Sunday, December 20, 2009
Failure to Communicate
Sunday December 20 2009
Nothing like a healthy dose of failure to 1) spur you on to greater determination or 2) just make you give up. I don't know yet which I will choose.
You know right away if something ISN'T working with a horse, but you just don't know if something IS going to work with a mental case until it works. And how much work have you undone by doing the wrong thing?
After saying Kazam's training was progressing so well - he's Insecure going out by himself - he's made a definite reversal to the Dark Side. And I just don't know what to do for him.
We'd been going along so well by ourselves. He was finally going out fairly willingly; he progressed through his rides calmly, (on the best days, walked, trotted, cantered on a loose rein); he saw antelope and deer and dogs and didn't panic; he no longer jigged home but had a nice strong calm energetic walk or trot.
Then, I thought as a reward, I'd take him out with Carol and Suz. If you recall, these were the two that dumped us when I broke my rib.
So what happens on this day? Out on the northwest bluffs we see horses. Oh boy! Not cows, not antelope, not deer, but horses - WILD HORSES! (They were ranch horses turned out for the winter.) They were the next bluff over, and they started to move, then run, out of sight down a wash.
That did it. Both horses got wound up and a bit frantic, and it took us some work to get their minds back. We worked them up and down washes and hills, and finally we got some sense of halfway decent behavior back.
After that - it was back to going out alone on Kazam. But he's never recovered mentally.
His anxiety symptoms returned: reluctant to go out, jumpy, insecure, not relaxed, wanting to jig on the way home. Didn't matter if it was a short ride or long ride, it was the same.
Today I almost thought he'd gotten over the hump again. He went out willingly, was relaxed - so relaxed we walked, trotted, cantered, worked on transitions. At times he was moving off my legs and weight alone, no reins.
And then just before we turned for home: cows. Normally he isn't worried by cows, but these were... COWS. ON THE WAY HOME. He became a blubbering ball of nerves. Anxious, overwrought, jigging, bouncing, chomping on the bit. He still listened, but he was frazzled. If I let him trot, he'd listen less and he want to take off.
Now jigging isn't always bad - like happy jigging; sometimes it's just annoying - like mad jigging. (Zayante, Jackie Bumgardner's endurance horse, could stay mad and jig for 45 miles, when he thought he was going too slow). There's a big difference between happy and mad jigging - where the horse still uses his brain, and anxious jigging - where the horse's brain has left the building.
So I did what I often do in that situation, which always works - I turned off the path for home (I can't always do this, but I was lucky here) and worked his fat butt up a steep sandy wash, and up a steeper hill. This time it didn't really help. Now he was out of breath and anxious, always wanting to turn sharply back towards home.
So I took him further out. Down into another wash, and back up a steep hill. It helped a little bit, but he kept wanting to beeline it towards home. I could have kept turning him away, and going further and further out... but eventually I still have to turn towards home. I wasn't dressed to ride to Arizona today. And at some point of anxiety, you're not going to get a horse over it.
I tried working him around the sagebrush in patterns, getting him to watch his feet and think, and while he did listen, and do what I asked, he was constantly fretting about it. And at some point you realize that what you are doing is not working, and you are not helping the horse.
So we just stopped. He was able to stand there - anxiously, but he stood. We stood a while. We stood long enough for me to think about about just giving up - unsaddling him and turning him loose there. See ya Kazam! Well, not that, but, what was best for him at this point? Getting off and leading him home? No. Taking him further out? No. Working him to get his attention more here? No. It was time to stop for the day.
I headed him back home yet a different way. We had to work hard on not jigging, and he TRIED not to - but it was difficult. But if you fight them too much over it, you're doing worse than if you let them jig/run home. Sometimes you walk a fine line.
Instead of letting him go straight home, I turned him in at the neighbors, and left him tied up there. I thought I'd leave him there a while. Like maybe till next April. You think Carol and Rick would notice an extra fat orange handsome horse eating their hay?
That did no good. He was just as anxious; spent half an hour whinnying and pawing and pacing around while tied up. (This summer we tried putting Kazam with Finneas and Dudley on the upper 200, and Kazam ran and ran and ran and ran the fence, until he finally jumped it. Twice. So he could have kept this up for weeks.)
One trainer I know says, "If something's not working, try something else."
What I'm doing is not working. The problem is trying to figure out what WILL work. Every horse is different. I've ridden many green horses and I've worked with a lot of mental cases. Obviously I have not worked with enough of them! Every horse is different. The same solution that worked on one horse may not work with the next one.
So, think Merri. What does Kazam need?
These are his good points. He's good, attentive and smart with groundwork. When he's calm and listening under saddle, he's very light. He's not really spooky, and when he does encounter something questionable out on the trail, (like a horse-eating cow pie) he might side step it but he doesn't freak out. He's stopped bolting - now if something scares him from behind, he just scoots a step or two then stops himself.
What is his main problem? Getting anxious and losing his brain. When does the problem start? It starts when he's at a certain point on the way home. It's a different spot each time (we always vary our trails) and different distance from home, and it doesn't seem to matter if I've done a long ride or a short ride; it's always somewhere on the way home. He has to get home.
Should I just give up and just start riding him in company? (Would that even help him relax? Or will it make him bad all over again about going out alone? I don't want to have to start that over again. And what good is a horse that is going to panic with you if he suddenly realizes he is by himself?)
Clinton Anderson says, "Make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy."
What's the wrong thing Kazam is doing? He's wanting to get home too fast, getting anxious, losing his brain. What's the right thing Kazam should do? Walk or trot back home calmly, the same speed he went out unless I ask him to change it, and keep a hold of his brain.
What might make him not want to get home too fast? Making home not so attractive. So, what if I make home a place where he isn't so anxious to get back to?
What if I work his butt hard as soon as he gets home, make him do work he'd rather not do, so that he might not want to rush home, and he might think being out on the trail is rather much nicer? Work him in the round pen (really, it's hard to tire an Arabian, but you can at least make them get some more exercise, work on communication) till he really doesn't want to do that anymore. Then tie him up to the hitching rail and leave him for an hour. That doesn't sound like fun to me.
That's what I did today after I brought him back home from the neighbor's house. I took him straight to the round pen and worked him a half hour, then left him tied up to the hitching rail another half hour.
I sat here pounding out my frustration on the computer as I watched him outside the window, standing tied to the rail. He stood there, looking around for me, looking at the herd he'd rather be out eating with, but he was quiet.
Should I just give up?
I don't know the right answer.
But I won't quit just yet. Tomorrow I'm taking him out on a little loop. When we get back to the house, I'm going to work him hard - in the round pen, along fences, moving his front end, back end, whatever I can think of. Not long, but hard. No rest, no fun here at home. Then I'm getting right back on him and taking him out on another little loop. Get back and put him right back to serious work. Maybe I'll take him back out again and work him again when he gets back. Then I'll tie him up for an hour.
I don't know if that will help, or if it will make things worse.
Nothing like ending the day feeling like a failure.