At the end of Part Four (read Parts One, Two, and Three) I decided to once again test Finn’s compliance by “sacking” him with a rattling hula hoop. At some point, the plan is to put it over his head, but we are nowhere near that point yet. His response was similar to all the challenges that preceded this particular event…. He would comply for a couple of times, and then suddenly decided he was done. He was hard-pressed to make a case for fear when he did it twice and then refused.
When I would ask again, his response was to throw up his head, often accompanied by a slight rearing off the ground, and fly backward. Each time he did that, I’d send him out to lunge. I’d lunge him awhile and try again. If he wouldn’t stand quietly and calmly and let me touch him with the hula hoop, but instead would rear backward, out he went again to move his feet. One time I had total cooperation on the left side, but zero cooperation on his right side. That old adage of “different side, different horse” holds true sometimes! We kept at it until I had compliance, and that ended that session.
A weekend of horse camping
That was a couple of weeks ago, and we have had several round pen sessions since then. A couple have been easy, short, and cooperative. Several have not…. Two weekends ago, we went horse camping. The horses were in individual stalls, and Finn handled being away from home just fine. Our first day of riding, we went 8 miles. All in all, he did great. We rode down to the lake, and while he wasn’t at all interested in going in, he wasn’t too awful about being around the water. Kadeen wanted to drop and roll….
The next day, we decided to go for a short ride before we broke camp and headed home before the rain. We started down a different trailhead. Before we had gone any distance at all, Finn flipped around and put his butt towards the trail. He very clearly relayed the message that he was NOT interested in doing that again. He was doing his slight rearing/hissy fit routine. I rode him right back to the trailer, jumped off and lunged him. After a while, we headed back to the trailhead. This time he decided to walk on, although not without hesitation. We didn’t go far that day, but he didn’t get his way.
Struggling with stomach ulcers?
Remember, I said I am a small animal veterinarian, not an equine veterinarian. The day after horse camping I hauled the horses to my friend the equine vet for vaccines. She mentioned she thought he might be an ulcer horse. He certainly has the disposition to qualify. Interestingly enough, on more than one occasion he had been reluctant to enter his stall to eat his grain. As hard as I was working him, that was a cause for concern. At her suggestion, I started treating him with GastroGuard. That was about a week ago, and he is now readily consuming his grain. He did seem to “settle” significantly, but a happier stomach did not totally transform his attitude.
A waterproof phone
Last weekend my boyfriend and I took both horses and all five dogs and went to his lake house for a weekend of boating AND horseback riding. (Rough life, I know, but someone has to do it…) The horses were settled in an electric pen, and that was new to all of us. They did fine. Their pen was located in an area where trucks, boats, golf carts, and bicycles were a regular occurrence. All part of Finn’s education. On Sunday, we rode the trails at Pomme de Ridge horse camp. And the trails included water.
I did manage to get him to cross (read: jump) one small creek, and then we walked down to the river. More tantrums…. More slight rearing off the ground. I’d dismount, and move his feet and remount. He’d comply momentarily, then balk again. Eventually, I got him in the water. (The side story here is that my phone ended up in the water too. (Thankfully, it was only for a few minutes and apparently it IS waterproof!) We returned to the trailer after about 5 miles. Kadeen was only wet under his saddle blanket. Finn was dripping. My boyfriend Alan quipped that at least Finn would load easily as surely he was ready to go home. Not so…. More fight to load, until I again moved his feet and got in his face and VOILA! Into the trailer he’d go.
The next day we rode around the campground and neighborhoods near Alan’s lake house. Finn found several things to balk about, and each time if he’d respond by rearing, I’d dismount and move his feet. When the topography allowed, I cantered him in circles. He didn’t like that at all, and he clearly transmitted that he wouldn’t mind one bit if he and I parted ways. Eventually, he’d do as I asked. I was very tired after two days of struggling with Finn. I was really, really missing my easy horse.
This is hard work
Alan reminds me often (at my request) that I really haven’t been working at this for too long and to be patient and give it time. When I look at how AWESOME Kadeen is doing with Alan, I have to remind myself about how many fights I had with Kadeen. I realize I will get there with Finn, but it is work. Last night Alan and I went to a baseball game and as I got out of the car, I noticed I was stiff…. Stiff in the muscles I use when riding. I remembered how much squeezing, pushing, directing, and insisting went on two days prior when Finn was resisting me. No surprise I was sore.
I am not a young person and I’d really like to be done with this. However, I am committed to staying the course until we get where we need to be. While horse camping a couple of weeks ago, I had a friend tell me she was reading this blog. She told me that she needed to do the same thing with her horse. Her companion echoed that sentiment and then they both acknowledged how much they disliked groundwork.
Do you have “crutches” to help you get by?
I don’t know, does anyone like groundwork? My round pen is a dust bowl when it hasn’t rained in a few days. That same weekend of horse camp, another lady rode her horse over towards me as she prepared to dismount. Her horse was misbehaving and she needed the distraction/security of another horse around when she dismounted. I totally understand why she did that, but… The reality is that her horse needed to be looking to HER for guidance and reassurance, not another horse.
So where are you on this journey? Does your horse look to you for guidance, reassurance, and confidence? And should something happen as you make this journey of discovery with your horse, have you taken all the precautions you can to stay safe? Is a helmet part of your equestrian attire? Do you ride with a buddy? Do you have medical information readily available should you or your horse become injured? I really encourage you to put in the work that is necessary to build this relationship with your horse. It is really worth it. And please stay safe while doing so.