Friday, March 15, 2013

Combating avoidance techniques

With some gorgeous warm and sunny days earlier this week I was excited for Charlie to return to his paddock on Wednesday morning but the weather didn't cooperate, of course. It decided to downpour all Tuesday night, turning the recently dried paddocks back into a slippery boot-sucking mess. I almost lost my heavy duty muck boot turning out the horses on Wednesday, that's how bad it was! Despite the rain it was still really nice and warm, which normally would have made for good riding conditions after I was done doing chores, but this particular Wednesday was the one Wednesday every month where I have to quickly do my barn duties and then be showered and in to work for a long 12:30-9 shift. That meant no time for more than a quick lunge for Mr. Charlie (and he was pretty fresh) before I had to leave. Yesterday I worked longer than I was supposed to so I could leave early today to go's forecast? Low 30s and blustery. Go figure.

Luckily Charlie did start going back out on Thursday...he definitely made up for lost mud-rolling time, as demonstrated by his entirely mud-encrusted left side:

Since Charlie'd been pretty good for me the past few times I'd worked with him (in terms of lunging quietly after only a few minutes before I felt he was ok to get on and ride), I decided today to try riding without lunging first. In hindsight that wasn't my brightest idea, but you live you learn.

Truth be told Charlie was less of an I've-been-cooped-up-forever nutcase since he has been going outside again. However that didn't mean he wasn't feeling good because of the sudden cold spell. He wasn't exactly bad, but neither was his head in the game. At all. He definitely had some energy to let out and was frustrated that all I wanted him to do was walk and trot and practice turns and bending. Even though I tried to keep it interesting with serpentines and rollback turns, after about 10 minutes of that he was done and ready to do more exciting stuff.

Charlie has two main methods of trying to get out of work, sneak into a higher gear and start going faster and faster or stop and refuse to move forward all together. He will respond to half halts and most cues well initially but quickly gets frustrated with the same old stuff, and even more frustrated when the use of these tactics don't result in him getting to do what he wants. Luckily I have some experience with these moves from riding Lucy for so long, although with Charlie the ultimate goal is to keep him from getting so keyed up that he results to his ultimate get-out-of-work-free card: the rear. Because of this trick of his, my goal with Charlie is to encourage forward motion at all costs, even when he speds up and pulls (in this case he has to realize the only option is forward but it is at my pace, not his). If he's moving forward, then it is impossible for him to rear.

Today's antics started innocently enough with him trying to canter when I wanted to trot. Half halts were working at first, although he'd get upset and snort or fling his head around in the air before continuing on nicely (albeit reluctantly) at the trot. He was also looking at everything in the ring as an excuse to canter, which didn't help. Every time he did what I asked, though, and was moving forward at the pace I wanted him to, I allowed him to continue on a very light rein and tried to stay as quiet as possible in the saddle. When he sped up and didn't listen to half halts I would use a one rein stop to disengage his power. Bucks and head flings were met with a driving lower leg. As soon as he gave up I moved right back into what we were doing before, almost like the bad behavior didn't even happen.

When speeding up didn't work he tried stopping entirely and refusing to move forward, even biting at my feet. In response to this I kept insisting more and more forcefully with my legs until he took one step forward and then I stopped everything and allowed him to walk on without interruption and think about what just happened (Lesson: you refuse to go forward, it is annoying and uncomfortable; you walk forward, life is easy).

One time, after practicing several walk-trot and walk-halt transitions, Charlie decided he didn't want to walk on any more (I'm pretty sure he thought we were done for the day) so he tossed his head a few times and then popped three mini rears in a row (nothing like before, more like a Lipizzaner levade). I was more prepared for this than in the past and immediately released any face pressure, leaned into his neck, and pushed him forward hard with my leg so that his only way out of the pressure was to go forward. This will be a hard habit to break, I think, but that was the only time he tried pulling that move today and I definitely think it was out of pent up energy and irritation from being made to keep working.

Eventually Charlie got the idea, although he wasn't happy about giving in. In the end we got a semi-relaxed trot with at least a little stretching and I decided to call it a day. I really had wanted to canter but that would have started battles I'm not sure I had the time or energy to fight today so I opted to end on a good note, even though it wasn't a huge step of progress. Can't win them all.

After Charlie was cleaned up and turned back out I spent the next hour or so mending the huge hole in the butt of his lightweight blanket, which I've been putting off doing all winter, so he'll have something whole to wear when the weather decides to stay warm. It won't win me any needlepoint prizes in the county fair but at least Charlie won't feel so drafty anymore!

After (still with some remnants from the old duct tape patch)


  1. I am glad you were able to end on a good note. I can just picture him being all lookey lookey and trying all of his tricks with you. I am really enjoying reading your blog and following Charlies' progress. I think he's really going to be one of the great ones. I was wondering, did he race? I was trying to find an answer by noodling around here on your blog but I couldn't find my answer.

    1. No, he started race training for a few months but didn't show any promise so he was sold as a hunter/jumper prospect instead. He's Jockey Club registered but not tattooed or anything.