Monday, April 10, 2017

Making a Horse

Hopefully a horse that can show!

I thought it would be interesting to share a little about what I'm focused on for the next couple of months mainly because right now my focus isn't on riding. It's not that we don't need to work on that because of course we do, it's just that with Katai's recent progress and my interest in showing we're riding above where I'd feel comfortable signing up for a show (training levelish). However we've got other things in our way that will prevent us from showing or certainly from having fun showing which is my ultimate goal.

Anyone who's followed this blog is pretty aware of the journey it's taken to get Katai here. Often though I don't think I share how difficult Katai really is (maybe I'm scared after having J tell me to put her on a meat truck). For all that she's amazing, brave, and pretty unflappable under saddle (although she certainly can have massive tantrums when she wants to) she's actually extremely reactive, panicky, stubborn, and a bully. While she is a bully she's also so reactive and inclined to panic that it's really tough to use tools that would work with other horses and tools that I was able to use in the past. It's a really thin line between appropriately correcting her for naughty behavior and pushing her into flight and fight mode where she can't learn and just becomes reactive.

I truly wish that I'd been able to get her earlier in her life and that we'd found Jane earlier because I think both things would have helped. I'm completely aware that I've made mistakes with her but I certainly have tried my best and really tried to learn from my mistakes.

Maybe at our next show she'll only do this
 a few times rather than for the whole show
Jane has been a real turning point though with her message of just letting Katai be right sometimes. I've stopped trying things that have worked for other people (be the leader all the time) and started to just do my own thing (read Jane's thing) with her which is namely, very little "discipline" and lots of soft, gentle patience past the point where most people would be patient. Suddenly, under saddle, she's stopped having tantrums, stopped blowing up, and become much more manageable even when she does get hot. That, of course, doesn't mean no discipline but certainly less than I've been used to. However, I haven't had the opportunity to try this on the ground since in her normal space, with her normal routine she's got absolutely impeccable ground manners (because I care ALOT about her behavior on the ground).

With that in mind, I went to the barn on Sunday with the only item on my agenda being to expose her to the horse trailer for as long as possible. I did what I'm calling "boredom training" and pretty much just stood on the ramp (for about an hour) while she did all of her panicked pony things until eventually she decided to actually walk up the ramp on her own. Literally on her own since I didn't put an ounce of pressure on her or ask her in any way to join me in the trailer.

At least she's been able to practice her Levade?
The issue with trailer loading recently has been that as soon as she sees the trailer she panics. It's not that she doesn't have the skills to load, it's just that there's no successful way to use them when she's in fight and flight mode. On Sunday this meant that when she rammed me into the trailer I gently guided her away and tried to just stay out of her way, when she reared and spun and bolted I got her gently stopped and quietly led her back to the trailer, and when she threw herself sideways off the ramp into me I got out of the way (I'm thinking I'd be a really good dance partner by now lol) and then tried again. Mostly I kept her out of my space when she was calmer by gently flapping the rope at her and when I asked her to move forward I didn't let up the pressure until she gave but other than that I just sort of let her do her thing. All of the whips and stud chains stayed in the barn and she was just in a rope halter and lunge line (so that I had more space to stop her) with leather gloves for me.

Once she stopped panicking she was in the best mental place that she's been. She actually calmed herself down and then I had my pony back. In that mental space when I led her and she ran her shoulder into me I very firmly moved her out of my way and then went back to coaxing and petting and baby talking her.
We also practiced some movements similar to this.
This will come in handy for dressage at some point right?
It was absolutely the most success I've had and the first time that I've had hope that we might accomplish this thing before we're eligible for Century Club awards. If you've been reading my riding blogs since I started with Jane you'll recognize that this is similar to how we started to treat Katai under saddle back in September and I believe it's the reason that we've made most of the progress that we have. I finally decided to try the same thing on the ground and I'm really glad that I did.

I didn't stop there on Sunday though I walked her all over the farm (lots more baby talking and petting and patience), stood by the side of the trailer and simulated how it would be if she were tied there (without the risk of actually tying her), and finally put her in cross ties in the barn and groomed her. She was still pretty up and then when the other horse in the barn left she had a meltdown. I had to use the panic snaps on the cross ties but then I just (gently but firmly) backed her. She'd blow up, I'd back her down the aisle with just light pressure and then stand there and pet her and baby talk to her. More blowing up, back down the isle the other direction and more baby talk, rinse and repeat. Eventually she actually calmed enough that I could put her back in the cross ties. Basically I treated her like she was a weanling. Finally we quit on that good note.

Lots of these to choose from really
Previously this week I'd also used the wash stall at this barn for the first time and had a passaging and panicking pony but handled that the same way, lots of baby talk and pets and we both survived without any incident. I didn't even get my head kicked in when I washed the gunk between her legs and on her udder which is truly a feat and had even Jane impressed because mares.

So, the real goal for the next 1.5 months is lots and lots, and lots of exposure, changes in routine, and trailer boredom training every. single. day. that I'm at the barn


  1. Ugh trailer training is the worst. It sound like you're being very patient with her.

    1. Yeah, and for me it's really the blind leading the blind. I'd like to get a professional involved but I know how quickly it can go wrong with Katai and since I know her I figure that we'll fumble through getting comfortable with the trailer together.

  2. I'm glad you did a post about this side of things, I didn't know how bad the issues were. I admire your patience. I can really relate with it being hard to work on ground work when your horse is well behaved on some days and situations. Kachina is the same in that she sometimes seems to lose the ability to listen to me, but what causes that seems to be inconsistent so it's hard for me to work on it regularly. It's always tough when normal tools don't work, but it sounds like you're doing a great job of finding techniques that do work for her.

    1. Good :) Sometimes it's so tough to share the bad bits but I've been trying to hard to share some of everything. It is tough when all of the things that the professionals are telling you should work are making things worse. Really good to have Jane on my side this time though!

  3. Patience and sloooow is always the way to get anywhere with horses :) Tesla and I have been longing since November to fill in holes and build confidence: all your time with Katai will pay off in the end :D

    1. I sure hope so! Really nice to hear from you guys on here that I'm not heading down completely the wrong path. Only time will tell but I'm really hopeful this time which makes me happy :D

  4. I think that you are very very wise. It will pay off in the end. What Carmen really brought home to me was that a correction only worked when she understood what was being asked and what her options were. This year she feels like a whole new horse (knock on wood).

    1. Thank you Teresa! It's amazing how similar she and Katai are. I'm really hoping that this change in our relationship continues the same way that you and Carmen's has :)