Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Throwing out the baby birds

As much as I hate taking months off my riding due to snow and absolutely foul weather, in some cases, it can be a major advantage in the whole training scheme of things.

I had my second ride on Gabe last night after about a three month hiatus. With him it usually takes 2-3 rides to get his brain back on track and into "work" mode. He was surprisingly wonderful for both rides. Aside from a few "damn I'm feeling GOOD!" moments, he was responsive and eager. I might even venture to say he was happy to be back to work!

And I accidentally discovered something about him that may make moving forward in our training much easier.

I will admit right here (and you'll never hear me admit it again!), that getting back on a horse (especially one as big, powerful and unpredictable as Gabe) that has been out of work for months honestly scares the shit out of me. I get nervous, my stomach turns queasy and I imagine all kinds of things that could go terribly, terribly wrong. That log over there? Pretty sure I'll land on it and break my back. The fence post we're walking by? Although it's capped and we're 10 feet away from it, I'm darn certain my horse is going to spook, chuck me 10 feet through the air and I'll be impaled on it. The slight slope on the other side of the arena? Yup, I just know he's going to spook sideways and we'll trip and ass over ears down it and I'll be crushed irreparably beneath him. Irrational, yes, but that's the way my brain works. Once I get on and get moving, my brain calms down and my stomach settles about 15 minutes into the ride and I just laugh at myself for being such a crazy person.

Anyway...all this irrational crap was running through my head, and, as a result, I had a stronger than usual hold on the reins. Usually I like to handle the reins as if they were delicate, easily-broken threads, I prefer to have a light, soft, giving touch of my horse's mouth.

Something amazing happened.

Gabe seemed to ENJOY the stronger connection, even welcome it. I'm not talking about him leaning on the bit, he wasn't. He took the connection I gave him and he accepted it like a firm, friendly handshake. I'm not talking a death grip on the reins and I'm not talking about pulling back with bulging biceps. I'm simply saying he seemed to welcome a little more weight in my hands than what I've been giving him. He was responsive to the slightest finger wiggle, he gave and relaxed his jaw and poll when I "sponged" the reins and the white foam dripped wonderfully from his amazingly quiet mouth. I've mentioned before that he plays, plays, plays with the bit, sucking it up into his mouth, trying to chew on it, wiggling it, grinding his teeth, etc.

There was none of that, as long as I kept a firm connection with him. As soon as I dropped the reins to go on the buckle, he dropped his whole neck and dove for the bit as if he had dropped something and was trying to find it. His mouth went to work wiggling, wiggling, chewing, chewing, grinding, grinding at the bit. As soon as I took up a firmer connection, the playing stopped.

Is it a comfort thing for him? Does he just prefer "strong" leadership from me in the saddle? Is it a leftover habit from his racetrack days? I don't know, but I'm going to go with it. Eventually, I'd prefer NOT to have such a strong contact, I prefer the "baby bird in your hand" approach, but for now it works and I'll run with it for as long as he needs me to.


  1. Fear may not be rational, but it is a force to be reckoned with. Trust and faith replace fear.
    If your horse prefers contact, go with it! It's not hurting him and he likes it, so have fun with it.Dressage, maybe?

  2. wow - I thought you had a barn and you climbed up in the rafters to throw down all those little baby sparrows or something and I thought - dang - she is tough!

    This was a nice post - it's real. I love the John Wayne saying: Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway...well done.

  3. I have the same utterly ridiculous fears! I promise not to laugh at yours if you don't laugh at mine. Right now the worst one I have left is that Dixie will not slow down to go down a hill, she'll trip and somersault and I will be crushed and dragged as we roll down the hill. Then she'll get up and run away and leave me to be eaten by coyotes.

    Anyway, I bet you're right and it's a racehorse leftover. :)

  4. Its absolutly a racehorse thing. If you watch "good" jockyes they never throw the reins away, but even when riding a finish they will pick up the reins and encourage a horse to take up the bit. many a good "normal" rider has been carted into the sunset because they took a firm hold on an eager ex-racehorse lol. And yeah, I getthe heebie jeebies and my ride is pretty easy really... :P

  5. Whew, it's good to know I'm not the only rider out there with the occasional fears about being maimed or killed by my horses! I was starting to think I was getting to old to keep getting up on the more "challenging" horses and should probably just trade my OTTB in for a nice, quiet, fat gated pony.

    @Shirley...he would make a fabulous dressage horse, definitely has the gaits and attitude for it. My ultimate goal with him is to try some eventing at some point, just for fun.

    @Shanster...ROFLMAO!!! The sparrows do poop on my horses, but I let them stay. They are brutal on the bugs/mosquitoes during the summer, so I'll just keep flicking dried bird poop off my horses. I love that John Wayne quote...very apt!

    @Funder...I would never laugh at your fears, especially when mine are so darn similar. I worry more about the vultures than the coyotes out here. :D

    @Kelly...Taking a firmer hold on him goes against everything I've been taught, and, at the same time, I've been wary about it because I know ex-racehorses are trained to run faster with stronger contact and lean on the bridle. I'll go with this stronger contact as long as Gabe doesn't start getting too eager about it. :D