Dec 15, 2011

Well, today I had one of those rides that makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking when I bought a young, green Arabian. It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t great either.

When I went out to get ready to ride I could tell almost immediately that Dharla was wound pretty tight. We had a storm front moving in and the wind was whipping. That’s never a good sign. It wasn’t as cold as earlier this week, but the skies were dark and the air was damp. I forgot to check the local radar before I went to the barn and I half expected it to start raining while I was tacking up. It didn’t, but I had no idea what my window of opportunity would be.

Dharla was acting tense so once I got her saddled I decided to slip on her rope halter and do a little stick work in the paddock first. See if I could get her thinking with her brain instead of just reacting. We worked on moving the hindquarters, but it wasn’t her best effort. I could see that she was pretty pumped up by the high winds. I wished I could have longed her a bit, just to get her moving and thinking, but the ground was too slick and I didn’t want to risk it.

The ride started out fine, but I could tell she was wound up tighter than a top. I just relaxed and let her look around as we moseyed down the trail. She spooked and shied at everything and the wind was giving her plenty of excuses to react. Trees rubbed and squeaked, squirrels rustled as they scurried about in the woods. Every sound was amplified by the high winds. There was a DEP van parked not 1/4 mile down the trail. That was a first. She walked by, head up, giving the vehicle a wide birth. Just when I thought we were fine she spooked  … after we’d passed it. *Sigh* I felt like I was riding a drunken bottle rocket. When Dharla’s nervous she tends to weave back and forth on the eight foot wide trail, spooking first at something on the left and shying right, then spooking at something on the right and shying left. It seemed like every dozen steps or so she went sideways. I could tell this was going to be a long ride.

When we got to the spot where Dharla gave me trouble Monday I was prepared for a relapse. I didn’t know if the icicles had melted or not, but I knew she’d remember the fight she put up there and possibly pull the same number again. And she did. We immediately did circles like we did before, but frankly, I wasn’t in the mood. After battling with her for about ten minutes and getting no farther down the line, I dismounted and led her past the “scary” spot. We then turned around and walked back through the area again, then repeated that scenario about 12 times. I even walked her over to the spot where there were a few small icicles, picked one up and let her smell it. She snorted at first, but then licked her lips and relaxed when she realized it wasn’t anything that was going to eat her. Then I got on again and we did the same routine back and forth several times with me on her. The whole time I was being calm and quiet, but I’m thinking, “Is this worth it? Is this really solving anything?”

I know patience isn’t my strongest suit. I try to be patient, but I can get pretty down on myself when things go off track time and time again. It’s not like Dharla hasn’t ridden this trail before. She has, a LOT! So why is this spot still giving her such fits? Is she really scared or is she just being stubborn? I’m not sure. I’d like to say she’s really scared and it’s not all just an act. After all, she hasn’t ridden this trail through every season yet and there are some subtle changes on the trail when the seasons change. But the basic elements like rocks and brush, benches and picnic tables, have been here all along. We’ve been riding this trail since April and I’ve given her every opportunity to get used to things slowly. I’ve let her explore, smell things, see things up close and discover that nothing’s going to hurt her. And yet she persists in spooking at the same things over and over again.

I’m not sure what the problem or answer is. Do I just need to be patient and let her mature? Is there something I could be doing to help? I don’t know. I just try to stay calm and relaxed, but it makes our ride so much more work than it really needs to be. And yet, on the return home she’s a different horse. There were even moments of brilliance! So what gives?

I’ve watched videos of endurance rides and competitive trail rides and it makes me wonder how on earth those people get their Arabs to do those kinds of rides? Other than constantly exposing my horse to the things that freak her out, how can I help her start to understand that I’m not going to let anything hurt her? Nothing’s going to “get us” out on the trail. (Thankfully, I live in a pretty safe area where I don’t have to worry about running into dangerous wild animals)

I’m kind of discouraged. In the last seven months I’ve put a lot of miles on this horse, many of which were on this same section of the same trail. Nothing “bad” has ever happened to us on any of our rides so why is she still having such a hard time coping with the scenery? They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If anyone’s reading this I’m open for suggestions.

We got home much later than I expected. Overall, we were gone about 3 hours, which on a miserable day like today, is almost twice as long as I wanted. On the up side, our ride home was so great. That pretty much helps me forget how trying the first part of the ride was. Kinda.

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2 thoughts on “Dec 15, 2011

  1. hello!
    I can empathise 100% with you. I am the very proud owner of a beautiful anglo-arab horse called Rupert, who is currently out on long term (long story I wont bore you with right now).
    Rupert was bred on the farm i used to live on. I knew both his parents and first met Rupert when he was 20 minutes old, the mare was very sneaky about giving birth. I named him, I worked with him as a foal. Then the breeder died and he was sold as a two year old.
    Five years later a horse appeared on a different farm/ stables I was working at. I heard the new horse being unloaded, lots of yelling and shouting and clattering hooves. Imagine my excitement when I saw it was Rupert, still with the same lady who had brought him as a two year old colt.
    She confessed he was a total nightmare, so I started helping her out with him then brought him, very cheaply, even though his papers were superb, his father was the UK under-saddle Arab champion several times.
    The ride you describe in this post is very familiar. Rupert is now 15 years old and still acts the total fool. He is extremely sharp, never misses a trick and if you met him sometimes you would imagine someone had been very cruel to him as he regularly freaks out. I know for a fact he has NEVER been treated badly. Yet he insists that there might be a bogey-man around the corner, the rabbit in the bush might be a six-foot monster, I might suddenly turn and thrash him, etc, etc.
    Where I have succeeded more than his previous owner, is I am endlessly patient. I do not let his ridiculous outbursts bother me. I realised long ago that he would spook and shy forever, at nothing, that one corner of the school will always be ‘really scary’. But I trust him with my life. I know that he would always get himself out of trouble, all I have to do is stay on! I never give him the opportunity to say “I told you so”, that is very important with Arabs. Their stamina is incredible, they’re clever, they enjoy games on the ground, they think a four-hour hack is a warm-up, they will always have more energy than you, they try to be one step ahead, so convinced are they that they know better than us, I don’t think they ever trust anyone as much as themselves.
    I would encourage you to keep going with Dharla, try and accept that she will always spook, even if you convince her that something isn’t scary by walking past in 12 times, she will still be thinking “ah, but NEXT time, something might get me and I better keep an eye out for it, as you obviously are not watching!”
    I totally understand your frustration, I really do. You should find out what her strengths are and work on exposing and utilising them, an Arab will never, ever change, but they are talented little souls with a loyalty that knows no bounds. Good Luck! x

    • Thanks for your reply! It was a repeat of yesterday’s weather here, with lots of wind and cold. I was 98% convinced to take a pass on a ride today when I logged on and read your response. It made me chuckle and that made all the difference in the world. I suited up and went out to ride. Dharla was a totally different horse today! She gave me 110% of her heart and we had a fantastic ride … one of our best thus far. Go figure! So thanks for the story about Rupert. Having ridden a somewhat spooky Arab mare for 23 years I kinda know the drill, but I was sort of hoping it might be different with Dharla. She’s not anywhere near “finished” so only time will tell. Meanwhile, thanks for the words of wisdom … it helps to know someone gets it and has been through something similar. I’ll look forward to hearing more about your boy!

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