Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Rehabilitation of Storm....... A Little on Progress..... A Little on Theory......

Part 1

The whole point of getting Storm out on the trails was to open that funky unnatural stride he had learned back up into the normal reachy stride the horse used to have. It was pretty obvious from his first rides on the trails Storm wasn't going to make that easy. The horse was so concerned about what might be lurking in the woods he minced along in a frustrating cautious pace barely a walk. Even asking the Arabian horse to move out at a trot or a lope didn't get the kind of forward I was looking for.

I had suspected that might indeed be the case when I started this venture. That was one of the reasons I had pushed the use of the deer trails so quickly upon Storm. Most of the bigger ups and downs of the park trails are found on those narrower winding trails. I knew the bigger inclines would force Storm to reach more deeply underneath himself so I made up my day's route based on incorporating as much hill work as possible.

After we started trail work it didn't take long for me to see the difference in Storm's gait. Within a few trail rides I began to see more depth to Storm's stride at the trot. It came in short bursts at first. A few strides that looked normal then the horse would go back to the altered stride he'd learned but those brief glimpses gave me hope that Storm could be rehabilitated without it taking years. (Yes, it really does sometimes take years to fix horses who have had their "forward" trained right out of them.)

Once I got on his back, it was back to the same old thing I'd had before the trail riding began. I had to remind myself what I had heard Mike Whelihan tell my friend, Wendy, when her horse was in training with him. Mike would say, "What you see in the lines, we figure it will take at least ten days to see under saddle." That gave me a measure to go by so I would know if I really was on the right track with Storm.

Of course, I was not long lining Storm in the ground work I was doing. I was just bitting him up and lunging him. The reason I was not long lining the horse was because I knew it was something that had been done at BG's with him. Because of that I suspected that any benefit I would normally have in the lines would be compromised because the horse would revert to what he had been taught while he was there. I didn't want to be butting my head up against that wall so I just skipped the use of the lines at this point.

It seemed to me by asking the horse to do things totally different than what had been expected of him there, I could avoid some of the confusion and frustration caused by the horse trying to reconcile what I was asking against what he thought he knew. That thinking is why I was focusing on doing hunter pleasure instead of western with Storm. I wanted the horse to believe our work is something new, that he doesn't know so he will be open to what I'm asking without anticipating what he thinks is coming.

I guess this work really is new because I am asking the horse to use himself totally different but I don't really think the horse can comprehend the difference between going slow my way and going slow the way he was taught. Storm has made it clear right from the beginning of this journey that he gets very frustrated and angry about being corrected or not getting a release for something he thinks he understands so if I can take that element of confusion out of the mix, the odds are I will have a more content horse. The more content the horse is with the process, the easier the training should go.

To my way of thinking making this journey as easy as possible for the horse is really the biggest challenge of all. Right from the start we have butted heads over my expectations of this horse under saddle. Storm believed if something was hard, he didn't have to do it because he had spent two years doing things the easy way.

As a stallion doing things on his terms for two years is like a lifetime. Once a stallion has been in charge, his instinct tells him to hang onto that position as long as he is physically able. Anyone who knows stallions knows that means they fight for what they want to gain and what they want to keep.

It was inevitable that Storm and I would have some issues between us with the change of power that must happen if he is to be all that he is capable of being. Unfortunately there is no easy way to do this. It's not possible to whisper in his ear and explain it to him. It happens one discussion at a time and sometimes I don't even know the discussion is coming until it's full blown. That means poor Storm was instantly off balance the moment he arrived here not knowing what to expect next. Finding ways to make his transition back to the ground rules here needed to be a smooth as possible to ensure the cooperation of the horse.

Without his cooperation there's no way we can make progress in this journey and his frustration level has certainly compromised any work we have tried to do that has triggered it. To avoid that frustration I have tried to find the easiest way possible to get my point across to the horse.

To aid in finding the easiest way possible for the horse I think about something John Lyons said many years ago. "The more steps we use to teach the horse something, the easier it is for the horse to learn." Any time I feel like I'm getting resistance from the horse I start looking for more steps to add so Storm will know what it is that I want. So far that method is serving me quite well and that is one of the reasons I added trail riding into the mix for Storm rehabilitation.

To be continued......................

The Miunderstood Cue.........

This picture is Storm at a couple of months old. The wheels are turning in his little head as you can see by the look on his face. What do you think he's thinking?

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  1. Do you use ground poles or cavaletti? They could help with his shut-down stride.

  2. Your thinking to change things up and leave nothing to question in similarity to the 'other place' is a good one. To also make the 'right way' seem as easy as possible really helps the horse out too.

    I second Smazourek's suggestion of ground poles and cavaletti. Use them while lunging and ride him over them. Lots of lateral work and softening will get him to free up his shoulders and a well timed cue to step under himself in the back, reach out in front and soon those few strides will be followed by more.

    Sounds like you guys are well on your way. Hooray you!

  3. smazourek, no ground poles because they are no longer available at the park. They're keeping them locked up right now anyway.

    I have used ground poles with Legs and Dandy but I believe with the problems Storm was having ground poles would have been slow going in the progress department. He has learned to be pretty evasive. I suspect he would go up like a spring, not forward as needed to get over the poles and that would create another problem. I do think that poles are in his future though once we have a solid forward in place.

  4. Any thought given to perhaps gelding him? I know you are a breeder, but if not planning to breed him, why not?

  5. Interesting about why you were using the deer trails. I do agree with you that it can take years to reteach a horse. I'm a bit of a pessimist in that area. I've seen people reteach horses, but then put them back in the old situation and the horse reverts back to what it learned the wrong way. :/ I guess it's like your thinking with the long lining--triggers are strong for horses. They are smart animals.

  6. CNJ, the trail riding really helped with getting him to free up his shoulders. It was much more effective than the lateral work. Not that the lateral work wasn't helping, it was just taking a lot longer.

    As for well times cues, the horse didn't even get what the cue meant. In the beginning his response to a cue to push up rounder was to go into the next gait. as for cavaletti we will get there but I could tell from his response to other things that it won't produce the desired effect in the beginning.

    Pat, I have no plans to geld him. I have plans for him to be an open western pleasure horse and that class is not won by geldings. Geldings rarely even get a Top Ten in that class.

    I did plan to geld him when he was two and someone whose opinion I very much respect talked me out of it. Since gelding is something she highly recommends, her endorsement of this horse as a stallion carried lots of weight with me.

    Linda, you're so right about horses reverting to old ways if they go back to the same situation. However, without rehabilitation this horse has no chance to ever be competitive, or happy, so for me, it's worth the work. Hopefully I will make a better decision about an appropriate home and he will end up in a good situation with someone competent who will keep him going correctly. If I don't think that will happen, I will keep him.

  7. In regards to the responce about my wondering why not geld him, you mentioned no Geldings win...Let me remind you of Koweta Phoenix +/.
    :) I have a penchant for geldings and feel most stallions should be gelded...Kowetta has won a few times......besides his many, many regional championships, and chapionships at Buckeye and Scottsdale including this year, he took US Champion 1 time , reserve another year and has been top 10 US 5 times, , Canadian National champion 2 times, 3 top 10 Canadian Nationals and this year, Rebecca has won at region 12, Buckeye, soon we will compete against each other at region 15, she will likley win, then it on to Canada then the US Nationals...on a gelding.

  8. Pat, I tried to look up the horse you mentioned on the AHA site but couldn't find him with that spelling. I suspect you are talking about championships in amateur classes. I am aware that geldings are quite competitive in the amateur classes.

    I am specifically talking about the open western pleasure class for Storm. I try to follow the winners in the open western pleasure class at nationals and it seems to be pretty much limited to stallions. But even if that were not the case, I would still not geld Storm. He is a beautiful, talented horse and I believe has something to contribute to the breed. I am currently not breeding anything but that doesn't mean I would not breed him in the future. I know there are others who would like to breed to him and I hope the day comes when he will get the opportunity to do so. I think considering where the current breeding trends have been going, Storm would be a good outcross and those outcrosses are going to become important down the road.