Friday, September 4, 2009

I think they know when you brag on them

Why is it that every time I'm feeling really good about Gabe's progress he throws a curve at me and makes me feel like I'm a blithering idiot? Horses. Sheesh.

I spent all night and most of this morning trying to figure out what might have happened to cause Gabe to engage in some extreme behavior that I've never had to deal with him before. I think I have figured it out, but will have to get back in the saddle to test my theory.

Last night Gabe reared. And reared. And reared. These weren't little rears either, these were nearly vertical, scary rears. I bailed on the fourth rear because he seemed to be getting higher and more unstable with each one and I am absolutely terrified of a horse going over backwards on me. I can deal with being kicked, bit, stomped on, dragged, bucked off and otherwise abused, but getting squished between a 1,300 pound animal and the ground is on my list of things that should never, ever happen. I would much rather get on a bucking horse than a rearing horse any day of the week.

I landed badly when I bailed and am a bit sore today, but nothing a little Tylenol won't fix.

Gabe is fine. He reared a couple more times after I bailed then wandered over to a tree near Calypso and started munching away.

After much thought and reflection, I think I know what happened. Kayleigh was riding Calypso and Gabe decided his only goal in life last night was to follow Calypso around. Add an approaching storm complete with rumbling thunder, a drop in temperature, a breeze that was picking up and increasingly heavy sprinkles and I had a recipe that ended in an explosion.

Every single time I turned him away to head in a direction opposite from her, he balked and objected to the command. Right before the rearing episode he got really pissed off because I turned him away from her and he planted his feet. I squeezed to make him walk forward and he kept those feet planted. I squeezed again. No response. So I KICKED and up he went. The first rear was a little one but I was so startled by that unexpected response that I grabbed reins instead of mane and balanced off his mouth which most likely didn't feel so great. Of course, the pain in his mouth from my uncouth and rude response to his rearing most likely panicked him more, so he reared again, higher. It was a nasty, self-perpetuating situation. The higher he reared, the more I wound up pulling on his mouth and the more unbalanced I became. The more I pulled on his mouth because I'd lost my balance, the more he reacted.

I caught that booger easily, re-adjusted my saddle which had slipped backwards a few inches, and got back up. Shaking? Yes, I was. But I took a few big, deep breaths and relaxed so my fear/tension wouldn't transfer to him and asked for a nice forward walk. He complied as if nothing had happened. He still wanted to follow Calypso but was more inclined to listen to me than he was before he came entirely undone. I worked him for another 15 minutes, concentrating on keeping him away from the object of his affection and concentrating solely on me. Lots of circles, changes within the gait, halts, neck yields, rein backs and leg yields to get his mind in the game and not on the mare. I finally got his brain back and he was good.

We ended on a beautiful rein back and a walk around the ring on a loose rein.

So, in picking this incident apart I have determined two things:

1. His forward button is still quite sticky. This whole issue started because he refused to go forward when requested. That is what I will be concentrating on for the next few weeks with him. I've been kind of giving him a bit of a pass on responding immediately with plenty of forward energy to my leg cues because I didn't want to push him past his limits. As long as he went forward, I was happy, even if he was dragging butt the entire time. His pass is hereby revoked. I will be much, much more aggressive in requiring immediate compliance to the forward cues. This is not negotiable. It is absolutely imperative that the "I don't wanna and you can't make me" balkiness be wiped entirely from his response repertoire.

2. My balance isn't what it used to be and I need to bump up my own fitness routine to get it back to where it was. I should have had enough strength and self-balance to stay out of his mouth. I know I am capable of it but I've let things get a little "lax" over the years. I know better, I can do better and I'm quite disappointed in myself that I was the issue that caused the situation to escalate from disobedience to a very dangerous situation.


  1. Bad Gabe ;)
    Well done for getting back on :) *hugs*
    Its so easy to lose faith in your abilities when stuff like this happens but most of the time I've found stuff like that scares the youngster just as much as you lol.

    OH's youngster had him off once (slammed the breaks on and put in 4 pile drivers, saddle slipped blah blah blah), He said when he caught him he was terrifred and worked like a lamb for the rest of the session lol.

    Draw a line under it, its erasy to over anaylise these things when sometimes there IS no real reason ..maybe he got out the stable the wrong side, maybe he was throwing a teenage strop.

    Forget it, get on him tomorrow and say.."work don;t stop for your tricks mr".


  2. Jenn - I am astounded by how brave you are. A lot of people would have probably had an involuntary dismount and never mount again. The horse would be up for sale the very next day. At least you got past is fast enough that you know that wasn't the last thing Gabe remembers.

  3. Kelly, they sure can make you over think things, can't they? I think it did scare him quite a bit because he has never, ever behaved like that before. It was just a combination of a bunch of different things. And, he is still young and still figuring out how to respond to things. He rears A LOT out in pasture while playing with his buddies or when Chief is antagonizing him. He rears more than most horses I've been around and definitely higher! These aren't little 18" off the ground rears, these are hooves above my head rears. So I'm inclined to think it's kind of a natural thing for him to do. But he cannot do it under saddle! If I ever get him to high school dressage level, he'll have one heck of a levade! :P

    NuzzMuzz, My mom used to call my bravery "stupidity." She probably still does. :P
    I haven't come across a horse yet that truly scares me enough not to want to get back on and work through the issue. And I've ridden some rank ones whose only goal was to remove me from their backs. But they all had rider-caused problems ...none of them were truly bad horses, they just had too much misunderstanding, fear or pain associated with riding and that was the only way they knew how to respond.

  4. Rearing is scary- I agree, give me a bucker or a bolter or just about anything else.

    I worked with a horse last year that was a rearer and never really got any good advice on what to do about it or I'd pass it on! She reared because she didn't want to go forward. Usually because she was scared of something. (She was scared of EVERYTHING).

    It doesn't sound like he was trying to get rid of you or be bad, it was just his natural reaction to what was going on. Any ideas on how to teach him that's not what you do? I'm curious about this one!

  5. I only ever rode one TRUE rearer, a little TB mare that had been messed about. She was scary...I think you might find Gabe won't do that for anything but the most SCARY of problems, if he does it at pasture he will know his limitations, the trouble is when you get a horse with no respect for his OWN safety. I never got to the bottom of it either..I guess like all faults and vices,,you school and school and school and try to make sur ethey aren't put in a possition in which they will re-act , and hope in the future they are confident enough to not use it as their first response.