My only conclusion is: Aliens stole his ever-lovin' mind and replaced it with mashed potatoes.
Gabe absolutely, completely and entirely lost it Sunday afternoon. Sure, it was quite foggy out, sure it was quiet and still and wet, maybe my dumb dog did decide that running mad circles around us and under us was a good idea and perhaps Chief was being a little stupid too, but that was no excuse for Gabe to behave the way he did.
This was his worst behavior ever and honestly, it scared me. Not because he threatened to throw me and run away, but because he was spinning in tight little circles, cantering sideways (I think we may have even cantered backwards a couple of times), blowing hard, tucking his chin to his chest and hopping, tossing his head and trying to rear and spin at every. little. sound. We didn't even make it halfway down the driveway when Chief (whom Kayleigh was riding bareback) spooked sideways, snorted and startled the crap out of Gabe, immediately putting him on an even higher level of stupid. I was more worried that we would slip and fall in the mud and occasional patch of ice or go sideways down a ravine than I was worried he'd run off with me. Running off I can handle, horse falling on me, I cannot. I got off, put him on the line and worked with him for a bit trying to get him to switch from reactive to thinking side of brain.
Failure. Massive. He was good and long gone, deep into his reactive, flighty brain and there was just not a whole lot I could do to get him back without risking a slip and fall. That's how awful he was. Because it wasn't just mud, it was a layer of mud over permafrost. Super super slick. Even the grass was slick. Ugh.
But I couldn't untack him and put him away after this awful, horrible, no good, extremely dangerous kind of behavior. So, into the arena we went with the idea to just work and work and work at the walk until I got his brain back. I wanted to avoid the arena in the first place (which is why we were heading down the driveway) because it was wet and I didn't want to destroy it. Fail.
The fog was heavy and dripping from the trees. It was misty, my face, helmet, saddle and horse soaked from it. The whiteness oozing around the trees and deep into the wood was heavily, eerily quiet. A still, deep kind of quiet that Stephen King writes about. I understand why he lost it, but that is no excuse, it's not even a good reason, period.
So we walked (kind of), flexed left and right (he got my toe popped in his nose a few times for biting), circled, halted, backed, more flexing, lots of stop and go. I flopped and flapped around on his back, I yelled into the woods so it would echo eerily back, I made him walk into the woods where he DIDN'T want to go ("Heart attacks are free. Give your horse one every day." - Clinton Anderson) and did everything he didn't want to do (at a walk-jig-wiggle) until he decided to just WALK. Whew. Who knew walking quietly was so damned HARD!?
Once I got the walk and he could stay at the walk without jigging, jogging, shimmying or scurrying, we trotted. And trotted. And trotted. I circled and circled and circled on a loose rein, keeping him moving forward until he sighed, dropped his head and licked his lips and I felt him really give in and relax. There is a big, muddy, icky circle in my arena now. Nice.
It only took 45 minutes to go from OH MY GOD I'M DYING!!! YOU'RE DYING! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!! over-reactive to relaxed and licking his lips quiet. Yeah. Only 45 minutes. Ha! I don't know what got into him, but it was completely unexpected and entirely out-of-character for both him and Chief. I do expect the occasional silly stupids from Gabe, I can handle the silly stupids and usually do so with a smile and a correction, but this was dangerous and scary, and I don't typically get scared easily in the saddle. If he behaved regularly like he behaved Sunday, I'd be worried about getting on him and he'd most likely find himself in a new home pretty quick.
Whew. Dumb horses.