Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Umbrella

Once upon a time there was a big green and white and brown deck umbrella that made it's home peacefully propped up in a table on the deck.

Then, one night, a big storm blew up, snapped the wood pole of that huge umbrella and sent it flying over the house, bouncing across a pasture and dumped unceremoniously into the fence where it got stuck.

And the horses freaked.

Big time freaked and snorted, ran and blew loud blasts of air from their flaring nostrils. They ran in circles, tails over their rumps, heads high, sweat soon steaming off their bodies. And Gabe did his best to stay firmly and safely behind the other two just in case that big, horse-eating, open-mawed monster decided to extricate itself from the fence and come after them. He didn't have to outrun the umbrella, he only had to outrun Chief and Calypso. The logic of horses is simple.

I watched them act like morons for several hours then decided to head out and remove the umbrella from the fence myself. The wind in the open umbrella was doing nothing to help preserve the tautness of my fence and really, I was kind of tired of looking at it there. It depressed me. Those things are pricey and this one was pretty shredded and beyond saving.

I pulled it out of the fence, closed it up and dumped it on the other side of the fence by the driveway to pick up later. Besides, I figured the horses needed ANOTHER heart attack and could just deal with it being there.

Later that day, completely forgetting the big scary horse-devouring umbrella was still sunning itself between the driveway and the fence, Kayleigh and I went out for a ride, she on Calypso bareback, me on Gabe. He was being fabulous: Quiet and responsive and just good, especially considering I haven't been able to ride for a couple of weeks.

Then, he saw it. The big scary horrible horse eating umbrella on the ground. Oh. My. God.

Remember this trail ride disaster?

Same thing, but take away cows and instead insert inert, yet terrifying, umbrella.

Wow. He wouldn't go near that thing until I got off (I will not admit to maybe having some help getting off when the rearing and general idiocy really kicked in) and led his big ass over to it. If I went first, he had no issues. I could kick it, drag it, wiggle it, touch him with it, open it in front of him and make him walk back and forth over it, which I did, repeatedly until he relaxed, which really took a very, very short time.

Then I got back on and he freaked out again and absolutely, positively refused to get near it. Images of glue and dog food and yes, even horse steaks, were flitting through my head. I even imagined a nice horse-skin rug in front of the fireplace.

All I have to say it's a darn good thing I've learned a butt load of patience since my not-so-patient youth.

Finally, he gave in and sidled up to it sideways and wide-eyed, then stepped over it, snorting.

Turn around, go back over. Turn around, go back over. Rinse and repeat for about half an hour at all gaits. I got off and moved it again, back to where it was when I pulled it from the fence and tossed it between the fence and driveway.

Meltdown #3 and he absolutely refused to walk by it until I got off and led him by it in both directions. What is it with this horse? Seriously. I don't get it. Calypso pricked her ears at it, sidled sideways, snorted, then went by it when it was still in the ditch the first time and got over it entirely.

Gabe, a completely different story. If I'm leading him, he's fine. If I'm on him, it's no longer okay. If I move the thing he had been going back and forth over so much it became boring, it's a brand new big scary horrible thing and we're back to square one.

I'm trying to unravel how his brain works, but I'm starting to think that maybe it doesn't. Suggestions? Ideas? Clues? I'm running out of them.


  1. THIS is the hilarity and adventure of owning a thoroughbred. They're like a severely ADHD child in the grips of the terrible twos.

  2. A horse-skin rug, eh?!

    It sounds like you did everything right. My only suggestion would be to continue what you are doing... someday it will click. I think.... I hope!

  3. Try to hold a very clear image in your head of what you want to happen.

    I have a hard time not going worst case scenario in my mind - we're slowly reintroducing trail activities these days so I'm getting some practice. It really does help if you can focus on the positive visual.

    Good luck!

  4. @J...Hilarity and adventure is right! It's a good thing I don't get nearly as frustrated as I once did and can take everything he does (or doesn't do!) with a huge measure of amusement.

    @Dreaming...and a beautiful rug it would be! I keep hoping that one day he'll get it...my current plan is to keep that umbrella around and "hide" it in different places around the farm and along my trails just to keep him on his toes. I may have lost my wonderful umbrella, but I gained a valuable training tool.

    @Calm, Forward, Straight...I try, I even try do the whole deep breathing and relaxing and visualizing both of us completely relaxed and unflappable thing when I feel him start to tense, but when he switches to the reactive side of his brain he doesn't like to come back to the thinking side. I think we just need a ton more wet saddle pads out on the trail and less arena time. I wish I knew how to transfer the safe, confident feeling he has when I'm on the ground with him to when I'm in the saddle. It's like he's just not making that connection that I'm still there, I'm still a confident, trustworthy leader when I'm in the saddle instead of on the ground.

  5. Actually, my cow-horse bred mare spooks 5 feet (or more) sideways at ... logs. Yeah, logs. My OTTB walks up to them and picks them up with his teeth.

    He even walked under a tent thing we had on the property on a very regular basis.

    BUT.. other horses crashing around in the round pen?? Voices outside the arena he can't see people to attach them to?? OMG!

    What I have to do, and it's really hard sometimes, is acknowledge and move on like it's no big deal. Even if he only comes back for a second, then gets distracted again, I just keep talking (sometimes singing) to him.

    I do not know if it would work with a giant horse-eating umbrella, though. That does sound a little terrifying.

    Good luck, Jenn. From my uber-novice position, you're doing great.