This post has taken me forever to write. And I’ve almost deleted it a few times. But this blog is an honest account of my horse life, including the struggles. Fair warning – its long and rambling, but I’m too sick and tired to edit any more.
So the other week I expressed malcontent with dressage lessons – specifically that they were leading to Hemie meltdowns that we didn’t experience during practice rides.
Well…you can guess what happened the very next practice ride. Yep, we had a super-duper meltdown, including a massive black-stallion-style rear followed by a sharp u-turn swivel maneuver. Can’t blame the trainer for that one, can I!?! I did manage to stay on, but just barely.
It was a 1 minute (tops) episode out of a 45+ minute ride, and the rest of it was actually good and productive. So 98% of the ride was fine. But the meltdown warrants some analysis since (a) it’s been occupying my mind and I need to get it out, and (b) it’s a dangerous reality that maybe others have/are struggling with too.
It started with a faux spook at an orange cone on the outside of the dressage court as we were tracking right. I’ve discussed this issue before – basically the spook is an evasion of connecting to the left outside rein, especially when coupled with bending right. Typically the right shoulder pops out, and we squirt forward and/or sideways.
This time when it happened I thought “you’re not fooling me this time, buddy” and tapped that right shoulder with my crop, squeezed him back to the rail with my inside leg, and did not release any rein (his desired reaction from me). He refused to move forward and started bouncing up and down. That is even more of a no-no, so I tapped him behind my leg with the crop and slightly released rein to encourage forward moment.
It didn’t work. The bouncing up and down became mini-rears and running backwards a few steps. I took hold of the neck strap with one hand (yes, I’d had the wherewithal to put one on for a dressage ride) and made growling noises to indicate that this behavior was not okay, and made one final attempt to encourage him forward with leg pressure. We got a few steps forward before the giant rear.
I experienced the rear in slow-motion. I admit that I thought about tapping him with the whip during the rear to tell him that it wasn’t okay. But my gut feeling told me that if I did that, we’d completely flip over.
In these meltdown moments, my normally thoughtful horse is just a giant panicked animal. Instinct takes over. Its like his brain leaves his body and he gets the crazy look in his eye. I can *feel* it happen from the saddle.
When he landed the rear, we both just stood there, shaking. I said “easy boy” and I could sense him coming back to himself. I righted my saddle (we’d slipped a good 4 inches), released my hand from the neck strap, and we both took a few breaths. We were facing away from the cone. After a few moments, we walked off.
We stayed away from the danger zone and took a few minutes to regroup – walking, trot circles, just getting back on the same wavelength. Then we went past the cone with it on our right. Hemie got a little bug-eyed. Then we changed direction but instead of passing it on our left to possibly have a repeat issue, I turned early and bent him away from the cone, and we moved past it with lots of space to spare and he was fine. We did that several more times, then slowly and carefully got closer and closer to it, always while doing something else that required his attention such as leg yield or shoulder-in. Within a few minutes we were marching past it just fine.
So what have I learned from this? It underscored the fact that Hemie cannot learn when he is in a panicked mental state. What starts out as a willful evasion to avoid work transforms into a panicked, instinctual reaction. And as soon as that switch happens I must change my tactics in order to prevent a dangerous situation from arising.
That incident was ~ 2 weeks ago. We haven’t had any meltdowns since then, and I’m feeling good about a few different strategies we’ve been trying out, which I’ll post about soon.
Its not all sunshine and rainbows with us adult ammies and our not-exactly-babysitter horses, is it? But that’s okay. As long as we do our best to stay safe and have fun, we can get through the tough times.
In conclusion, here’s a random barn bunny.