Monday, October 13, 2014

Weekend (Mis)adventure

Quest has been doing impressively well undersaddle so I was curious how she would fare on the trail handwalking. After finishing up our usual lunge session Saturday afternoon, we headed out for a exploratory outing with A and her lease horse Smokey. The route we took is the go-to trail used by everyone at the barn. It goes a few miles in either direction and follows an abandoned rail track that cuts across several streets with local traffic so it makes for an interesting desensitization challenge.

We decided to do a 1.5 mile jaunt and Quest did great on the walk down. She was much more interested in the shrubbery along the trail then the fellow trail users, cars, construction saws, two squirrels and one rabbit that we encountered on the path. Along the way, we did some whoa, backing up, and yielding to keep the mareface brain focused on me. A and I alternated having Quest and Smokey lead and no problem there. Or so I thought.

After a grazing break, we headed back along the same way. About halfway home, one section of road had an alternate route that cut through thick dense brush so A led the way first with Smokey. They disappeared from view when promptly...mareface meltdown. Quest started getting high headed, pacey, and antsy- it was the most worked up I've ever seen her become. I moved her feet, intending to send her a few circles around me to get her brain back. Somehow in the midst of her meltdown, she managed to get the lead rope looped around her hind leg with me holding the other end. She was getting more agitated and pulling hard, threatening to kick. Two choices immediately came to mind- I could continue to hold on or I could let her go. Loose horse or broken legs and risk injury to myself as well?

I decided the former. I yelled a warning to A and let go. The rope whipped out of my hand and Quest took off down the trail around a corner and out of sight to escape the rope around her leg. I jogged after her, heart in my throat as my mind raced to figure out what I could do next. I turned the corner and saw Quest standing on the path waiting for me, lead line dragging harmlessly behind her on the ground. No cuts, bumps, scrapes. Thank goodness. "Hey Quest!" I kept my voice bright and happy and stood in place while gesturing my "come in" signal that we used for lunging. She eagerly walked up to me in ready compliance. I couldn't help but pet her and weakly grin in relief as I picked up the lead and we headed home without further incident. I made sure to lunge a few circles and did some groundwork refresher before I put her in for the day.

So yeah, guess I finally figured out Quest's quirk. I've done a bit of reading and research- her actions are case study herdbound. It makes sense because she been bounced from at least 3 different owners (that I know of) before me and the lack of consistency has caused her to seek other horses for comfort due to lack of leadership she's seen in people. Our history together doesn't go very far obviously as I've only been working her for 2-3 weeks so it's of utmost importance that I continue to stand my ground confidently.

This doesn't change how awesome I think Quest is overall but it's something we will REALLY need to work on if we ever want the option of doing trails solo. We're going to take a couple steps back and work on building her confidence in me as a leader with increased emphasis on groundwork and respecting space. I think the fact that Quest stood still and waited for me while loose on the trail was rather telling- I'm glad that she went only as far as felt she needed to escape the rope but once that pressure was gone, she readily came right back to me when invited. It was definitely a huge trust thing on her part. The escapade does put a damper on things but so far it's nothing that can't be solved with patience and time.

We've got a whole winter ahead of us to work hard.


  1. I am glad it all ended well! I recently read a book called, "What Your Horse Wants You to Know" that covers off a whole range of "bad" behaviours such as spooking while leading, panicking when stepping on the lead/reins, etc. and gives step by step advice from a very sensible and cooperative natural horsemanship perspective so you can understand your horse's fears and overcome them. Could be worth a look! I refer to it all the time. Good luck with you and Quest! :-)

    1. Hmm yes I'll have to look into it- thank you for the suggestion!

  2. i think it's pretty cool that she stopped and waited for you to catch up - definitely a testament that your work with her is sticking. sounds like she had a little meltdown but came back to earth quickly. good job staying calm and inviting in a scary situation!!

    1. Proof that time spent doing groundwork is never wasted lol I’ve had my fair share of reuniting loose dogs with their owners and have learned it’s much easier to think and react when you try to stay calm!