Monday, November 9, 2009

Train the brain

I love those "ah ha!" moments when everything comes together oh-so nicely. I've still been having some of those occasional fart around like a nutcase issues with Gabe. He hasn't had a rearing episode since the one I wrote about a couple of months ago, but he does threaten from time to time.

Over the weekend I got on and he was being pretty good. Really looky at things and practically skipping around on his tiptoes. It probably didn't help that we've been working on enlarging the arena so things looked different AND I hadn't ridden in about a week. Nice combo, eh?

We were walking around the arena, just relaxing and warming up. I hadn't been on for even five minutes when I felt it. The rounding-up and tension throughout his entire body that indicates he's just about ready to lose his ever-lovin' mind and either start threatening to rear OR start squealing like a silly mare and flinging his head around and jumping/hopping around like a crazy beast. As soon as I felt that tension (it feels a lot like riding what I imagine a SuperBall on a huge upward bounce would feel like) I sent him forward as quickly as I could. Squeeze to trot. No immediate response. Squeeze again applied with a sharp whip tap. Immediate response. I knew I didn't have time to screw around with it - I had to get him moving forward as quickly as I possibly could to get him out of that nutcase brain fart he sometimes gets stuck in.

And it worked! I felt him relax as soon as I gave him something else to concentrate on: Trotting. We trotted for awhile, constantly circling or changing direction or attempting to adjust the stride. We did nothing for longer than 10 strides before I changed it up on him to keep his mind thinking forward and active. Then we work on walk/trot and trot/walk/halt transitions...again, constantly changing everything...direction, bend, stride, much as I possibly could without looking too much like a drunken foxhunter without a goal.

I even popped him over an 18" log a couple of times and rode the resultant canter with a huge goofy grin on my face. What a good, good boy! What an incredible canter! And I think he enjoys jumping...he was eager each time we went over, ears pricked forward and ready to go over. was an 18" log, but it's a start, yes? We went for a short trail ride after our arena session and once again, he was curious about his surroundings and happy to be out and about, but definitely not freaking out or acting like a nut.

So, I think I can rule out any kind of pain or uncomfortableness he is having under saddle causing the goof-nut rearing/head tossing issues. Because once I got him working forward and kept him working forward those issues were GONE. As soon as I let him just wander around on his own and really not ask him to do anything, I felt the tension starting to rise again, and off we'd go, back to work. It's almost like he's like a bored little kid who plays practical jokes and engages in inappropriate behavior just to amuse himself.

As long as his brain is engaged, life is good.

I once rode a little Warmblood mare during my stint as a barn manager in Florida. This little chestnut mare (I wish I could remember her name! It was something long and European) had every one convinced she was a fruitcake. She could be fruitcakey, there is no question about that. The first night she was at the barn she stood at her stall door all night long and pawed and pawed and pawed and dug a hole the depth of her front legs. I remember walking into the barn in the morning and seeing only the tips of her ears in the stall. The rest of her sweat-drenched 15.3hh body was in the hole. She got turned out to pasture permanently after that! But her biggest fruitcake antic that kept most off her back was her tendency to want to toss in a crow-hop, buck and head toss just randomly throughout her rides. She wasn't being malicious, she was being bored, in my opinion. Because, like Gabe, as soon as you got her working and kept her working both physically and mentally, she was an absolute joy to ride and gave whatever you asked. But, she was definitely not one of those horses you could just sit on and wander around the arena while chitchatting with a friend. She wanted to work and be challenged and if you didn't do it, she'd do it for you.

I sure hope I'm able to come up with enough "stuff" to keep Gabe's brain engaged and fend off boredom for him. I'm going to have to really start planning my rides a little better just so I'm not out there going ...."Uhhh...what next?"


  1. Sounds like young horse stuff - their brains just check out and they're easily distracted - what you did to keep him thinking was just the thing!

  2. older mare,(no young excuse for her) is back to the rearing and hopping/ leaps again, now that I am in the arena more often.
    I have to have a BIG plan for this...sometimes going forward just means bolting..maybe random jumps here and there! If she is focused on those..she may forget about me and working?!Maybe a big western saddle...!

    I just got done reading about how Olympian, Lars Petersen made it through bouts of random naughtinesses with his mount "Succes". He was out of "Blue Hors Matine" me hope..gotta ride it through!
    If I survive.

    I love hearing of your successes!

  3. Hahah, dude, I know exactly what you mean about the Superball of Imminent Explosion. Sounds like you found something that works - stick with it!

  4. Creative way to solve the problem....sounds like a lot of work though. I think I would go nuts having a horse like that - my ride time is for relaxation!!

  5. Kate...that's exactly what I think it is. Young horse goofiness. He gets bored SO FAST and tries to entertain himself in less than acceptable ways. He's the same way in the pasture with the other two. He gets bored and starts picking on them.

    Kac...Silly Wa! Doesn't she know silliness is for babies!? :P If I get Gabe out on the trails he's a doll...too much arena time and he turns nutty. Where did you read about Lars Petersen? I'd like to take a look at the article if I can find it.
    You'll survive. :D

    Funder...I swear, Superball of Imminent Explosion should be a designated an actual gait for some horses! can be a lot of work, but he still has such a baby brain I don't mind. I love dressage so I really thrive on the technical aspect and "work" it requires.
    However, when I take him out on trails it's a completely different story...he's relaxed and easy to ride. But, out on trails, he's constantly getting new stimulus out of his surroundings as we move along, even though all we are doing is walking/trotting. Arena work bores him fairly quickly at this point in his maturity. If he doesn't grow out of it in a couple of years, we may just have to ditch the dressage thing!

  6. Sounds like a good break through for Gabe. Brain engaged and feet moving is a good combination.

  7. Hiya~ The Sept08 issue of "Practical Horseman". Has a nice pic of the Leaping "Succes" in the dressage ring too!

    Well, While I enjoyed the clinitian the first time last year and we had good results...the second time we had bolting and crap...she did noit help me but told me I taught her to do it...(um, maybe since the last time you taught me!!)
    Well, The mare was tied into frame and she hates being blocked and, What I learned is how to be extra AMBIGUOUS..and as you know..that goes nowhere FAST!
    So I got into the habbit of throughing my riens away and leaning forward so as to not block.
    I now must sit down, and put the bend back inot my elbow and be there for the mare. Pictures plus do they tell a story! you....if they get bored..change it up like RIGHT NOW! My new lesson gal wasted no time jumping to her feet to help me do someting else..instead of allwoing the mare to kill me cause she was bored...your post is very timely for me.
    I MUST be almost -an arena ahead -of Wa mare...
    Surviving and learning, the hard way!

  8. Wow, I loved reading this and more about your little gabe, he reminds me of a few babies I have worked with... their brains can only take so much walking and then you have to find somehting new :). Congrats on the log hopping, what an awesome feeling!