Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Q the Freight Train

This mare. I swear, y'all. I love her. I hate her. She's a blessing. She's a curse. She's a CHALLENGE.

I've got my jumps set up in the field across the creek from the horses' field where they live. I don't have to move the jumps when the BOs mow the barnyard now, and it gives me a lot more space to have my 3 jump standards and 3 cavalettis. The BOs are going to brush-hog the field sometime soon, but until then, the tall grass remains. Its really not too bad at all. Quite clear when you're out there in the middle of it, not as thick as the photo makes it appear.

The back field. To the left of this photo is the barn. I took this photo from the far end of the field opposite the area I use
for jumping right now. Its a huge field! The grassy hill in the center-right of the photo is the hill we do hill  sprints on.
The jumps are situated left of center. If you look closely you may be able to see the teal standards rising above the grass.

I've been jumping more frequently as of late because I have a mini-performance for kids where I will be jumping in the near future. I know Q knows what to do, but it doesn't hurt to get my shit dialed in so I don't make the little wonder mare look bad when she's doing her thing.

Since we've been jumping in this back field, Q has been doing her best freight train impression when we jump over anything in a toward-the-barn direction. She'll land and CHARGE off. If I navigate her away from her desired direction, she does this insane sidepass AT SPEED to try to get what she wants.

Thank god I've initiated use of a running martingale - something I've been avoiding for awhile, uncertain about the gadget - or I wouldn't have any chance of controlling her manic charges off into oblivion as -formerly- these manic charges were accompanied by a high-headed/nosed headset to further evade control from the human.

Backstory on running martingale use: Q has been threatening to rear with me to evade requests and has reared once with Mike - a behavior ONLY exhibited as refusal to a request. She's never done it in fear or in pain because the things we ask of her that merit the behavior are things she will do regularly the majority of the time. Rearing is her new "nope not gonna!" last ditch effort to kindly tell the offending human to fuck off. 

Fortunately, in addition to providing an aid to recommend Q's feet stay firmly on the ground, the running martingale has also nipped her nasty habit of throwing her head in the air to evade contact in the bud. Last year, when we would jump in the barnyard, if she tried to freight train off after a jump it was always accompanied by a look-I'm-an-Arabian!/giraffe head set. (And for anyone curious if her behavior to evade is because of dental work, her teeth are fine. I've had the vet out to check.)

Since I've been using the running martingale (3x so far), Q has realized she cannot throw her head and nose up in the air to evade contact. She instead refocuses herself when she hits that barrier and reaches into the contact. It really seems to help her to focus 75% of the time. She moves more fluidly when she's not stolting along with her head in the air. Whenever we take a walk-around break after going through our mini jump course now, she goes into such a beautiful swinging walk, lowering and stretching. 

This little gadget really seems to work for her - something I never expected. We're only using it for jumping work and none of the dressage exercises we pursue (dressage rides with Q are now done bareback as this seems to be the best for both of us!) With time I would love to put it back on a hook in the tack room, but as an aid to help Q to refocus and listen, it may be a good helper for a time.

The backstory helps to paint a picture of some *mostly* positive things. Negative though? Any jump that is taken in the direction of "home" results in a charging mare.

I keep her in a trot to approach all of the jumps. She'll land and try to canter or gallop from jumps headed toward the barn, but she is receptive to most requests to slow back to a trot as long as she's not pointed toward what she considers to be home.

The new course I set up last night only allows her to head toward the barn twice in a 6 jump course. Those two instances are both over the gymnastic I have set up that she encounters as the 3rd and 6th jump obstacle in the 6 jump course. My thought was that this gymnastic would cause her to have to be more mindful of what she was doing so that a charge home would be less likely.


This mare. Gymnastic complete: CHARGE! home! I give leg and rein aids and I talk to her throughout. She does this manic sidepass at the gallop/canter to make an evasion attempt. I slow her and make her halt.

I'ts beyond frustrating because in those CHARGE! moments she sees red and just won't listen. She gets so *up* about the whole business that it then takes a nice walk around the perimeter for her to truly calm down. Redirecting her CHARGE! isn't yet possible. I just have to stop her, which rewards her in a sense because she gets to cease movement which is something she visually appreciates. (Well, mare, if you hadn't charged off like a maniac you might not be so tired/frustrated.)

Last night that walk wasn't even enough. I don't know what was shoved up her butt, but she was on fire. CHARGE! CHARGE! EVADE! SIDEPASS! RAWR! And the worst of it is she is SO goddamn agile and athletic that altering her CHARGE! course with changes in direction to try to recapture her brain to focus on me isn't enough. She just leaps through those requests with the agility of a bullfighting horse. Someone would LOVE that in her, me? Sigh. Its just too much.

I did 3 hill sprints with her - which she executed with more power and speed than she ever has before. Walking off the hill after the final one, she danced and jigged on a whole new level. I made an attempt to perform a serpentine pattern to redirect her focus on my requests, but she instead lept and dodged through the maneuver, dancing and jigging in such a way to attempt rearing but failing.

Back on the flat of the field, we walked along the base of the hill, serpentining and circling intermittently. I changed the direction of the circles and the frequency of the serpentine pattern at random to keep her attention. She'd trot-leap into the turns that were away from the barn in an attempt to reface "home" faster. When we'd do a turn toward home, she'd relax and calm because it was what she wanted. She was attempting to train me in a sense with this behavior, it seemed, acting in a favorable way when she was headed where she wanted and acting out when she wasn't.

This mare, I swear. That fast-thinking Arab brain doubled with super athleticism and agility. Its dangerous and challenging!

We did the jump course twice more after the hill sprints and she was somewhat more controlled. An improvement on the first run-thrus prior to the hill sprints, but still with CHARGE! mode initiated after the gymnastic. Dialed back from where it had been, but CHARGE! and EVADE! still present.

So I don't know. What else can I do other than altering the jump course to reset this mare's brain to focus more on me? Her manic moments of CHARGE! that lead to EVADE! are powerful. They're so frustrating.

I hate to apply any stronger aids than what is already provided; she moves off my leg fine without a spur except in these moments, and she listens to the bit except in these blind manic red-vision moments. She's in a French-link eggbutt snaffle for our jump work. Should I apply a bit with a little more bite than that? If so, what?

Should I alter the course in such a way to refocus her? If so, how? I can't avoid having some jump that at some point is going to result in her heading "home". It's not feasible. And I need her to move past that need to go home to her friends that she seems to have.

I've slowed the pace of the course to trotting as much as possible for the time being to help have control and to help her to develop the same rhythm throughout. Should I slow even more? I don't think that is possible? She listens at the walk to the point where there is ZERO issue. Anything greater than the walk is where problems begin, so that is where solutions need to be figured?

Worth noting - her CHARGE! and EVADE! impulse is still present in that field during flat work that is at any speed greater than a walk, as well. This isn't just a jumping thing. Its a location thing.

Her friends aren't even CALLING to her and she's not calling to them either. They're not even in sight most of the time. So I have to even wonder about the herd-bound trigger vs. just a "let's go home to the barn where I don't have to work" trigger.

I'm going to start adding some herbal supplements for calming the mare very soon to see if they benefit some of her behavior at all. But until then...

What can I do to harness this freight train, refocus it, and slow it down into something more controlled?

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