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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where did my horse go?

Specifically, where did my fat little trustworthy pony go?  It’s been replaced by a fire breathing monster who doesn’t seem to possess a shred of common sense in her walnut sized brain.

At first, I thought this change was a fluke - I would get this behavior at rides approximately 1 out of every 7 starts - so I knew it was in there.  When I got it on a conditioning ride, I thought “GREAT!  I can finally work through this behavior when I have plenty of time to train through it and really make an impression on her silly little pea sized (I mean walnut sized…) brain. 

And then…….I continued to get this behavior on EVERY SINGLE FREAKIN’ RIDE. 

I have 2 hypothesis’

1.  Obviously our relationship has taken a hit during the year off. 
2.  Staying out in pasture, she hasn’t lost NEARLY the amount of fitness I thought she had. 


My submissive little pony has decided that she knows her job far better than I do and is ignoring proper chain of command. 

Normally I’d throw a horse who has made this poor decision into the round pen and have a discussion.  Repeatedly if necessary. 

BUT - I’m still being cautious of that tendon.  Putting Farley in a round pen and being comfortable applying as much pressure (i.e. speed, turns) as necessary to get my point across is going to put a lot of torque on that LF and IMO it’s not ready for that.  I haven’t asked for a canter under saddle, much less in a 20 meter circle. 

So, I’ve made some compromises and modifications. 

1.  In the round pen I’ll ask for a trot both directions, canter to the right only.  (round pen is large with good footing, and is level - no banked sides.)
2.  Lots of hindquarter disengages for naughty behavior when I’m on the ground and in the saddle. (have to be careful, as she did take a swing at me).
3.  Lots of standing still, relaxed.
4.  Her behind my shoulder at ALL times when leading, enforced with a whip if necessary. 
5.  Lots of 180 turns and moving away from home when she tosses her head in the air and seems to have lost focus on the most important thing - ME!
6.  Lots of walk trot dressage focusing on submission and a very low head. 

What I’m not doing -
1.  Any intense round pen work - including working her to the point where she’s tired.  In addition to the torque, I DON’T need her getting tired and fatigued and thus making that tendon more likely to reinjure at this early stage of putting her back to work. 

2.  She has lost any “good horse privileges” - including being able to walk beside me, graze under saddle, graze on the line, and making any move towards my personal space without being invited. 

3.  My standard strategy for Farley to fix the running home thing - as we go towards home if she ignores my half halt and/or sticks her nose in the air, immediately reverse direction and head away from home at one gait higher than we were going home at.  Thus, trotting towards home will result in a canter away, cantering towards home will result in a hand gallop away.  And I want just as much energy and activity away as I was getting going towards home - no half-assed canters - it better be forward and engaged and happy! 

What I have on my side:
1.  She’s an honest horse.  She’s not playing games and tricks to try and unseat me - it’s energy forward and the bucks are a result of that energy forward. 
2.  She’s not a spooky horse.  I don’t have to worry about something “setting her off”.
3.  She’s on pasture - I’m not dealing with a horse that has been confined for a long time.
4.  she’s not “bad” all the time -
5.  We have a relationship that stretches over years - I know what I can expect from her, and she should quickly relearn what she can expect from me.  It’s not like I’m completely starting over, or have had a problem relationship with her. 
6.  Minx was so much worse than Farley can even dream of being.

On the bright side.... 
1.  I'd rather be dealing with this problem than what I've been doing the last year - not riding and treating a tendon injury. 
2.  I can FINALLY replicate something at home that sparodically pops up at rides - naughty behavior under saddle.  WHOOO HOOO! 
3.  I have MONTHS before my first LD to fix this - plenty of time to get my point across.  
4.  My first ride will be an LD - an LD that I will spend the entire time schooling if necessary. 

This just goes to show - You can buy the calmest, sweetest horse - and there’s no guarantee that they will stay that way all the time, especially if they aren’t ridden regularly.  I know people who want a perfectly trained horse that will be perfectly safe all the time - but they aren’t robots.  They respond to their environment and use and even the best ones will require a tune up now and then!

Did I miss anything on my horsey boot camp list?  Feel free to add in the comments!!!!!!!! 

And once again…..I have come to the end of a discussion (discussing an osteomyelitis - infectious I believe) and have a lecture coming up (Nutritional Bone Disease if you must know) so must post this and start paying attention!


  1. I thought the conventional wisdom was to make it harder work going home than away? From the people I have heard this from (that I respect) this involves working them hard at home and taking it easy on them away.

    But to each his/her own. I have not found any horse like another.


    ps: you're welcome for the roundpen. Glad it is getting some use!

  2. Yes - you are generally correct, but you have to examine the motivation for the behavior. In this case - Farley wants to go home fast - so by making her do something she doesn't want to do (go away from home FAST) everytime she tries to pour on the speed, she learns that she doesn't work as hard if she listens. (ie doesn't try to increase speed going home without a signal for me.)

    I'm not trying to convince Farley that endurance riding and trail riding is fun - she already knows the job. Thus, I'm specifically addressing the behavior problem of increasing speed and/or gait without being asked. So, I make life really hard when she makes the wrong decision. My first move is a half halt. If she decides to blow through that, than I do the 180 with an increase in work (ie speed and gait). Some people like to stop/back, but I feel that it can lead to a horse that evades the bit and/or rearing issues, especially if they are being a bit naughty - I perfer to correct the behavior by finding a way to PUSH them into the bridle. I also find that by not asking for a stop/back and by not continuing to pull I'm not creating a pressure cooker that wants to blow and/or reinforcing behavior I don't want (being pulled on).

    Hope this makes sense!

  3. I should add that this strategy works with Farley because she is inherently lazy :).

    Another suggestion might be to reduce speed and walk all the way home. I would agree that this is a solution that should definitely be considered. In this case, Farley walks home calmly, teh behavior emerges when there is an increase in speed (ie - trot). It is perfectly reasonable for her to be able to gallop towards home with control, and because she's my performance horse, I expect that sort of control. (and before we had the lameness, I had this control). Thus, I feel this is an EXTREMELY important training aspect. In fact, I feel that one of the best ways to practice/test control at HOME before showing up at a ride is to go home at speed from a ride.

  4. Great info in the whole post, and I'm glad Farley is back to work, even if it means being slightly naughty. But I love this quote "I feel that one of the best ways to practice/test control at HOME before showing up at a ride is to go home at speed from a ride." Ding Ding Ding! Thanks for that! We often battle going home (we're trotting, which just gets faster and faster and unresponsive, so I turn away from home like you do). But I think I need to work on going home fast, and controlled. I am planning to start my LD career this year, and this is a great tidbit. Thanks so much.

    (On another note, I'm not sure if it is just me, but your new posts since 12/25 aren't showing up in my google reader, even though I am "following" you.)

  5. THANKS for letting me know about the Google reader issue. I'll check it out.

    So glad I was able to share something that clicked!!!! For everyone else - if what I said above is unclear, here it is again, better written: If you can't control your horse at a trot/canter/gallop going towards home, how are you going to control your horse at the start of the ride when it has race brain? The best way to stimulate race brain is to run home. :)

    Irish horse - Assuming it's safe to to so, I think it's really important to return to the gait you were originally were going home at (trot/canter) before doing the turn around as a correction. UNLESS....I don't think I can win the battle that day. In that case I'll walk home or do whatever I can to make it end on the right note with me intact. :)

  6. I always make sure he is at the gait requested before we do anything else. When going anywhere (home especially) and we are trotting, if he tries to trot too fast or canter he get corrected until he is in the gait originally asked for, and then either turned around, and maintain the gait I originally asked for (no rushing the other direction either). That is our standard practice, he does not get to choose the gait in that kind of mood. On the trail when behaving himself I do sometimes let him choose his gait over different footing, but once his brain starts falling out all bets are off! I am preparing the best I can, but I know those first rides will be difficult!

    (P.S. I am going to order some new boots from you too, current renegades need retiring.)

  7. cool - shoot my an email when you are ready (

  8. THERE you are! Your updates stopped showing up on my reader, so I'm reading backwards and SO GLAD YOU'RE RIDING FARLEY, even if she's being a naughtyboots.

    I'll post something soon about my own naughtyboots. Endurance season can't come too soon...!

  9. Or, to really mix things up, why not:
    1. go riding with the person that taught your horse to respond to a vocal cue to go faster
    2. wait until you are both calmly trotting towards home
    3. act surprised when they give your horse the vocal cue to pick up the pace and he promptly kicks into an enthusiastic gallop
    4. notice that his horse is now galloping uncontrollably so that both of your horses are racing
    5. ask your horse to come back to a nice calm trot

    And if your horse listens, you have a reasonable indication of how he might respond on ride day! (I don't know that I'd actually recommend this one, but did have it happen to me... the guy I was riding with thought it was pretty funny...)

    On another tangent: any suggestions on grass seeds and velcro - how to keep them away from each other? Or encourage them to part?

  10. One hind resting - Oh my! Funny in retrospect but probably not at the time!

    I know they sell velcro cleaners - a tool that will clean dirt and stuff out of velcro. I saw it on a site that was discussing how to clean the renegade toe straps in order to get more life out of them, but I've never actually done it.....

  11. Same problem here -- a beautiful controllable horse going away from the barn, wants to go too fast (at whatever speed, walk trot or canter) as soon as we head for home. A couple times I decided to let him gallop home. It was far enough away that I knew he would get tired; he did and tried to stop but I kept him going. I legged him up to canter past the barn and kept going. But I stopped doing that, could get my horse hurt and he anticipated the gallop.

    I've done the "work hard on the way out, walk only on the way back". If he picked up a trot, I did a 180 and made him trot FAST the other direction. Sorta works. He can now walk all the way back on a a loose rein. A fast walk, but a 4-footed walk in any case. But now I'm considering your thought -- that he should go at whatever speed I want on the way home. Excellent point.

    I also heard that you should not do the walking cooldown before you get home. You would pretty much trot all the way to the barn. If possible, trot him a bit somewhere at the barn -- in the arena or up and down the driveway without dismounting ever. Then make him do the entire cooldown at the barn, a nice long boring walk. Eventually he learns that coming back to the barn doesn't mean he immediately gets unsaddled, brushed, fussed over, maybe hand grazed... When he gets back to the barn he isn't "done" yet.

    I also make it a point to take grazing breaks on the way out, and to never let him graze on the way back, nor when we get back to the barn.

    It's tough to try to out-analyze a horse isn't it?


  12. Karen - yep. And I think that there isn't any one answer because you have to consider the motivation of the horse.....and horses come in personalities and flavors. I think that I really started to consider motivation when I trained my puppy Tess.


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