Friday, August 28, 2015

Note to Self

Every once in awhile you get a ride that irrefutably reminds you how far you've come yet how much more work there is still yet to do.

Last night T wanted to introduce her Icelandic, Nickers, to the big river/horse swimming pool so Quest and I escorted way to the boat launch and we hung out in the water while T worked with her mare. It took all of 15 minutes to accomplish our goal and we still had plenty of daylight left to go to the main barn. Quest led the way for the most part heading out and Nickers led the way home. There were lots of deer along the trail but the mares were fine. On the way back, we went into the meadow to get some pictures and video. I dismounted and took video from the ground as T and Nickers trotted past us and around the corner.

 Then Quest had her first meltdown- she began to scoot circles around me and got super worked up about being asked to stand still. She even bucked, which I immediately got on her case for. I have zero tolerance for dangerous behavior. Firmly reminded that all four feet must stay on the ground, Quest still worried but was much more tractable. I started working with her in hand- walk forward, halt, backup, halt, walk forward, backup etc. Given a task to focus on, Quest came right down and within a couple minutes we were walking quietly on the trail back to a patiently waiting T and Nickers. She was calm enough that I could use a dirt slope to mount back up first try (not the most graceful of mounting attempts but hey, I got back on).

My brain got to thinking about what could have caused Quest to act up. I had a hunch and there was only one way to find out. I asked T to walk past us on the trail while I halted Quest. We watched them leave, mareface was fine though definitely alert. I told T to trot away from us. As if on cue,  Quest went into a jigging frenzy and a rear. She offered up some serious piaffe that would have done FEI level dressage trainers proud.

I asked T and Nickers to come back so we could try a couple of other quick tests. I asked T to trot away from us again but this time I turned around to wait in place so Quest could not see them leave. When we turned back around, we found ourselves completely alone and I then asked Quest to walk off - there was zero jigging, she was calm as could be. I asked T to repeat the same thing, this time facing away from home. Again no reaction. How about passing by each other going opposite directions on the trail, away and towards home? Nothing.

So Quest gets clearly upset when she can see other horses passing and/or leaving her behind on the trail. Taking away the visual or getting passed in the opposite directions- no issues. We have done leapfrogging exercises on the trail but obviously not to the extent that Quest needed in order to figure things out so that's going to the top of the to-do list for our next rides.

While I'm a bit bummed about the meltdowns, I have to remind myself that the improvements should be noted- Quest settled down very quickly when she used to take MUCH longer after getting that worked up and despite all the scooting around high as a kite, she did not once invade my space. Though nevertheless when things like this happen, I do beat up myself a lot and can't help but wonder if I'm pushing Quest too fast or asking too much of her too quickly. Doesn't help that being so new at literally everything, there is always that tiny voice in the back of my mind that rears its ugly head. I shared some of my doubts with T later that night after our ride and she was the voice of reason that put my thoughts to ease.

I'm not someone who will ever be happy cooped up an arena all day and just going for 1-2 mile walking trail rides. Quest was not happy with her past life in the western pleasure show ring. We found common ground in our shared love of being out on the trail with miles to look forward to.

In trying to set up Quest with a career in endurance though, she's probably never been asked to do most of the things that I ask of her now. That being said she is allowed to worry and she is allowed to express her opinion ( a safe way). My job is to make sure that I'm just as prepared to deal with whatever comes our way so I can be the leader she needs at all times. I've been working hard to develop a secure seat so most things don't faze me too much- stuff happens, she acts up, we move on.

At the end of the day though, I just want to do right by her. 


  1. better to figure some of these things out to work on while schooling at home rather than out on a ride!! she'll figure it out :)

    1. I agree and much rather see the worst now rather than later!

  2. You are doing everything perfectly! Don't be discouraged! I constantly forget that you are new to do so much more to properly train and prepare your girl than so many other more experienced riders I've encountered!

    Anxiety over being left behind is a normal thing and I think you are working with it 100% correctly, by getting her used to it. Lily used to have anxiety over being left behind by a horse moving at speed, but it is something that has improved tremendously over the last 2 years. It depends a lot on the horse that is leaving her behind: if it is a valued herd member, she will be more anxious vs if it is someone she doesn't care that much about. We have avoided the issue at endurance rides by riding with a buddy that she gets to know in ride camp, like Q or Nimo. She's usually pretty good about being left behind regardless, thanks to all of the miles on trail, especially by herself (which has taught her to rely on me for guidance), but when she is in season she is more apt to display herdbound behaviors.

    If you are able to make it to one of our local endurance rides anywhere from NJ to VA, I'd be happy to ride with you and Quest so you both have buddies to keep you company! :)

    1. Thank you so much Saiph, your vote of confidence means a lot! Now that you mention Lily acting more herdbound while in season, I do remember reading about that and Quest was in heat too; it's comforting to know that miles and time will help bring down the anxiety though.

      The new barn usually has a full schedule of rides throughout the season so we'll more than likely get a chance to ride together soon :)

  3. it's definitely easy to get hard on yourself but it sounds like you did just fine! you kept your cool, reminded her, tested to be sure you knew what the issue was and then put that away to continue to work on, in the future! i'd say you're doing great!

    i do have a question though, what do you mean that you reminded her unsafe behaviour is not appreciated? is there something specific you did? i ask because i want to learn alternatives too, to the bossy mare i ride b/c she's done some things like that before and i have taken a major spill when she took off in a corn field b/c another pony spooked. the only thing i know is to run them into a decreasing circle.

    1. In the first case, I was on the ground so I immediately snapped the reins and made her move her feet. While in the saddle, I tipped her nose to my inside knee and made her do circles until I told her to stop. Positive consequences for good choices. Make the wrong answer hard and the right one easy.