Windy day + noisy barn + wound-up TB = what would you do? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 04-12-2011, 12:58 AM Thread Starter
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Windy day + noisy barn + wound-up TB = what would you do?

Hey gang,

[TL; dr version: high-strung mare got super crazy in windy arena. What's your opinion of hopping off, untacking, grazing her, and then riding again after she's quiet?]

[Novel version:]
I'm curious about how other people would have handled this situation. I lease a high strung 9 year old OTTB mare. She and I are establishing a reasonably solid relationship - the way Dutch works, it's going to take time! But hey, she threw her last rider almost every week, and so far we are actually developing a good, solid foundation together (with a lot of groundwork, a bit of hand -- hoof? -- holding, and an occasional carrot).

Anyway, Sunday was a crazy windy day at our barn, so I figured she wouldn't be super thrilled. Dutch spooks at a lot of things, including the back door of our arena because scary things are obviously waiting to kill her there; however, she was very quiet in the cross ties so I figured I'd give it a try. As soon as I got on, though, it was clear that she was really uneasy in the arena. I don't blame her: once we were inside, the roof was making some really weird sounds like there were animals skittering across the top...not fun!

We couldn't even go halfway down the wall without Dutch getting anxious, and she had some major spooks (not "spook in place" spooks, but "bolt sideways and run like something's going to kill us both" spooks). I tried a few different things to keep her feet moving and her eyes off the rear door, like working mini-circles and turns closer to the arena entry, but she was so agitated that I could barely keep her together more than a few steps before she'd spook again, more intensely than before. Normally, after one spook-and-correction, she figures out that there's just no point fussing when I'm in the saddle. This time, though, I don't really think she could listen (but see my note below about whether I was cutting her too much slack?). Plus, I realized that despite myself, my adrenaline was pumping after the fourth or fifth equine panic attack - so I dismounted.

I took her back into the barn (where she remained very wound up), untacked her, and took her out to graze and calm down while another leaser rode her horse. Once the arena cleared out, I decided to tack her up again with a goal to ride for 10 minutes, max, but have those 10 minutes be quiet. I also wanted the whole experience to end on a super-positive note for her, so I filled a bucket full of carrots and grain and left it at the back door. And we rode, at a walk, in the front half of the arena. We did a lot of circles, diagonals, and coming down the center line in both directions. I wouldn't say she was relaxed, but she was quieter, and we even managed to do one full half circle of the arena where she wasn't twisting her head off her neck trying to keep an eye on the rear door. So I got off after that. :)

I untacked her and let her run and roll around for a few minutes then lured her back towards the barn door with the bucket 'o goodies. She hesitated, of course, but before long she was munching the food right by the door and finished it all before she scooted away. We had a quick wash-down with the hose which she enjoyed (after she tried to run straight through a couple of other riders on the way out of the arena, when we all thought she'd calmed down), and that was it.

Do you think it was ok to handle the situation that way? I'm worried that in her mind, she might have "won," but she was so **** terrified of the wind and the crazy noises that things were making on the roof that I was afraid she'd hurt us both. I figured not letting it end after the first ride (which was awful!) was good enough...but I readily admit that I was really winging it. I'd really like to know what you think and what you'd have done! Thanks in advance.
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post #2 of 7 Old 04-12-2011, 01:15 AM
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I probably would have, if I felt both me and the horse were in danger of getting hurt by her antics undersaddle, gotten off, and resumed working and moving her feet from the ground; whatever you do, don't leave an area she is spooky at, while she is spooky at it...this reinforces the behavior 10 fold, because in her mind, you are telling her, being afraid, is the answer you are looking for. this case...NO I would not have gone back to the barn to 'give her a break, and calm her down' ma'am. If she wasn't moving her feet well enough undersaddle (ie, you were at risk of being thrown), get off, and resume work on the ground, and when she is focused on YOU, and not everything else around you, then get back on, and start over.

IMO she still will be afraid of the area, because while she did go down and eat the food, she still skittered away when she felt like, she wasn't comfortable being there, and you were at no power to stop her.

Working her on the ground, until she were comfortable, and responding (whether this were to take 5 minutes, or a half hour), and then getting back on, and doing it all over, would have accomplished more. This is coming from someone who takes problem horses and retrains them, too, so I am not just giving you 'tips' that might work...these are things that I implement TO get the horses I train past those things that scare or bother them; avoiding, or bribing a horse into a situation will never work. But helping him engage his mind, by moving his feet, and getting him to focus on you will...and it will work permanantly.

"The ideal horseman has the courage of a lion, the patience of a saint, and the hands of a woman..."
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post #3 of 7 Old 04-12-2011, 09:14 AM
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What you did was safe for you (and the horse) but in the long run doesn't address the problem. Try some supplements with magnesium (a calming supplement) and/or perhaps some hops (1 tsp/ 2times per day). hops should see results in about 3-5 days and is inexpensive.

The biggest issue here is respect and paying attention to her rider/handler. She is doing neither. So see if you can get some help working her in hand and asking her to do things (before she gets out of control or even looky if possible) to get her attention on you and not the bogey man. For my mare when she gets this way she tries to run me over.

So first I get control and put a chain over her nose (you may not need to do this IF she'll listen to the lead line). For me if my mare is already in the 'run the handler over' mode the chain is a must.

Next I use the same thing she was taught during a not so scary time - when I halt she halts. If I face her during the halt she must take TWO steps back - one is NOT enough. If she doesn't immediately react to my request I pop her on the chest with the whip. If she's really worked up there have been times I've had to yell her name followed by back with bigger whip swings to her chest. That works. As soon as she takes 1 step its "good girl" but she can not stop at 1 step since that could be just a nervous step and not really paying attention to the handler. So if she stops at 1 step ask for 2 more. Once she does it tell her "good girl" and pat her on the neck, then preceed forward. I repeat several times to ensure she gets and KEEPS her attention on me.

2. Teach her movements in hand that get her attention on you. Leg yield/ Turn on the forehand is good (especially if the horse likes to rear in hand - it hards to rear when you're crossing your hind legs over each other). Turn on the haunches is another good movement.

Once you got the in-hand mastered you can use the leg yield, turn on the forehand/haunches under saddle to get the same results.

The idea is as herd leader they need to pay attention to you and respect YOUR space (on ground) and your direction (under saddle). They can let you know they are nervous (head up, snorting) but they still need to listen (no bolting - a spook in place is OK). The key here is the rider needs to get and keep the horses mind occupied.

So as soon as you think she might get scared start asking for leg yields (zig zag around the arena/ on the way to the arena, etc.), halt and rein back a few steps *(3-4), halt and ask for turn on the forehand (TOF) or turn on the haunches (TOH), ride in shoulder fore (SF) left then change to shoulder fore right, etc...

I'd suggest working with a GOOD dressage trainer to learn the aides for TOH, TOF, SF, although a GOOD trainer of any discipline should be able to help to a degree (depending on the horses mind or lack thereof). The supplements also help some horses calm down a bit so they can pay attention better to the rider/handler.

Dressage is for Trainers!
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post #4 of 7 Old 04-12-2011, 09:47 AM Thread Starter
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Running to work - will post longer reply later - but thanks, both of you! As soon as I started reading your posts, I thought, "Aw crap. Yeah, that!" Will respond with more thoughts and questions later today. Thank you!!
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post #5 of 7 Old 04-12-2011, 02:27 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you both again. Mom, your input makes so much sense to me. I think I was flustered because I knew there was someone else coming into the arena - it's a very small arena, and I didn't want to have crazy Dutch tearing around riling up the other horse...but yeah, should have done what you said. So, let's say you dismount and start moving their feet from the ground. If she's still riled - pulling away, not paying attention, would you grab a dressage whip and use that as a polite but firm reinforcement? Or would you literally just back her, back her, back her some more, and then once she started paying attention to that, begin moving her into other work? I don't ride with a crop, but there are always a few in the arena.

To the other poster (sorry, can't remember your username on this screen!), here are my questions for you:

I'm in a less than ideal situation here: I lease her, but she still gets used in other lessons with people who she doesn't respect AT ALL. So whatever I do is probably going to take even more time to get right, because I only work with her 2x/week. Despite Sunday, I have more respect from her now than I did a month ago -- but I know I might be too slow-paced and gentle with her because she is so very quick to get frustrated when she doesn't get what I want. I'm not actually convinced that anyone ever did much ground work with her besides basic leading and lunging, because trying to have her do a turn on the forehand from the ground clearly confuses her. I'm working on taking one step...and small pat...taking two steps...etc.

I have a lot to learn, but I have worked with some problem horses before so I don't mind taking as much time as we need to establish the basics. So, with that info in mind, would you recommend spending a few of our weekend sessions just doing work in hand?

Also, I can do a very solid leg yield in the saddle, but my shoulder and haunches in are abysmal right now. Because of the arrangements here, the riding instructors on contract are the ones we're allowed to work with. I could either try to scrounge up cash for extra lessons at a dressage barn, or I could try to supplement what they can teach me with self-taught work. I don't want to make things worse; what would you recommend?

I'll definitely talk to the barn owner about the supplements you recommended.

Thanks. I'm sorry if I sound inept. I actually am a pretty decent horsewoman, but I still have a ton to learn. This horse is the equine love of my life, so I want to do right by her!
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post #6 of 7 Old 04-12-2011, 07:49 PM
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I think you handled it very well. I did pretty much the same thing a few months ago with my TB when he was in a similar state of out of mind. No matter what I could do, he just wasn't going to calm down under saddle. There's just no point to sitting on a snorting, spinning time bomb. I also got off, but remained in the arena. I walked him around until he was walking calmly beside me. Then I got back on, like you rode just long enough to finish on a good note, and called it a day. Sometimes there are just too many outside factors in play to have a productive ride. Sounds like you know your horse well enough to both stay safe and get something done.

You just have to see your don't have to like it.
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post #7 of 7 Old 04-13-2011, 12:15 AM
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Originally Posted by dutchess View Post
So, let's say you dismount and start moving their feet from the ground. If she's still riled - pulling away, not paying attention, would you grab a dressage whip and use that as a polite but firm reinforcement? Or would you literally just back her, back her, back her some more, and then once she started paying attention to that, begin moving her into other work? I don't ride with a crop, but there are always a few in the arena.
With a horse that I know is having 'attentive issues' I will leave his working halter (I use rope halter and 12-14 ft leads), and lead on, and will have the lead looped through my belt (note I usually ride western!). You could leave the halter and lead on the horse and tie the lead around his neck loosely, so it sets back by his wither, and is easily accessible if you need to hop off and start ground work. I don't usually use a crop/stick, but if you feel she is not going to obey your cues just using your body, or the end of the lead, then by all means snap up one of those whips that are in the arena and use it. If you feel you need to back her for a good chunk of time, to get her in tune with you, then use that to get her refocused; as long as you are the one directing her feet, and choosing how long, where, and when, that is all that matters. I like to move their feet forward, backward, left and right...not just one direction. When he is already "unfocused" I use direction change to get him refocused; he will HAVE to refocus on you, if he is not expecting the direction he is going to be going in! So do alot of different direction changes. Even undersaddle, once you get her refocused, use direction change to keep her mind from wandering from you.

Remember to always start your cues soft, and escalate until she responds, and when she does, drop your cues, so she knows that was the correct response. For example if I am asking a horse to lunge, I will point with my arm in the direction I want him to go...if he doesn't respond to that, I will raise my stick (If I'm using one), or twirl the lead toward his hip...if he still doesn't respond, I then use the stick/end of lead, and make contact with his hip. When he moves off, I drop the stick hand, and relax my 'direction hand' a bit, and just let him move off; I don't nag him...if he slows, or stops, then I will give correction, but otherwise, I let him take responsibility for direction, and gait.

"The ideal horseman has the courage of a lion, the patience of a saint, and the hands of a woman..."
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