Monday, February 2, 2015


As much as I wanted to stay at home and be exceptionally lazy on my only day off, I mustered up some motivation and headed to the barn to stay true to my "ride Q once a week" goal. I didn't have a grand ride plan beyond my gut feeling of an hour of riding would be good no matter the distance. Ultimately though, my goal for Q right now is to keep her calm and confident on the trail.

I'd forgotten music on this day (I don't keep music on my phone, only my iPod), but I did have access to Audible from an app so I opted to listen to Cheryl Strayed's Wild as I rode to keep my mind from being too hyper-vigilant about the surrounding environment and the way Q might react to things.

Q once again wore the S-hack and I carried my dressage whip as I'd done the week before.

Always looking around.
Leaving the barnyard, the little mare was relaxed and relatively forward considering she was leaving her friends*. I softly tapped her shoulder, neck, and haunches with the dressage whip when she would become too looky in a non-forward direction. The tapping served the purpose of regaining her attention** from whatever had taken it elsewhere.

The only place Q exhibited great hesitancy all day was the first crossing of the creek. She was very cautious with how she chose her path through the ice. I let her take her time, but was careful to not let her take her time in a manner that leads to her trying to go back home***. Encouraging tap-tap-tapping at the proper moments kept her moving forward.

Once across the creek, Q was exceptional. She picked up a steady 6mph trot across the back field, into the woods, and up the mountain. We walked across the first section of flat at the top to let her regain her wind a bit, and then picked up a steady trot again. As we trotted through areas that have historically caused her to be more alert and more apt to spook, I rode with my left hand on the reins (I'm oddly left-handed when riding), and twirled the dressage whip in my right hand in such a manner that allowed me to tap her left side then right side then left side etc. of her neck. The tapping was light and by no means painful. It merely served to tone down her hyper-alert tendencies and redirect her focus on something else.

When we reached the area where the grouse has flushed the time before, I let Q walk. Her body language read that she remembered something had happened here before that wasn't normal, so I wanted to give her time to be slow and take things in. I talked to her as we went through. No grouse this time.

We continued up the second mountain instead of heading back when we reached the main trail junction. Q picked up a very nice 6mph trot throughout this section as well, even offering up a canter for pieces of it. I once again tapped her neck, shoulder, and haunches as she moved out up the mountain, adding my voice when necessary to bring her attention away from her surroundings a little bit and put it back onto her job.

We flushed some deer at the top of the mountain. Their bounding leaps and flagged white tails caused Q a bit of alarm, but she didn't spook! She merely elevated into a slightly loftier trot and fluidly moved to the far side of the trail from the fleeing deer. I praised her.

At around what I figured was 2.5 miles, I turned her for home. We walked the first little while, then did some intermittent trotting through the flatter sections of the descent.

Q continued to be forward and not very rushy toward home as we reached the haul road. Three or four times during this more open stretch of trail I checked her speed and cautioned her to slow down a little bit. She was very responsive each time. She gave some sidelong glances at worrisome potential monsters as we trotted along, but I talked to her and tapped her and we made it through without ANY spooking. Each time she surpassed something that merited the Stink Eye Gaze from Q, I praised her liberally.


On a slight incline standing awkwardly stretched, but she's still exceptionally cute.
I really feel like we're making some good progress. I think the tapping with the dressage whip does the same thing for Q that the music/audiobooks do for me, numbing the tendency to be hyper-vigilant about potential dangers along the trail. I doubt that either crutch will be necessary forever, but for now, each is serving a purpose to put this mare and I back on better terms with our working partnership.

Additionally, I plan to move out much slower on our solo rides into the future. In past training, I tried to keep Q moving out more with the goal of training faster at home than we would race. While this theory has its merits, moving out faster down the trail on this little mare is detrimental to her mental game. Slowing down is far more beneficial for her at this time as I strive to help her gain her confidence. When I can ride with a second horse, we'll focus on moving out more. Maybe one day she'll be able to move solo down the trail at a faster clip, but I feel that if this happens it will be something that happens gradually without a marked difference. If it happens, it'll be something I notice only by looking back on our past tracked ride stats on Endomondo.

For now, I'm very pleased with the trend in confidence in Q. I know my own mental game plays into her behavior greatly, and I'm proud of myself for making strides and improving upon how I think/act. We're getting there. Progress is evident.


*I don't know that I've ever mentioned it on here, but I always joke and tell people Q's constant mantra at home is, "Friends. I have friends. Do you see my friends? My friends are over there. See my friends? I have friends. I love my friends. My friends are over there. Do you want to meet my friends? I have friends over there. Did you know I have friends? See my friends?" This mantra is often chanted as the little mare takes sidelong glances toward the herd in as many opportunities as possible.

**This is hands down the LOOKIEST horse I have EVER been around. It definitely attributes to her spooking habit. Vets during trot outs have noted how alert she is. Her head is ALWAYS on a swivel gauging everything around her near and far. If I'm not on my game keeping her fast-paced Arabian brain busy, she's looking off deep into the woods and across fields to find monsters.
***She's definitely one of those horses who will use water crossings as an opportunity to try to slowly turn around and head home by acting as if she's trying to find the Best Place to Drink and ultimately doing a slow, meandering circle toward the home direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment