June 24, 2010

That annoying question

All of you other horse-owners and riders have all had it, I'm sure. That horrible time when you are trying to work out - is my horse sore? or is she/he being a twit? Obviously there is always some reason if things aren't going as you expect, but tracking down exactly what that reason is can really be an exercise in getting frustrated and disheartened.

It's no secret that Neo is my "doesn't get schooled" horse. But every now and then I have things I want to work on (and the time to do it) - so this past month or so I have been working quite hard at getting him more settled. The past few shows before that he's gotten a bit tanky and wasn't listening - so I knew it was time for me to pull up my socks and do some real work. And, as always, it paid off. He's always been pretty casual around home, but we're now at the point where we can canter figure-8's over jumps on the buckle and his downward transitions are quick and clean.

So when I trundled up to Tielcey Park on Sunday I was looking forward to seeing how much difference this would make to him in a show situation. I put 2 reins on his bit anyway (as last time I didn't, and he took advantage of that fact!). So I had my brakes, and he'd had his schooling - and we were ready to roll. Warmup was better than normal as well - possibly because we didn't spend much time in the indoor.

Then we had a terrible round. He was sticking his head up and not lifting his front end. Just absolutely not listening. So the next round out I made sure he listened - and I'll be honest, I was very hard with my hands to ensure he was coming back to me. It worked, in that he wasn't tanking off - but he also felt just awful. So I retired before completing the course as I really felt I was just hurting his confidence (he has a soft mouth, and though his myler-combination bit works mostly on his nose - I still don't want him turning into a horse that backs off his fences and lands in the middle of oxers!). Swifty took a few photos for me, and when I got home and had a chance to look at them - Neo's knees were barely coming up to even half the height of some of the fences and bashing out the top rails/s with his front legs! This, from a horse who frequently has a lovely tidy front end.

So I'm now left to wonder - is he sore? I can't find any reason he would be. And he hasn't given me any hints at home that he is. Although I only jump maybe 80cm max at home, and obviously at shows we jump higher. If he's not sore - is he stressed by competition? And if so, what has started that? So I need to take him back to doing some 70cm rounds? Or will that just encourage him to speed around and not listen to me and be able to get away with it?

He's getting his shoes taken off this weekend - so maybe we'll find something niggly there. Or maybe not. I haven't had his back on track gear on him this winter - but at the same time he is looking well and healthy - no puffy legs or anything like that. So do I go down the route of blood tests and thermal imaging to try and work out if there is something not right? Or is it a failing of my schooling that has made him 'freak out' at the shows while being an absolute doll at home?


Anonymous said...

Ok, so presuming you have ruled out all possible physical issues, what is it about you that changes when you go to shows? Could Neo be reacting to a subtle change in your behaviour/emotions that you aren't necessarily consciously aware of yourself?

I'm reading Cesar Millan's 'Be The Pack Leader' at the moment. Ok, it's about dogs but alot of it can be carried over to our interactions with horses. The basic point the book makes is that most issues dogs have, eg aggressiveness, possessiveness, disobedience, are simply a reflection of their owners issues - "our emotions affect our animals, and our animals become the mirrors of our emotions".

A horse trainer is quoted in the book: "I often see people having problems with their horse during clinics or lessons. I ask thenm how they feel about the relationship they have with the horse. Within a short time we drill down to the core issue, and find that the person is scared of the horse, or scared of putting the horse into certain situations. Some have even said they don't like what the horse's behavior is and over time have begun to dislike the horse. They are looking for ways to fix the horse. What those honest answers reveal is an underlying emotional 'state of being' on the rider's part. Before they even approach the horse, they envision how the horse is going to react. This thought process often takes place whenever they think of the horse and so becomes their dominant belief system. And what happens? The horse does exactly what the individual's emotional communications has told it to."
Obviously this is somewhat simplistic - it doesn't account for gaps in training for example.

Have you read Andrew Maclean's 'The Truth About Horses'? It definitely changed alot for me and my horses! There's some good articles on his website too: http://www.aebc.com.au/articles/23/

perfk said...

I have wondered if it's me doing something weird at shows - but seems unlikely (and it's also a fairly recent development - like less than 6 months for sure). I'm also at low heights at the moment, and no cross-country, so not nervous or amped or anything.

Those sort of things make me lean towards pain issues... but there is nothing obvious. Maybe I just need to look harder?

Such is the annoyance that horses can't talk!! argh

Anonymous said...