Thursday, February 23, 2012

Freaking the Fuck Out.

Or, Why I Really Miss Red.

bobby and ranger checking each other for cookie residue.
Today was totes gorg outside so we went up to the outdoor after I pulled Robert's mane. He was looking cute and feeling good, warming up really well.

the jump behind him is what we've been jumping the past few times
we've been in the outdoor. just for comparison. it's 2'3".
I lowered the vertical with the pipe under it to 18" so we could practice cantering a jump without taking off to it. Good exercise, no?

So all was going really well. His flat work was great, he popped over the single barrel on its side a few times with no fuss or muss. We trotted around to the vertical. I know that when he runs out, he always does it to the right, so I was keeping a firm left rein and keeping my legs on. I felt him start to hesitate, so I gave him a little more leg and instead of running out--because I had done a good job on preventing that--he made to go forward and slammed on the brakes at the base of the fence, throwing us both forward. I wrapped my arms around his neck and stayed on, but he whacked me in the face jumping back up and my crotch got slammed onto the pommel of the saddle. Hey, at least I'm not a dude.

I gave him ONE solid smack behind my leg with the whip and brought him back around. Pretty standard procedure, right? I really don't feel like I did anything wrong. I gave him all the go cues, made sure he wasn't able to duck out, and he stopped at an 18" fence that he's jumped higher a dozen times before. It felt pretty dirty to me, and I felt totally right in giving him a crack.

Well, Bobby acted like I had stood there for ten minutes and beaten the shit out of him. He was completely traumatized. I couldn't even get him to turn in towards the jump. He was leaping sideways, leaping backwards, baby rears, baby bucks, big boy spins. You name it. He was freaking the fuck out. Over nothing! I tossed my whip to the side of the arena about halfway through this meltdown just to rule it out, and it didn't make a difference. He wouldn't circle by the jump, he wouldn't go straight alongside it, nothing.

I don't know where this came from. I've never, ever used the whip as a punishment in the sense that he would get whipped repeatedly. In fact, I rarely use the whip at all. I never carry one when just flatting, and he almost never needs one jumping. And when he does, it's a tap on the shoulder or a pop behind my leg. I don't know where he picked up this huge phobia that jumping equals whipping equals getting the shit kicked out of him. This isn't the first time he's done this either. The last time we jumped the coop, he refused the first time, I gave him a pop, and we had to trot around for awhile before he was able to calmly trot back towards it.

The thing is, he's a sweet, dopey pony. I've known his sweet, dopey self his whole life. The only three times I've ever been semi out of touch with him was:
  1. When he was on the track. However, I know the person that started the syndicate that bought him and raced him. I know the trainer he was with, I know the farm he trained at. I can see him getting beat up on a little bit at the farm, this? To be so terrified of getting a reprimand that he totally shuts off his brain?
  2. When he first got retired, he was at my college getting let down and being used for a training class. I still had friends in school when he was there and I know they would have told me if he was getting abused. Handled by some retarded people, yes, but nothing dangerous.
  3. When I gave him away to Lillian. I have absolutely zero doubts that she didn't do a thing mean to him. You guys saw how much of a chunky monkey he was. He was well cared for and well loved. He didn't encounter a single thing mean there, I'm positive.
So....where does that leave us? I just don't get it. I let him walk around on the far end of the arena while I cried for awhile. I was just so frustrated. I didn't know what to do, I didn't even know what I'd done!

I decided to try to trot him over the barrel again to see if that would spark his confidence. Nope. He started doing the same thing as soon as I turned him towards it. Flying sideways and having a complete freak out about being asked to jump it. I tried several times, just keeping a calm, rhythmical trot and not changing my body at all. It wasn't going to happen.

I walked him some more to try to bring his brain back to me, then tried walking him up to the barrel. A stride out, I gave him a little cluck and he trotted and popped over. No biggie. I gave him loads of praise and pats and ended it there.

"i am scared of everything."
Sooo.....I guess from here, I go back to ground poles for forever. And then 18" cross rails for forever. And then we'll just see. I am so super bummed. I don't know what I did to wreck his brain so much. I feel like I've destroyed a perfectly good horse and I don't even know how.


  1. That's shitty. I definitely think he earned a smack and he way over reacted. Sometimes they make the biggest fuss when they're making excuses. When something legitimately scares my horse, he'll usually freeze and flinch, but when he's faking it, he'll leap sideways and twist around and threaten to rear. Sheesh. I feel your frustration.

  2. Ugh that sucks... sounds like you are doing everything right. I agree that some eyes on the ground aka lessons would be good. Keep your head up- he now owes you a good day in exchange for that horrible ride!

  3. Hey, my horse did this for MONTHS...would actually turn to face the jump and stop dead, fly sideways, kick out...etc. Nothing you could do could move him. I was on the verge of giving up until I had a clinic with Sinead Halpin and she rode him and gave me some exercises. Basically like you said, small cross rails, and poles. Lots of em. On a circle, when he acted up, tiny circles. Always with the tiny circles. It worked, he hasn't done that in about a year. I also completely changed my position over fences too, which I think he preferred on his back and helped. You'll get through it, just another lovely Thoroughbred moment.

  4. That does suck, no fun. Maybe try lunging him over jumps to boost his confidence without you on his back?

  5. Keep going, I know how you feel! My girl is the QUEEN of drama. Anything she's never dealt with before? PANIC BUTTON! Just breathe, relax, and carry on my friend.

  6. Bobby sounds like he could be a "one rider" kind of horse and that maybe the bouncing around has made him a bit insecure. I think with time he'll improve mentally (ruling out anything physical of course). The mare that I was working with a year ago was strictly a one rider kind of gal. She was opinionated (duh, chestnut mare) and was VERY clear about when she didn't like something. At some point in our stint together my trainer felt like she was coming along well enough to let a few other advanced kids ride her lessons. She showed her complete disapproval of this by LAYING DOWN. TWICE. Once after someone got on. then another time when they were trotting over some poles and a small X and she laid down in front of the jump. I witnessed both incidents and could hardly believe it. Now, Bobby not quite like this mare (she was too full of herself to panic), but I do think that sometimes they are simply telling us something...

    He sounds like he suffering from a lack of confidence and I don't think it's anything you've done. Give him some time, get a lesson or two, and maybe video your next couple of sessions with him.

  7. Thanks guys! Now I feel a little better that I didn't break him. BeBe, I will definitely try tiny circles if he overreacts about poles and xrails. Thanks!

  8. Don't beat yourself up--I have ridden through those meltdowns and have two things to say about them:

    1) They suck really bad.

    2) They aren't your fault.

    Maybe the whip triggered it, maybe it didn't. If he is offended by whips, try spurs instead. We have a horse who kicks out at whips, which makes them fairly useless, but is completely fine with spurs.

    That said, it sounds like a mental thing, not a training thing. Maybe if you can ride through it a few times, it will go away.

  9. Strange, but sometimes they do just react SO BIG and stupid over nothing. Does he typically get mad at things he feels are unfair? Laz will BLOW UP if he thinks something is unfair..I don't always get it, but it's always the same b.s. BIG reaction. Maybe the whip after he pulled that dirty move, just royally melted him down, even though it shouldn't have. Hopefully the next rides will be stellar like he is. :)


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