Tuesday, 12 March 2019

That's So Raven

Sunday's ride on Cisco had some interesting things happen. Interesting in how he reacted to a couple of moments, that finally give me hope.

I lunged him in the scary end to start with. No issues there - he wasn't overly concerned about the corner. If anything, he kept gawking at the safe end of the arena. He was by himself in there, so he was probably hoping that a buddy would walk through the door.

After lunging I wasn't happy that his attention was still mostly directed towards the door, so I did some groundwork with him to hopefully get him to focus. He'll pay attention while I'm doing something, but as soon as I stop to let him think it over he does the "Squirrel!" thing and turns into a staring llama.

via GIPHY


He stood very well when I got on, which is often an indication of how the ride is going to start. He stood completely still while I fussed about a bit before asking him to walk on.

I have figured out that he's a bit better about the scary end if I slowly work my way into that end and don't push the issue. And oddly enough, he's actually better about it on a slightly loose rein at a walk. At the faster gaits he cranks his neck to the outside and drops his shoulder, and I just don't get the reaction off my inside leg that I need to correct it.

We actually started off pretty good this ride, until he heard the bird of death. The ravens are back. And of course they have to sit outside the scary end of the arena and make their cawing raven sound. Over and over again. (Listen to a what a raven sounds like here - the first sound under the picture is pretty close to what I was hearing.)

I am now renaming the scary end Poe Corner.

Cisco, being sensitive to sound, was pretty sure that whatever was making the sound was going to kill him. Thus he no longer wanted to go down to Poe Corner.

Do you push the issue, which means that you will have a super tense horse? Or do you forget about it for a bit, go off and do something in the safe area, and gradually work your way back to where the terror kicks in again?

There's no single answer. It all depends on your horse and how you think they will react.

I chose to try to give Cisco something to keep his busy brain occupied and would occasionally take us past Poe Corner, but not make a big deal about it.

Someone had set some trot poles up. Pole work has kept Cisco focused in the past, so I thought I would try it. There was an option of doing the three trot poles on the quarter line, a single pole at C, then the flower box on the diagonal. Simple lines, but enough stuff to think about where his feet were. We'd have to start and finish out of the scary end, but weren't spending too much time down there.

We couldn't actually get on the track by Poe Corner, but I didn't make a big deal about it and just worried about finding a good line and rhythm to the first element. He really rushed out of that end over the trot poles the first time. After that, I switched to the flower box first - again he rushed a bit. And then jumped it. Hehe!!

So I kinda went with it and kept repeating it. He definitely was taking me to the flower box, and I liked that feeling. I had to bring him back to walk a couple times when he got a little too strong, but otherwise, I just kept my rhythm and refused to get sucked into hanging on his face. He jumped it pretty well every time and landed in a nice canter. And because it's been so long since I've jumped more than one thing at a time, I totally forgot to continue riding to the single pole after the flower box. Oops. I'll need to work on that.

Of course, he totally sucked back when heading down into the scary end, and the first time he jumped the flower box that way he sure dropped his shoulder and fell away from that end of the arena on the landing side. I kind of expected it though so I was somewhat prepared.

The interesting part came at the end of the ride. We were walking on a loose(ish) rein and I was trying to decide if I should do just a bit more trot. He had been fussy in his mouth and retracted in his neck throughout a large chunk of the ride and I really wanted to try a bit of trot and see if he would relax and stretch down and forward a bit.

As we walked into Poe Corner though, he looked right at the scary scaffolding, like he wanted to go over for a look. Anytime he wants to look at something he's generally terrified of, I'll totally let him.

So he turned towards it, stopped and reached out to sniff it. And stood there. I reached down to give him a scratch on the neck, and he flinched but didn't move.

That's when I hopped off. And made a big fuss out of him and took my time loosening my girth and putting up the stirrups. And he wasn't in a rush to get the hell out of there.
Standing relaxed in Poe Corner. Scaffolding just in front of him.
I hand walked him around a few more laps. Just before Poe Corner, something made a sound. He did the splat on the spot, then immediately relaxed and again approached the scaffolding.

In my mind, this is a significant improvement. He's always kind of held onto whatever it was that spooked him, even on the ground. In the past, he would have run past me and tried to leave and then turned into a giraffe in front of me.
Oh hai! My first attempt at getting a picture in the corner. 
Now that I think about it, his reactions the last little bit have been much better. He still goes splat, but hasn't scooted for a bit. There have been some walking scoots, but I don't think he's broken gait.

I still want to try a sound-reducing fly veil, and I know we have a long way to go, but it gives me a bit of hope that he won't always be so reactive. And I had also been talking with a couple of other riders earlier in the day, and they were talking about how much their much more experienced horses also hate that same corner. So maybe Cisco has a bonafide reason about being worried about it!

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