Back in the Saddle Again

Monday, December 7, 2015

After almost 3 weeks off Khaleesi is back to work. Now that it’s December the girls are all barefoot. Faygo has great hard hooves and doesn’t mind doing some barefoot riding. Khaleesi has decent hooves but is more tenderfooted barefoot than Faygo and I usually keep her booted- always front, often all 4 feet.

My teenager was very very good for the ferrier almost as if to prove me wrong when he came and I warned him that my angel is in the naughty teenage phase. He nodded, said that it happens to most of them, and walked around to each foot and quickly got her trimmed into shape as she stood perfectly for him.

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Our first ride back was an easy 6 miles walk around Hidden Valley with friends which is one of my all-time favorite places to ride. Beautiful scenery, easy footing along the Jackson River and lots of options to choose from in terms of trails. All our front boots stayed on nicely and though some of the rough spots Khaleesi slowed down (and I let her) she did ok with no shoes on back feet for that ride.

I got back with plenty of time and enjoyed taking my time wrapping up with the girls and cleaning them off. By the time I’d finished, Khaleesi had her head against the bars sleeping away- she looks so cute and harmless that way!

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The next day was sunny and I decided to make it a barn day and brought in the resident horses and gave them each a once over and feet cleaning just to check them out. I kept them up in the stalls for about an hour and took Khaleesi down into the arena to play.

This is our first time back in the ‘obstacle course’ arena and I set up some ground poles, a few posts to weave through, my platform is still there, and we have a couple jumps at the lowest height.

I thought it would be a fun change to play around in there and work on our energy and trotting in an enclosed space. We did “OK”. She did what I asked but I often had to ask more than once and occasionally with loud aids and we were not a seamless horse & rider team.

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Success: 

we made some amazing circles and she did it without any rein aid – just me looking where we were going!

she walked right up onto the platform and would stop there and back off for me like it was nothing.

Not so successful:

there was a corner she was avoiding and I had to (more than once) pull her head pretty hard with the rein to convince her we were going to stay near the fence there.

she didn’t like the ground poles and knocks them with her feet sometimes (at a walk!) she would avoid them and I’d have to pull her and push her over to walk over them.

HOWEVER

Just being in that space again I was reminded how MUCH more control we have than we did one year ago when I could barely get her to turn, stop, go etc. It was interesting to get on her in there and that same space reminded me of how far we had come. Of course reflecting back on what we did for an hour I feel like we still have so far to go.

Sunday we went solo. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden her on the trails alone (what a blessing to have so many friends to ride with!). My plan on the warm afternoon was to get onto the “hack” trail I created this year and clean it up: make it wider and easier to find.Then to work on my “north trail” that I’ve now nicknamed the “Blackberry Trail” because it’s so full of briars there are sections that are really hard to get through. I brought my saw, my gloves and my clippers and we headed out. Slowly.

Great opportunity to work on her walking out nicely with no other horses. Just me and her. Going my speed. Occasionally it worked, but she dragged. I got off and started working on the new trail and I felt like we were playing the hokey pokey (you turn yourself around!) she is not the trail maintenance horse Faygo is yet!

Faygo will stand there (tied) or follow behind you (on the lead rope) depending on your need/choice and maybe find a leaf or two, but she stays with the program.

Khaleesi was in a desperate search for the right leaf to eat this time of year (there aren’t many) and if tied she’d often get wrapped around a tree… if I was holding the line she’d end up turned around on a teeny one track trail and I’d have to readjust her… I was cutting some of the laurel out of the trail and she’d even chew on the cut stumps- anything except just stand quietly!

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Once I had her tied by some rare grass as I was trimming back the berry briars and being hard to find trees in that brushy area I had her tied a little lower that I’d have liked. She got the lead wrapped around her hoof and was getting tighter as she had her foot up confused. I knew that situation could go wrong quickly and dropped my tools and moved over to help her –

WHOA girl… just give me a second… picked up her foot (the rope was pretty tight now around it)… stay calm… can I just get it unlooped without having to untie it… hold on girl…

I was able to pull the lead off her leg without untying – and was glad to see her not panic though she was basically hogtied for a minute. It’s good to have small tests for her that then come out ok as learning experiences, hopefully will help in the future to avoid the blow up into a thrashing horse in a briar patch.

We got as much done as I could and it was getting dark. It’s getting dark so early now. So I bailed on the trail work and got on to go home. My pokey little pony was now jigging me back up the trail in a big rush. These sections of trail are not my favorite right now because they are so seldom traveled they are not so clear and not so clean. (In fact I would argue that maybe no one sees that section of woods if they aren’t there with me on a horse- it’s not easy to get to). I don’t love jigging through them in low light on a 5-yr old who has shown some teenage attitude of late and seems in an unpredictable phase.

I recently read an article on “making lemonade” when it comes to training issues.

For the barn sour horse- be glad you are getting a burst of energy! Use it to your advantage… maybe turn your horse around and back up that hill toward home!!

I entertained the idea… for a half second… then I got back to staying on her, riding two handed, centered as possible in my seat, heels down and asking her to just slow down a little… ok?

I’m not sure if it was the dusk, the fact that she hadn’t burned enough energy… the unfamiliar trails… but she was a handful and felt full of pent up energy ready to blow up if I frustrated her too much. She has never been like this on trail before. I sang, I talked to her, I kept my breathing easy and after one big jump spook coming back to our “home” familiar trail- I almost got off. Then thought:

I’m not any better down there with her all goofy on the ground. When her brain isn’t in gear she’s likely to run me over and apologize later.

So I stayed on and rode her in.

She would pull the reins, hop a bit, try to break into a canter… I thought again about my barn sour games for Faygo- weaving through trees, backing toward home and again decided it was going to be too big of a fight with this horse to try any of that at the time. Just keeping her at a walk (or walk speed trot!) was going to be my success- that and staying on her.

Eventually, the closer to home we got the more she seemed to get back into control, and our lemonade was the fact that as she seemed to collect her energy and I wouldn’t allow it to burst forth- her fast walk improved and her trot was super smooth to ride. Once we got back onto the farm she relaxed and walked in though it was just getting dark and everything she passed in the yard was a potential horse eating monster shadow.

I’ll call it a success, but it wasn’t fun- in fact it could have been the most unnerving ride home I’ve ever had on a horse. All the same, I wasn’t afraid either, and I wasn’t upset with her. It didn’t seem like she was fighting with me as much as she wasn’t thinking of me at all and only focused on getting back home- either barn sour, or the dusky woods were spooky to her I’m not sure.

I thought about how much better we could have done the day before in the training arena and decided that we need to spend at least a day in there each week to continue our bond and connection. If I can’t get her into a corner she doesn’t want to go into- how can I expect to have good control over her in the woods when she wants to run home?

We did three LD rides last season together!? Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed that! I wouldn’t have taken the horse I rode last night to an AERC ride. I would have said she’s not mentally ready yet.

When I did some google research on “teenage phase” in horses I found I was not alone. Here are some of the quote from blogs, Q&A posts and articles:

Every horse I’ve raised from a youngster goes through it coming into their 6th year… then by 7 or 8 they magically return to their normal selves again…

All the horses I’ve known go through it between their 5th and 6th years… they go from being more bossy and opinionated to full on tantrums depends on the horse!

Definitely! Both my mare and gelding went through it- they are finding their strength and are more reactive than normal, they become more jumpy and unpredictable.

My daughter’s mare growing up was great at 4 and then turned into an unpredictable and bossy horse that didn’t show well for a time. After she came through it she was better than ever, and my daughter had become an even better rider because of it as well. Their scores went up dramatically and the horse was one of her favorites for a long time.

Every horse I’ve trained has a period where they seem to rebel and go backward in their training, as long as it isn’t fear or pain related you can assume that time and patience will cure it out… after all your parents didn’t give up on you!

Many many sweet 4 year olds go through a big waking up stage around 5 or 6… it’s not a bad thing…

Khaleesi will turn 6 in March. I have a feeling we are going to have a long winter ahead of us.

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