Is my mare traumatised?
I'm after a little advice, whilst I have a plan of action somewhat sussed, I figure you can't go wrong with outside perspective that could help! Sorry it's long, I apologise in advance.
My mare Honey and I were in a freak accident two years ago where I shattered my leg. I've barely ridden over the last two years because of ongoing rehab but got back into the swing of things in January. We were going well again until I ended up on crutches and just as I was about to get back up... we had the 6.3 devastating earthquake here in Christchurch, New Zealand. You can imagine that the animals as well as people have been pretty darn stressed out! Honey coped okay... she was quite stressed in the first few days because she now grazes at the back of the property without company in reach as after selling my gelding she's now alone... but its been three weeks now and the aftershocks have lessened off... (although you can never be too sure it's "over" for awhile - we had a 7.1 last Sept too... sigh.) so, despite being injured in the quake (was thrown to the ground and my metal rod pushed forward in my leg/knee and bruised it badly), I decided I'd had enough waiting and wanted to ride.
The reason isn't EQ related, although it could be something I need to consider. We normally ride in the paddock she's grazing in the moment, and I like to separate "work from home" with horses as much as I can. So I set up another place to ride in out the back of my other paddock and lunged her in there the other day to make sure she was okay. Although she's stiff through one shoulder, she wasn't unsound and so I thought a good old plod would be fine for us both. The place where I decided to ride her was where I took my fall two years ago.
She was quite sensitive, as the wind was up and it was my first time mounting off a bathtub since she's using my mounting block (a spare water tub) for her water. Walked her down to the area and then got her to stop baby stepping and walk out properly... she calmed down and started to sneeze and offered to soften at the mouth. However she then started scooting passed an area and I became confused, the person with me commenting on how she kept eyeballing it as well. She seemed calm at the same time, so I didn't think too much of it, making a point of putting my leg on and pushing her through it. After the fourth time, it dawned on me it was the spot where I had fallen off and had laid for some time waiting for the ambulance. I hadn't been thinking of it... I mean I knew it was going to be an interesting ride because we hadn't been out there in two years under saddle (she grazes out there often), but I was thinking more so because it was a "new" area to ride in.
I decided to push her forward into the trot so she'd have to focus on that. Except that's when the trouble started. She tried to wobble about (she's a Standardbred and ex pacer) which she doesn't really do under saddle unless confused. So I asked her again and she started to go side ways and argue with me, throwing her head around etc. Now I'm a nervous rider and this behaviour is something she's never really done. She's one of the bravest horses I know... and takes really good care of me so I don't fall off her again. She's really careful, so for her to throw a tanty like that, I was shocked. I was unsure at the time what more to do than assure her it was okay and keep asking but she got more and more vocal so to speak about not doing it. Even in the past where her shoulder was stiff she had never reacted like this. It got to the point where she started leaping on her front end and refusing to go forward. I tried to reason with her and she tried to back up. I growled at her to not do such a thing (growling usually gets her to stop with her mare tantrums and get on with it - obviously I'm aware this was more than a typical event!) and instead she threw herself half up. That was enough for me... with a still injured leg that had not enough strength for such a battle, I felt horrible, but I hopped off. Once I was off I noticed the look in her eye and she started trembling. I gathered my stuff and took her back to where I normally ride and she calmed down. I didn't have enough strength to get back up, so I lunged her, and she wasn't showing major signs of soreness, and trotted on both reins happily.
Our previous accident has caused problems with a couple of less experienced riders... have had a couple of other people on her where she bolted on them in blind fear, as they've dropped her in a point where she needed them to reassure her and she's lost them on a sharp turn (she's still green under saddle but usually a horse you can trust to look after everyone)... whilst our accident was different and involved another horse, she reacted the same as she had on me and the riders fell off whilst she stood in the corner in fear. I realised awhile ago that she had been traumatised from it as much as I had... but with all our leaps and bounds and her absolute excitement for work recently, I thought we were both pushing through our demons.
My thoughts on today are conflicting... and so I have put together a plan of action...
- Ride her again in usual paddock and see if she will trot out comfortably there or not.
- If not, get the chiropractor out and then do a series of elimination - saddle/dentist etc.
My main concern is, what do I do if it is that particular paddock and she's freezing up? I don't have the best of confidence in the world, and whilst I trust in my horse, I don't trust in my leg to cope with being jolted about the place and I'm not all that effective if I'm back on crutches. She's obese and that was one of the reasons I started riding her in January, to help her lose weight, and myself... and fell back in love with riding her. She's gained most of what she lost back again despite being on lock up grass wise... simply because lunging her isn't doing enough.
My Mum suggested it could be to do with the weather and earthquakes, as we are on alert for another sizeable quake to hit us this weekend (prediction based on the supermoon, but that's a whole different story!!) and said a couple of other horses were acting up when I was riding... but I don't know whether I can base it on that.
Any thoughts? Does it seem very plausible that she's still traumatised? Is it possible that even though I hadn't even been thinking of it consciously, my body perhaps triggered something to make her react? I believe my horse remembers what that day was like, having watched her react the same way in the past with the other riders... but for her to see the spot and remember it all... I feel like some horse people here will tell me I'm putting my own emotions onto her.
I'm not sure how well I'll cope with having to keep pushing through to get her to cope with out there if she's going to rear etc on me. I'm wondering if I got a more abled and balanced friend to really ride her and get her going for me, if we could reface this problem again without rearing? I don't know if its anything I'm doing wrong... but I always prefer to put the blame on myself than say its all on the horse. She was clearly trying to tell me something, I'm just struggling to figure out what it was!
Thanks if you can help me in anyway!!
First off, so glad to hear you are both okay after the quake and aftershocks. It is possible that you got tense without realising it, she sounds very sensitive to you so even a slight change may have triggered her. It may also be because since the fall that is an area you guys have avoided, please correct me if I'm wrong, she may still associate that place with we fell and didn't go back. You could try lunging her there, cooling her out there, or getting a friend you both trust to start working her there, try being close, and not so close. See if your emotions are accidently rubbing off on her. Even if you start walking her around there until you both build up some confidence may help. Good luck, keep us updated!
I'm not sure what exactly was involved in the first accident, but I would agree with you that your mare is still worried about something. I'm not sure I followed it right, were you riding her in January? Was it in this same area? I would guess that she is still "seeing the accident", just like Alcatrazjumper suggested. You probably both are. She may be afraid that whatever happened in the accident, was because of her, or will happen again, and you may be expecting something to happen also (without even being aware of it!). Again, I agree with Alcatraz that maybe lunging her in that area might help her overcome her history, and maybe when you are done lunging just get on and cool her out qhile walking around the area, and build from there.
I had a mare trip under me last summer at the canter and almost fell completely down. It took us almost a month to get back to cantering normally afterwards. Neither one of us got hurt, but I think we both kept expecting something like it to happen again :) You and your mare need to take the time to heal together, now that you are both mostly physically healed :) Good luck!
Thanks for your comments. I should explain the situation more clearly.
The accident happened when I was trying to socialise her under saddle. We had done so twice before this particular accident, both at walk and trot and although she had been quite fast, she was still listening to my aids etc during those periods. It was done with my friend's gelding who she knew quite well from frequent visits.
However this ride was done with my other mare, who she had grazed with for many months, so they had a great bond. We were fine walking around... doing our own things at the walk. We went and got some photos taken by another person and then went back to riding around... and I could tell Honey was ready for a trot... so I made sure we had enough space to do so. At first it was okay and then Honey realised she wasn't close to my other mare Bailey anymore. She panicked and trotted towards Bailey, and got right up her butt (I was trying to pull her back)... unfortunately Bailey got a fright and lashed out. Honey went into full panic, she bolted off and I stayed with her until she took a very sharp turn. My left foot got stuck in the stirrup and so I landed on my right leg... and instantly knew I had broken my leg (turns out I broke the tibia and fibula cleanly and now have a bionic leg). Honey bolted off to the far end of the paddock and stood there trembling, thankfully not hurt and had only broken her reins. My other mare came with my friend and stood above me whilst I waited for an ambulance. Friend tried to get Honey to come over, but she refused to move except to be put in her paddock.
After the event, Honey was ridden out there with two different riders... I don't think it was very close to the spot however. She went alrightish... but then after that, she was put out of work because I couldn't find someone with enough time to ride her.
I got back up on her December 2009 and briefly had about 6 rides total from then to mid February before my leg began to cause complications. Started trying to ride a few times over 2010 but the leg continued to play up... so I kind of gave up for awhile. Finally began riding again properly in January this year.
To answer another question, no we have not been riding out there... I prefer to ride in my front paddock and always have, but the back obviously has more space and in some places is flatter. I am a nervous rider and so I've always had the pattern of starting in the front paddock and then when my confidence is better, move out to the back. However I have lunged her several times out there, and the other day was our most recent lunge, where she listened really well. So, yesterday was our first return together as a pair under saddle out there.
Alcatrazjmpr, yes Honey can be sensitive... she is brave, and tries her wee heart out... and even when I'm nervous she'll just adapt to me and go slower to show me its okay. We look out for each other quite well. However I have to admit since we've started trotting again (before January all I've ever done is walk because I was worried I didn't have the leg strength to trot - turns out I can canter too lol) she does seem more sensitive. Thanks for the suggestion I will definitely try this. Like I said in my original post, I don't want to put the blame on my horse, as I know I'm a nervous rider, so I have to wonder if I'm doing something. Will have to investigate it more and come back with the results!
GOBLIN73, yes I'm the type of rider to think the worst outcome in every situation. I work really hard to not let my nerves inhibit me... and try to remain calm and relaxed and it has been working so far between us. I do feel like I have regain some of my confidence back up in the saddle. I assume like you have said, we're both seeing the accident... it was clear Honey has with the previous riders she's bolted on.
Thank you again for your advice. I felt this may have been the case, but didn't want to face the problem without gaining the advice of outsiders who may give me more to work with than my own common sense! :D
Good luck with the positive thinking ;) It helps tremedously! Just take it slow, like you have been, and be careful not to push wither of you too fast :D
It sounds like your on the right track with her, and she sounds like such a good girl and so attuned to you! The slightest change in your nerves could be a trigger, even if you aren't aware. Slow positive steps will get you both there, getting confidence back is so hard but it's amazing when it starts clicking to get it back!
What a terrible thing to happen....best of wishes to you and your girl! Sounds to me like she's a very timid girl and very in-tune to you...you guys have a very special bond and that's something unique and special! play on that! As everyone here has said, confidence while riding is important. Horses rely on energy to communicate to eachother amongst things like body language.
I am guessing her tenseness and refusals in the 'new paddock' has alot to do with your own emotional state. You state right off you are a nervous rider...no doubt even more so after what happened two years ago (and rightly so). BUT, you have a mare who is obviously very sensitive you her rider's mental and emotional state, so you need to work through those fears and then start working with her again.
Thanks everyone for your kind words.
Yes I am a nervous rider mom2pride, and I'm not going to deny that fact! I have been a nervous rider since I was 16 and the entire time of owning this horse. It was obviously not as bad back when I was backing and starting her under saddle... and we went from strength to strength. The accident obviously has set us back... I have become quite comfortable back in the saddle however... if I was scared, I wouldn't canter around like I have been doing - I don't like speed if I feel unsafe and because Honey is still learning how to balance her canter, it is quite ground covering and flat :lol:. I understand about body language very well as I had quite a sensitive gelding. I wonder how if I'm riding loosely, and calmly and feel like I am, how I could possibly fix this to help my horse. I literally didn't realise why she was looking around like she was until after a while... and I'm stuck wondering if she was feeding off something I'm not aware of... or she reacted on her own.
If you're not aware of the body language and trying really hard to have a functional, correct, calm riding position... what more can you do to fix it? Thanks heaps if someone could offer advice on this... I'm the type of rider who knows her faults and will strive as far as I possibly can to fix them!!
Not sure if you do this, but when ever you are on her, be aware of how you breath...is it shallow, and tense, or is it long and easy? If it's at all shallow, quick or otherwise tense, just sit back into your saddle and concentrate on breathing in....out...in...out...rythmically, and even.
When she is looky, and kind of on edge, just concentrate foward...don't pay attention to what she is paying attention too; even if you aren't 'concerned' about it, you focus your body there, without really realizing it, so this conveys to her that there may actually be something there to be afraid of. Especially if you know the territory you are riding in, just focus foward always...and you should find that eventually she will start to do the same. With my horses, or horses I train, if they get overly looky at something or nervous in a certain spot, I will just do figure 8s or circles (always do both directions, since they don't "think" on both sides of their brains) in that area until he relaxes and forgets what he was paying attention to, and pays attention to me and my cues again.
Another thing that can help when a horse gets stuck in one spot, is not to focus on "go foward" as much as "move your feet". If you have to pull her head around to one side and get her to yield her hip and put her into a circle, do so...directionality when a horse is "stuck" is not so much the concern as getting his feet "unstuck" as quickly as you can, without nagging him into a rear or buck. When a horse rears or bucks (as a general rule) he feels there is no other option but to do that...so if she's stuck in a spot, and you keep asking her to go foward, and her mind isn't engaged on you, she eventually goes "Up" instead of foward. Does that make sense?
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