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.