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, gait...as 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. Granted...it 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?"