Thursday January 4 2007
Yesterday I started working with Stormy again. I may move him over here to where I’m keeping Raffiq and Spice and Buddy, and that will involve walking him over here. Now, most of you probably have horses that will just follow you somewhere or that will be ridden somewhere with no problem.
Stormy’s not like that. Now, he is, as you all know, the Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet, but I will admit, he is not the smartest. He gets terribly insecure when he’s by himself – when you take him away from horses he’s been hanging out with - and if you push his little brain too far, he wigs out, and when he wigs out, he’s scary, because you don’t know if he’s going to blow up, flip over, panic and run, or what.
A few winters ago down here in Ridgecrest, I figured I’d start riding him out like we do the Arabians. Well. The first time we left the security of the back yard and all the horses there, he lost it about 2 blocks from home. His eyes rolled back in his head, his brain shrank to nothing, he fell sideways, reared up, stumbled into creosote bushes, head up in the air, completely unresponsive to me, just lost his marbles. I’ve been on one horse that flipped over, and I managed to end up standing on my feet while the horse fell on his back, and I don’t care to try that again. Even when I got off, Stormy couldn’t completely get it together, was just unreachable till I got him back home.
That’s when I learned, really learned, every horse is different and must be handled differently. Sure, I could have stayed on and kept riding him, and beat him into his senses (well…. maybe), or just hung on and hoped he’d not flip on me and he’d eventually get over it, but, my philosophy is, if you push a horse through something he clearly is not ready to handle, you are damaging him more than helping him, and you could be putting yourself at risk. If a horse gets to the point where he’s just about had too much, and you can back off and retreat right before he reaches it, the next day you can take him a little further before you back off, and the next day you can get a little further. This way, in a few days, HE has gotten to a certain point on his own without stress, instead of in a few days maybe YOU had gotten the horse to the same point with a great deal of stress he may never get over, and you never know how exactly he’s going to react to that anxiety, being a prey animal.
That’s how it worked for Stormy, anyway. I started over with him. The next day we went out, I handwalked him half a block off the property and back, and he wasn’t so nervous. The next day, I handwalked him the other direction a half a block and back, and he was better. Next day, I led him around the whole block. Next day 2 blocks. Next day 2 blocks the other direction. Along the way we’d stop and he’d do his tricks of pivoting on his front end, pivoting on his hind end, backing up, sidepassing – in other words, listening and responding to me. Next day I saddled him up, handwalked him 3 blocks and rode him back the last 2. Next day I saddled him up, handwalked him 2 blocks, rode out another block and back the 3 blocks. It went this way for weeks, always going out just a little bit further, always taking a little different path, and by the end of winter, that silly lazy fat insecure horse of mine was doing our regular 5 mile hill-climbing training loop by himself with no stress. He didn’t whinny for anybody out there, he didn’t get nervous, he didn’t try to run back. It took many many really boring walking rides, always walking out and back to get him there, and eventually he got to where he’d trot out most of the way and walk very calmly and lazily back. In fact, he conquered several trails, and got Stormy Summit West, East, and South named after him.
I was pretty proud of the Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet (If NotThe Smartest).
Next winter I saddled him up to ride, took him out, and 3 blocks out, he was starting to wig out, just like last year. You may have a plan, but your horse may dictate what the plan for the day really IS going to be.
So, we started all over again, handwalking one block next day, handwalking 2 the next day, handwalking 3 next day and riding back, etc. Slowly we worked back up to the 5 mile solo rides again, with no stress. Some might say I’m babying him, but I prefer to think I made it easy for Stormy to perform without trauma, and without killing me. Eventually his navicular gave him so much trouble that he was rarely sound enough to do a long (is 5 miles long? Maybe to a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse who’s been told he’s retired) ride.
Well, this year, I’m at least going to stroll him with him around a lot, so yesterday, we started on that. I took him out and we did some of his ground tricks, then we went on a little walk off the property. We went half a block one way and came back, and he handled that so well I was tempted to try a whole big block first, but I just didn’t want him to get to that point of anxiety. So we walked back past the house and walked a half block the other direction and back.
He handled that so well that today we walked around the whole block, and, in fact, as we were coming back, I decided to hop on him bareback.
Well, thinking and doing are two different things, because I have never been known to leap real high. At the DVE ride I was bragging rather facetiously that I had a four inch jump. I tried jumping on Stormy and only ended up kneeing him in his ribs. I tried again and bounced right back off his side. Stormy turned his head back, as in Why are you kicking me! Just get on!
Come on, I thought, he’s not THAT big! I tried the one-legged leap and ended up clinging on his side. Okay, so I have a 2 inch jump. I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t going to be able to jump on him, until I spied a little ditch on the other side of the road.
I hopped on him easily there, and we headed back, walking calmly. With only the lead rope tied to his halter, Stormy was still good about stopping, backing, turning, sidestepping when I asked. His brain was working!
And man, what a big horse he is! (Uncomfortable bareback, with those prominent withers.) I’m used to the small Arabs, whose ears I can always reach up and scratch, and I can’t even reach all the way up Stormy’s neck! He’s got a big free and easy walk also. It’s a hundred-mile walk. Maybe I can get him into shape to do 100 milers! (Don’t tell him I was joking about this, he won’t think it’s remotely funny.)
Now I’m having visions of maybe actually getting him out on some short rides, because he feels pretty sound. Of course we are just walking on dirt roads right now, where the footing’s soft.
One thing we really do need to work on is trailering. He used to handle trailering okay, but the last time I loaded him (in November to ride from Bridgeport to Ridgecrest), he was reluctant to load, and when he finally did, I was about to tie him up, and he suddenly flew out backwards. Very bad thing, if he’d been tied. He’s always had a hard time backing out of trailers, because at that last step where his hind foot steps down onto the ground, he gets really nervous about it, and he throws his head up in the air and slams his head hard on the top of the trailer. (Anybody have a topless trailer?) It happens every time, because he gets nervous that the trailer is going to hit his head, so he throws his head up and sure enough, the trailer slams his head.
Spice has gotten worse lately too about flying backwards out of a trailer; if you don’t get her untied before she starts flying out, she’ll get hung up and could break a leg, or hurt you if you’re in the trailer.
I don’t know how to reverse this behavior. Must find someone to help me out with this. Trailering is scary enough with well behaved horses.