"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bareback!

I went on a trail ride with Kathy on Sunday, something which we had only been able to do once before since moving to her farm! Initially I debated finally trying out on this ride the S-hackamore I had gotten Lily a couple of months ago...I had her bridle half taken apart to do so when I just had this really strong feeling that I should not do this on this ride. So I clipped the bit back onto her bridle and off we went.

There was still plenty of snow on the ground and it was a beautiful ride where Kathy and I got to catch up and the mares walked on happily in a relaxed manner.


And then we turned onto the river trail and we heard a strange yapping in the distance. Lily was on high alert and it took a minute for Kathy and me to recognize the sound as a dog. Lily started backing up at top speed at the same time I saw the dog jumping around in the river. Off-leash of course.

Lily continued backing up at top speed right past Queenie. Kathy offered to take the lead so we could continue on our way down the trail, but we had no of knowing if this dog was going to be a well-mannered one or one that would come running up to us and potentially spook both horses. There is a 6' drop into the water on one side of the single track river trail, with a steep, nearly vertical mountain on its other side. Two frightened horses + an unknown dog on this kind of trail was not something I wanted to take chances with, so I told Kathy it would be better to just turn around.

After that, Lily was somewhat of a jigging, prancing mess. She even piaffed. She stayed in the lead as we rode away from the river because when she is in that state of mind, putting her behind another slower horse, even if the other horse is calm, can actually make her behavior worse.

I continued talking to Kathy as if nothing was going on because this helps keep me calm. I would request a walk and encourage Lily to do so on a loose rein by moving my hands forward to give her room (vs letting the reins slide through my fingers) and she would obey, but only for a step or two before continuing to jig. So instead of arguing with her, which can make the behavior escalate, we basically continued piaffing down the trail. My reins were short but there was a little slack in them: taking a choke hold on the reins when she is like this will just make her claustrophobic. She was tense, with neck arched, but she was actually working beautifully and did not feel like she was about to explode (most likely thanks to my own quiet state of mind).

We arrived at a fork in the trail and Lily immediately and rudely tried to take off in the direction that would take her home. Here she was firmly told "NO" with voice, seat, hands and legs, stopping her so effectively in her tracks that she sat back on her hocks. All I did was adjust my position to request a halt but it was sudden enough that she responded in this manner. Before she could protest in a big way, I pointed her in the direction I wanted to go (away from home) and she obliged. We continued prancing down the trail.

Dusk was coming pretty quickly by then so we turned around further down the trail and of course Lily wanted to speed up, but I simply had her continue as we were. If she wanted to work harder than necessary and just jig, so be it. If she tried to accelerate too much, I asked her to do zig-zag mini leg yields down the trail.

Lily again tried to take off when we came onto the last leg of trail towards home and here I let Kathy and Queenie take the lead. I swung Lily around so that she was facing away from home and asked her to back up towards home. She chomped on the bit in annoyance but she obeyed the request. I asked her to halt after several strides and let her stand for a couple of seconds. She waited, ears swivelled towards me. I swung her back around to face home and requested a walk on a loose rein while we followed Kathy and Queenie, who had been waiting for us patiently. Lily obliged...for 5 strides. More jigging. She eventually tried to speed up into a trot, so we repeated the backing up and then requesting a walk on a loose rein. We had to repeat the process one more time, and then she finally got the message and walked on towards home on a loose rein like a civilized mare.

I was annoyed that she had basically taken her fear of the dog and let it spin so out of control in her brain: she just wanted to go home. However, I was not surprised by this: this is how she used to be on the trail before all of the management changes, back when I hated riding her on the trails, which is what I was expecting her to revert to after two months not leaving the farm under any circumstances while I recovered. The sad thing that I suspected is that being herd leader has not really made her more confident under saddle. It has simply made her feel more responsible over everyone else's well-being and like she needs to be more hyper alert of potential dangers. This sounds like I'm anthropomorphizing but this is how some equine behaviors translate into human understanding. I think the key here will be getting her to believe me again when I tell her that she needs to let me watch out for her and whoever else is with us; it is not Lily's responsibility when under saddle. I will acknowledge the potential dangers she points out to me, but she is expected to continue moving forward unless I tell her we should indeed turn around, which is what I did with the dog. However, I made sure we still travelled away from home after that so that she didn't automatically think, "Danger = okay to go home!" The ride was still a success in that while she was a silly prancey goofball, she didn't really spook at anything else on the trail after the dog and didn't object to moving forward in the direction I pointed her. I made sure to give her LOTS of praise when she walked at my request and to not obsess/worry about the jigging, as it simply would have fed into Lily's anxiety.

To make a long story short, though: I was really glad I had chosen the kimberwick for this outing, and I think the first time I try the S-hack on Lily will definitely be within the confines of the paddock!

I untacked, blanketed and fed her once we were back at the barn and pulled Gracie from the run-in paddock. Darkness fell while Kathy and I were chatting and tidying up. I still wanted to work Gracie as the forecast for Monday was rain and freezing rain; I wasn't even sure if we'd be able to make it out to the barn if it ended up being as bad as the forecast was saying. Between the snow melt and the rain, it also meant that the footing would not be safe for working horses for a day or two afterwards, or until everything froze over again.

I decided to work Gracie sans rig, with just a rope halter and my 12' lead. I walked large circles to give her more room while longing, and we worked in the paddock with the tree that dubs as an arena. It was dark and cold, with a high humidity that drove the cold into your bones, but the snow was slightly crunchy and the footing hard underneath, providing excellent traction for Gracie's bare feet. Mentally she worked really well, staying calm and focused throughout, and I concentrated on walk, trot and halt transitions with frequent changes of direction. This is the first time that she has every truly responded to the verbal walk command and I was elated. However, the humidity meant that she was stepping a little short with the right front, which is the leg that has high ringbone. I worked her for a grand total of 10 minutes to get her truly warmed up, then decided the best thing to do for her would be to just walk for a bit to get that joint fluid and blood pumping in a way that was more comfortable for her than trotting around in circles. And what better way to do this than by hopping on bareback! In the dark, mind you.

I put on my helmet, slipped her snaffle bridle on, put a stirrup leather around her neck in case I needed a grab strap, and hopped on from Kathy's 3-step mounting block.

She initially strode forward at her big almost-gait walk and I asked her to come back down to her regular swinging walk while I got my bearings.

We just walked around in straight lines initially while I checked Gracie's responsiveness. She was quite willing to walk when asked, halt and wait when asked, and turn in whatever direction I wanted. It was pretty dark out, what with it being after 6:00 pm and the overcast sky. But we had the motion sensor light from the barn providing a nice glow that was reflected off of the snow.


With flash. You can see the stirrup leather I'd placed around her neck.
Proof! No saddle.
The light is prompted by movement in front of the barn door. Since we were way out in the paddock, the motion sensor light eventually turned off. I could still see quite well thanks to the whiteness of the snow.

As I found my bearings I started asking Gracie to do smaller circles, figure 8s and serpentines at a walk up and down the long sides of the paddock. I experimented with asking her to halt with a light tug on the stirrup leather instead of the reins and was surprised when she responded.

I didn't feel brave enough to trot/gait, so we just walked and walked around doing all of these things until I thought maybe I should get off already and head home before my feet froze (feet even in the warmest boots tend to eventually get very cold when not jammed in stirrups with heels down to stimulate warmth!)

I don't know what it is about riding in the dark bareback. Maybe because you can't see so well and it feels like such an adventurous thing to do, but I think part of it is that it just feels so surreal. The snow just added to that feeling. The ride ended up being a full 20 minutes. I was still quite comfortably warm, despite just walking, unlike during the ride with Kathy in the woods, where I had been downright shivering halfway through the one hour ride even with Lily's shenanigans. Riding bareback definitely helps to keep you warm!

Gracie was so good. I was really impressed with her, and I made sure to tell her and thank her for a pretty cool ride.

Good girl, post-ride
I blanketed her and gave her a flake of hay to munch on while I finished putting stuff away, then turned both girls out for the night.

17 comments:

  1. Lily and Ashke are twinkies. Prancing jigs are the best!

    Great job riding bareback!!

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  2. I'm so glad things are going well for you. I've never been brave enough to ride Gem bareback except to maybe cool her out at the walk after a ride. Someday...

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    1. I've only ridden Lily bareback 3 times in the 3.5 years I've had her. The third time she bucked me off and I didn't have the guts to try it again. So I totally understand! ;) I'm debating a bareback pad and wondering if that would work with her. In the meantime, it's so nice that Gracie doesn't care!

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  3. Bareback is SO much warmer. Best way to ride in the winter <3

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  4. yikes! that's exactly the kind of moves my mare can pull out on occasion on the trails... and it's no fun :( glad you made it through ok tho! glad the bareback ride went so well too!

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  5. I know your ride on Lily wasn't enjoyable, but I would also count it as a success. She did come back to you, even though it took a while. Still, it is such a disappointment when we expect their usual fantastic behavior and they decide to be brats. It's their way of keeping us on our toes, I guess. And I'm very glad to hear that your ride with Gracie went so well!

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    1. Oh definitely! I was annoyed while she was being a brat, but was still really happy that she came back to me. I guess if they're too good all the time it gets boring? ;)

      It was nice though to have Gracie be the good one for once!

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  6. Our girls could match each other in a jigging contest on the trail! I have debated whether or not I should try to bring Quest down (e.g.; doing tight circles) when she gets worked up like that or to let her continue to jig on? She does the same thing as Lily- the high stepping action, arched neck, but she doesn't do anything to bolt- and I keep short but slack reins. Oh mares.

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    1. Yup, Lily can keep up with the Arabs when it comes to jigging! I think it's an individual thing: if the horse is going to get more riled up from me asking her to stop jigging or correcting her, I either let her jig or just push her forward into a trot. If we'd been alone I would've just pushed Lily into a trot, but Kathy has a bad back and needs to stick to a walk as much as possible, so we worked with what we had at the time. I'm expecting her to be quieter next time we ride out together. Keep us posted on what you end up doing with Quest and her jigging, if you do try to address it. I suspect she'll be calmer once she's had more mileage. :)

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  7. Nimo has demonstrated that state of mind that Lily was in after the dog encounter and it required the same balance between restraint and freedom you gave Lily. He doesn't act like that much anymore (except for the first 9 miles of Ft Valley - ha!). But I can imagine that if we didn't work out on the trails regularly, he would revert to old habits too. I bet it won't take much more work to get Lily back to her improved self and at least you're back on the trails again:) And I'm starting to get addicted to bareback riding - it's such a different feeling and I like the change.

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    1. And bareback gives you a great leg workout too! ;D

      I hope you're right regarding Lily. I think it should be fairly quick to get her back to the way she used to be on the trails. Fingers crossed! :)

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  8. Bareback is definitely warmer. I love riding bareback when it's cold. When I rode bareback in the dark before Christmas my eyes hadn't adjusted to the lack of light and it gave me a really weird feeling like I was closer to the ground than I actually was and it made me feel off balance. Very strange feeling, but kind of cool. I don't ever remember feeling that way when I was a teenager and I used to ride in the dark almost everyday in the summer because it was cooler at night. :)

    I absolutely can't stand jigging! I hope Chrome never learns to do that. I had a mare who used to do it and it drove me crazy. She was very choppy and rough though so it wasn't comfortable at all. I also never felt like she would bolt on me. Weird how that is hehe. I'm glad you figured out a solution. I still really like the backing idea. I've never tried that before!

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    1. That's exactly it: I feel closer to the ground, so it's less unnerving. The result is that I don't have to think as much about my balance.

      Jigging is no fun, but I gotta say I don't mind it as much when the horse isn't pulling to try to bolt. With Lily she gets so focused on being contrary, she actually is less likely to spook.

      Backing up is an excellent tool for horses that are snappy with the backing up cue (like Lily; this is not as effective with Gracie, who is just learning to back up) who are *not* prone to rearing. Chrome is a good boy, but just in case you're ever on a different horse: don't ever try this technique with an ornery horse that has been known to rear in the past. When asking the horse to back up, make sure they keep their nose down. If the horse fights and tries to be high-headed instead, just resort to leg yielding down the trail or doing small circles.

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    2. Oh I know exactly the type you're talking about!! My best friend has an obnoxious gelding that loves to spin for home and he's so fast about it that it's really hard to catch him. He will also try to rear if you hold him back so I would never, ever use this technique with him. Chrome isn't very good at backing up because his stifles lock sometimes, but if I'm working on teaching him to do it slowly and relaxed so that if I ever do need it he will know how. Slow and steady with my silly boy. :)

      That's so funny that Lily gets so focused on being contrary that she doesn't spook as much. Hehehe. Gonna love that silly mare!

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