I Am Not a Horse Trainer…

After A left last week, I didn’t ride much for a few days. We’ve had a heat wave here lately that has made doing anything other than feeding/watering the horses a huge task. Riding didn’t appeal to me at all and Copper got a few days off. I should’ve made time to ride him over the weekend, but I went with a friend to a show where she was carrying the flag with the mustang that she is training for the Extreme Mustang Makeover. I went with her when she initially went to pick up Piper, and have seen quite the transformation in the previously wild mustang. Here, enjoy some pictures from Saturday:

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Obviously a huge plus to this show location is that there is the option to cool off in the river.🙂 We basically pulled Piper straight off the trailer and tacked her. She then rode her straight to the arena and in to carry the flag without any prep. ‘Cause that’s the way we roll apparently. Whoever buys Piper at the auction at the end of August will be getting a great little horse that will excel at trail riding, endurance, and more with some finishing work towards the discipline of their choice. Considering she’s only been under saddle since early May, she’s made amazing progress.

Anyway, back to riding Copper…I went out to ride on Tuesday and found that I had a horse with some extra energy. We walked on a loose rein for a bit, then I asked him to come up in the bridle at the walk and round up as A had showed me. Good, good. He had much more enthusiasm at the walk than he had previously and I realized my horse was more “up” than usual. When I asked him to trot, he started to canter and I was like, ehh, let’s trot for a while buddy, and pulled him back. Ha. Copper must canter. So he did a tiny buck. Luckily my dressage saddle seems to have quite the grip on my seat, because all it did was tip my ribs and up forward…and piss me off. So I whacked him with my crop and yelled at him and pushed him into the trot, where he did another little buck. Naturally, he chose a day where I was alone on the farm riding him to pull shenanigans. Since I’m not a horse trainer by any stretch of the imagination, I bailed off, tied my off rein up, and used my close rein (yay split reins) to lunge him in a circle. I know this may seem to be an overreaction to some since his bucks stemmed from feeling good/being hot to being a stubborn ass (his normal attitude when bucking), but we have a zero tolerance policy about bucking around here with him. Bucking is where he goes when he doesn’t want to work, so the fact that he was bucking because I wouldn’t let him go forward was slightly comical to me. After some assertive lunging, I led him back to the mounting block and got on.

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From when A was here. This would’ve been acceptable on Tuesday, but noooooo…

Luckily now he seemed able to trot without wanting to canter (amazing what forced cantering on a tiny circle for a while will do to your desire to canter…), but when I asked him to canter he was still super excitable. So naturally we cantered well enough on his right lead, but when I reversed him, he got excited/nervous about the left lead. The left lead is his bad hind lead and his left hip is the one that was out when the chiro came to visit, so I’m thinking he’s just very weak going that direction. So he did the little buck thing again, and I swung off to get his attention on the end of the rein again, only this time he knew what was coming and spooked sideways, ran up the hill and out to the far pasture, neighing like a loon for Kricket and Paige to save him. Let me say that there few things more frustrating than seeing your horse canter wildly through open pasture with your (new to you) dressage saddle on and one split rein bannering in the wind. *Spoiler alert, he broke nothing.*

Luckily for Copper, by the time I’d walked clear across the field, I cooled down some and didn’t want to murder him as much. Also luckily for him, he stood for me to walk up and grab his rein without trying to get away. That was in his best interest for sure. So I led him back to the mounting block and got back on. Since I was at the farm alone with the monkey, I opted to just walk and cool us both out some as we were in a full sweat. Yes, one school of thought says that I should’ve drilled him more and tried to get closer to what I wanted out of the ride, but another school of thought (the one that has known this horse for 8 years and counting) says to wait, reevaluate, and see where we are the next day.

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Copper wants the people of the internet to save him from me. 

My eight years with Copper haven’t been completely wasted. I know him pretty freaking well. I know that everything is only as big of a deal as I make it out to be. I know that he bottles things inside of him and occasionally the top comes off his bottle. On Tuesday, I was also aware that I’d shook his bottle pretty hard already. Even when he was young, there was a threshold of how much correction he could handle without losing his brain cells completely. When he was a baby, if you over corrected him for things, he’d become reactive when he anticipated further correction. So since he’d been corrected for the bucking once, and evaded the correction the second time, I decided to avoid the issue and the subsequent potential correction. The last thing I need is him bucking, then bolting immediately afterwards because he knows I’m going to dismount and correct him.

So we just walked peacefully around the field for a while until his breathing slowed, then I took him in, hosed him, and fed him his dinner. I know horse trainers everywhere (mine included…) would thwack me over the head for letting him quit before he calmly performed what I expected of him, but since I was alone, it made more sense for me to quit before something bad happened that would escalate to something that I couldn’t handle.

So Wednesday I was nervous about riding. I’ve come a long way from where I was as a rider two years ago. You couldn’t have paid me to sit on him in an open field, much less consider cantering him in one. Now I was planning on riding my horse who had bucked with me the previous day and I was planning on asking him for all the same things that triggered the bucking. Cue the rolling stomach.

I came to our ride Wednesday with more preparations. I lunged him pretty hard before I got on and made sure he was listening to me. He gave me a beautiful canter on his right lead on the lungeline, and was struggling with his hind lead on his left lead again. When I got on, he was good at the walk and trot, and cantered nicely on his right lead. His left hind lead gave him issues yet again that made the situation frustrating. He’d pick up the wrong hind, feel rough as crap, I’d break him to a trot, and he’d anticipate that I’d want him to pick up the canter again as soon as he started to trot. Of course, I DID want him to pick up the canter again, preferably on the correct hind lead, but I wanted it to be my idea, not his. So that brought me to the great question of how does one choose between letting the horse canter to fix his mistake and making him trot to avoid anticipation of an upward transition? He wants to canter to fix it, but I want it to be MY idea when we have upward (and downward too) transitions. So that was the great debacle of Wednesday. I ended up siding with not letting him choose to fix it himself, and made him trot a while, then asked for it again. Luckily he finally got the correct lead and I called us done after that. No bucking happened, so I deemed the ride a success.

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Matching tack for once? Only because the chicago screw fell out of my western headstall and dropped the bit out of his mouth. Luckily it happened before I mounted!

Thursday when I went to ride I lunged him less than I did on Wednesday. He didn’t seem excitable on the lungeline and was less inclined to canter and ignore my requests that he trot on the lunge than he had on Wednesday. He cantered fine when I asked for it, but was still wrong on his left hind.:/ So I mounted with the intention of having a pure walk trot ride. Our trot work was pretty awful Tuesday (because bucking) and Wednesday (because “omg, she might ask me to canter, I should get tense and think REALLY hard about cantering!”) so I wanted to work on trotting calmly with a steady rhythm, for my own sanity and enjoyment as much as for training purposes. I think he was tired from being ridden three days in a row because our biggest issue was lengthening our trot and stepping out. He came up into the bridle beautifully (this horse is so crazy soft in his mouth, it is magical) and worked walk trot nicely yesterday, and other than it being a little slow at times, I was pleased because there was only one moment where he said, “oh, canter?” I said, “nah, let’s trot,” and he relaxed into the trot. I’ll note that I was going in a circle where he’d be picking up his left lead canter.

So it seems that we have some definite anxiety about left lead cantering (duh) that we need to work through. I think the issue comes from the following: he’s weak in his left hind –> misses his hind lead –> he stresses because, at his core, he wants to please –> he anticipates because he wants to fix where he screwed up –> he doesn’t think about where to put his feet when he’s stressing and anticipating –> he gets the wrong hind lead again. Such a fun snowball. Sarcasm. So my plan thus far has been to try my best to keep from making it a big deal. I’m going to continue to lunge him, because I’m trying to identify if anywhere on the circle is easier for him to pick it up correctly. Riding solely in a field with inclines has its advantages and disadvantages, so I need to find where the incline sets him up for a good transition and remember that when I’m cueing him under saddle.

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Magical good lead. 

I’m hoping that as he gets in better shape the issue will resolve itself. I think it is connected to him being off when I post on the right diagonal, so I’m wondering if it is a muscle soreness thing since he was doing fine with his left lead when A was here last week. Any other advice on working with hind leads would be appreciated. This has been an issue for him most of his life since he had an injury to his hock as a weanling.