasn't expecting him to do so. He half-crossed, half jumped it and since I wasn't expecting the jump I landed face down in the mud. I also, I am a bit embarrassed to admit here, took a glancing blow to the nose as he kept going down the highline without me.
After recovering my shoe which had popped off during the unexpected dismount, making sure nothing was seriously injured, clearing as much mud from my glasses as possible (which also landed face down in the mud) and clearing the blood from my nose, I took off to recapture my horse. To Buck's great credit he only went about 300 feet before turning around and coming back to me. He is a good horse.
Unfortunately I then found myself in the position of being unable to remount, since I am used to using a mounting block to scale my horse. After we both gathered our wits and I assured him that everything was ok and he'd done nothing wrong (if nothing else this ensures that returning to me is a positive thing for him) I took him down a side trail, where I found a dry ditch to stand him in while I scrambled aboard. We then set out to explore the trails and find a way back that did not involve another water crossing, since the highline eventually came to a highway on that side. I did not want to risk falling off again and having him head for the highway.
No such luck.
After exploring every possible way out and finding them to be either gated off or blocked by the creek, I decided to at least try to go back the way we came. To my great surprise he crossed without hesitation! You'd better believe I praised him like he just produced solid gold horse apples.
We rode him back home, doing our usual W/T/C routine to set him up for success and end the ride on a good note. On the way back he was an absolute angel, even more responsive then usual, but I'm sure I looked a fright since I was covered in mud from head to toe with a bloody upper lip from the nosebleed. Makes me wonder what my neighbors thought when they saw me.
Although the second crossing was a clear victory for us, I have to wonder if falling off into the mud invalidates the first success. ;) I'm pretty stiff, and my nose is swollen (not broken) but what hurts the worst is the fear that I saw. I've got the patience and courage to follow through with making him do something he doesn't want to do, but I'm not sure that I have the stomach for it. If he was being obstinate that would be one thing, but I saw more fear then I like to see in an animal. I know it sounds corny, but at one point when I was circling him he looked back at me and the look in his eyes... ugh. Just UGH. I still feel really guilty for putting him into that situation, although we did have 1 1/2 successful water crossings.
So where do we go from here? I'm not sure I have the stomach to ask him to cross water again, at least for a while. Although I got the right results, it feels so wrong. :( I actually cried a little last night out of guilt and I am normally very stern. I just feel I hate seeing him so scared, but refusing water and mud is both dangerous and unacceptable so he HAS to learn to get over it and trust me to guide him safely. Writing this out is mostly a vent but comments, suggestions, and training critique are all welcome.
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