Thursday, July 22, 2010

RB at the river..

Today, Alyssa and I took Delilah & Guinness down to the river. She came to pick us up with her Brenderup trailer and new truck and we hauled over together, which took about an hour.

When we got on the trail, Guinness picked up on Delilah's nerves and was acting pretty goosey, but settled down pretty well once we got moving. We did lots of slow cantering in an attempt to keep up with Delilah's trot. I believe that was the most cantering I've done since high school!

Afterward, we decided to go play in the river to cool off. When we got down to the boat ramp there were kids swimming and a beached pontoon boat. Guinness bravely went up to his chest into the river and enjoyed some PB crackers while wading.

Then, I tried to encourage him to come in further (after all, Delilah was happily SWIMMING by then - her first time) and he dug in his heels. I pushed him more and he started going backward! Straight into dangerous stuff. Agh! (I have bad history with this with another horse.) I moved him sideways and then backed him into water to his knees and stood there a while.

Afterward, we walked back to the trailer and I tied him up while we packed up and changed clothes. Even after a little time had passed, he was still bracey with tight lips. I decided to go ahead and load him onto the trailer where he could chill and eat hay. He walked right on and then I tied him. As I was walking around to put up the butt bar, he barreled backward yanking on his rope halter and lead rope. He got far enough out for his rear to fall off the side of the ramp and there he stood stretched all the way, so that his halter was almost over his nose. Not good. I stuck my head in the front of the trailer and signaled for him to step forward. He stared a moment, then took a big leap back onto the trailer. Alyssa went around the back to put up the butt bar. I crawled into the space in front of him to sit and hang out. I gave him carrots and soft rubs but it took him about 10 minutes to take a big breath and to relax enough to eat hay. Whew..

Freeze frame. Rewind. What happened here??

In hind sight, I can see that I'd under-appreciated how different this outing was from others, and how I'd blown through several of his thresholds. :-(

First off, the reason that I can get away with basically throwing him onto his trailer to go places is that we have a clear routine & he knows what to expect: I move the trailer into position, then I call G. over, I halter him. I let him out to graze as I wrap his legs. Then I send him onto the trailer alone to eat his breakfast. I finish up feeding the others and do a last minute check, and then we get on our way. I deliberately don't vary this routine much.

This morning, Alyssa pulled up with her mare on board. First I fed Guinness, then haltered him and pretty much loaded him right onto her trailer next to Delilah (this was the 3rd time he'd been on that trailer with her). We quickly finished packing and hit the road. There was a fair amount of bouncing around as we drove to the river. Delilah was making mean mare noises at Guinness and he responded by hopping up with his rear end. (I don't know if he was provoking her..)

Once we got there, I led him aways as usual, then mounted up. As I said, he picked up on Delilah's nerves, and was unusual jumpy even though he had been on that trail twice before.

When we got back to the river, I got too direct-line and pushed him too much. I assumed that he was in foot-dragging LB mood, but he was apparently really going RB. (Even at the time, I remarked that he looked like my safety-conscious kid at the edge of the diving board!) When I nagged him too much, he blew through my porcupine by going backward into a potentially dangerous situation.

Then I stuck him onto the trailer where he attempted the same tactic, however, instead of tying him with a tie ring with some play, I had tied him with a fixed knot. That must have freaked him out. I am so fortunate that he didn't "win" by breaking his lead and taking himself off of the trailer. (Or hurt himself since I hadn't wrapped his legs due to faith in the design of the trailer.) This would have set a very bad precedent! Instead, he connected with me and was able to respond to my hand signal to come forward. This took the pressure off of his halter. When he eventually relaxed, I was there with him hanging out.. All is well that ends well, or so I hoped.

Getting home was uneventful and he was happy to be turned out with his gelding buddies. (Boy, was that halter knot tight!) Later in the evening, after his dinner, he was content to hang out with me, so I must not have totally butchered our relationship.

In the future, I will try harder to stick with our loading and hauling routine when I need to rush him. And the next time that we approach a large body of water, I promise to give him a huge amount of dwell time and will be happy if he only goes in up to his knees.

Boy is it easy for me to miss that moment when he shifts from LBI to RBI. I seem to only notice when he blows up. I'm going to strive to routinely ask myself "could he be feeling unconfident?" whenever he gets too quiet and compliant, AND also when he starts to drag his feet!

Good leadership is hard work, and I'm obviously not quite there yet.


Lisa said...

a bit of "devil's advocate" . . . routines can cause worse problems than they solve.

Horses accustomed to a routine have more difficulty adapting when the routine is altered. Horses fed at the same time are more prone to colic, horses let out at the same time (in the same order) are more prone to anxiety in their stalls.

Maybe a better idea is to start varying G's routine at home - little differences - to make trailer loading a game you play rather than a routine you follow. That way you set it up as a puzzle to solve and it keeps him thinking and connected. That may do more to "save his life" in an oh-no situation.

Hey - is Delilah a chestnut TB mare? I think I met Alyssa and Delilah at a Carol Coppinger camp a few years ago. That is one nice mare (and a nice owner - she was a very sweet young woman!)

Naturally Gaited said...

Thanks, Lisa.

Yup, that is the same Alyssa. She spent some time last year in CO, and is back at Tech now. I try to pick her brain as much as possible! ;-)


inchwormwv said...

Wow, kinda scary! I wonder if you SHOULD go back to your trailer loading and hauling routine though - maybe getting him used to variety will help him handle new situations better? 'Cause you know that you cannot control what's going to happen when you are out and about, so maybe expanding his tolerance for new stuff would be a good idea. Glad it worked out in the end. What was up with Delilah and her nerves?

Naturally Gaited said...

Delilah is a RBI TB mare. Need I say more? ;-) She doesn't have an awful lot of trail experience, and I think that G. was deferring to her judgment.

I don't think that the trailer was the problem at all. I think that the sum of the whole day, with all of its new experiences, plus me pushing him, was just too much. This was similar to how he was at the Christmas parade last year. I let him go over the edge. I've got to be more responsible about that..