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Discussion Starter · #21 ·
Windy is unique in that she rides out perfectly fine. I think, "What a great ride we're having! She's doing so good!" It's so fun, and I'm so proud of her, we ride on and on. And THEN . . . when it's time to head home, she bounces and leaps about, throws up her head, bonks my nose, and the whole way home is scary and difficult because she wants to do running walk all the way home.

So, in the bad old days, I would get off and lead her, because I was scared. But I'd be so far out that I couldn't walk that far, leading a bouncing jumping, spinning crazy mare. When she'd sort of calm down, I'd get back on, because I didn't want to walk anymore. I'd think, "It can't be THAT bad." But it was, and I'd get off again. Misery.

So I started just leading her out until I'd get tired of walking and then lead her home. At zone 6, I didn't realize there were zones and I'd just keep leading her. I wasn't paying attention to her zones. And now I will. I never took her back to her comfort zone (and she definitely has one). We'd just head out and come back when I didn't think I could walk anymore. I'd try to let her graze, but she'd be too upset to graze. I had her way out of her comfort zone by then.

With these new ideas, I think this winter is going to go much much better for me, and I thank you so much! (it's only in winter that she's so scary. She's fine in late spring, summer, early fall when she's in a big pasture all day and all night.

Again, I thank you so much for your input. Sorry, @boatagor for co-oping your thread.
No worries! I love hearing what works and doesn't for others.
 

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I really like what you said about the arena vs outside. I know a lot of horses like that. One of the things we do, is if they start getting a little upset outside, we work them like you would in an arena. So, maybe trot around a brush, do rollbacks, spin… just things to bring their mind to focus on you. There are the occasional horses that only work up with that method, so you have to know the horse of course. Most of the time it’s helpful, sometimes it isn’t. Lol

My grandpa always explained it in a way that said a horse can only focus well on one thing at a time. So, if he’s thinking about you, then he can’t very well think about the scary thing he’s worried about. Of course, it is sometimes hard to change the focus, and is why he struggles to think about you when he’s thinking about what is bothering him.

I think I like to play with the comfort zones a little, and I’ve heard the concept before, but I do better thinking about a line. I’m sure everyone has heard that concept before, so I won’t explain it. I do try and bring a horse back to calm though when they start getting worked up, and in the very beginning of them being upset. For many, that does look like doing an exercise which takes their attention, is somewhat difficult, and that they are good at. Then, they seem to usually come back down to a place they are confident and comfortable.
 

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Oh, a trick my grandpa taught me! It goes with the same theory of focus. If you are stuck and they are frightened, like teaching a horse to brand calves and he has to stand still, but so much is going on that’s really scary to him in the beginning, is to kind of pull on the bottom of their mane. You pull and pet right there (hands can’t go far on a colt when you have your rope to consider). If you can catch their attention on what you are doing to their mane, they sometimes focus on that and not on what is going on!
 

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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
I had planned Sunday to go out and attempt to ride Dylan in the field. My new, fancy MIPS helmet came in and I'm mostly healed. I asked my friend to ride with me, because he does great with her mare around, and she said yes. However, once I got out there I found only Dylan in the field. She and her boyfriend had decided to ride early, without me. He was covered in sweat and really upset about being left alone. I decided then I wasn't riding, but thought maybe I could still get him groomed and do some ground work.

Getting him to the barn took quite a while. He almost lost it when a bunny ran in front of us, but I kept him under control. We did a lot of stopping, backing up, walking, backing up, etc but we got to there in one piece. They were at the barn as well, and I thought their ride was over, but they decided to ride inside the closest field since the mare was being contrary as well. Unfortunately with them riding away again, I couldn't get him settled enough for grooming. We did some ground work, but he was never truly focused.

My friend came back with her boyfriend's gelding because her mare was acting up, so after that he calmed enough for me to groom him a bit and at least clean his feet and put some ointment on his wounds. They're healing very well, thankfully.

Overall, it wasn't a great day, and it was another thing to think about as far as if I'm happy keeping him there. If it was a one time thing of them riding without me I wouldn't care, but it seems to be a pattern and it's very frustrating. I can't ride him out alone, there's no arena to ride in, and I can't ride in the field or her mare follows us the entire time. We are going to clear land here for him, but it's likely going to be several years before we're ready for him. I've asked them if I could put up a temporary arena somewhere there, and they seemed okay with it, but they change their minds so often I can't figure out how to even get started. They're talking again about fencing in another area so each horse has individual turnout, and I'd like to see how that goes before deciding to move him. I'm so tired of moving him!

Yesterday, I had a lesson at a training and boarding facility about 20 minutes away. I've heard good things about it from a lady at our last barn, and bad things about it from my friend at our current place. I personally fell in love instantly! It's a beautiful, clean, well run place. All of the horses are obviously very well taken care of, the people are incredibly friendly and obviously very, very knowledgeable. The owner is a former eventer, and remembered me even though we only had a short conversation on the phone and I was booked with another instructor. They also have an OTTB rehab non-profit that they run there, so that's very interesting to me. I've been in love with thoroughbreds since I was a young girl and read a book series about racing, but everyone has always told me it's not the breed for me. At least I can watch them here!

My lesson was great. I explained to the instructor about my recent fall, that I'm trying to fill in gaps in my riding knowledge from never having lessons as I was learning, and that I'm really hoping to build confidence so I'm comfortable riding my own horse again. She told me I was very brave for riding again so quickly after such a bad fall, lol, and was very patient with me. She was strict, but I understand that. The horse was a 20-something year old QH gelding that wouldn't even walk unless your seat and cues were perfect, so that was a complete change from Dylan, who walks on when I just think "go."

But that kind of horse is exactly what I need right now. We had high winds from an incoming storm, horses acting up in the nearby pastures from it, a new-to-the-farm mini walking around, etc and the gelding just walked along as quietly (and slowly) as he could. I wasn't afraid, at all, which was great.

The entire lesson was at the walk, and probably 3/4 of it was in 2 point, so it was quite the workout for me. I was dripping sweat by the end, and I'm in relatively good shape. She was trying to get my heels down and my seat lighter, as she said I tend to lean too far back in the saddle and that's why I was having trouble getting the horse moving. By the end I could get and keep him in a nice working walk, which was quite an improvement over not getting him to move at all lol.

The instructor seemed a bit worried that I had been bored and wouldn't come back, but I told her it was exactly what I needed and I was very happy with what we had done. She said my seat and leg placement had improved drastically just within that lesson, and next time we would work on trotting. I've really never learned to post, because when I rode as a kid, Western riders didn't do it, and now Dylan isn't supposed to trot, so there was no way to really learn. I did take 3 lessons with a local woman just to learn the basics, and felt pretty confident in my ability after that, but it's been almost a year since then so I'm pretty rusty. I scheduled for next Monday again, and I'm really looking forward to it! I'm sure my legs will disagree with me after though, lol.

I also scheduled an evaluation ride with another lesson place about 10 minutes away. It's actually a therapeutic riding school foremost, but they've expanded to giving lessons to everyone. I'm not sure if I will sign up there. They ask that you pay in advance for each 10 week session and you can only cancel or reschedule once during that time. They also don't offer boarding if I would choose to move Dylan to get instruction on him as well. But I'm going to give it a shot and see what happens. I'm so very happy to at least be back in the saddle!
 

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Discussion Starter · #26 ·
Today I had my evaluation at the second lesson place. It was a lot busier than I expected, but everyone was nice and the horse was great. He was a huge OTTB who had a really goofy personality. He was very responsive under saddle, so I actually got walk and trot every time I asked for it. The evaluation only lasted probably 20 minutes in the saddle, so now I need to call and discuss what they can provide as far as lessons go. I don't feel like I got any constructive criticism or that it was a learning opportunity, but it was just the evaluation so I suppose that's to be expected. I really liked both places and will probably take a few lessons at each before deciding which one to stick with. It's going to come down to what goals I decide to set for myself.

I am worried that the lessons will have the opposite result I was hoping for. I say that because I feel very confident on every horse I ride, except for Dylan. I guess there's just a lot of baggage there. The woman I went to last year for the posting lessons even commented that she didn't think I lacked confidence at all. I thought maybe one of the reasons he made me nervous was because he is a forward horse, but the gelding today was as well and it didn't put that pit of anxiety in my stomach like riding him sometimes does. I know I felt confident and happy when I first bought him, but I suppose that's been eroded over time. I don't know if there's any coming back from it. I can afford to keep him and take lessons, and honestly I could probably afford a second horse as well and he could spend his time just hanging out and getting loved on and doing fun stuff, but I can't shake the thought that someone else could have the time of their life on him. And I could find a horse that makes me feel confident and happy and not nervous. He's only 15, he has a lot of life left to be a good horse for someone. On the other hand, I DID feel happy and confident and not anxious on him just a few months ago at our last boarding situation, even if it was just in the arena, so I know that's possible in the right circumstances, too. And maybe I feel confident on these other horses because it's a controlled environment vs riding out, which has become so intimidating to me.

I guess I don't have to make any decisions now, either way.
 

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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
I don't really have anyone who could ride him. Maybe the barn owner from the last place, but she's going through a lot and I wouldn't want to bother her. There's no way in hell I'd let my friend or her boyfriend on him.

I've considered sending him to a trainer, but I really don't like how a lot of people around here handle their horses. There's a "well known" trainer/seller a few hours away who specializes in gaited trail horses, and the price is reasonable, but I don't know how she trains her horses. I've seen a lot of casual abuse that people say is just "showing them who's boss" and definitely don't want him going somewhere like that. That was the attitude of the terrible place I kept him, and he left there in a terrifying mess. I'm sure if he went somewhere like that he would be broken down eventually, but I don't want a shut down horse.

I've also considered advertising him for a partial lease, where he would get exercise and handling while I'm working on myself. But I don't see a lot of that going on here so I just don't know if there's a market for it. Plus, idk, I just have a weird thing worrying about someone else riding him.

Really, I think I either need a reliable, consistent trail riding partner who will actually stick with plans or a safe place to ride alone. Preferably both. I'm probably not going to get it where I am now. But I also don't want to jump into a different boarding situation without thought.
 

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I’m sorry you don’t have anyone like that in your life. I was only trying to think of what would benefit me if I was stuck in your situation. I’m sure that riding with someone just going with you while you are on Dylan would even help. So frustrating.

Fear is a difficult emotion for me. I am afraid to drive. I can in certain places, but I have an autoimmune condition that let me to having some seizures, mostly when I was driving. It led me to a massive phobia. Not driving at all is not possible where I live, but I limit it and just don’t go anywhere of any distance alone. It’s a dumb phobia, because I haven’t had a seizure in a very long time. Several years have gone by, and yet I will have a panic attack and pass out. I can’t just drive through it, and it’s a hard thing for me to accept about myself.

I blacked out on horses some around then too, but I decided to push through that. If I passed out, got kicked in the head and died, I wasn’t going to take people with me. So I forced it, which ended the cycle. Yet, I wasn’t afraid of the horses themselves, but just passing out. Such a dumb cycle.

I hope you can find someone to help you get through this. If it turns in to a phobia like mine, I have no idea how you overcome it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #31 ·
I really appreciate the recommendation! Maybe, in expanding my social "horse" circle by taking lessons, I will find someone I could trust to help in that way.

I'm really sorry to hear about your driving phobia. My mom is like that, and has been for most of my life. Hers is anxiety about car accidents. It's really tough for her because she's a very social, outgoing person and she can't drive alone. I feel like that could easily have been me if I didn't see how it limited her in life. I definitely have a lot of anxiety and worry that I bottle up. Exercise really helps, but I've gotten out of the routine after my fall.

I want to force myself to just get on him and ride, but that's literally what I did when I fell! I just got fed up with waiting for someone to ride with me, and thought "we've done fine riding alone for the last year, I'm just going to do it." And that didn't turn out well at all lol.
 

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I’m sorry for your mother. It is very limiting. I would say it changed who I am, because I just don’t go places. I am very isolated.
 

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Discussion Starter · #33 ·
I went to work with Dylan tonight, and took my Confident Pants (lol) and an umbrella. I also grabbed the training flag. I did put on the halter and lead rope today for introducing the umbrella. I figured it wouldn't be smart to let him run away if it scared him vs keeping him with me and showing him it's not scary.

I started with the flag and he was great for that. I used it a bit more vigorously today, really snapping it on the ground and waving it all around his head and above him. He didn't care at all. I introduced the umbrella after a few minutes, first while it was still all wrapped up, then undoing the Velcro, then slowly opening it and closing until it was fully open. Nothing bothered him until it was fully open, but even then he was more curious than anything.
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He was okay with it moving all around and by the end, I could hold it directly above his head without him being worried. Although he did keep lifting his head to touch it with his nose lol. We also did some "follow the scary thing" with me snapping the flag, waving the umbrella, and leading him all at the same time. None of this bothered him at all.

I was going to stop there but he was doing so well, I decided to see if I could use the button to open the umbrella. It's one of those ones that spring open with a pretty loud noise when you hit the button. He flinched the first time, but after that he was, again, more curious than anything. The gelding in the next field, though, was losing it so I only did it a few times before deciding to be done.

I turned to lead him back to the gate so I could put some ointment on his scrapes when he suddenly spooked, jumping off the ground with all 4 feet and trying to gallop off until he hit the end of the leas. I'm guessing there was a deer or rabbit in the brush next to the driveway. This is the part that frustrates me the most, I think. He can stand there with all of these Scary Things that freak out most horses, and not bat an eye, but a bunny in the weeds is too much for him. I really wonder if what I'm doing will ever help, because it's not like I can control every situation. And it's not a Warwick Schiller bunny situation either, because he was completely calm one second and gone the next.

He was really worried, and I didn't want to end such a good lesson on a bad note, so I walked him towards the area that was bothering him, until his head came up and he got worried, then we turned and walked away until he was relaxed. We did this five or six times, then instead of walking back to safety, we turned and walked parallel to the scary thing, and each turn got closer. If he froze up, I made him back up until he reconnected with me, and then we continued. If he was getting really high headed with the flared nostrils, we turned away from the scary thing instead of getting closer. I tried to keep myself between him and whatever it was so if he spooked, he wouldn't run me over. It took 10 minutes to get him to approach that area of the field, but we did it. I grabbed the ointment, praised him for his bravery, and then we retreated back to safety for me to put it on. Goodness. He's lucky he's cute.
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Hello! I'm not sure if this is going to help, but I'm going to try. You've got this double whammy situation where you've got this almost (from your perspective) randomly intermittently spooking horse, on the one hand, and then on the other you've got the anxiety inside yourself from having gotten hurt in situations like this - and that anxiety is not easy to turn off. Believe it or not, your brain is supposed to develop ambulance sirens in response to situations that remind it of whatever caused trauma before, to get you to stay away from such things (like a handsome creamy-coloured 500kg animal that may randomly catapult into you ;)) - it's a biological survival thing, and it may run counter to what you personally want to do, which is so inconvenient!

So:
You: "I want to work with this horse and get it desensitised and comfortable in a changing environment (etc)."
Your amygdala: "I want this person to stay away from situations which have hurt them before and which I consider threatening to life and limb."

The amygdala does have a point, but you can use your cerebrum to think about making your work with your horse safer so that the amygdala doesn't get another scary experience and say, "Told you so!" and turn up the ambulance siren to even louder next time you work with the horse and get in situations that trigger your amygdala. (And you've been working on that, and you're here to brainstorm things you can improve etc.)

So I see this as TWO separate things that each need addressing:

1) Helping your horse
2) Helping your amygdala

And I've listed them the wrong way around - in terms of order of priority! 😜

A good analogy: If you're in an aircraft and the cabin depressurises, the first oxygen mask you get from overhead should be put on your own face - and then you can get other oxygen masks down to help other people. This maximises your own usefulness in a situation - even though you have to put yourself first (which we've often been conditioned to believe is always selfish, but not so).

Because the problem is, when you're working with a horse, it picks up even the slightest hint of anxiety from you, and insecure horses, or even confident horses unsure about something in particular, will internalise it: "The person with me is nervous, oh no, there must be something dangerous around here!" The ability to rapidly read the moods and anxieties of others, and for the flight response to spread almost instantly through a group, is really important for a herd animal that evolved with predators - it maximised chances of survival.

Basically, you can't work effectively with a horse when you're anxious, or from the point when you become anxious around your horse. Reading anxiety in you (even if nothing happens in a particular lesson) reinforces to the horse that the world is a dangerous place, and it stacks the dice towards another bad experience for both of you. So you need to be ultra aware of when you've got your Confidence Pants on (loved that phrase, made me smile :)), and when they're starting to slip down! And be aware that you're trying to desensitise yourself, not just your horse.

Which I think is the much harder part than desensitising your horse... this is tricky stuff, as @Knave also related, and it takes patience and awareness and persistence and a whole lot of lateral thinking...working with your own emotions and anxieties is like herding cats, but it can be done.

You've got to become super-confident so you can give your nervous horse confidence. Sounds so easy and logical on paper, but is tricky! So one thing is to forestall and prevent as much as possible situations which become dangerous to you personally when working with your horse, so you don't get re-traumatised yourself and end up with even worse anxiety. This part is probably best as a group brainstorm, and involves lots of things like spending a lot of time with your horse in an area where it is in its comfort zone, and when you build your own confidence back, you can start taking the horse into more challenging scenarios (and I know this is extra difficult because of the unusual spooking patterns of your horse). Also though, consideration of where you are in relation to the horse - there's safer positions and less safe positions when ground handling, for example - and I always lead a nervous horse with me by their shoulder, so I can't be jumped on and should I get knocked sideways hard, at least I will be knocked out of the way of the horse. Ditto - I don't groundwork nervous horses in a halter, they have too much mechanical advantage that way - at the very least I run the lead rope over the front of the halter, like this...




First outing with super-spooky, very hydrophobic horse in 2009. He could turn on a thread and take off like a rocket at the drop of a hat when I first started working with him in unfamiliar environments (and I really had to watch my toes!). Notice that neither my friend nor I ever stand in harm's way when handling our horses in situations like this - we're by their shoulders. No looping the lead rope around hands, use both hands, use gloves if you have to to prevent rope burn, etc. We rode later on in that outing, but walked the horses around on leads first to desensitise them to the new area as a "herd" - it's easier for a person to give a green horse confidence when you're next to them than when you're riding, and usually also easier to stop them getting away from you in a panic. Both my friend and myself specialised since late childhood in re-training "difficult" horses (i.e. reactive, highly intelligent, independent types of animals) for our own use, and ended up with wonderful relationships with our adoptees, who were amazing horses to ride. Sadly both of these horses are deceased now, but I'm just in the early stages of saddle educating a relative of the dark horse above, who also happens to be super reactive and doesn't spook at many things, but spooks instantly at some things, like sudden unexpected noises!

Anyway - I actually had a lot more I wanted to say, like I know that feeling you're describing because I got badly scared working with one particular horse when I was 10 and it was like this mutual reinforcement of incipient disaster - but maybe another time...
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 ·
Thank you for your thoughtful and educational response, @SueC ! I do feel like I'm training both of us. It's one of the reasons I don't want to sell him. I don't like to fail at things, and I think if I gave up, I would never get over my own anxiety in these situations. If he were aggressive or bad 99% of the time, I would move on with no regrets. But I really feel like he's a sweet, calm, willing horse 99% of the time, so in my opinion, it's really worth it to help him get to a better place with his fear, and in the process, I'll gain skills and coping mechanisms for my own anxieties, too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #39 ·
I can ride him in an arena without any fear or anxiety from either of us. I am not the type that gets bored with arena riding, and I enjoy it. I think I will always be nervous on trail rides myself, because I like to feel in control and obviously that's not possible in that environment. So maybe we're not trail partners! We can happily be arena partners instead. If we have a safe arena, we can still do the things we are working on now, and also enjoy riding. But I don't have an arena where we are now and I'm afraid of offending my friend... which is becoming less important to me the longer we stay!

When I learned to ride as a kid, I dealt with incredibly difficult horses and I didn't even know it. It would take 40 minutes to catch them, they would stomp your feet or run your knees into fence posts, they wouldn't pick up their feet, they ignored all of your cues, they often bit and kicked, etc. I wouldn't describe him as a difficult horse, personally. He is always willing to do anything I ask. Even when he's irritated or unsure, the most I get is a tail swish or a head toss. He is very responsive, and (mostly) forward without getting hot, which I prefer over a horse that just plods along. He is easy to handle, and has never done anything to hurt me on purpose. He's really come out of his shell and now I do think he enjoys spending time with me, so where before I could approach him in the field and catch him, now he comes to me as soon as he sees me.

I think he has some baggage and just panics sometimes. Maybe I'm putting human emotions onto an animal, but I think he probably doesn't trust that someone can keep him safe so he just takes himself out of the scary situation. When he bolts, I can mostly get him stopped. This last time, I would have been fine without my saddle slipping. I'm sure he has no lingering effects from it, now it's me that's unsure. I have this panic when I think about riding anywhere but an arena with nice deep sand and a fence lol.

I have been thinking a lot about getting a second opinion on his eyesight. I had 2 vets and 2 farriers tell me there was nothing wrong with his feet before someone finally diagnosed his central sulcus thrush. I wonder often if it would be easier to treat if it had been diagnosed earlier.
 

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It's a shame that the barn with arena and many other people with expertise (some of them even with useful expertise and not unsolicited useless expertise, which is rife at some barns ;)) wound up. I don't suppose there's anything like that near where you have Dylan now, that you could consider relocating him to? You'd have an arena and likely some regular riding buddies for trails, plus you'd be less isolated.

The riding lessons sound like a good idea at least for a while because you get to ride lots of different horses and also get some feedback.

Is there enough space where you have your horse now for you to set up a sort-of arena yourself? I did that once, just white electric tape (not hooked up!) and a dozen or so push-in posts on a flat part of the paddock.
 
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