I got out on Dharla today. To say I’m missing Tia is an understatement for sure. The last few rides haven’t been exactly what I’d call fun or relaxing, not to mention that I basically dislike winter riding. But I feel like I don’t have much of a choice in the matter right now.
We started down in the ring because I’m not dumb enough to think I can just jump right on my horse after not riding in almost a week. So we worked on basic stuff like moving her haunches, backing, then some light lunging. Her attitude was very good throughout and she responded very well. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to ride so I tacked her up before we started just in case I thought I was up for it. Since she was working well and not being a jerk I decided I should do something more with her. I’d like to say I thought a nice walk up on the AL trail would be fun, but I knew there would be almost immediate issues with the rocky icicle spots. I can’t go very far without encountering something that she treats like it’s the big Boogie Monster. Still, I didn’t want to end with just a simple ground work session, so off we went.
As usual, she was wound tighter than a top. I mean, she started spooking at things before we even got off the lane that led to the ring. I just stayed calm and encouraged her forward. We rode past our lane to the barn where Bullet stood sentry at the gate, whinnying. She passed by without hesitating, which pleased me greatly. When we reached the AL trail it was deserted. We started walking in the direction that we usually go and she was moving at a crawl. I let her pokey her way along. I could feel how tightly wound she was, but I wasn’t playing into it. She spooked several times and invisible ghosts, but I just kept her moving. I don’t make a big deal out of make believe stuff.
It was only a minute or two before we reached the spot where she starts giving me crap about going forward, at which point we couldn’t even see the rock ledges or icicles yet. She stopped twice and tried to avoid moving forward by turning to the right. I countered and got her to move a couple of steps forward again before he hit the brakes. At that point I hopped off and grabbed the lead rope that I had coiled up on my saddle. I removed the reins from her bridle, clipped the lead onto her rope halter and led her forward. As we approached the icicles, I started circling her around me, forcing her to go past the rock ledge and icicles on both sides. Bear in mind that the trail is only about 6 feet wide here, so our “circles” were very small and our movement was limited. She wasn’t very worried about the icicles, but gave them the evil eye a few times as she went past. I just kept her moving.
We continued to do circles in the narrow lane between the rock outcrop. The ledge area extends for about 100 yards, with icicles hanging down in random spots along the way. We worked our way down the trail doing circles (both directions) until we reached the end. I stopped, rubbed her head and then started the same procedure going back the way we came. I used lots of verbal encouragement and praise. At any point if she seemed overly spooky I focused on that spot, sometimes stopping and letting her investigate the source of her fear. Actually, she didn’t seem all that afraid as we worked our way along. When we got back to the starting point I turned her around and led her forward again. When she seemed spooked at any point we either circled there for a bit and/or I let her investigate the issue more closely. Overall I ground worked her in that area for a good solid hour or more.
When I thought Dharla was acting relaxed and not bugged … I wouldn’t say she was licking her lips or really looking ho-hum relaxed, but she wasn’t freaked out by any means … I took her to the starting point, reattached the reins, removed the lead rope and remounted. I cued her forward was really stunned when she took 2 steps forward then stiffened up and tried to turn around and go home …. again. Huh? So what gives? Is this NOT a fear issue, but just a pissy mare thing we’ve got going on? She certainly didn’t seem frightened.
I circled her several times, then cued her forward again. She took one step and locked up. I circled her more, then cued her again. She took another step and locked up. This went on for about five minutes until we were finally standing about five feet into the rocky area. I let her put her head down and sniff the ice … same ice, Dharla, same ice! She took another step, then tried to turn for home again. I circled her more, then cued her forward. Slowly, we inched our way through the rocky area, one blasted step at a time. She stopped several times. I waited, then cued again and she would take one or two steps forward, then stop again. When we had almost reached the end I turned her around and we proceeded back through the same area the same way … one spooky step at a time. As we neared the other end I stopped her again and we did the whole routine again. She got a bit more willing and forward, but not much.
Finally, I decided to continue on a bit. As I rode along the AL trail I kept asking myself what the heck I was going to do next. I mean, there’s only so much I can do to get my horse comfortable with passing through this spot and there isn’t a whole lot of other places I can ride if I don’t. So it’s either conquer this hurdle or I can’t ride. Period. As I pondered this issue we approached the second rock outcrop with ice. I decided to turn her around and head back toward home before she had the chance to start refusing to go forward again. I simply didn’t have the time or gusto to go through another 60 minute dance of wills.
Heading for home she certainly had her “goin’ home” walk on. I slowed her down and made her move off my leg from one side of the trail to the other. (Our tracks look like we were drunk) I practiced one rein stops. I made her turn around and walk back the other way. Anything to keep her mind on ME and not on “whoopie, I’m going home!” As we approached the rocky outcrop she was very head-up, but not all that spooked. About halfway through the passage she suddenly spooked hard. I followed her gaze up and there on top of the rock ledges was a mountain biker riding his bike. I wished I had an Uzi. Thanks buddy. I just spent the better part of two hours trying to convince my horse that nothing scary is going to leap down off those ledges and eat her, and you have to happen along when I think I’ve made some progress and we’re on our way home. Great timing.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. I mean, we really didn’t go anywhere. All we did was work on being OK in the big scary place. I honestly don’t think I accomplished a damn thing and I know the next time I saddle up and head out she’s going to give me the same reaction there all over again.
I’m really discouraged. Between the shitty weather and the spooking horse, I’m a bit frazzled. I forget what it’s like to go for a ride just to relax and have fun. I’ve been riding a “project” for almost a year and I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.