Monday, October 11, 2010

An Interesting Ride

Yesterday afternoon was beautiful. A perfect day for riding. My neighbors thought so, too. They have dirt bikes. Apparently, Spider is not so fond of dirt bikes. Oh well, he's a show horse, and show horses need to be used to strange things. Not that I've ever seen dirt bikes at a show ground.... but, honestly, I've seen weirder things. Dirt bikes should be no big deal.

Spider is a Thoroughbred. Well, I think he's a Thoroughbred, anyway. He was sold to me as a Thoroughbred Sporthorse, but he doesn't have papers, tattoos or brands so really he could be just about anything. But, he looks like a Thoroughbred and acts like a Thoroughbred, so I call him a Thoroughbred. Anyway, my point was.... Spider is a Thoroughbred and as such can be rather noodle-brained and spooky. But, he is honest. He never tries to unseat me, he just wants to get away from the scary thing. Which I understand, and respect. However, he must respect that I would not put him in danger and he must do as I ask. So, we had a bit of an argument. He had to decide which was scarier: being eaten by a dirt bike, or disobeying me.

That's not to say that I rule my horse through fear, or that I think he should fear me. Far from it. But, he does need to understand that disobedience will be punished. He is a show horse, he will encounter strange situations and scary things. He must accept my guidance in these situations.

Spider's evasion in the face of monsters is always the same: Spin around and try to scurry away. It's so very fitting for a horse named "Spider". I used my standard response for monster induced drama: ride the horse, ignore the drama, sing a happy song. These dirt bike monsters turned out to be scarier than windy day monsters, though. Spider began trying to refuse to go into parts of the arena closest to where the dirt bikes had been (by this time the neighbors were in the woods on the far side of their property, nowhere near us). Not cool. In my experience, once you allow a horse to avoid one part of an arena, it's not very long before you're riding a ten meter circle at the entrance because your horse spooks in every corner. I had to tap him with the whip a few times to get his attention and let him know that refusal is not acceptable. The nice thing about not using your whip much is that when you need it, you get a big response. It went like this: He would suck back and try to spin away from one corner of the arena. I would bump him with my leg, making sure to give with my reins (in my experience with these situations, kicking and blocking with your hand at the same time creates explosions). If he still refused, or refused again, he got a tap with the whip. When he moved forward without shying he was praised and told how brave he was. The entire time I remained loose and calm.

In the end, he accepted that the dirt bikes probably were not going to eat him. And I got a very forward horse. Since I had a very forward horse and needed to do something challenging to keep his mind off the dirt bikes, we worked on lengthenings. And I concentrated on riding every single step. I had him do a few voltes in the corner, then lengthen down the long side and back to volte in the next corner. We did those at trot and canter. A few times I asked for leg yields off the volte instead of lengthenings. Spider likes to anticipate, if you do an exercise the same way too many times he soon starts doing it without you. I should probably have tried some half-passes, he certainly had the impulsion for it. I didn't think of it, though.

Even though the ride started off rocky, I ended up having one of the best rides I've had in a long time. At the end, I was grinning and singing Spider's praises. I would like to recreate that same impulsion and control over every step in my future rides. Preferably without the aid of dirt bikes.


  1. Nice work - you kept riding and didn't try to block his motion forward - I think a lot of people make that mistake and with a horse that's sensitive and already nervous that can cause big problems as you point out.

  2. Awesome! Don't you love it when it works out a lot better than you thought it would?

  3. Um, yeah, I think you're right about Spider being a thoroughbred:)

    I love how you articulated what's good and bad about that, though. Yeah, they can get scared and often scared=get outta town. Still, as you said, it's an HONEST response. If you can channel that energy, as you did so well, it's much, much easier to ride out than a big buck or rear. Well, WELL done...I'm going to remember this post the next time Miles sees monsters:)

  4. Sounds like you handled it really well. And good for you for turning it into a really positive ride! You sound like you're very good at channeling potentially poor situations into productive ones.

    And actually, Horse Trials are overrun with those little mini-dirt bikes. McKinna was not pleased to have them come zooming up behind her, but she didn't react too strongly.

  5. Well done. Dirt bikes ... hmm I am glad we have none aroudn my yard. I am sure Teena will find them very interesting, unless she can eat grass, and then NOTHING or NOBODY will disturb her eating yummy grass ... That says a lot about my mare!

    It is fantastic all teh forward you get ^-^

  6. What a good and useful post; I learned a lot from it. Thank you.

  7. Dirt bikes are two wheeled ATV's and create just as much horror--obviously. I don't even try to "Disucss" the issue with Tucker as his whirl often bucks too before the "head for the hills." However, were I in the riding arena, like you, when encountering the "evil noisy things with wheels," I would work it out.

    Glad your ride of horror turned into such a good one!

  8. I'm always afraid I'll encounter a dirt bike when hacking. Good work re turning it into a good training situation. Sounds like tons of fun!


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