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Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Since I've come to the conclusion that a certain governmental organization exists solely for the purpose of making my job a cesspool of frusteration and stupidity, I'm feeling uniquely capable of writing a post on anger right now. Much to Funder's delight I'm sure.

I'm almost relieved someone else stepped forward and admitted to being angry with their horse sometimes. Everyone talks about the importance of *not* getting angry with horses and the message is just. don't. do. it.

And I agree. It's NEVER acceptable to "lose" it with your horse, where you become incapable of controlling yourself and what results is "abuse".

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about feeling angry and hitting and screaming at your horse. I'm talking about experiencing anger towards your horse and having it result in behavior that while it's not abuse, isn't exactly helpful in maintaining a relationship. It's your actions that either cause the relationship to take a step back, OR (best case senerio) leave the relationship in exactly the same place.

I have an unpublished post from ~2 months ago that describes exactly this senerio. I would publish now.....except the story is in California and I'm in Alabama. In the interest of getting this post published - here is the short version:

Horsey and me went on the canel to school the canter on the straightaways because the arena was mucky. I REALLY shouldn't have been on the horse because I was tired and frusterated, but I felt at the time that a good ride was just what I needed to shrug it all off. At this point in our training, she was giving me half way decent canters on the correct lead....most of the time. I knew she was capable. When she bloody refused to pick up the left lead, AND refused to pick up the canter at ALL going in the direction away from the stable....I was a bit...frusterated. I corrected her leads (not very nicely), and made her practically gallop away from the stable direction, and made her life a miserable hell going towards the stable by asking for a super collected canter. Then I kept this up until she stopped fighting me and gave me an iota of submission and a halfway decent canter. As you can guess, we were both soaked in sweat, and while I technically got what I wanted, neither of us like eachother very much. Of course, being the human in this relationship, I get to take the blame, and the next day I apologized by doing a bareback session. She knows there are no expectations on our bareback days (other than she doesn't buck!) and as a result we both had a good ride, forgave eachother and moved on.

While my actions weren't technically abuse, and what I made her do (work harder going towards home, asking until I got the desired response etc.) was technically the correct thing to do.....I would still argue that it was a situation I NEVER wanted to repeat, in part because my actions were inspired by anger and frusteration. The situation I described above was probably my worst transgression regarding anger, bad enough I felt like I needed to write a post about it, promising NEVER to do something like that again (and then felt too embarrased to publish it). However, there have been smaller incidents where I have gotten angry enough to jerk on her mouth, or use my crop excessively, or sharply demand or correct with my aids. It's not something I get enjoyment out of, or expect to happen, and over time I've learned to identify those things that cause me to be angry with my horse, and with that knowledge I try to "head off" the incident.

We are human and we have emotions. To pretend we NEVER get angry or never will get angry is a fallacy. How much better to admit that such a thing does happen (even to a small degree) and decide in advance how you are going to deal with it? Anger is human and dealing with it is a skill. Like everything else in this life - knowledge is power and preperation is powerful - and at some point I will bet that you will have to deal with the emotion of anger AND ride at the same time - it's not always an option to just get off and save the ride for another day.

So in reponse to Funder's question (aren't you sorry you asked??? LOL), here's some of the things that Farley does that causes me to be angry, and ways I have found to deal with that anger.

#1 Know Thy Self
I become angry when:
  • I'm scared
  • I'm frusterated

Since I'm rarely scared with Farley (make that never....), let's focus on the second, shall we?

I'm more likely to be frusterated when:

  • I'm tired
  • I'm emotionally drained (such as after travelling)
  • I'm stressed

The Solution

When in doubt, if ANY of the above factors in a significant factor in my life - then I do something with my horse where I have no expectations, I'm not trying to teach her something, and there's nothing to accomplish. If I can't think of something that fits the criteria, I do nothing at all except feed her bucket and give her a pat.

#2 The Horse Factor

The second type of situation that causes my frusteration is external - the horse. Usually, this type of situation (horse causing the stress) happens it's because of an internal frusteration (ie stress, lack of sleep etc.) that I don't acknowledge because I don't know how close to the edge I'm really operating.

Farley's number one way to push my buttons - refuse (passively) to do something I KNOW she understands. She understands the concept, she understands the aids, but she has decided for WHATEVER reason she is NOT doing it today. Grrrrr.....the joys of working with a mare.

Part of this problem is because she's so sensitive. Unless everything is in alignment and feels *just right*, she's not necessarily going to do it well. I understand, and even praise her for letting me know *exactly* how she feels. On the other hand, sometimes in life, you get to work through really minor issues and even if things aren't *perfect* you WILL survive.

Sometimes I can find a reason for her being a pill, sometimes I can't and it's just "because".

Most of the time, this particular type of behavior manifests in the arena and usually centers around:

  • Not being forward/requiring constant nagging
  • Ignoring my leg
  • Fussing with her head
  • Not wanting to flex or position
  • Refusing to stretch

The Solution

  • Take a deep breathe
  • Do the activity "good enough" once or twice and then quickly move on to something totally different.
  • Contain the correction and then move on - for example, if I'm having to constantly nag her, correct her once with the crop (one, Two, THREE) and then move on, instead of half way correcting and letting her continue with the behavior and continuing to ineffectively correct her.
  • Relax MY jaw
  • Start verbally praising her for every little thing she DOES do good. It's amazing how much better you feel towards your horse when you are giving her verbal compliments!
  • If I continue to not enjoy the ride, GET OFF. Save it for another day. Better to get off when the problem is tiny and leave it until you are better able to deal with it, then to let the situation escalate to the point where I "won" but it was ugly.

#3 It's a training issue.....and it's the trainers fault! (and solutions...)

There are 2 issues that rear their ugly heads at rides, that over the course of 50 miles cause me to want to chomp off Farley's ears and pretend they are chocolate:

  • Not standing for boot or tack issues
  • Pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling.......and pulling and pulling and pulling....

Guess what? Both these issues are training issues that have very little to do with the horse and have everything to do with the trainer. During rides, before I figured out what I needed to do at home to solve them, these issues had me eventually jerking on her mouth in frusteration to get the desired response because I had HAD it with the pulling or the running-over-me-while-I-attempt-to-do-a-simple-tack-adjustment!

The hard thing about ride issues is it's difficult to work on them unless you are at rides! But NO EXCUSES. So, you have to do some thinking and get creative.....

The not-standing thing - When not at a ride Farley stands just grand! The only time she DIDN'T stand at home was while mounting, mostly because I didn't care and didn't ask her to. So, on the advice of a blog reader I started having her stand while mounting, and any other time I could conjure up to establish the habit of OBEDIENCE when I said "stand", NO MATTER WHAT.

Guess what? It worked! She still isn't perfect at rides, but after working on the command "stand" for 4 weeks, we got through a pulse down vet check outside of camp at Wild west with the minimum of spinning and excitement. Each morning, I made her stand while I mounted, and this reminder of obedience at the beginning of the ride let us start the day mentally on the same page.

No more jerking, no more frusteration, no more anger.

The pulling thing

Farley is such a slug-bug when not at a ride. Even a halter is overkill on our training rides. So how do I deal with a pulling speed demon when I don't have one at home?

Dressage is double edged sword - yes, she's comfortable with contact so doesn't automatically buck when she doens't like the bit pressure, AND she responds better to my SLOW THE EFF DOWN aids.....however she can ALSO canter in place, pick up a canter from a walk, and actually REARED with me (just to let me know how good her hocks were feeling......) at one recent ride. Dressage has also given Farley another gear and no longer is a big hill any guarentee we are slowing down......

My best tool for rides is a variety of bit options. I have 3 bits I use at rides depending on her mood, my mood, and the terrain.

  • Myler Kimberwick - great bit if I can't handle her pulling on my for a physical or mental reason. Downside - isn't comfortable with contact and as a result can result in her tossing her head (bad, when I'm trying to bring her attention to the rather large pile of boulders in our path), and is fairly useless for "picking her up" in bad footing, during a slip etc. She seems to have trouble getting food past this bit.
  • French-link baucher - Farley's favorite bit. I use this bit a LOT and it's my default choice. Farley eats and drinks very well with this bit. Comfortable with contact, but also responds well when asking for less speed. Doesn't tend to brace against it, BUT I can end up pulling and keeping more contact than I would like.
  • Sliester Hackamore - I've done lots of conditioning rides in it, but haven't gotten up the nerve to use it during a ride. This is a no-contact option so I only use it if I don't think I'll need to give her a lot of direction and if she's being fairly tractable. She likes it and obviously likes to eat in it. Some of the same downsides as the myler.

My Secret Weapon: My secret weapon in dealing with all of these issues is a sense of humor - laugh at your silly horse, make fun of her, lecture her in your best school marm voice - make it self righteous and comical. Then hum nonseical melodies and smile. Make a song out of "no, no, n-n-n-n-no" and "you are pulling and I don't are pulling and I don't care....." Often, this is all it takes for me to turn a ride from frusterating to enjoyable.

If you have a different take on this subject, or want to share an experience, please comment!


  1. Ha, when I went to the USPC convention in Texas, their was a speaker that told us a good way to keep up your confidence or good humor with your horse or surrondings is to sing a song.
    Example:the dogs are loose in the area and your horse is scared out of its hooves, you can sing " WHO LET THE DOGS OUT ,RUFF RUFF".

  2. Btw I don't want to leave you with th wimpression that I think getting a bigger bit is the solution to pulling! There's lots of techniques I've used and seen others use, but was losing patcience with the length of this post so cut it short. Yes, I can get what I need to get with most any bit. But at the end of the discussion i don't want to be left with aching muscles that comprmise my riding, so sometimes a bigger bit is what I need in order to keep both of us happy. I'm happy to report farley continually makes progress and I use the myler less and less, but it's good to have lots of TOOLS in order to teach or train. So bits, techniques, and ride stategies all play into fixing the pulling problem!

  3. Yay, the anger post!

    The last time I got really angry with Dixie was when she wouldn't load in the ill-fated trailer. (Now for sale on CL! Cheap!) She wasn't acting like she was scared of it, just being muley. She is the stubbornest creature I've ever met. I went through every technique I know and ended up so frustrated I was sick to my stomach. Then she loaded for the BO and an apple, ARRRRRRGH.

    I suspect that horses sense when we're getting frustrated and shut down - which just makes us more frustrated. So I try very hard to not let that first bit of frustration creep in.

    It's important to always win your battles, but it's even more important to pick the battles you can win. That's a handy saying that sticks in my head nicely, but I do have problems with the "battle" terminology...

    I keep wondering if I should get a stronger bit for rides, but I think she'll just fight even harder if I put her back in a curb. No good memories there.

  4. Hey, this is kind of a stupid question, but can you explain pulling to me?

    Unless I'm actually in an arena doing dressagey stuff, I don't ride with contact. Well, very light contact, just so the reins don't flop around. And I don't actually control speed within a gait very well, because she has so many gaits. If I want her to trot and she breaks up to a rack, I sit deep, check her with the reins, and say "trot." I pick the gait, she picks the speed. Once she's in the gait I want, I don't mess with the reins, so the only time we "pull" on each other is when we're arguing about a gait.

    So if you're at a ride and she's pulling, is because she wants to trot faster than you want? Or because she's constantly trying to break up to a canter and you're checking her back?

    I think because I'm largely self-taught I have a very weird riding style. It's good and bad.

  5. Pulling.

    Farley usually has a nice soft mouth on trail rides (and the latter half to last 2/3 of endurance rides) and goes on a loose rein and only needs tiny little movements with my hands/reins for her to respond.


    At the begining of approxmiately half the rides i do she pulls on me. Meaning that instead of me checking her (because of speed) and being able to release it looks more like this:

    CHEEEECCCCCKKKKKKKKKKK....and release....and CHEEEEEECCCCCCKKKKKK...and release.

    The releases get bigger and looser as the rides goes on. The long checks are because she sometimes takes some convincing that we ARE going to go my speed. Sometimes that check is me controlling speed within a gait. Sometimes that check is me bringer her down 1,2, or 3 gaits....depending on what attitude she gave me when I suggested we go slower.

    With a stronger bit it takes a much shorter check to get the same response, so my arms and abs end up much less sore, because during the check...if using a nice comfy bit that is designed for contact (dressage legal bit) she will take really strong contact during the check if she's feeling....strong.

    Hope this makes sense. Yes, it's her pulling because she wants to go faster or stay a certain speed where I want her slowed down.

    She used to "root". (before dressage) which is what would piss me off the most and make me REALLY sore. She would lighten up just a tad when I pulled on the reins and then flung her nose down to the ground to try and get slack and therefore go faster. That's what would make me REALLY sore becuase of the jerking moion and suddeness of it. She hasn't done that in a while which is one reason I think we've been pretty sucessful in the softer bit.

    This was probably long and confusing. *sigh*

  6. Ok, that makes perfect sense. You check and release the same way I do. Dixie went through a rooting period, too, but thankfully she hasn't tried THAT in a while. I keep expecting it to pop up again.


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