Early Days

Open mouth. Insert foot. Then cry.

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.

dirty pony

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.

Sage advice.

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.

15 comments on “Open mouth. Insert foot. Then cry.

  1. I think you handled that very well. If Hemie is anything like Fiction, aggressively reacting to a freak out only serves to further damage the experience. I would have done the same thing you did. It is definitely difficult for us Ammies to deal with the crazies, but I firmly believe we become better whilst dealing with them – in any manner.


  2. Wow, that sounds REALLY scary! Glad you (and Hemie) made it through ok and neither of you got hurt. It's great that you put him back to work right afterwards though, I'm sure he was just as freaked out as you during the meltdown, and probably appreciated being distracted with work. Hang in there!

    PS….I love your “in conclusion, here's a bunny.” :)


  3. I've been flipped on, as it came out of nowhere, and was very uncomfortable. Listening to the gut is very important. It is good you know your guy, even if you don't always like his choices.


  4. I can totally relate. Houston has been quite uncooperative lately and it's important to know when you can reprimand and when you need to let the horse come back to earth. Fingers crossed no more meltdowns anytime soon.


  5. i'm probably projecting here (pls forgive me, if so), but when we have these moments my brain immediately hears denny emerson railing on amateurs riding inappropriate horses. i DO NOT think that you and hemie are poorly matched, and i don't think me and auto are poorly matched, but this loud refrain of the “too-much-horse trap” has sown the seed of self doubt in me and it rears black stallion style when we have moments such as yours.
    way to hang in there and diffuse the situation. i'd say you're just what hemie needs!


  6. So scary. You handled that much better than I would have, so props!


  7. Glad you are both ok!!

    Eek for his reaction to rear!!

    Here's to us AA working it out :)


  8. glad you are ok and managed to ride it out – that sounds terrifying. i'm also glad that you have might have strategies that could help. it gets real pretty quick when their brains disappear like that :(


  9. That sounds scary! Good job for staying on and I'm glad you are okay. I hope you are able to prevent that in the future. Oh, and I love the bunny photo.


  10. First off, way to maintain both your cool and your balance. I think that by simply ignoring his reaction, and putting his brain straight to work you are showing him that that evading contact and being dramatic is not the way out of things. I'm glad you are okay!


  11. That sounds so scary..I got shaky just reading it! You are so brave and handled it very well!


  12. My mare has a default reaction to anything that is hard – get jammed up, stop, go backwards, then go up. She does the same thing in the same order every time. As soon as she gets jammed up, I can tell what's coming and send her forward. Most of the time it works. Sometimes I'm left reefing the right rein down and to the side to stop her from going to far up. As soon as it's done, I go straight back to what we were doing. She hardly ever does it again.

    It is just one of those things.


  13. You are just so right about the joys of being an adult ammy and a horse that doesn't want to just take care of you. Glad you are finding some strategies that work!


  14. As you already know I've been there, done that. Those few weeks that Sydney went on that rearing rampage were horrifying and VERY scary. I know exactly how you feel. JL had me do a few exercises to teach him that rearing is NEVER an option. The first was to teach him to move AWAY from the crop or my hand, never up. Once he understood that he was to move away from my arm, the rearing never happened again.

    We've gone through other types of resistance, like right now he's trying to balk, but each trick he tries gets easier and easier to work out of. If you can do it safely, work through it, and this too shall pass. :0)


  15. Wiz and I have been going through similar things with jumping and hacking. It's not fun and it's nerve wracking. Good luck working through it!


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