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Mickey4793 01-29-2010 06:16 PM

As you all may know, I have a pretty spooky horse who likes to go into panic mode at anything out of the norm and likes to offer me up as a sacrifice when something scares him (A.K.A he dumps me and runs.)
I've been working on getting him on the aids, putting him on the bit, pushing him into area's he's generally tense around and bending him to inside. He's been great!

But there's still one thing I want him to REALLY get over.
I've seen people riding their horses in 40 MPH winds slamming into the arena walls and I don't know how they do it!
My horse absolutely hates the wind, the howling noise it makes, the slamming noise it makes as it slams into the arena doors, the dirt and pine cones it throws up against the barn walls. He just holds his head up, jumps, eyes wide open heart beating out of his chest.
So in all fairness I avoid actually riding him when gale force winds are out, because my hand is still not unbroken from the last fall I took due to a windy freak out.
But I lunge line him in this kind of weather to make sure he get's exercise and to switch up his routine [I don't lunge very often at all so it's a nice switch up.]
Last night we had 40 MPH winds and it was FRIGID. I almost fell over the winds were so bad! I couldn't see my boy on wednesday because I was stuck at work, so I lunge lined him for a while to give him his work out.
As some of you may know from other threads, he favors one end of the ring and is terrified of the other.
Seen as how I am a very inexperienced lunge liner, and with previous experiences he ends up turning towards me and refusing to move, I lunged him first on his favored end of the ring. I got him to walk trot and canter very calmly, he did very well.
I decided to switch to his unfavored end and work him again in each direction down there, and ironically that end is usually where the wind is the scariest. I wanted him to get some experience working with those noises.
He was reluctant at times to lunge at that end, but I got him to move eventually, trotted him around a bit, cantered him around a lot [he LOVES to canter!] And he was doing fine till the wind picked up and he bucked and sped up. I pulled him back to a trot, trotted him a while, then cantered him till I knew he wouldn't buck again.
I changed directions and he was fine again till he randomly bolted, throwing random bucks and trying to pull off the line. Great for my already messed up hand, huh? Needless to say I help onto the line tight and pulled him back to a walk and made him walk trot and canter again, and then I was done.
Holding him and patting him he would randomly jump at the sounds of the wind, he was walking in my hand after the lunging and he felt so tense, he held his neck tense and took tense steps and would randomly jump. Riding him in that kind of wind would have been a very dangerous situation for me.
So all things considered the fact that he actually lunged for me was very good but he was terrified at times and would bolt and buck.
Even though I can pull him back from these things I would love for him to become bombproof, so he can be a safer ride, because when he's being ridden by me or my mother and here's the wind he's not so fun especially if he pulls the stunts he did on the line.
So my question is how can I get him used to these terrifying weather elements? I know some people don't ride their horses in heavy winds because they panic so bad it's downright dangerous to them and the horse, and I'm sticking to a plan like those people for now because I'm trying to play it safe with my hurt hand. But I would love to eventually get him on no matter what's going on weather wise, or if there's construction, or anything, and have him be calm and cool.
So does anyone have any idea's as to how to get him used to these horrible elements that make him panic? Or should I not try to push it at risk of hurting me, or him, a.k.a just not do anything extensive when the wind gusts are heavy?
Any advice?

Walkamile 01-29-2010 07:10 PM

I don't have much to give to you for advice except for a little trick I've seen several trail riders in the club use. They put ear bonnets on their horses during very windy rides. Most of these horses are new to trails, young in age or young in experience. Seems to help tremendously. As the gain more confidence and experience, the bonnets will come off in the future.

I ride a mare who could care less about wind, thunder, lightening , heavy traffic, name it and she's business as usual. So far the gelding (her son) is showing the same promise, except for the wind. I've put the ear bonnet on him and seemed to quiet him and he could focus on the task at hand.

Good luck!

Mickey4793 01-29-2010 07:43 PM

Hmm, that sounds like a really good idea, though I could imagine that may or may not backfire for me, if we're outside in the spring he may freak out at the sight of the bushes blowing, but I'm willing to give it a try!

MyBoyPuck 01-29-2010 07:56 PM

This may or may not work for you, depending on how reactive your horse is to wind, but I call the game clock. I put ground poles at 12, 3, 6 & 9 o'clock. From the second you mount, immediately establish contact and immediately start to walk the horse over the poles. It takes a good 10 minutes for most horses to transform from over-reactive rigid lunatics to calm relaxed horses, but it does work for most horses. Once he's calmed down, keep using them at the trot and canter. The idea is to give the horse something to think about other than the thing they're scared of. Good luck.

Mickey4793 01-29-2010 08:02 PM

Hmm, these sound so interesting but because it's winter there are always riders in the ring and for reasons of being courteous I couldnt take up a chunk of the ring for myself, but if I ever find myself alone I'd definitely try that!

Mickey4793 01-29-2010 08:06 PM

I am extremely interested in this idea, so much that the second I have the ring to myself I'm going to try it, even if the wind's not bad.
Could you explain for indepth what this does for the horse, how it helps, and where to put the poles in relation to the ring exactly?

MyBoyPuck 01-31-2010 06:30 PM

I wish I understood more the reason why it works. I pretty much stumbled across it by accident. My horse was acting like a snorting, stomping rigid lunatic a few years ago. There were some poles on the ground, so I started walking him over them to try to distract him from whatever he was so wound up about. He tripped over the first few poles because he was being such a nut, and then he started having to pay attention to get over them, and I started to feel him change. Within about 10 minutes, he was a different horse and walking calmly over them on a loose rein. It was fantastic.

The natural horsemanship trainers are always talking about horses have a reactive side and a thinking side of their brain. I'm guessing the horse has to use the thinking side of his brain to navigate the poles. Since he can't use both sides at once, every time he walks over a pole, he uses a little less reactive side and a little more thinking side. Eventually all the reactive side has been switched over to the thinking side and you end up with an attentive horse. The other possible reason it works might also might be that if you get on and immediately start riding, the horse gains a sense of security from the rider since you're up there managing the situation. I don't care as long as it keeps working! The big key for me is to use it from the very first second you get on.

Mickey4793 01-31-2010 07:08 PM

Sounds logical, my horse does a ton better when he pays close attention to what I'm asking, and when he's moving he's more attentive to me.
Tonight he had a random spook, he heard a noise, jumped off the rail, kicked up sand, scared himself more and started to bolt but quickly came back to me, it was because we were at a walk and I wasn't asking him to really work at all [it was a little break from the trot] and so he was less attentive to me.
So I figure to more attention I have from my horse the more he listens to me, and I so wanna try the poles!

NittanyEquestrian 01-31-2010 10:55 PM

The poles work well but it's mostly the circling that does it. They can't go as fast on a circle as they can on a straight line. The worst thing to do with a horse that is reactive is to stay on the rail. If you share the ring with others this can get difficult but there's a few simple exercises you can use to calm a horse down that doesn't require much arena space. These are best done at a trot, can be done at a walk if you don't feel comfortable trotting and can be done at a canter as well once you have established a good canter and feel comfortable doing the exercise at this gait. All changes of direction at the canter should be done with simple changes though. (Simple Changes- circle in one direction, go across the diagonal, 3-5 trot strides, canter away on the opposite lead in the opposite direction for FYI).

Exercise 1: Spirals
This exercise is simple, you spiral in and you spiral out. Start out on a 20 meter-ish circle, depending on the fitness level of your horse. Then you slowly start to shrink the circle after every circle or two that you go. Then once you get to 10 or 15 meters, again depending on the fitness level of your horse you start to spiral back out again. Basically you bend them in, then you mini leg yield them back out to the big circle. Any horse can do this, those that are more fit with more training just do it better. This makes him bend, it makes him look to you for where to go and most importantly it keeps them slow and moving forward. You ever notice that the biggest spooks are at a walk? There's a reason for that. They are more firmly planted on the ground, their brain is minimally engaged and they have more time to think about whether something is scary at a slower gait.

Exercise 2:
Small figure eights, maybe two 20 or 25 meter circles. Keep him bending, don't let him fall in or poke his nose to the outside. Keep his gait consistent and steady and don't fall into the turn with your upper body. A few figure eights and then you can try to go down the long side. If he gets tense, distracted, etc go back to the figure eights. If he gets really distracted on the diagonals, shorten them and keep him turning longer.

Exercise 3:
This is an obvious one, but every time you feel him tense or get excited put him in small circles and make him bend around your leg. Don't just crank his head and kick, this will make him more tense. Instead you want to lead with your inside rein, lengthen your inside leg agains his sid and squeeze with your outside calf while gently half halting on your outside rein. You want to bend his WHOLE body and really make him concentrate on the bend. That will take his mind off whatever is scary. The trick is to keep him moving FORWARD and don't make the circle too tight. You're not doing a reining spin, you're doing a CIRCLE. So make it at least 8-10 meters to start, once he gets his strength up you can go down to 5-6 meter trot circles (never canter that small of a circle). This is particularly useful if you're in a crowded or limited space. Also, please remember to use proper ring etiquette and call out circling or whatever code your ring has to warn people that you're going to be making a circle. Avoid pileups and crashes with a few words of warning and people will be more tolerant of you schooling off the rail.

Keep us posted and good luck!! You can private message me if you have any questions or would like more tips!

tealamutt 02-01-2010 02:18 AM

My boy has wind issues too, and he is also afraid of one end of the arena. We have really worked through a lot of this by spending lots of time down there with me acting like nothing is up, business as usual. First we lunged a lot and walked in hand and then moved up to spending lots of time down there while riding. I have been trying MyBoyPuck's suggestion and that helps him a lot too (though I rather thought I had come up with it on my own, lol). The key has been to engage his mind when he would otherwise be losing control of himself, so I challenge him with things that I know are hard for him at that end of the arena and bit by bit he has gotten to the point where he may jump a little but no big explosions happen.

Also, our arena can get very crowded too, but most of the gals don't mind if I set up the poles anyway, as long as I am willing to share the space for them to go over as well. Most people like having ways to mix up their rides and are very open to trying each other's ideas. Always ask first though and if they aren't into it try it next time someone is fine with your poles!

Last suggestion is to have someone help you get stronger with lunging him, the more you can get him listening to you at the scary spot, the less he will be spooking and this will transfer to your riding as well. Good luck!

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