Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Failed experiment

I tried something that didn't work out today. But I looked at it as a scientific experiment, and failure is just as valuable as success.

Stats: Mines without the Mines, 4.12 mi in 1:21, average 3.0 mph, max 10.2 mph. I don't think I've ever explained the whole Mines trail, and it's important to the story. We walk down the road for almost a half mile, then head off on a singletrack sandy trail, through the sagebrush and over some small hills, for about 3/4 mile. Then we go down a very short but very steep slope into a canyon, head out for another half mile, then turn back towards home up another canyon. The canyons are wide enough for two horses abreast, with moderate to deep sand footing. The canyon gradually becomes jeep trails, the same sandy footing, and we pop back out at the end of the road a half mile from home.

Dixie has gotten so much braver, but she's still very slow for the first mile or two headed out. She'll walk forward, kind of hesitantly, for a couple hundred yards, then she has to stop and stare. After she stares for a bit and maybe sighs, she'll go forward again... for another hundred yards. This goes on for a mile or two, no more, when she somehow becomes resigned to her fate and snaps into get-r-done mode and we chug down the trail.

It seems to me that everybody who's really successful at endurance (or CTR, foxhunting, eventing, or even dressage) talks about having a horse who loves its work. In outdoorsy sports, that a means "let's go see what's down that trail" attitude, not an "oh jesus I think that rabbit's looking at me" attitude. Nobody ever acts like maybe their horse just wants to stay home, so I'm hoping we all gloss over those days when the horse would rather stand in the pasture and fart. So I'm operating on the assumption that as Dixie gets fitter and gets more and more successful (i.e. not scary) rides under her belt, she'll start looking forward to our work.

And it's not like she's really resistant, anyway. After I tack Dixie up, I unclip the lead rope from her halter and stand on the tailgate of my truck, and she walks over so I can mount. She just has to be encouraged to head out and face the trail. Not forced or bullied, just gently encouraged. Same in the arena - she's perfectly happy to let me climb on her back and then let's just stand here ok?

Anyway. She's very stop and go in the early part of a ride. She's not extremely nervous anymore - when she stops, her head stays pretty low and she's still breathing normally. Usually, I let her stand until she flicks an ear back at me, then I ask her to walk forward again. Today, I decided to try to push her to keep walking forward.

We pushed on (I felt like I was nagging, which I really don't like to do) through the sagebrushy part of the trail. When we got to the scary dropoff into the canyon, she STOPPED. She wasn't tired, just nervous. It felt like she was really getting panicky. It took 20 minutes of me just sitting and her just looking around before she decided we were ok to proceed. I never got off or let her turn towards home, and she never got really upset - she just needed to stand. And pushing her til she mentally HAD to stop ended up being slower than letting her pause on her own. Experiment failed!

Eventually, Dixie relaxed and we headed on, quite peacefully. She wasn't particularly excitable coming home - we did a bit of trot/rack/canter on the straight jeep trails, and she didn't try to bolt on me. She did cross-fire on me at one point. We were cantering past a tree, and she spooked at it, jumped sideways, and came back down on the wrong lead or feet or whatever. I asked her to slow down, and she dropped back to a rack.

So today's question: Did your horse always love her job? Did he or she eventually grow into it? I think she's still improving, so I'm not too worried, but I do wish she loved heading out on the trail as much as I do!


  1. Did my horse always love her job?


    Fiddle's *first* answer to any question is always "NO!" (in the olden days, "no" was accompanied by pinned ears and the swish of her right hind foot).

    When I refuse to consider "no" as an appropriate response, she will resist, but she ALWAYS caves in.

    Gradually (over 2 years) her "no" response has gotten quieter, but it is always there when I ask her to do something new. Only after we have done something several times do I get the "well, okay" response.

    Over two years, she has gone from "NO, I won't leave the trailer no matter how hard you kick me/beat me/threaten me with tigers" to "wahoo, we are leaving the trailer at a trot and heading down the trailer by ourselves and not looking back."

    But if, along the trail, we got to something she hasn't done before, I'd get a "no" again, without the ears or foot, but still a strong "no." She will still cave in...eventually. And then she would learn to be happy with it. Eventually.

    If she ever agreed to do something new and unusual without refusing first, I'd probably hop down and take her temp.

  2. Maisie used to balk - and I mean really balk, with ear pinning, head bobbing, and even rearing - never huge rears, just little ones - if I asked her to do something she didn't want to do, which was pretty much anything - go in the arena, go on the trail, etc. I learned a technique to deal with this that I call "presenting the question" - I don't apply more pressure with my leg or seat, I just move her feet from side to side - even a step each way is good enough - until she decides to take a step forward, and then we take a rest, and so on.

    To be fair to Maisie, part of her balkiness in early days was due to pain - it took a lot of chiropractic work to get her sound enough so she wasn't in chronic pain. Part of if was just pissy mare syndrome.

    She's now completely willing and pretty much goes anywhere I point her without complaint - our issue now is that she tends to get too excited and want to go too fast.

  3. most horses would rather stand around in the pasture and eat the apples off the trees. that is what my dressage instructor always said, and it applies to endurance too. conditioning is hard work, and a horse has to develop a work ethic (like my leased mare) or like baasha, go out with other horses and consider it a competition (which makes it a difficult ride, but fun for him). i think it is a rare horse who likes to leave its buddies and carry a person up and down mountains all alone. but i think you make it fun for her and you are fair to her, so she will get her work ethic. i think she can feel your enthusiasm for exploring and she will pick up some of that for herself. my mare and i especially loved trespassing together. so freaking exciting, sneaking around. she would always pick the trails with KEEP OUT signs, and since she cannot read, it must have been my excitement she wanted to share. (??) IMO endurance is the easiest sport for a fit horse to enjoy, because it fits perfectly into horsey mentality - going somewhere as a group, covering ground together. and the mandatory stopping to eat is nice too: )

    you're very sensitive to your horse, and she can feel that. and you go out with others, and i think she likes that too (even tho she's way out in front of everyone!).

    do you think she's ready for LD or maybe the "trail ride" offered by some rides?


  4. If you were going for a certain "time" then maybe your experiment was a failure. The fact that she moved steadily for you during the early part of the ride, I think, was a success! The balk at the top of a steep, scary incline--pretty understandable, and even tho it may have taken longer than if you hadn't pushed her earlier, I think it may have just been her way of saying "Okay. Enough. In THIS spot I'm going to take my own sweet time about it, since up to now I've been going [semi-willingly] at YOUR pace." Not a failure at all, but the negotiation of a new balance between the two of you. You stuck it out without getting [too?] impatient, and both of you completed the ride--without anyone getting hurt or, hopefully, majorly upset or scared.

    As for loving their jobs: Corky always loved getting out and doing whatever: CTR, dressage, even the occasional jump course. He was always "Let's go!" Kate, seems to think it's fine to get out, but only at s u p e r s l o w speed! What a tail dragger! Maddy sounds a lot like Dixie, in that she's a worrier [like her mama] and, though curious, always needs some level of reassurance.

  5. Thank you so much, yall! I hope as she gets fitter, she'll also get used to our routine and it won't be so scary. Aarene and Kate - gotta love our mares. :)

    Lythia - I think she could do an easy LD. She's not tired after 10 slow hilly miles, so I think she'd be fine to do 25 with a break. I'm probably going to wait for Rides of March though. My BCH group does group trail rides, and we'll go to the next one they schedule.

    Evensong - I don't feel like I am, or the horse is, a huge failure. I deliberately tried something different to see what would happen, and it didn't work any better than the normal routine!

    I was kind of proud that I didn't get impatient. She said "I really cannot go any further!" and I said "Ok, that's fine." And we chilled out.

  6. Klein has always loved her job from day 1. I think I just have a factory freak of a draft horse. She's always up for anything, will go anywhere and is a happy girl all around. I've seen her second guess herself in new situations like the first time we went to the beach and she wasn't sure sand was solid enough to hold up a Percheron, or in a new area but she never refuses. It always just takes her about 2 mins to get her bearings then we're off like we've been there a million times.
    In my post on Nov. 19th I talked about how she was such a handful and was PULLING me toward jumps during our warm up. She REALLY loves to work. That is the draft mentality though. So I have the advantage of the draft mind always going for me.
    Last week we galloped at 25mph and even after the first sprint she was ready for more, and I had to really stand up and put my weight down to slow her up. Don't have to ask her twice, that's for damn sure.

  7. Phebes has yet to get over this crawly...slow...pull your hair out and gnash your teeth start to a trail ride (conditioning ride, etc). It has been a big barrier for me in moving forward as we can't get up any steam in the time I alot for a given solo ride. 970 miles of trail and at the start she is the SAME horse. If I could beam her to the middle of the woods from the beginning, we'd be good to go! There she turns into a turbo-charged trotting machine? Phebes is also extremely observant. " OH! OH MY!!! That stick was not there yesterday! I'll bet it killed the last horse that walked past! OH! The water level has changed from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in that ditch! I'll surely drown! OMG!!! The leaves are falling! One hit me on my nose, ONE HIT ME ON MY NOSE! What is wrong with this human, can't she see that all is chaos and there are deadly things in these woods?" 970 miles of trail work. Who'd a thunk? ~E.G.

  8. Stacey - I think your great good luck with Klein is partially that draft attitude and partially because you're the only one who's worked with her. I guess that means it's not luck, huh? ;) 25 mph on a 3/4 ton horse must be AMAZING!

    EG - Oh goodie! Almost 1000 miles of trail and she still walks like a snail on the first leg? That's a huge relief - it means I'm not doin' it wrong and I don't have a defective horse!

    I am giggling about your observant princess in the woods. I know exactly what you mean!

  9. Funder - I own 3 different horses, all of them named Farley.

    Farley #1: Sweet everyday Farley. This Farley greets me at the gate everyday, wanting to go out and spend time with me, but isn't necessarily extremely motivated to do the job of the day whether it's dressage (maybe she needs the crop as a little extra forward) or a trail ride (relunctant trot, or maybe she just wants to meander along).

    Farley #2: This farley shows up during off site conditioning rides. Slow and pokey, some fast trotting. alternating motivated and pissy.....When I mount on the trail she *might* use the opportunity to trot towards home/trailer. Grrrr...which is frusterating because I feel like she's not enjoying herself.

    Farley #3: this is the ride farley. 100% focused on the trail, doesn't care about the trailer, only wants to go forward. trots up to the water, drinks deeply and then MOVES ON. when mountnig, *might* trot down the trail AWAY fromm the trailer. Absolutely in love with her job. fun, sweet Farley is gone, replaced by focused, business-like Farley.

    so the answer I guess is no - she isn't always on board with her job,, everyday at every stage. However, I judge her attitude by how she meets me at the gate every day, not how she acts under saddle. As long as she's happy to see me, then we are moving in the right direction.


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