Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kiss and make up

So with some time and consideration (the blog has a title for a reason), I went to visit Theo with a battle plan to handle our negative last ride.  We've worked too long and too hard to screw our relationship up now.  And let's be clear, it was bad.  Like a bruise on my leg from hitting the thigh block bad.  Small children fleeing the ring in fear bad.  I kind of wanted to flee and I'm not easy to scare.  I got a good, hard look at the dirt and didn't much enjoy the view.  I have a lot of vested interest in avoiding doing that again for as long as possible (because we all know the storm will return some day).

So here was my plan to make ammends with papi:

1.  Ground work.  Someone got his pony roommate back, and getting a roommate is strongly correlated with a spike in studish behavior.  Mi papi is a bit of a bully.

Remember this bit of adorable?

I'm not a big fan of him dragging me or thinking he can push me.  So from the time I got him from his field till the time he went back out, it was bridle or chain shank and I carried a whip.  It took very few reminders to snap him back to giving me complete respect on the ground and stepping out of my space.  I guess the other people that handle him haven't been telling him to mind his manners and I've been letting him slide a bit.  Bad habit with a horse that thinks he's a stud.

2.  Go forward.  As I learned through the winter, Theo tends to get short and stomp when he's got too much energy.  He tends to get negative when he's not had enough work.  It's weird.  Most horses come out hot and forward with excessive energy.  Theo reverts to his 'in need of therapy sessions about anger issues' state.  He's been in light work due to real life eating my time and my strange, deluded impression that he needed some down time after being back in full work for a grand total of three weeks.  It never processed that I was looking at the same winter Theo problem, but in summer.  He'd been short and a bit sullen in both of my lessons and I never broke through that wall of resistance.  Time to get the forward back.  Go forward, go forward, go forward.  Screw balance, screw frame, screw collection.  Screw the entire training pyramid.  Which sounds kind of dirty.  Hm.

Just go forward, big man, and burn off some energy.  By the end of the ride, I finally got to feel his back swinging and his frame stretch for the first time all week. 

3.  Bring the cookies and love.  Because I have the frontal lobes, I'm in charge of driving the relationship.  This includes setting the overall tone.  It got away from me and the results were . . . less than ideal.  I still have my opinions on his behavior (completely out of line), but it's my job to basically pretend it never happened.  I can't rant and rave about him being a jerk.  He's a horse.  He wants food and rest and water and company.  He and I had a dominance dispute because he was gelded late and thought he should take a shot at being the leader.  I won, it's over, I get to go back to being his benign, trustworthy leader.  It was a bit unnerving to ride him past the skid marks from our previous battle (still there a day later) while not shortening my reins.  But if I don't set the tone, it won't change.

4.  For the love of little green apples, let go of his face.  Long, low, and forward fixes many pony brain flaws.  When caught up in the moment, it's almost impossible to let go of his face.  And there's a reason for that!  I don't want to be bucked off!  If I have control of his head, I can prevent the worst case scenario.  If his head is up, he can't manage the powerful buck it takes to unseat me.  It's so, so hard to take a breath and let go and trust that I can hold it together and that he doesn't actually want to hurt me.  But the cycle won't stop if I have his head cranked the entire time.  I let go, trotted him around the outdoor on the buckle.  And he looked, but we didn't escalate.  He genuinely doesn't want to drop me, not unless I've hit the F U button. 

5.  Breathe.  Smile.  Tell him he's a good boy.  Competition really does bring out the worst in me.  When doing the run through of First 3, I was right on his case about his leg yields.  The blow up sure didn't help my mood, but figuring out how steep those leg yields are made me more aggressive.  Today I made a point of just chatting with him.  I pet his neck, cooed to him a bit, told him how smart he was for adjusting his walk based off nothing but my seat.  He really does love to hear me talk to him.  And you know what?  My leg yields were just fine.  So what if we didn't quite make X?  The judges will be happier to have a willing, calm leg yield that's a hair short when the other option is my rage machine making an appearance.

And yes, the battle plan worked.  We had a lovely, normal ride.  It took a good twenty minutes to get him to realize there would be no repeat or hard questions.  By forty minutes, I had my over tracking, happily chewing pony back.

And who's fault is it that we had a blow up?  Mine.  I haven't worked him enough.  I have cracked down on myself that I need to be at the barn six days a week.  Do I need to school six days a week?  Hell no.  Trail rides and spa days count.  But mi papi needs to see me on a regular schedule, even if it's a hit and run. I have to shift to the idea that he's now a well trained, fit horse.  He's not a school horse that I can leave in a field when I'm not quite feeling it.  Two days off?  Might want to plan on lunging him in the future, even in the dog days of summer.  If I'm going to spend that much time teaching him how to sit, I might want to take all possible steps to avoid him showing me just how strong his haunches are.

Fortunately, he's a forgiving soul.  He'll let me slide on this one.


  1. I do this same thing- reflect on the 'bad' rides and try to figure out what I did wrong and then work on a plan to fix it. I loved reading this- it fits with Carmen as well- especially about the forward.

  2. These last two posts remind me that I am very thankful Stinker doesn't know how to buck and we basically just play a mental game. I'm glad you had a plan and were able to get right back on track and not spiral.