As there were a lot of people at the barn yesterday and it was a nice sunny day, I thought we would try the outdoor ring to let Charlie stretch his legs and get out some energy and then practice some more in-hand work. By the time we reached the gate he was jigging and anxious to go (the horse trotting in the adjoining paddock didn't help). No biggie, I was patient, trying not to make a big deal out of things but also keep an assertive attitude, asking him to stop and wait several times before proceeding. Once we reached the gate he tried to push me out of the way so I gave a sharp tug back on the halter, which he responded to by popping backwards with his head sky high. I made him back up several steps then walk forward again and wait a respectful distance away while I swung it open.
Halfway through the gate Charlie decided it was time to take off and he nearly pulled me off my feet. Unacceptable. Determined not to let him take advantage like that, I tugged the already taut lead back hard as soon as I felt him going, planted my feet and said "no!"...that just set off a full blown explosion. He not only reared, he was striking out at me! All I could think was how much I wanted to beat the crap out of him as now he was rearing in pure defiance and attitude; I had done nothing but ask him to stand next to me and walk quietly. Beating him, however, was not an option so the next best thing I could think of was to try to stay calm, apply strong downward pressure, try to keep my feet planted, and say "NO!" when he was up, then as soon as he started coming down release the pressure and quickly move on to something else in an attempt to redirect the energy into something I wanted to do. Rearing is not something I have experience in dealing with (in fact my trainer used to tell me "A horse that rears is dangerous and not worth your time")....well now I've got a Rearer so I'm going to have to learn how to deal with it.
Unfortunately I couldn't stop and Google how to best respond to this kind of situation while in the midst of dealing with it. One thing I was certain of was that there was NO WAY was I letting Charlie loose until he gave in and offered me something respectable. However, I felt like I was in a catch 22: keep him moving forward to prevent the rearing and deal with a horse trotting around me like a maniac or apply halter pressure and body language to slow him down and face another pissed off defiant rearing episode where one or both of us could get seriously hurt.
I realize now, after looking back on the video clips, that I could probably have been more assertive, but everything is easier to see in hindsight. At the time, I was using all my strength to keep Charlie from completely blowing me off and getting loose and doing my best to interrupt his train of thought and redirect it. After what felt like forever I could at least walk him in a straight line (this was most likely aided by the removal of the playful horse in the paddock at the end of the ring). We proceeded to march all over the ring, stopping and starting every few steps, circling in both directions, backing up, forcing him to move away from me, and (most difficult of all) stand and wait when I asked. That's all I wanted. Every time Charlie started to pick up the pace or fight me we would stop or turn. I wouldn't let him back down to the other end of the ring by the gate unless he walked nicely. (On a positive note, he was completely unfazed by the deer in the woods next to the ring. Go figure.)
We had several more rearing episodes, always in response to a repeated request for him to stop after he ignored previously soft requests. I again tried to exert strong pressure and a firm command when he went up and then release and move right on when he came down. One time, though, I caught him early before he could go all the way up and he flew backwards instead (which I guess is better than rearing) but it caught me off guard and pulled the lead right to the end so I just let go. I was sure he'd trip himself or snap the halter or do any combination of other horrible things but at this point I didn't really care.
Amazingly, it was at this craziest of moments that I saw a glimmer of sanity in my horse. Although he took off like a bat out of hell, bucking and kicking like an idiot, when he realized the lead was dangling and getting tangled in his feet he came to my end of the ring, trotted and then stopped 20 feet from me. I was able to walk up to him, untangle the lead from his legs, and unclip it without any issues. I wanted to reward him for stopping and letting me approach, not force him to then come with me, so I let him go again. I figured that at this point it was probably better for both of us anyway if he ran out some of that extra energy. He still had plenty left and it at least made for some awesome pictures (thanks Dan and Kate!):
|I'm a Thoroughbred, watch me run!|
Here's a short video:
Charlie continued to gallop around some more, but when I decided to approach him he let me walk up without running or turning away and put his head down so I could rub his forehead. He allowed me to grab the halter too, but I did not clip on the lead right away - I wanted him to know I could approach and leave at will and he wasn't always going to be caught. We did this approach/pet/retreat thing a few more times and then when I finally did clip on the lead and ask him to come with me I had a different horse. He still wasn't a perfect angel but we were able to actually do some of the ground exercises I had set out to do, finishing out the last 15 minutes on a positive note. Maybe he just needed to let out some steam first?
|Finally walking respectfully|
I wish I knew more about Charlie's past. The little I do know is that his previous mom was a tough disciplinarian, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes me wonder if he really understood what he was being disciplined for or if he was just responding out of fear/confusion. She obviously got in his face when he was bad or he wouldn't fling his head in the air at any provocation and I can only assume that he's been conditioned into thinking I am going to do the same thing so, in his mistrustful and unschooled state, he feels he has no option but to rear and strike out. Plus he's not getting good turn out or work right now so the extra energy doesn't help. The good news is that I have a great support network of friends and family. While I was initially very frustrated with the whole situation, I've come around and know that ground training can and will reverse these bad behaviors. It will be a struggle I hadn't been anticipating, but hopefully it will make both of us stronger and closer in the end.