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Popping the Cherry

I did it. I fell off Cruze last night. And it pissed me the hell off. I haven’t departed from my horse since fall of 2016. I never expected to come off Cruze or at least not while walking.

I suppose I could hide this story and carry on like all is rainbows and sunshine, but that wouldn’t be very real and what is the point of having a blog if I’m just going to lie?

So what happened? I’ve been bringing him back into working three days a week and his last ride was Saturday which went pretty well. I rode him out in the big pasture at the walk mostly but did a few trot sets up the big hill in the back. He asked to canter a couple of times and I got nervous and tense. Don’t worry, I admonished myself telling myself that Cruze is not Gem and I need to “give him permission to do what I am asking” as Trainer puts it.

Last night I was determined to loosen up, trust and let go. If I asked to trot and he cantered instead, my plan was to relax, realize he isn’t going anywhere and ask him to come back to the trot, praise him and carry on.

Ha! Hahahahahahha.

Staring out into the grassy abyss

He started off cranky. He wasn’t in pain as I had watched him canter up to the gate no issues for dinner. He just had no interest in working and instead wanted to yell for his friends back in the barn. That is getting old fast. I mounted in the arena and we headed out to the pasture just like on Saturday.

And just like on Saturday he started off sticky, yelling and getting pissy. Unlike on Saturday he also started coiling his body and snaking his head from side to side while squealing not for his friends but at me in warning. My heart rate shot through the roof but I was determined to stay relaxed and move him forward.

I managed one lap around the perimeter without him doing anything terrifying and decided to work in the one corner that was flatter than the rest mostly to break up the monotony of doing the larger laps. I got started on a serpentine concentrating hard on using my outside aids to turn and keeping my lines straight. We were walking. He knew what I wanted. I was riding just about as perfectly as I can manage at the moment. And he had zero interest in that plan. He began to slow and while I should have kicked him forward back in front of my leg, instead he slowed even more, reared up, landed, bucked and gave me enough time to think quite clearly “this is going to suck” as I launched over his head and landed in a heap in the grass. He stood still and looked at me.

 

I got up and had a full on tear filled melt down as he stood still and watched me. All I wanted was to purchase a horse that did the basics and was able to be ridden both in and out of the arena without doing stupid stuff like this.

I was pissed at him and I was pissed at myself. Here I purchased this horse who honestly is just about the opposite of everything the seller told me (he doesn’t crib, he could care less about other horses, he just goes along quietly with whatever you ask) and now I’m on the ground when all I wanted was to fucking walk in a pasture he knows well and maybe I should just sell him once his feet are good enough to slap shoes on and….

A deep breath later I moved him over to the downhill side, tightened my girth a notch and put my foot in the stirrup. I hadn’t yelled at him, smacked him or made note of the behavior in any negative way.

Then, as I went to mount, he swung that obnoxious head of his around and tried to bite me. I lost it and smacked that big spotted muzzle hard. No biting. Ever. Personality is one thing. Being an asshole is another all together and it has been near on two months of me politely correcting his biting habit with no progress. He looked like he got the idea after that (I was wrong about that by the way).

I got on and was pissed. I forced myself to remain relaxed and allow him to do what I asked but when I asked I meant it and he had to do it now. Not when he decided to. NOW.

You see, while I have many flaws when it comes to riding, being passive is the worst. It is odd because I am a very assertive person until it comes to horses and then I’m a meek mealworm that lightly suggests things and worries I’ll break the horse and they will hate me forever if I get firm. Ridiculous really and it drives Trainer batty.

Not so sassy at the end

When I got back on I meant business and he knew it right away. When I asked for walk, if he trotted he got sat on his butt and made to walk. When I asked to trot, the same thing happened. We managed to finish the serpentine but he was still being sticky and trying to coil up so I marched his butt to the arena where we proceeded to work at the trot in all directions and shapes for a straight 30 minutes until he stopped rooting, breaking to the walk or canter and ignoring my leg.

After that we went back to the pasture for a lap around at the walk wherein I did not allow him to break to the trot under any circumstances. Once that was accomplished we were done. The ride ended up being twice as long and a lot more work than I planned, but he needed the attitude adjustment.

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Hard to see but he had sweat running down his legs. Not my intention, but homeboy doesn’t get to decide he doesn’t want to play the “take an easy stroll in the grass” game. 

He was sweaty and quiet and stood like and angel to be stripped of his tack. Until I went to take his boot off and he whipped his mouth around to bite my butt. He was pretty shocked when this didn’t reward him with a light tap and a “no bite” from me as it did the other 100 times he has done that and instead his face smacked into the heel of my boot as I brought my foot up when he whipped his head around. Guess who didn’t try that again?

Horses are horses and not every ride is going to be great. I’m a bit miffed that it was this bad and that the horse who was sold as completely beginner safe, no bad habits, easy going etc… has a nasty rear and buck when he decides he doesn’t agree with the work plan. That will get him sold on fast if it isn’t nipped in the bud quickly as I won’t tolerate that. Some bad habits I will but not that.

But… I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and a very long lead rope to hang himself with. I’ve had him for 7 weeks of which 4 he has sat due to being crippled. Of the other 3 I have taken one lesson on the flat and gone xc schooling once. The other times are me riding alone. Only last week did he return to a three day a week work load and this was the second time working in the pasture. I was trying very hard to focus on straight lines and properly asking for bend and I was doing my best to be free with my seat and reins to not restrict him from doing what I asked but I was still being gentle, passive and mealy.

Once I got back on and became firm, direct and took no prisoners in doing what I was telling him to do while still being free with my seat and praising him when he did it right, he went on to do the thing with a lot less attitude. Not perfect but the sass was tucked back away and while I was still pissed in general the ride returned to baseline enjoyable.

We will see. I still like him and I want it to work out. One bad ride doesn’t ruin an entire relationship but it does raise some flags and is something to watch. Unfortunately I can’t ride again until Friday (Wyatt has a swim lesson tonight, I have a lesson on Wonder Pony Wednesday and a work dinner meeting Thursday) so we will see what happens then. A major criteria for me was a horse who could handle chunks of time off without becoming unrideable but…yeah…we will see how it goes.

36 thoughts on “Popping the Cherry”

  1. First, sorry you came off. But, I do see a few positives here. When you’re assertive (or maybe angry?), it looks like you have a better ride? But I know it’s hard to fake that assertiveness! Believe me, been there… Maybe start in the arena at the beginning of the ride? Get 100% in there? Even tire him out a bit if you have to. Then go out to the pasture. Even if this is just for you and your brain. Then, if you still find him rooting, coiling, and being sticking, back to the arena for more “hard” work? In the beginning, maybe the arena is the work area, and the pasture is the fun “rest” spot? But, he still has to listen. Honestly, he’s just sounding like a big overgrown pony with these antics! And we all know pony antics are the WORST! Truly dangerous? No. Frustrating? YES! The fact that he stood there looking at you when you came off says it all… I didn’t really mean for you to come off, but at the same time, but I didn’t want to do this!

    I will say, once he gets into some sort of routine, I’m pretty sure he’ll be fine with you riding a couple of times a week. Right now you’re going through the “but I thought I was retired and my only job was to eat!” stock horse attitude. Since I don’t ask Batty for anything now beyond trail rides, I don’t deal with this, but I know this attitude well. He’s not physically capable of bucking, but we’d have the head tossing galore in the past in the attitude department to show displeasure when I’d bring him back to work after serious time off. Getting in to shape is hard. Work is hard. Trail rides are fun and not work.

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    1. Thanks for the comment!!! It made me feel a lot better. I think you are 100% right in that he wasn’t meaning for me to necessarily fly off, but he was pretty adamant that he thought there were more important things in life for him to do than work on serpentine in the field. I do feel bad that all we work on is the “boring” stuff and I know he likes to jump, but I don’t want to pound his front feet just yet so it is flat work. Its why I switched to the field thinking it would be more interesting for him than the arena. I was wrong.

      Hopefully getting him out three times a week will be a good starting point for him to realize he is in work and will need to do the job.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ll be fine. And if riding in the arena for the start of the rides is what it takes to get you brave and confident, there is nothing wrong with that. I did round pen riding for a bit to get mind brain on board. And while boring stuff sucks, it’s not his job to get to decide what he does, it’s yours. He can deal. And he’s pretty smart. So, he’s going to learn pretty quickly that if he pulls crap, and you work his butt off, that he probably should pull crap or he’s going to be really, really tired. He’s an appy. They’re smart. It’s a curse, but, it’s also a blessing. He might learn quickly. As long as you learn to be clear and brave and a leader. He doesn’t get to decide what you are doing, you do. He doesn’t want to do a light work? Tough, he can REALLY work like he did yesterday. A few rides like that and I’m pretty sure he’ll understand.

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  2. Oh no! I’m so sorry you came off! How frustrating! But I’m glad it was in a soft area and you’re okay. I know those tear-filled outbursts, too, I’ve had a lot myself. They’re the worst!

    Sarah said everything I was thinking. You being assertive definitely seems to get some positive results from him and that’s a great silver lining to such a frustrating situation. He is a big horse and you’re a small human in comparison; if he’s gonna be a dick give it right back, short and sweet so he knows you mean business. He’s got to regard you as a leader who deserves respect and know he can’t just push you around. I think a sharp smack to the schnozz helped him realize that. I mean, if a foal is nip-nip-nipping at their mom, the mare delivers a quick, hard reprimand after awhile, too! He can have his personality but he definitely needs to recognize that there are limits to it.

    I second her comment about routine, too. He came from a more regimented lifestyle, yes? And then since he’s been with you it’s been a bit scattered? I’m sure once you establish a routine with him for awhile he’ll do better with the time off because he’ll have a better idea of what work means when it happens. My horses all do amazing with large chunks of time off now, but I know it’s only because of how much time I put in with them in the beginning. I had to put those miles in for them to know though or I’m pretty sure I’d have a lot of frustrating moments on my hands.

    You’ll get there, lady, I know you will ❤ ❤ ❤

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    1. I agree…I had planned to keep him in more consistent work form day one, but crippling feet put a stop on that. Now that he is back to at least flat work he needs to learn that work is work and that is what keeps him on this farm.

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      1. Just had a random thought that brought me back here…

        What about putting some ground poles out in the field to provide some more structure to the work you do out there? Maybe that would help get his brain a little more interested in what you do even if they aren’t true “jumps”? I have thrown together several of the Horse Physio (found on FB and pinterest) exercises before to help keep my horses’ brains entertained.

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  3. aw man, i’m so sorry that happened. it really, really, really, REALLY sucks when the horse figures out that maybe if they don’t want to, they don’t have to. especially when they start getting, er, *creative* in exploring alternative options. i’m kinda dealing with that with charlie right now and it’s just frustrating. bc yea i wish i could just get on and have that fun relaxing ride.

    i tell myself tho that sometimes we have to remind the horses that it IS a job. “reset the parameters” in a way lol. it’s not glamorous or fun, but usually if we’re quick and clear enough about it early enough, it ends the conversation so that we can get back to the good stuff.

    also fwiw isabel was always a HORROR SHOW to ride in the open field at her barn. and i never really figured out why, but we always had the freakin worst rides out there. for some reason she was just less settled, even tho fields everywhere else in the world were perfectly acceptable. might not be what’s up with Cruze but maybe it’s food for thought anyway. good luck and don’t let it get you too down! sometimes it’s good to get a little mad!

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    1. He isn’t a spooky horse at all and generally will get down to work once he realizes there aren’t any other good options, but not yesterday. Apparently he decided to be a little louder with his opinions of my work ethic. It is mostly my fault with letting him get stuck behind my leg and not forcing him to do what I ask. As you said in your post today…Zero Tolerance.

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  4. I used to be a very passive and weak rider easily frustrated when things didn’t go okay. And it took Amber actually for me to begin being more assertive. She was a baby so I had to be more assertive to clearly outline the boundaries (ahem, I didn’t most of the time lol) but she would bulge and get behind my leg and bite at things and I had to learn how to tell her no. I had to learn how to kick and go, and make up in my mind that we’re doing this right now or else trouble.

    To me, this seems like he’s testing you. I don’t know how many horses would test me when I’d first hop on them because I feel different. And it’s true that I ride differently, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t have to do what I asked. So most rides would be really sucky with me using a lot more leg and hand and seat than I wanted until they mellowed and then I mellowed. But they learned that I meant it. He wants to go back to his friends. And he’s being an ass about it. But he wants to know you mean business. Now that he’s more comfortable around and with you, I think he’s putting up a fuss and pulling a temper tantrum. It is so easy for me to be assertive when I’m feeling angry or frustrated. It’s much harder for me to be assertive when I’m happy and excited to ride but I’ve learned to hop on expecting to have The Best Ride Ever every day, but in the back of my mind I’m always prepared to have a much worse day.

    You’ll get there – don’t worry ❤ ❤ Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, but I know you two will make progress together ❤ ❤

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    1. Good points. He is testing me to see what he can get away with and I need to step up my game to let him know that work is work and that is why he is here. He gets love, attention, food and pampered but those 3 hours a week are mine.

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  5. Sorry about the frustrating ride and parting of ways. I admit I did chuckle a bit at the rest of your post… he sounds like just about every App I’ve ever encountered. They’ve all needed very clear guidelines and quick reprimands for bad behavior, at all times, otherwise they turned into major turds. They’re smart, in a kind of evil way.

    But it sounds like maybe this whole incident could end up being a good thing in the long run, if it helps change your approach a bit, which in turn improves the relationship. There’s potential for good things here.

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    1. It was a wake up call for me to get my head out of the clouds and ride the damn horse which incidentally is what Trainer has been telling me for a long time now. I know Cruze can take the pressure without us ending up in the next county so it is time for me to put my mom pants on and treat him like Wyatt when he was a toddler who just don’t want to.

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  6. Sorry you fell off and sorry he was a grade a shit!! UGH. But as Amanda and Sarah both said (A) Appy and B) more anger = better rider LOL. I think he will be okay but a routine would be better. IF you can’t ride him can you lunge him a bit when you have time?? At least to get him used to walk, trotting when you say it not when he wants to. Also ground-driving might help him some too…..It is so frustrating for you I am sure.

    And I bet you fifty bucks that Remus will dump me in this field one day if it ever cools up enough to ride. Sometimes they are more shits at home than away. UGH….

    And the biting, yeah get a water bottle and squirt him (like a dog or cat when they are bad) so you don’t have to hit him. The spray will shock him and maybe help. I would not put up with that either. That is obnoxious.

    I am glad you made him SWEAT he deserved it, so sorry he was so bad. that sucks….:(

    Keep the faith. You are a better rider than you give yourself credit for. ALSO is there way to get the trainer/instructor to ride him a couple times a month?? I did this with Emily and Remus when he got a bit too cocky with stuff and it helped immensely get his head back where it needs to be (I know he is not 100 percent sound but in a grassy field he should be fine). Bad Cruze. 😦

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    1. Trainer planned on getting on him during my next lesson to get a good feel and a better understanding of what I feel when on him, but then he went lame. She still wants to, but I was waiting until he was more comfortable. Hopefully by the end of another month he should be ok to do that.

      I don’t like hitting and I don’t condone it but I also don’t like getting bit. Hopefully he learns quickly that biting is never the answer.

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      1. oh i am not saying he didn’t need to be smacked HARD 🙂 I just said if you needed to the water will work too 🙂 I am thinking he is pretty smart (Too much maybe LOL) and will figure it out. Hopefully she can get on him soon 🙂 (IN a month or so i mean) Bad Cruze 🙂

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  7. I’m probably just going to echo what everyone else said. I suspect that if he was a lesson horse some of this behaviour backed off the riders and he’s trying it out. I am not sure if you carry a crop but do it and next time he begins to snake his head give him a good pop and send him forward. Or if you are not comfortable with that smack him and ride a small circle. I am glad that you hit him for biting you. That is just ‘no’. Sometimes you just have to make it not worth it to them.

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      1. I’ve known a lot of apps over the years. I find them similar to ponies in attitude and intelligence. I had one I bought and trained for a summer camp I worked at and she was just awesome. I hope some butt-kicking works in his favor.

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  8. I’m sorry this happened, Sara. Assertiveness goes a long way with any horse, though, and sometimes getting angry like you did is the shortcut to assertiveness. Fear is more likely to make us back off and be meek in an attempt to keep the horse’s behavior from escalating. Believe me, I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum as well. When I’ve become scared of a horse’s behavior under saddle, I’ve hopped off and immediately worked the horse harder from the ground than they would have had I stayed in the saddle…and then, once they’ve settled, I get back on. Very similar to what you did. It helps the horse understand that if he makes me get off because he misbehaved, he is going to have to work that much harder. It’s important to do it immediately though: extra-long reins with snaps that can turn into a long lead, and a rope halter under the bridle or just a halter-bridle are useful in being able to put the horse to work immediately once my feet are on the ground.

    Biting is a no. IME, lightly slapping a nippy horse is too similar to their “bitey face” game they’ll play with one another, and it just encourages the behavior. If a horse is threatening to nip, I “bite” right back, either with a good solid smack on the nose or a pinch on the neck: they don’t do that to the higher-ups in command in the herd, and if they do, the alpha horse will bite back pretty hard. They are 1000 lb animals. I’m glad you were more assertive with this too! Hopefully he stops. It will also help to establish that he needs to respect you.

    My real two cents here is that I would stop worrying about whether Cruze thinks the work is boring, because it is making you second-guess yourself and is contributing to your lack of assertiveness in the saddle. You had expressed this concern often with Gem, and it worries me to see you doing the same with Cruze. He doesn’t get an opinion here. You are not asking him to do anything that is beyond his scope of experience or fitness. Any work we do with any horse, be it in the arena or on the trail, can be boring for the horse, especially when learning any new skill set, be it just working on trotting a straight line or the canter half pass or doing bounces through a grid in a lesson. If we all worried about whether the work was boring to the horse, we wouldn’t get anything done. I find that the horse responds to the rider’s interest in the work at hand: if I’m excited/interested/focused on what we’re working on (and I’m being fair to my partner in my expectations of the work being performed, of course) the horse usually responds in kind.

    When discussing beginner-safe horses, I look at the program the horse was on that was making him beginner-safe. If he was being ridden multiple times a day several days a week as part of a lesson program, suddenly being put out to pasture without a consistent routine is very likely to bring up unwanted behaviors. I second what Sarah and Liz said above. It took me four years of consistency and strict routine to be able to create a beginner-safe horse that I can put out in the field for 6 months and then pull back out and hop on bareback with a halter for a spin, without fear of her losing her mind. (Gracie) She can be a little testy at the beginning of a ride after time off, but a quick reminder that we are working and I’m the leader here, and she goes back to being her usual happy, willing self.

    I don’t doubt that you’ll get there with Cruze. ❤ But it might take some consistent structure in his routine for now to help him get there.

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    1. It is weird because I am very assertive with our dogs and Wyatt. Everyone in the house knows what the rules are and where the boundaries lie and it makes life easier for everyone. But when it comes to the horses? Maybe it is fear based on not being ale to handle the tantrum if I kick him forward but the consequences of not being that way isn’t fun or safe either so you’d think I’d learn by now.

      My original intent had been to get him going 3 days a week from the start to learn that life at the farm meant work. Sometimes that work is flat work in the arena or maybe a hack around the property or a jump school. Unfortunately that got off track when he ripped half his hoof off with his shoe and he sat. Now that I am back to working him 3 days a week, I’m hoping he gets the memo that this is life and there is no “noping” his way out.

      Why are horses so hard?!

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  9. So I’m super sorry you came off. It sucks, boy, do I know.

    BUT I will say it sounds like you turned your emotion into positive riding that he actually responded to. I wouldn’t say one bad ride is indicative that he’s not beginner safe or anything, I would just say that he’s testing you and is seeing how far he can go. You said you were passive with him when he would nip or misbehave, well, now he’s learning that he can’t.

    You guys will get there! Especially with more regular lessons- those really will make all the difference.

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  10. I definitely want to add a word of support, even if it is the same as what everyone else has already said. I definitely think he is testing you to see what he can get away with between the biting and the under saddle behaviors. Now you know, so you can have a better defined game plan for rides. And I think getting assertive and adopting the zero tolerance idea is truly going to help you. You already proved to yourself that you can dust yourself off (literally!) and turn the tears and frustration into something positive. You may have to do this many, MANY more times to cement the pecking order here (though sans falling off would be good!), but Cruze seems like he’s smart enough to figure out his boundaries once you establish them. You’ve got this!!

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  11. As someone who falls off at least once a year, sometimes more, that stuff always sucks and I’m sorry it happened to you. It might be good to consider what kind of program he was in prior to you buying him. Horses usually do best with regular work, especially attitude wise and if he was working regularly before and now sitting, well he may just think he bought himself an early retirement! It’s really good that you were assertive and reminded him that no, he is your riding horse.

    Not every horse can be barefoot. I had two that couldn’t though I would love them to be. (Dante is currently barefoot to my delight but I will slap shoes on him if he needs them in the future). How long will you give the barefoot experiment a go?

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    1. Right now he doesn’t have enough hoof to put nails in so he is barefoot by default. I could potentially glue something on but he overreaches on the hind (the reason he ripped his hoof off in the first place) and I worry if I do it prematurely he will rip it off again and end up back at square one. My plan is to let him grow out enough hoof to support the shoe and if he is still not 100% comfortable barefoot by then to put shoes on. I figure he will need shoes anyway and my goal isn’t really a barefoot beast. I lucked out with Gem being bare. He should be good in a month or so based on his hoof growth.

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  12. What a big, fat JERK. I might have eaten him for dinner for half that behavior. I’m sorry you broke your no-falling streak. I hope it’s several more years before the next one. I’m glad to see you kicked his butt in the end, though. Good on you! The biting thing makes my blood boil.

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  13. Sorry that you are having to deal with this.

    In case it helps you at all, I had similar thoughts when I got dirty-bucked off my relatively new horse that was supposed to be a steady mount. She bucked me off 2 times that ride and it really messed with my confidence. However that was 4 years ago and she’s never bucked like that again. It really did seem to be a one-time freak thing. Definitely don’t ignore a pattern of behavior but don’t let one experience sour your whole relationship. It sounds like that’s what you’re already planning but just wanted to help give you hope that this isn’t necessarily going to be a reoccurring behavior.

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  14. Sorry that first loss of confidence moment sucks. I agree with the he thought he was semi retired comment. My mare would get a quick lunge with too much time off, just so she would remember her work ethic and get the stupid out before my ass hit the saddle. Maybe start arena then use pasture to cool down until he is set in routine? Most horses i ride get silly outside arena at times. They know arena means work, but areas where they live and are forced to work confuse them.

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