Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Rehabilitation of Storm ........ The Trouble with Cantering.......

Part 1

It was when we got into the canter work that the "discussions" with Storm really got serious. I can't tell you there was any rhyme or reason to his outbursts, only Storm seems to know that. For me it seemed totally out of the blue that the horse would erupt and those out bursts were more like real bronc moves than any I've ever experienced.

I can still see that first explosion in my mind's eye as we went down the rail by the horse barns working at the canter to the right. This was the first ride I had begun asking the horse to give me "more" than just his head in the air doing as he pleased and he seemed to be adjusting quite well.

I felt like I had really good forward movement although the horse was definitely not square underneath me. I picked up my inside rein and put the inner leg on him as well blocking with my outside leg. Going to the left the horse had taken this correction very well and moved squarely underneath me where he belonged. The first couple of times I'd asked him going to the right, he seemed compliant as well BUT two thirds of the way down the rail the horse grunted, dropped his head, squealed and began jumping on all fours like a pogo stick, spinning in the process.

If I hadn't had my hands full, I think I would have sat back and laughed. Not that I didn't feel concerned for my safety, because believe me, I most certainly did. BUT the grunting, squealing, bronc like behavior was so uncharacteristic for this horse (and the breed from what I know) and his personality that it struck my funny bone somehow. I could see cartoon strip characterizations of his outburst flash through my brain as I grabbed at the reins trying to get control over my horse.

Had it been something that happened when I'd first gotten on the horse, I'd have been looking for physical causes, a burr under the saddle or a pinch somewhere. This behavior just made no sense to me so I pulled the horse around and spanked him, not knowing what else to do but my mind raced for an explanation and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. I had no idea why this was happening.

This particular style, if you want to call it that, of protest by Storm was a one time only incident. There were no more four legged pounding jumps after this first time. It was not, however, the end of the outbursts by Storm and they were not restricted to right lead canter work. Any kind of canter work seemed to make me vulnerable to Storm's temper tantrums and I struggled trying to figure out what he was protesting.

Some days the ride would be just fine. Other days he would blow. When he did he might leap, shake his head, strike the ground with his front feet, buck or rear or any combination of those. It didn't seem to matter if we'd worked the day before or had a full week off. From what I could tell the outbursts were unpredictable. The only thing they seemed to have in common was canter work.

I checked to see if the horse was sore or needed a chiropractor and nothing seemed to be wrong there. I looked at the training to see what might be there. Maybe I was asking too much so I tried to back off to see if that would help. Maybe the horse needed more smaller almost continuous releases like what I'd do with a "baby" horse. Nothing seemed to work. The intermittent outbursts continued.

When the Daffodil entries were due, my friend showed up at the park to get mine so we could all stable together. As she turned into the arena area she spotted me riding out one of Storm's outbursts. When she got up to where we were schooling she remarked about how naughty Storm was being. Even though I had told her about the trouble I was having, she was not prepared for what she saw. Her reaction was something of an eye opener to me.

I must admit each time I have an altercation with Storm I think about Wendy Potts telling me at the clinic that I had a lot of guts. At the time she said it, it kind of rolled off my back. I logged it away but I really didn't get it. I didn't think guts had anything to do with wanting to rehabilitate Storm and I guess I didn't get the potential ticking time bomb I was dealing with. Now with my friend's reaction, I had more input about this situation.

There had been a couple of instances at the clinic where the horse had fought both with Wendy Potts and with me. I wasn't discounting those. I just didn't see them as any big deal. They were not threatening to me, and they sure weren't to her. I felt I knew enough to deal with them so I wasn't worried I guess.

Nothing has changed in that regard. I still feel like I know what to do to fix Storm. However, as I have had to deal with these behaviors I have come to understand the importance of getting stallions started under saddle when they are younger, instead of older. There is an intensity there I have not had to deal with before that I strongly believe is directly related to Storm being a stallion and giving up control that has intensified because of his age and not being asked to do anything difficult for two years. Putting all of these things together has created a mix id daunting to say the least.

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

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  1. It does seem like you have your hands full with Storm right now. Hopefully, after some time he will realize his behavior is not acceptable and will start listening.

  2. Wow, you do have guts for sure. Also, the riding skills to back it up. I don't think too many people would willingly get on a stallion they could expect to explode with that kind of intensity and unpredictability. You are light years more experienced than me, so maybe I shouldn't suggest anything, but my Appaloosa gelding Dan used to have explosive bucking fits out of the blue (only when cantering), when things seemed fine, and it turned out that he had a broken tooth that the bit would only get caught in sporadicaly, at the canter. When the tooth got pulled I rode with a hackamore for several months and when we went back to a bit so we could show he was fine.
    Before the tooth was found and the bucking was going on I had a dentist check his mouth and give him an all clear. I also had a farrier and a trainer check him before it was found and the unanimous verdict was that he was just spoiled. I knew something was wrong and kept looking. It was a clinician who found the broken tooth and then two vets confirmed it. Anyway, long story and probably irrelevant.
    You are an amazing rider and trainer. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  3. See now not only do I wish I had taken you up on the offer to ride , but I wish I had had time to watch you work Storm. I agree age is likely playing a role in his outbursts. And the fact that BG (Screams like a girl) was likely pretty cowed by him. He is trying on stuff to see what it will take to make you "scream and quit" Poor boy must have forgotten who he is dealing with .I would love to watch you work horses Mikeal,I am bettin it is a sight to behold!

  4. I think you are right about those stallions. They get very tenacious and very strong as they age.

    I totally feel for ya with the spazzing, squealing, bucking fit. Frosty did that with me at a barrel racing a couple of weeks ago. I also wanted to laugh, but knowing the fat buckskin CAN buck me off, if he so choses...I kept the laughter to myself. I didn't want to insult him and make him think he had to try harder. LOL

  5. Interesting. When riding Gabbrielle, I did worry that she might explode just over feeling the new sensation of having a rider on her back at each gait. Fortunately, she just put her head in the air and turned her ears toward me as she got used to the feel of it. I haven't cantered on her yet. I'll leave that up to a trainer. She's fallen so many times at the canter without a rider that she's going to need some help in learning how to carry herself first. Horses can get so full of themselves when they canter. I can imagine it would be worse with a stallion.

  6. Eek, I'm not sure I could climb back aboard after having to deal with that over and over again. Hats off to you!

  7. Those four point landings are the worst. Bone jarring and teeth rattling at their finest.

    I think riding or training stallions depends entirely on the horses. Our two boys have had the life of leisure for some time.

    Pal the stallion in my avitar, is nearly 18 and after having about 5 years off, when I put him back to work and started riding him 2 years ago- he ever offered to buck. Never went off on a tangent. His protests are stop, raise your head and turn it to the right and kick/stomp the right hind hoof. I will gladly take that!

    Kat has only started his driving career at the ripe age of 12. Other than his epic explosion, he has learned he doesn't get away with acting like that. Never has before, why would he now?

    Where Storm has been away and allowed to run the show- totally different. Ours never had that chance.

    His outbursts- I was thinking maybe saddle fit? But when some workouts go well- others are literally the bomb and he goes off, leaves plenty of room for question. Did you ever find out what the cause was?

  8. "giving up control"

    I think you hit it right on the head.

    I know you'll agree -as much as we like to think we are in control of horses, they do have a mind of their own. Storm sounds like he is willing to go with you,and do what you want, when he thinks its his idea...if he senses the "giving up the control" issue, then its a protest to you to get his point across that he dont wanna, and only applies enough "pressure" to you to try to change YOUR behavior... In my experience TB's off the track that are recently gelded react in the same way - you get them when they are older and you really have to "convince" them rather then ride them lol its like a two way conversation at allll times - no auto pilot - no foo foo trails rides for sure - no ignoring their "opinions"!

  9. Wow he sounds like a handful. I am sure once you convince him you are in control he will come around, too bad he had to go through such a horrible experience to make him try to be in control all the time though.

  10. Arlene, he is definitely a handful and to be honest, I wish Harvey was close by to help me deal with this. He sure got Rhythm past his half hearted listening in a hurry but there's no way I can do with Storm what Harvey did with Rhythm and even if I could there is no guarantee it would work but I think about it a lot.

    Carol, I don't think it's his teeth but it's certainly worth checking out. I've been all over saddle fit and everything else I could think of trying to get to the bottom of this but I really do think when it's all said and done it will have been about control.

    fern, I did school him right before you got here. I think he was actually pretty good that day. Yes I think you are right. I know that they had trouble with him right at the start because they weren't working him enough. I can only imagine it grew from there. I do think he is trying to intimidate me but that's not going to happen. I know him too well to get suckered by that.

    BECG, I remember you posting something about Frosty. I think if I had laughed at Storm he would have gotten pretty mad too. That was not the time to be insulting him. I've got my hands full as it is without that. LOL

    NuzzMuzz, I think it will be good for Gabbrielle to have a professional get her going for you. She sounds a little bit insecure to me and those horses really benefit from the confidence a pro has to offer.

    The faster nature of canter work makes it more complicated than the other gaits, I think, and since horses are flight animals, they are just a hair away from that response if something spooks them so it's easy for them to make that leap.

    smazourek, believe me I think about it before I get in the saddle. Usually a deep breath and some calming thoughts to get me up there but it has been good for me to push my comfort levels some. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think I could but it is still unnerving.

    CNJ, boy are you right about the four point landings. Hurt my lower back!! Not good! It's a good thing he's only done that the one time.

    I feel bad for Storm because this behavior is really not his fault. He was not like this before and I don't think this behavior is his own chosing. I totally believe underneath it all is a horse who is much happier to be led than to be the leader.

    This behavior with Storm is not fixed yet. About the time I think it is something else happens. I think it's complicated and maybe I will never have the answers to what it's about but I do still believe I will get it fixed.

    I did go through saddle fit and all of those kinds of things. Mostly I think it has to do with when things get hard, he thinks he can throw a temper tantrum and get his way. I definitely saw that worked for Reflection over there, I can only assume it is at the bottom of this behavior with Storm. AND remember, I still have Reflection to fix too.

    feralwoman, I think you're probably right. I don't think he wants to hurt me, just intimidate me into doing it his way. Having spent some time around TB's in training for the track I would imagine they are similiarly motived. All they expect those horses to do is run. Manners are not important to many TB trainers.

    Crystal, yes, I think it's very sad that this happened to him but I think he'll be a much happier horse when we get through this.

  11. Cantering is probably the most difficult gait to control. Stay focused and be careful. I admire your riding skills...and your courage.

    I think as you win Storm over again he will become a real pleasure to ride. I've heard that the worst ones to train become the best ones to ride.