Monday, March 30, 2015

It Was Bound to Happen

Much like Andrea at The Reeling, I was bound to have a bad training session with Spud at some point. Fortunately, it wasn't dangerous and Spud came back to work just fine... but there was a rather large melt-down during our ground driving exercise yesterday evening.

It all started when I arrived to the barn. I had intended to take Suzie out again, but when a I caught a glimpse of Spud in the back field (where he isn't supposed to be), I immediately felt the urge to drive him. He had slipped through the spot between the fence and the gate and had been cantering around the back field - bugger. By the time I had rounded the corner with a halter in hand, he was back in the regular paddock, looking as innocent as can be. I immediately went to go catch him and the little shit continuously refused to be caught. If there is anything that frustrates me, it is a horse that refuses to be caught.

Iz being a little shit.
I finally caught him and brought him in after about 5-10 minutes. I started brushing him down and when on his right side I remember trying to ask him to step over. He pushed IN to me and refused, tucking his butt up and stepping into me. Now, I don't put up with that shit. Ever. So, I gave him a boot in the lower belly with my foot. He skipped over and yanked at the leadrope, obviously startled and tugged back several times on the lead. I waited until he stopped moving and threw him out on the line for an impromptu lunge. You DON'T move your ass in to me. Even if you are a little horse. By this time he was already worked up and knowing he is much more sensitive than Suzie, I started to work on asking him to move over by poking him with my finger on his haunches. He tensed, tensed, tensed... but would NOT move! I literally was POKING him and he'd just flinch and stand there. So, I brought the leadrope towards me, yielding him away from the pressure and patted him for his efforts. After about 5 minutes I was able to push him over with one hand on his haunches and one on his belly. So this is something to work on.

We headed out for a drive shortly after and I chose to ground-drive again, which may have been a better idea considering I had hurt the little gaffer's feelings by giving him a kick. It started out pretty good though - I was asking for some contact, getting him to bend thru his circles and at the trot he was starting to balance a bit more and wasn't as "wiggly" as before. We had some abrupt stops but he was quiet, willing and even had some great trot-walk transitions. Things seemed to be going swimmingly until about halfway through our drive.

Since we were ground-driving on the road, cars were passing us at all different speeds and times. I had the dogs with me and at one particular moment I had Spud halted and Ty was refusing to heel beside me. I yelled at him to heel and Spud grew agitated and tried to shoot forwards. I steadied him and he tried to whip around - like he wanted to face me or head home. I corrected it and struggled to get Spud quiet as well as get the damn dog to listen. It was like the angrier I got at the damn dog, the more wound up Spud got. I did try to gather myself a bit and started to concentrate on driving; we were working on extending the trot slightly and collecting it back up - a process that Spud still doesn't really understand. At one point, we were coming up towards a black tarp that was laying on the side of the road and Spud spooked hard at it. I wasn't prepared for it [because he's never spooked under harness] and all of a sudden he was facing me, staggering backwards and yanking at the lines in my hands. I managed to get him right way around but he was frozen again, his hind end tense and his mind obviously riled right up. When I had tried to get him to yield his head towards his shoulder he yanked at the lines and threw his head up, expressing frustration.

I asked him for forwards and he refused, tucking his butt up. I asked again and he exploded forwards in a trot. I put him on a circle intent to get him to trot past the tarp, but he was already wound up and would scoot away from it. I asked him to halt and he threw his head down and bulldozed into a halt, yanking my arms forwards. And that was when he started to get rowdy. Both front legs left the ground, approximately half an inch as he threatened to rear. I was both caught off guard and by surprise and what I did next was WRONG. I tightened the lines and asked him to whoa again. He pranced, threatened to rear again and sat back on his haunches. Several times he threatened me and I didn't get it into my stupid brain to LET HIM GO FORWARDS. I have dealt with this lightness up front shit with Suzie, and for some reason I just couldn't brain and kept refusing him to go forwards.

Thankfully I got my shit together and had him go forwards but he was like an exploding steam engine at this point. He did walk over the tarp, with a dainty flick of his hind leg as it touched a part of the material. After that he was fired up and attempted to break in to trot a handful of times. I blocked him each time and instead concentrated on turning, serpentines, zig-zags, etc. Anything to get his mind back. I then remembered I was holding the lines tight and immediately relaxed them. Spud tried to scoot forwards with the slight slack in the lines and I let him but then gently brought him back. I rinsed and repeated that exercise a few times - relax the hands, he scoots forwards, let him go for a few steps and bring him back quietly. It seemed to work and we had some BANG ON trotting happening afterwards. I migrated from letting him go faster to half-halting and rechecking him. He seemed more responsive to that. Almost like I was telling him, "Alright alright, you can go forwards but use your forwards energy at this pace." instead of "NO you can't trot faster. WALK NOW."

Towards the walk home, after his little melt-down, he spooked at a random branch on the ground but was easier to deal with. And only another time afterwards he got light up front but I handled it properly this time. He did whinny a few times once he could hear Suzie and I put him to work on a circle instead of hollering, "Git" or "Hey!" to get him to quit. It seemed like a well received tactic. It is hard because I can't get mad at him - he completely loses his shit if I get truly mad. I can discipline him, but I cannot put my human emotions into the equation. I am glad we ended on a good note, which included walking quietly on quite a loose line (I realize you aren't supposed to have a loose line while driving and should have contact with your driving horse at all times, but the "mental break" seemed to do him some good). All the same, it was frustrating to have had a battle with him and I'm curious if this threatening to rear thing is going to be a new evasion tactic. I've also begun to notice he is less and less willing to approach me in the field as well as be caught, so it's time to break out the treats and show the mini pony some love. Oh, and take the emotions out of it. Something for me to work on.


  1. Hopefully it's partly a case of spring fever and Susie love and will pass soon without too much intervention :)Bad Spud! He's so freakin cute, tho lol

  2. Sometimes ponies really do get the feels going...whether they are good or bad. I always let the good ones shine and try to ignore the bad ones. Easier said than done for sure! He is lucky he is cute!

    1. Interesting you've said that ("let the good ones shine and try to ignore the bad ones") because with him, if you get after him for doing something bad, he has a MELTDOWN. He's quick to be offended and it's almost like you are really hurting his pony feelings. With Suzie, if I were to smack her or growl at her for trying to crowd me, etc she'd react with a "pffft, fine" but Spud reacts so violently and "OMG"

  3. aww poor naughty pony!! i definitely struggle to take human emotions out of the equation... but it never works out otherwise... sounds like even tho it wasn't the best ride objectively, you both still got a lot out of it education-wise.

    1. No, it certainly wasn't the best. It's hard because riding/driving isn't a linear progression - you have ups and downs and just need to roll with it.