I really wish I knew what he sees when he stares into the deep, dark, unknown depths of the woods on the west side of our riding arena.
The way he acts you'd think he's spotted a pride of hungry lions or a family of boogeymen just waiting for him to get close enough so they can snatch him and turn him into dinner.
I spent Tuesday's ride on Gabe just getting him to go to and remain at that end of the arena. It was an evening of wide eyes, perked ears, loud blowing and snorting, and of course, my favorite, tucking the butt and bolting away from the ever-so-scary woods.
What a brat. Years ago I would have gotten frustrated and angry with him and probably gone to extremes to get him to get over it. Fortunately age and experience has taught me that's the LAST thing I want to do with a horse who has gotten it into his head that something is BAD BAD BAD! We did a lot of "do-overs." Bolt and run as we are walking away from the scary woods? Huh. DO OVER! Pop your shoulder and contort your body so you don't have to go to that end of the arena when requested? DO OVER! Bolt again as we are doing a circle near the scary end of the arena? DO OVER! Many deep breaths, do-overs and re-focuses later, we worked at the spooky end of the arena quietly without a bolt or evasion.
Then I got off and called it good. Always end on a good note, even if it's a very basic one, such as working near the woods.
And it only took half an hour! :P Through all this I have gotten very, very good at recognizing when he's gonna lose his everlovin' mind and bolt. I can really feel him tense up just a bit right before he thinks about it and if I recognize it for what it is in time, I low, loud NO!, a grumble or an ACK! from me refocuses him and pretty much prevents the bolt.
Some days, it feels like we are back at square one and he thinks he doesn't know a thing, especially the knowledge about going forward and turning. That is SO frustrating.
Other days, he's golden and he seems to anticipate my every request with effortless grace and forwardness. Those are the days I enjoy most.
Those other days? Those are the days I threaten him with a Frenchman's fork.