Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Rehabilitation of Storm........ Putting on Brakes.......

Part 1

I've never really had a horse that goes through a stop "just for sport." One that runs off when frightened every now and then, I've had but nothing consistent like this thing with Storm. It took me a few rides to realize it was about his attitude and not just a misunderstanding of a cue. Once I figured that out, Storm was in big trouble, figuratively speaking of course. I don't mess around inappropriate behavior wrapped up with attitudes in my horses because I know where it can lead.

Obviously a horse without brakes is a dangerous thing and it can be difficult to fix without hurting the horse. Young horses that have not been ridden much don't have the strength in their legs to deal with the most obvious correction which is the one rein stop. Putting that kind of torque on a horse's legs is something you want to think about doing with any amount of repetition to be sure the horse can tolerate it without residual damage. Of course when it is applied as an emergency stop measure you willing take your chances on the residual effect on the horse's body in favor of safety.

Storm, however, has at least three years under saddle and I'm pretty sure plenty of miles on the lunge line. That has given his legs time to strengthen for the kind of work he has been asked to do. While ideally I would not want to spend huge amounts of time pulling a horse down from a gallop, or frantic trot even, into a stop, I was comfortable that the footing was good enough and the horse strong enough to sustain what I needed to do for this particular situation.

Storm didn't really like that exercise from Wendy Potts and of course, elements of it are the one rein stop. I think because it was something harder to do than what he'd had to do for the past two years was why he disliked it but whatever it was, I knew I could use it to convince Storm that stopping or slowing down when I asked was better than having to do that exercise over and over.

Every time I asked Storm to either slow up or come down a gait and he refused, I used that exercise to get him down. I didn't just dive straight into it though. I would ask for the "whoa," give him a couple of strides to begin to comply, then warn him with my voice with a stern, "Storm." Then if he didn't respond, I would pull his head to my knee pulling him down to either a walk or a complete stop depending on what I'd asked being careful to go into the stop in the safest manner for Storm.

In addition I would either pop him with my bat a couple of times or poke him with my spurs and scold him as I pulled him down so he would clearly understand he was in trouble. Not a big huge you tried to kill me correction but a stern, this isn't safe, you must do it when I ask kind of correction.

In the beginning I worked exclusively on the "whoa" command so I didn't confuse him. If he was picking up too much speed or breaking gait, I would respond by asking for a complete stop, "whoa." Later when he began to get the idea I would apply it also if I used a "Whup" to get a downward transaction.

The first day was really the worst. We spent the entire session working on putting brakes on Storm. I didn't end the session until the horse was coming down to a "whoa" consistently within three or four strides of my request but it took a while to get there.

We went through stages of compliance and then back to out right refusal. John Lyons says that a horse will have three stages of resistance before it finally gives up and Storm pretty much followed that pattern.

In the beginning he just got mad and when he did he fought. As I tried to pull him his head around to my knee the horse leapt and bucked and shook his head. There was even a little grunting as he protested me trying to take control of his feet.

At that point my focus changed from slowing the horse down to getting some forward to block his temper tantrum. I did a partial release of his face and smacked him pretty hard with the bat and used my spurs as forcefully as my old lady legs would allow. Once I had that forward movement again, I took that rein back and continued on in my one rein stop. However, because of the outburst, I also continued with my corrections for the temper tantrum. I wanted Storm to know such actions are serious offenses and will be treated as such.

Only when the horse completely softened into the bridle walking did I stop the spanking. I continued holding the horse's head to my knee until he totally stopped. Then I released him. Praised him all over the place and let him stand there and think about it for a couple of minutes. Then we tried again.

There were three temper tantrums that first day. The first one was the most dramatic. After that Storm didn't stop when I asked but he didn't fight my correction either. We went along like that a few more times then Storm actually applied his brakes when I asked a time or two but the compliance was short lived.

Next thing I knew Storm was throwing another temper tantrum. It had all the same elements of the first but was not as fierce. I handled it the same way I had as the first time but scaled my correction down to the level Storm had set. There was still pops with the bat and pokes with the spur and probably some scolding but my reaction was smaller just as Storm's had been. Just like Harvey Jacobs taught me, "the horse decides how much."

After this outburst Storm did pretty much the same thing as he did before. He didn't stop when asked but he didn't throw a temper tantrum when I used that exercise to bring him down. We went along like that a few more times until the horse decided to give me what I wanted. Then Storm began stopping when I said "Whoa."

I knew that we were probably not done yet but I hoped I could get another three stops before Storm decided to resist. I figured if I could end on a note of about 4 good stops, Storm might be easier to convince the next time around. Wouldn't you know because I wanted four, I got only three.

On the fourth request, Storm blew. As I reached for the rein, he threw his head away from me and squealed, jumping sideways. striking the ground and trying to bolt. I pulled his head around as I used my spurs and my bat as strongly as I could making sure I didn't pull the horse off balance as I tried to get him under control. With the horse's head turned towards me like that I watched his eye to help time my lessening of my correction. I wanted to be sure I rewarded any let up on his part with a let up of the correction on my part.

Storm fought intensely but briefly and almost as quickly as it began, it was over. The horse rolled over into the bridle and stopped. His nose rested on the side of my boot and his nostrils flared but he was quiet between my legs. I didn't release his head until his nostrils quieted and his eye totally softened but I talked to him using a low soothing tone encouraging him to settle internally.

After I released him I let him stand there thinking for a while. Then I went back into the trot and asked him again to "Whoa." This time the horse sat down in the dirt like a stock horse and I decided to call it good. I figured Storm was making a statement with that stop and I should take him at his word.

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

Getting to Canter......

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  1. Yep. My Doc O'Lena-bred mare does stuff like that once in a while, only not as intense. She just cops an attitude and thinks she's Queen Alpha.

    Doesn't take long to convince her otherwise, and I do something pretty similar to what you did with Storm.

  2. I think (hope) he finally got it! Very impressive handling!

  3. Interesting, I'm having this problem with my own horse right now and happened upon a similar course of correction. I also hit a similar amount of resistance. His worst tantrum was after I pulled him out of a canter for bucking. He was ticked about that.

  4. Trying to bolt is some scary stuff. I'd do pretty much the same thing!

  5. Man you have your hands full fixing that boy! And such a beautiful boy he is too! Home now and sorting through pics to post , I sooo enjoyed the visit , and when I come back I tell ya, I won't miss out on an oppportunity like that again , I was soo shocked and honored by the offer of a ride !

  6. God save us from little tyrants - or large opinionated stallions!!! Way to handle him! Want to come up to the bellingham area and "fix" my TB's attitude problem?! She's getting better but we still have a loooong way to go.

  7. It does sound like he's getting the idea even if he is a little stubborn. I have a feeling he'll be listening much better very soon.

    Used to have the same problem with Dusty, no bucks though, just running and not stopping. We've finally conquered her outbursts.

  8. I hope your persistence paid off in the end! I'm looking forward to reading the outcome!

  9. That was Kat's epic tantrum at the park. It started as a temper tantrum, turned into a blow out and ended with me shoving him forward into the trot to get his attention.

    Their tantrums weaken when they know they aren't getting away with anything. Kat tried again last weekend and was met with a spanking (one or two flicks of the whip) a harsh voice of "Knock it off" and "Straighten Up!" he knew then and there it was not to be tolerated and he better behave.

    They sure know how to push our buttons and when they have hit our limit of putting up with their BS. What a lot of people don't understand or want to admit to is that the 'fix' is often a bit harsh and it's not usually pretty. Neither is the horse acting like a twit and us getting hurt because of it. You did well in handling it MiKael. Sometimes ya just gotta ride it out.

    Have you tried singing to him while you ride? It helps keep things light, happy and keeps you breathing. I can just hear the song "Ridin' the storm out" by REO Speedwagon in my head for this... Sure beats Sarah McLaughlin's "Trainwreck" which always came to mind when I was riding a particular young horse a few years back. No we never had any wrecks or even a tantrum, but it always came to mind for some reason?

  10. Sounds like you got your hands full with him, but also coming along.