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Rock…….Me…….Hard Place

What do you do when you want to improve your skill set and ability?

Take lessons.

What do you do when you want your horse to improve his skill set and ability?

Take lessons.

His new Eponia bridle came and it is lovely. Rich chocolate brown with white stitching and the cob fits him well. I need a bigger brow band for his block head and I want to order a bit with smaller rings as I can’t raise the nose band any more and the bit rests on it which is less than ideal.

What do you do when the one thing that sets your horse off the most is taking a lesson?

I don’t know.

Eeyore came from a lesson barn situation and not the best lesson barn situation either. I know he had been there about a year though how intensely he was used is unknown to me. I can take some wild stabs though at how those lessons went down from some things I witnessed while there.

A larger brow band would stop the crown from being pulled into his ears. It was a lovely weekend to get two rides in in to days.

Since being home with me I’ve noticed a strange pattern emerge and each time it reared it’s ugly head, sometimes very literally, I could easily blame it on extraneous matters but the saddle fitting debacle has brought it front and center and now I have to figure out what to do in order to move forward.

You all may think I’m crazy but the moment someone walks into the arena with us and it starts looking an awful lot like a lesson is about to go down Eeyore loses his ever loving mind. I’m talking jigging, bolting wildly and at random, curling his chin to his chest, snaking his head violently around and eventually rearing. His whole body becomes rigid and it’s like he is prepared for some intense battle when all I’m asking for is a walk in a large easy circle.

How he goes when nobody is in the arena with us. Yesterday morning he was butter in my hands. SO MUCH FUN. I yelled over to Dusty and asked him to come grab some media for me. We were at the far end and Eeyore had yet to realize Dusty had entered the arena. .

It gets worse and worse the longer it goes on too. There is no talking him off this ledge. It happened when he was first with me and TrJ came to my house. I blamed his questionable soundness and the saddle. It happened when the saddle fitters came to fit him the first time. I blamed the saddles. It happened when I trailered him to TrC. I blamed the 45 minute wait for her to decide to show up. It happened at this last saddle fitting appointment and there was nothing left to blame.

This isn’t reproducible at my home rides. Sure we aren’t perfect and he throws his opinions in from time to time and our bend isn’t great and my steering isn’t always on point but he always, always remains calm. Maybe a bit defiant but always calm, cool and level headed. He doesn’t rear. He doesn’t jig. He doesn’t snake his head around in angry protest. None of it.

Then we came around and he saw Dusty standing there. Seriously its a wonder how he is able to trot froward while his head is parallel to the ground and not fall on his face. Or kick himself in the head. You can see in the last picture that he is staring Dusty down hard core and paying zero attention to me on him. Once Dusty left the arena? Back to being easy going and lovely. We went on to have a great ride with some of the best bend I’ve ever gotten.

I was so very proud of him Thursday too. He traveled well in 90F heat over 2 hours to unload at a brand new facility after hours with not another soul in sight. He unloaded, looked around and then got busy grazing. No screaming. No fuss. He wasn’t even nervous.

He stood still for her measurements to the point where she told me he was a most excellent boy. And he was! When we tacked him up, I walked him next to a picnic bench and mounted from there. As far as I know he has never seen a picnic bench before let alone be mounted by one and he never batted an eye. Just did what I asked.

Back to being a regular horse. This happens every time I try to get into a lesson with him. He melts down.

And the shittiest part is that if she had not been there I could have taken him to the jump or derby or even xc field and had a blast. The fitter went to her van to make notes while I mounted and began walking him around the empty parking field. I had decided to just ride him there for the fitting as it was grass and fenced in. He was fine. A little distracted by the sprinklers that came on, but he marched forward with a relaxed and swinging back.

We walked in a circle getting warmed up after the trailer ride and he was fine. It didn’t even cross my mind he would be anything but A GOOD BOY given his amazing behavior at home and his outing at the hunter pace. I didn’t even think about his past performances because I had blamed those all on things I have since eliminated. But the moment the fitter came walking over and said “ok, please circle to the right for me” it was game over.

He became a rigid steel beam. He curled his chin to his chest. He refused to do anything but jig or bolt. By the final time she made an adjustment and I got back on he went straight up in the air all four off the floor and I called it a night. I never even got to canter in the saddle. He was a lathered mess. She was a bit shell shocked at his behavior and tried to make excuses: the ride over, the fact he was alone.

But in that moment I knew. It was none of that. It had never been any of the reasons I thought. Had she stayed at her van everything would have been fine. I could have done anything with him. But the moment he recognized a lesson type scenario he was gone.

I told him he doesn’t deserve all the fancy gear I’m buying for him, but he does. I do adore my Orange Butthead even with his quirks.

I have been thinking about this a lot since then. I need to take lessons. I need to learn more skills and improve. I want to clinic. I want to go on adventures. I’m going to have to figure this out but it’s hard when lessons are the one thing he flips out about.

Some friends, who are probably tired of hearing me talk about this, have given me a lot of suggestions. Try a lesson using a head set and a trainer not in the arena. Try a lesson while the trainer is also mounted. Try a lesson where I’m given an exercise, perform it in full while trainer disappears, then go hang out and talk about how it went while the trainer gives treats and pets Eeyore letting him rest. Make the trainer a good safe spot.

The issue is finding a trainer willing/able to do any or all of those things. It’s useless to trailer him out to a lesson just to have him crumple in a heap and then spend the hour pleading with the trainer to believe me, he isn’t like this at home. You all have seen the videos. Lots of newbie rider errors but a calm and steady horse. I don’t have that horse with me when I lesson. And boot camp? Unless boot camp puts him in a lesson string it won’t help. Having a pro take time to ride him in an arena alone won’t do it. The only benefit would be him knowing the trainer better and maybe feeling more comfortable? I don’t know. That’s an expensive experiment I’d like to avoid if possible.

Its been an oven around here lately. The pond comes up into the pasture the horses are currently in and they are taking full advantage of the cool water. Pete and Eeyore have both come in for dinner having obviously rolled in the pond. Gemmie acts as lifeguard and is above such shenanigans.

This is not something I know how to deal with. It’s new to me. I’m going to give it my all and I have two trainers that are highly recommended by friends that I am in touch with and will hopefully be able to figure out a scenario where things don’t suck. I’m hoping to get a lesson scheduled in the next week or two, but need to discuss how to go about having a successful lesson and not a stressed out brawl which gets nobody anywhere.

I don’t know though. This isn’t a snag I was prepared to hit.

34 thoughts on “Rock…….Me…….Hard Place”

  1. I rarely comment but you mentioned you couldn’t replicate it at home yet you said he reacts the same when Dusty is in the arena… could you possibly enlist his help to “pretend” to be an instructor?

    Some lessons horses just get incredibly sour doing the same thing over and over (probably while in pain and in poorly fitting tack to boot) so whole annoying his reaction isn’t necessarily unfounded.

    Since he seems to like to jump maybe start with something like that while Dusty instructs.

    Just a thought.

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    1. He is fine when Dusty and/or Wyatt are hanging out or working doing something unrelated to him, but the moment Dusty stands there and starts talking to me and it looks like something lesson like is about to go down he acts up.

      I haven’t tried jumping him with someone else around mostly because we are wild and out of control on the flat, but maybe that would change the game a bit? I’ll try that this week and see if it makes a difference

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  2. Oh wow that’s really weird, I’ve never heard of a horse being that upset about bystanders. I’ve heard (and experienced myself) of riders sometimes making some sort of change when they know they’re being watched but that’s different.

    At least it sounds fixable! When my horse fussed and spooked at water the first few times I didn’t just think “hm ok I guess no water ever!” We just worked on it. Having a person around when you ride, whether it’s dusty or your son or a trainer, seems easier to do logistically than the opposite of trying to figure out how to never have anybody around ever again. you already know that when E knows you’re serious he will get on with the job.

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  3. oh dear. This is not easy to deal with. Way back I had a trainer coming and he walked towards me with a real intent and Carmen lost her mind.

    I have some ideas, based on the work I have been doing with Carmen. The idea is to work on getting him to relax with a person. You can likely use Dusty for this (sorry Dusty). It starts with ground work and getting him to be soft and relax. Then introduce Dusty. When he relaxes Dusty goes away (or in this case you move away from Dusty). I would try to slowly increase the time next to Dusty and being asked to work on the ground. Even if he’s perfectly fine on the ground I would still start there to establish the task and response demands.

    Then under saddle, find how close you can get close to dusty and have him seek to be relaxed. Then quit. over time (and this can be fairly quick once he gets the idea) you can have Dusty in the middle telling you to do things (even if you’re not listening).

    essentially, the idea is to break it down into manageable steps until you get there.

    It’s hard and will take time but honestly, once he gets it then it should be better.

    In short term if you have a ear piece system then the instructor can be out of the ring and talking to you from outside the ring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The head set is my first place to start at the moment so I can still take lessons while working on his own issues at home using Dusty as a dummy trainer when possible. I think that if I can get him seeing the “trainer” as a safe space instead of someone making him work harder or worse, then things will snap into place and we can move froward again

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  4. Oof. I don’t think you’re crazy at all, for what it’s worth. I think people and animals that are dependent on people end up the same in that they get stuck in their patterns/responses to things. It sucks that all he knows right now is to be anxious when someone’s in the arena, and that the only cue/permission to be not-anxious is for that person to leave.

    I can imagine a hundred ways of trying to break it down to a point of not ‘tripping’ that anxiety switch so you can (through trial/error obviously) build up a new pattern/association with the whole lesson experience. But as you said, finding someone willing to invest in that tedious, slow process (and not break your bank) is a whole other thing. One idealized scenario (and I could also see this not working, so just throwing it out in case anything resonates) is if during your rides you could make a game out of either Dusty or Wyatt walking up to the arena, saying hi or whatever, then walking away and if no anxiety praise, go about your business. Then next ride, they stay for x seconds, more reward if not anxious, but if it comes up go back to them just walking up/away. Regardless, mostly just sending good thoughts for those trainers and I hope some solutions start showing up!

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    1. Thankfully I have some good leads on people who may have the patience to work with us. Its hard when I’m new to them as well because all they see is this train wreck with me clinging on for dear life, doing all the wrong things, and they think I’m lying but I swear he is a GOOD BOY outside that scenario.

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  5. If you were in my country I would recommend some people to you! I hope you get it sorted so you can progress. Could it be worth looking into skype lessons in the meantime?

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  6. I’m sorry to hear that you are having this issue with him! It is not a common one and I’m sure extremely frustrating (and kinda scary) for you. I hope you can find someone to help you work him through it.

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    1. It gets pretty out of hand at times and you can’t just work him out of it. He gets too wound up and will canter in endless circles until I call it a day as I saw when I lessoned with TrC. It needs to be broken down better than that and hopefully one of these new trainers will be willing to slow way down for us

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  7. That’s hard. Patty was my rescue pony. She was sold at auction at James Hunt in Raleigh, twice I believe, and the home prior to her rescue she was starved, and somewhere along the way someone beat her terribly with a stick-like whip. I could never hold one when lunging her because my mild mannered pony would stand up and then charge. She would respond to voice, so I just never used a lunge whip, crop, etc with her. But the first time we showed at James Hunt she tried to buck me off, the stood stock still and refused to move, snapped/bit the judge when they rounded her for class inspection, and threatened to kick him. They dismissed us because she was violent towards the judge. This is a pony that never put a foot out of place, and had righted herself under me when I was about to fall off. She was a super pony, who took every fence you ever pointed her at and was super kind. And she tried to kill me and the judge. Trauma is real for horses too. The next time we showed at Hunt she was herself. She was making sure she wasnt getting sold again, I guess. And I never had an issue with her again in the complex. They can work through it. I agree with Teresa’s idea, but it may help to find a trainer that deals in a method like Lyons or Branaman. I know Felicitas does clinics at High Point over towards Athens. It’s not cheap, but I believe she does some horse “mental health” processing.

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    1. From what I witnessed at the barn I got him from, I’m sure there were some harsh tactics used in training and I hate seeing my adorable lughead get so tense about it. I’m really hopeful of the first Trainer. She works with green horses and riders and everything I’ve read and heard about her sounds like she will be a good fit for us. We will see.

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  8. You mean you Need a bigger browband for his massive brain, big enough to hold that huge personality. Wow, it’s true what they say about his breed. BTW, I love your tank top.

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  9. Since you’ve now zeroed in on this as the cause of some issues, it seems like it would be good to discuss with the two trainers you’re in contact with and explain what is happening. They may have some ideas and different ways to approach it. Good luck! He’s lucky to have you in his corner trying to figure him out, rather than someone who would just call it a day and sell him along.

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    1. My plan is to fully disclose my issues on the phone or in person if I an audit a lesson first and show video proof that I am not out horsed in general, just in this specific instance. I want to lesson and they can be invaluable, but not when he gets tense and we just fight him the entire time. I need someone willing to take it slow, give lots of pats and praise and be an active part in this process versus someone just standing there and talking at us.

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  10. Ugh. That’s an incredibly tricky spot to be in! I’m sorry. 😦

    But FWIW, I think headsets are pretty commonplace these days for a lot of trainers. If getting lessons is something you’re super interested in, maybe you could even invest in one yourself and hand the other end over to the trainer wherever?

    There’s lots of awesome feedback in this comment thread – hopefully you’re able to find a workable solution in the near future 🙂

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    1. I’ve got a ton of ideas, just need to implement them with someone I can trust will be on the same page as me. I do want to lesson. I make so many newbie rider errors that are holding me/us back and only taking lessons will help that. If I didn’t then this would be a non issue. I could ride at home, go on trails and just have fun. But I want to compete ad improve and I need lessons for that so Eeyore will have to come to terms with this eventually.

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    1. My husband actually asked if I could get myself videoed and email it to someone who could critique and give me advice. I wonder if Megan would be up for that type of situation while I work through his stuff

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  11. This sounds like a totally reasonable conclusion.

    I think I’d enlist your favorite person with free time who is willing to come spend time talking to you while you ride and occasionally handing Eeyore a treat but otherwise ignoring him. Have them pay him more and more attention as he gets more willing to ignore them. (this is actually a fairly common problem with agility dogs, btw, who are either stressed out by or like to go off course to visit jump setters, judges, or ring stewards :D)

    Then start trailering out places with said friend (or meeting them there), go back a few steps in intensity, and start from there. And in the mean time, if it’s lesson problems, can you go school new places just to work on building teamwork and trust and working on problems yourself?

    I think this is overcomeable if you look at it in terms of “I need to desensitize this particular stimulus” and not ‘I need to get into lessons ASAP’- maybe video lessons would be a good stopgap for now?

    It’s got to be frustrating but you guys are making so much progress overall. You’ll get there eventually!

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    1. I hope we get past this. I don’t really blame him. Something has caused this but it is still frustrating. Sigh. I really would like to find a professional to help me. I’m not a trainer and have no aspirations to be one. I know in a way we are all trainers in that we teach the horse with every interaction but beyond that I don’t want to “train” a horse. Hopefully I can find a trainer who can help us out

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      1. No, I totally agree that trainers are invaluable. But desensitization work from a training perspective is incredibly time consuming and doesn’t necessarily require a trainer’s advice for the zillions of reps of good behavior that you need to put in as you slowly raise the criteria from ‘behave with a person in the ring on the ground’ to ‘behave with a person in the ring on the ground near you’ to ‘behave when person on the ground is talking to your rider and ignoring you’ to ‘behave when person on the ground is intently focused on you and your rider’- and doing this in a couple of different environments. (He’s a smart cookie. I suspect it’ll take working through things once at home, taking a step halfway back at one new place, a tiny bit back at a second, and thet hird time he’ll go “Ah, got this down!”)

        I think video lessons are a good thing to continue in the mean time, but I suspect that skipping the desensitization and trying to push through to lessoning now and basically expecting him to get over it is going to be massively frustrating to both of you.

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  12. I’m crossing my limbs so hard for you that tonight goes well! After seeing the place he came from, and meeting the woman you bought him from, I’d probably have PTSD if I were E. I like the ideas above about the headsets, having the trainer mounted as well, etc, but at some point, he *does* need to realize that trainer does not automatically = bad. Especially if you want to show- trainers abound in the warmup rings at shows!

    The good thing is you’ve realized what the issue is and you are up front about it instead of hoping it’ll go away. I like the suggestion the trainer you talked to made about having you act as trainer while she rides. That’d be really interesting to see, since he clearly already trusts you.

    Let me know how it goes!

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    1. I’m soooo excited!!!! Really hope it goes well. She has been fully warned and has some ideas. He will eventually have to get his head out of his ass about it but first he needs to realize I’m not going to put him in a shitty situations. He is smart and has already learned so much so I’m remaining positive for now.

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  13. There is another experiment to try and that is have someone else ride him in a lesson (or fake lesson scenario) – it usually ends up a negative feedback loop example you and he are generalizations since I haven’t actually seen you irl ride him – you haven’t had a lesson in a while so the adrenaline starts pumping a bit, someone enters the ring maybe you hold your breath a little longer than normal, and then he holds his breath in response, his back stiffens, your seat stiffens in response, the jaw locks, then your elbow stiffen in response and by then it’s almost impossible to know where to untangle the tension properly. Having someone who is naturally brave and not thinking of what he might do in a fake lesson scenario would be a good check to see if this feedback loop exists or not. Once you determine that its not that then I’d move on to some other scenarios (like making Wyatt pretend to be a riding instructor and treat feeding the ever loving shit out of eeyore lol)

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    1. I have a lesson tonight and the plan is to have the trainer on him and me on the ground giving “instructions” and see how he reacts. She will be calm and cool where I’m not and he trusts me so hopefully won’t see me as a threat on the ground. Will be interesting to see what he does in response to that.

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  14. Perhaps worth trying approaching the situation with some R+ (he is relatively food motivated isn’t he?) Could you get him comfortable with someone walking beside you on the ground and rewarding good behaviour with a treat and then increase the distance between him and the person until he is calm with a person standing in the middle?

    No trainer required, just someone with quick reflexes and able to recognise the desired behaviour.

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