Monday, October 10, 2011

One Step Back and One Step Forward

Today was a most interesting day. Not only did I almost get into a car crash this morning heading to Sarah's (why would someone think to STOP on a highway to let someone from an off road pull on?? My poor F150 was skidding and the tires were smoking trying to stop from hitting that idiot. But I digress..), then I could have almost died from my own horse!

Mondays I usually have off because I have cleaning at Sarah's and cleaning where Milo is. But I was scheduled to work today which meant I had to get both those jobs done (thank God today there was no school or else I would have been skipping [kids, dont learn any lessons here] ) and then hopefully ride my horse. I tossed Milo a small handful of hay off the ground and into his stall. He came running from the far side of the pasture and right into the stall. Chica was close behind him.

After dragging the wheelbarrow into the pasture and securing the gate, I noticed Milo's blanket was shifted sideways and needed adjusted. Not thinking about the food because Milo had been so good recently about food and me being around him, I walked right into the stall to adjust the blanket. Upon first entering the stall, Milo didnt take much notice, it was after I reached to the top of the blanket and started shifting it did I notice his head come up and his ears pin back. With that nasty look on his face I hollered at him, he got more pissy and started throwing his weight around, so I raised my arms at him and ordered him "OUT!" He swung his rear around to me and while exiting the stall pounded me in the chest with a rear hoof. My horse just kicked me, I thought and tore to the gate to grab the longe whip I knew was there. I doubled back to him with whip in hand and yelled and screamed at him, whipping the line at him and sending him out and away from me making him move his feet. I knew I had to make it absolutely clear to him that that action was absolutely and completely unacceptable.

I felt I got the message across, then wanted to play the scene over again and make sure he knew not to act like that. Although at the time, I thought the aggressive act was out of food territory, not the blanket. Thinking to it now, Im starting to think the blanket shifting was the issue. Last winter Jake's owner told me she tried to adjust Milo's blanket and he reared towards her scaring her off. I also know once when Boyfriend tried to adjust his blanket in the pasture, Milo acted bad towards him as well. Im not sure which variable to act from, but either way, I am stunned and at a loss for what I can work on to get it through to him that kicking a person is unacceptable at any time and in any way. We seemed to be doing so well with the food issue, and myself never having an issue with him in three years. What is bringing this buried behavior back to the surface?

Time had passed after cleaning the pastures and I had some time left before needing to leave for work to ride. I haltered Milo who passively walked to me and led him to the gate. We exited, and again I noticed the shifted blanket. Not making the connection from earlier, I adjusted it before closing the gate. He lifted his head and pinned his ears with a snarled look on his face. I growled and yelled at him smacking him on the shoulder and he quieted down. I really think the blanket is what caused the outburst earlier, I just dont know what I can do to fix it as it seems like a sporatic behavior. There have been countless time I have adjusted his blanket, with and without a halter, in or out of the pasture. What sparks the behavior?

Still confused but trying to stay in the present as horses are, I quietly led him to the barn. In the cross ties, he was super sensitive to movements, flinching when one of the feeders reached up to pet him. It almost makes me think something else is going on besides just the obvious bad behavior.

Taking the advice from my boss, I threw the bareback pad on Milo and had removed the spurs from my boots. Even with the pasture drama, I wanted to stick with my previous plan to ride without force. Connected Groundwork equipment in place, I thought a little groundwork would be a good start to the work. Reaffirming who moves whose feet, as well as finding some connection together again on the line felt like the right approach. Milo was a gem on the line, listening well and moving out, meeting my connection. He was very resistant to loping though, which I initially didnt think much of because he is usually reluctant to lope on the line, although ends up loping anyways. But today was different - today he seemed a little "off". Not lame, but the two men in a horse suit seemed to be back, and he kept wanting to break to the trot. He wasnt entirely "all over the place", he was attempting to be rounded and meeting my connection on the line, but it almost seemed as if he couldnt. It was interesting.

I mounted and we quietly walked around the arena a few laps. I really let my legs swing freely, amazed at how much they swung from Milo's movements. And I didnt have to feel bad about bumping him with spurs from the swinging. A bonus from no spurs! I actually think it really allowed me to let go of my legs. I continued to ask for lifting from my seat alone, but bumping with my heel when needed. I noted how I could use my heel and leg effectively without tensing any part of them.

I pushed him into the trot, thinking about Sarah telling me to let Milo come over his back on his own. I really tried to encourage the telescoping from his head and neck and could feel his back come up just slightly for a few strides. I decided to give Milo more of a balance point - again hearing Sarah's voice to gather more rein, and kept a steady but firm contact on the outside rein. There was still a drape to the rein, but a connection was still present. After doing so, Milo really rolled over his back and it was amazing to feel him reach into the contact on his own. Again, it would only last a few strides before either he would turtle back into his shoulder again, or drop his back (or both), but I could really feel the difference between them all now. I now knew what it felt like again for my horse to engage on his own and truly reach into the bridle. His neck even appeared to grow a few inches.

We kept this up at the trot and I was thoroughly enjoying my ride. The steady beat of his hoofs, the motion of his stride, the relaxed swaying of my legs in rhythm, this was why I loved to ride. I contemplated if I wanted to push into the lope or not. Would it ruin the great ride, feel, connection that Milo and I had right now? I wanted to try the lope, even for fear of an unsteady bareback seat, or the possibility of a less than perfect ride. How could we improve if we dont work on it? I steadied my outside rein and went to push him into the lope.

He immediately began to suck back. I did not want him turtling into the lope, I wanted to beautiful reach at the trot to flow into the lope. So I brought him back to the nice trot work we were having and really tried to maintain the fluidity and engagement of the trot into the lope from my body. I stayed steady with my outside rein, but stayed soft in my back and light in my seat (and relaxed in my ankles) and smooched him gently into the lope. Now he stepped right into it, no turtle at all. But within a few strides he had pinned ears, lost the cadence in his stride (feeling like two guys in a horse suit) and wanted to break to the trot. I got him into the lope again, but again he fell apart.

Then I remembered the visual Sarah gave me; the horse's back moves back and forth forward and backward (I imagine a river flowing) and if I am not allowing (tight or locked) in my body, it does not allow my horse to maintain his fluidity and in some cases (like Wesley) can get scared by the tension. Was I tense in my body? I tried to evaluate myself as we bounced and hopped along down the rail. I ever so slightly filled my lower back and let my hips go. Legs still swinging, core engaged, but a fluid back. Milo dropped his head down, rolled over his back and found cadence and rhythm. It was some nice lope work. And I was proud that I didnt throw my outside rein away either, continuing to give him a balance point. Down to the trot and we repeated it the other direction. Initially, disconnected, but I thought about the river again and again we found our rhythm. We had a beautiful downward transition as well and I cooled him out at the walk a bit.

I clapped my hand on Milo's shoulder a few times, praising and rewarding him. Then I worked a little on walking turnarounds, building strength in his hocks. I only asked for a quarter of a turn with a planted hoof and got a very nice on each direction. I slid off and hugged my horse. I guess it was his apology from earlier (I can only hope). And I thought, less is more. Wouldnt you know, no saddle, no spurs, and the best ride I can remember.


Kate said...

Some horses do hate having blankets moved but kicking is never acceptable. Be sure to keep yourself safe - for now you may only want to secure or adjust his blanket if he's tied up.

If he's responsive to praise - here's something to try. We had a horse at our barn who was terrible about blanketing - she would bite, quite aggressively. I started praising her every time her ears was up and she was behaving nicely. So as I did each step of the blanketing, she would get praise for not biting or threatening to bite, starting with just holding up the blanket, then touching her with it, then laying in on her, etc. I ignored the glares and pinned ears and only praised her when she did it right. It took a few weeks, but she's now consistently fine for blanketing. In her case, there were no real pain behaviors, just a learned pattern - she bit, she got swatted or yelled at, she bit, etc., etc. Don't know if that'll work with him or not.

Deanna said...

Such a great post! As always - I learn from reading about you & Milo.
I'm so sorry he kicked out at you (and connected!) though - YIKES! I'm glad you know that you need to be proactive in dealing with such behavior. It's tricky since you describe Milo as only having this bad behavior some of the time!

Story said...

Holy cow, that's scary! Sounds like you were able to think quick on your feet. I'm not sure what I would have done. Probably when all was said and done I would have cried for a few hours but that's me.

Sounds like a great ride to finish the day, though. I've been riding without spurs lately, too. It started just because I forgot them one day, and when things went so well I just kept riding without them. I even showed without them, although I admit I wish I'd had them for my reining class for a little extra lift when she started getting strung out. But I think it's good.

I'm enjoying reading about these relaxation exercises. Trying to ride with my core tends to create a lot of tension in my body and it's hard to figure how to release it without losing that strength. I definitely have some things to try.

paint_horse_milo said...

Story, its not so much about holding tension in your core, its being stable and strong in your core. Sarah says its like holding a beach ball between your belly and the saddle without hands. Keep your core strong but allow the ball to fill into your lower back. I find that I dont have to think about my core when bareback, which has been an interesting discovery. I wonder why when i ride bareback that the pieces fall into place much easier. I have to find the key to having good bareback rides when in the saddle.

And P.S. I was really embarrassed about posting this. I did not cry, but I was really upset that my horse, who I have been telling everyone else is fine with me, actually tried this crap on me. Its different for me to say that he acts bad towards others, but now that he did it towards Mom, there is an underlying issue. And its frustrating because it is off and on that he seems to have some sort of reaction. Its very hard to know how to deal with it in this situation. But dont get me wrong, I still love my horse and I believe he still feels strongly for me. Hes still my baby and sweet as pie. Just yesterday (and today) he was being typical sweet cute Milo, playing with me and vice versa.Its difficult.