January 6, 2015

Random And Probably Meaningless Musings

So I've been thinking a lot lately about Gem and myself. Being stuck on the ground in the slop tends to do that.

I've been wondering why we have been having the issues we have lately. I don't ever imagine her to be a beginner friendly, easy ride, but a lot of the recently brought back spooky behavior is just plain annoying and unnecessary. It isn't like I am asking her to do anything new here.

Or am I?

When I first got her it was a massive win to just not die.  My one and only goal for pretty much the entire first 6 months of owning her was to get her to just freaking walk. While I enjoy speed, I don't particularly enjoy going at Mach 10 around an indoor arena barely making the corners without sliding on our sides. Walking was a big deal. It meant being calm. It meant listening.

Slowly as time went on, I would feel more comfortable to add a new skill into it: trotting, cantering, transitions, ground rails, small jumps etc...

Each time I added something it just felt like the right thing to do at the right time. I never planned on it, but at some point in a ride I felt like we could move on without having a complete mental break down. Usually it didn't go so hot the first time, but once I introduced it I would then add it in at small intervals to all our rides until it became a non issue. Gem isn't a stupid horse, but she isn't very willing to learn new things either and her gut reaction is to just shut down and bolt.

I remember the first time I looked outside the large jumping arena at the barn in WI and thought "Why not cool her out on the lane between the fields?" It was the first time I ever was brave enough to ride her alone out of a fenced arena. It took us 45 minutes to go the maybe 0.25 miles down to the dressage arena. And about 3 seconds to get back to the barn. From then on each ride ended with a cool out along the lane until she was acting like a perfect lady at the walk. At which point I began to ask her to trot down it. Then we moved so I never got to the point of cantering it.

My point? Well, if I have one it is that maybe I am trying to move faster than what has proven good with Gem in the past.

Last January 1st was my first real solo outing on Gem and it went ok. We did a ton of walking and I only went out 30 minutes then turned around and came back. I didn't care about the pace, I just wanted her to get used to going out alone.

Ever since the Barefoot 50, my perspective has changed significantly with regards to Gem's abilities. While I was always concerned that she wasn't fast enough or in good enough shape to do a 50 at all, nevertheless in under 12 hours, when we pulled in at 8 hours I realized I was not giving her enough credit. Now I know that she is capable of laying down that type of pace for that many miles and looking good at the end of it.

Each time we have hit the trails since then I've been pushing hard to get her to replicate that. I know she can and so I haven't been as forgiving as in the past putting it down to laziness. However, I am wondering if maybe she just isn't really ready (will she ever be??) for that sort of thing right now. Instead of waiting for my signal from her to let me know that it is time to add in something new (like more speed on a solo trail ride) I am just pushing her for it and I think it may be the cause to all our recent issues.

Of course, there is a fine line between letting her get away with stupid behavior and giving her the time she needs to adjust to the new skill, but we didn't ride all 50 miles alone. We only did the last 10 alone and by that point she was too tired to give a darn about any limbs or stumps along the way and yet she still put in some pretty good spooks.

I think I may need to take a small step back and rethink our solo conditioning. There are so many different ways to tackle a ride, be it conditioning or competing, but I tend to prefer a consistent pace saving the slow times for eating and drinking breaks or to tackle a particularly difficult hill. Meaning, I like to trot the entire time and only walk when the trail dictates and have more time to let her eat or drink along the way. However, when going solo this only seems to equate to me constantly nagging her and her blowing a fuse creating a not so great ride.

Sooooo....with all that blabbering on I think I may tackle next weekend's 20 mile conditioning ride a bit differently. I think I am going to focus on short bursts of speed and longer walk breaks for her mental stability while still trying to maintain a generally decent overall pace in the end. For example, instead of picking up a solid trot from the get go and forcing her to maintain at all costs, I will let her walk and then ask for a faster trot and/or canter for a bit then allow her to settle back down into a walk then pick it up a bit. Hopefully that speed work will help with her cardiovascular system while pushing the mental envelope just enough to get something done while the walk breaks allow her to slow down and put her mind at ease.

We will see if this approach changes things at all or not.


  1. So much of what you describe makes me think of Q and the problems with her; her gut response/instinct is to bolt and run in fright a lot, too - the worst instances I refer to it as "seeing red". Can she do 50 miles? Oh yes. But training rides have become hell since! I have approached them much like you've begun to do though, demanding a trot throughout with walking for the tricky bits. It's how we go in competition so I've been trying to train for it. It may not be what we need though? Her mental game was trashed last year, so I obviously need to change something. I'll be pursuing a very similar path to you when we do get back out on trail (you know, when it's warmer than single digits and stuff lol!). Bursts of speed with more walking, even on areas that are great to move out on.

    Does Gem act up more or less on certain terrain? Does she focus more on her job when terrain is more demanding and/or she's moving out? I know Q doesn't (hasn't) spook(ed) when going up a significant incline at a trot or greater. She's focused on dealing with the obstacle. As soon as things become "easy" she's looking ALL AROUND to find "monsters" to be upset about. When we started trails 2 years ago, I could get her to calm down just by making her trot. She was focused on moving her feet and she couldn't be worried about other things. But now she's in shape, so unless she's really pounding it out, she has her wits free enough to find things to spook at. Thus, I'm hoping to only add speed work where I know there is a higher probability of not spooking and add slow work in areas that area on easier terrain.

    Sorry to babble on so much. It's just all so curious to me. Quite a puzzle! Fortunately, I find puzzles very intriguing.

    1. Wow Q and Gem sound like sisters. Too bad you don't live closer or we could train them together!!!

      Gem rarely gives a true to form 180 degree spin and bolt style spook working up or down hills, so they really are great. My favorite trail system is super hilly and very technical twisting single track and she still spooks all the time on that though. There are a few instances that I give her some slack on because it truly is scary like the logging truck we came upon suddenly or the big red chair incident. However most of the time she is just tire dog doing whatever it is she is doing and uses it as an excuse to get out of work. It is a lot my fault because in the beginning I was not very confident and when she would do this it really would get her out of work because I got scared and shut down. Now I just ignore her and push onward. Ignoring her antics really is the best way to handle her but sometimes I forget and lose my temper.

      Honestly, with Gem you have to be on your game 100% of the time. Once she feel syou relax an stop paying attention it is BAM massive spook. When I caught up with my friends on trail a couple weekends ago (before yhe monsoon hit) we would be going fine out front and I was chatting away. Then out of the blue Gem would give a massive spook and the ladies would remark how sticky my seat was which is only due to 5 years of riding Gem. They asked each time what she spooked at, but it wasn't anything except she was done leading and wanted a break. I would make her go 5 more minutes each time and then she could have her break so that the behavior wasn't being rewarded, but it does get old.

  2. Ashke loves to ride on new trail. He does it with his ears forward and his back swinging. However, he is much more comfortable at the walk than any other pace until he gets comfortable with the trail. The only thing that helps his comfort level is having J in front of us on her bike, then he will move forward at a faster pace. It just may be that with thinking horses, going out alone is going to be a slower pace at first, until they are truly comfortable with the trail.

    1. I think the month off I gave her after Barefoot followed by another 2 weeks just on barn property caused a severe mental relapse. Before the time away from trails she was actually being very good and we did those two 20 mile rides solo without any of these issues at all. Not a single temper tantrum over 9 plus hours of riding solo.

      Then I gave her the time off and even though we are on the same trails we have ridden countless times over the last year and a half she is acting like she never saw any of the before. Or maybe she is just trying to tell me that she truly hated the 50 we did and doesn't want to be asked to go that far ever again. I don't know. Pow Wow should be a good test of that although she was perky an happy the whole ride so I am hoping it isn't that.

  3. FWIW, I don't think I have ever done a conditioning ride of more than 10 miles at the same pace that I "race" at.

    I have entirely different problems - Dixie used to be incredibly spin-and-bolt spooky, but she's honestly over that now and we have different issues to work on - but my point is: you're not ruining anything if you can't condition alone as fast as you travel at rides. Don't slowpoke along at home and then try to run top-ten at races, but if you can't get but 5 mph at home and you get into the first VC at a ride and realize you've gone 6 or even 7 mph, it's not the end of the world. You just have to get in enough long-trot sets to build cardio fitness, and enough total miles to build muscle and bone.

    Anyway, good thoughts about how fast/slow you ladies are pushing your mares!

    1. How did you get D past that behavior or was it just miles and rides and eventually she got over herself?

      I think one of the main things that got to me this winter was watching some endurance education videos on youtube. They kept hammering home the point of training faster than you race and well you can see why that got my panties in a twist since we do the opposite. But you are right, we aren't trying to Top 10 so maybe it doesn't matter so much. We do generally clock a 5 mph average when out alone and came through ok in Oct. Our next outing in Feb will be a good test. I wish there were more people to ride with near me but I also ride at really odd times which makes it much harder too.

    2. She's a TWH, and their brains really are different from Arab brains. I know so many people who've done a better job handling and training their Arabs and after thousands of miles of training/competition, the horses *still* spook at white logs, or dark rocks, or ribbons on the ground, etc. This is the tradeoff yall make for easy-to-cool horses ;)

      To answer your question - she didn't trust anybody but herself when I got her. Part One of solving her problem was becoming trustworthy to her. Part Two was *not reacting* - I slowly learned to control my breathing and my hands and legs and stop tensing up in anticipation of the spooks. So she might be worried about something, but I'm sitting up there oozing calm body language AND I'm usually trustworthy. When she does spook these days, it's usually just a half-spook - the leap in the air, but not the twist-and-bolt.

      Does that help?

    3. Funder, I know you're off having a baby and such things (PUSH!! BREATHE!!...or at least that's how I hear it goes ;-) ), so you may never see this considering the whirlwind of activity that is childbirth and raising...but in the off chance you do...

      Yes, it helps immensely! (At least for me.) That's exactly how Q is (what about Gem, Sara?). Q didn't trust people much at all when I got her. And now she is beginning to trust me because she's been here going on 3 years now and hasn't been shuffled elsewhere. What you say makes perfect sense. "I'm trustworthy. Trust that it isn't a monster. Move on." And then not reacting. Definitely Not Easy, but certainly things that Must Be Worked On. 2015 shall be the year of pursuing this...

    4. For what it's worth, after Lily's management changes (switching to field board), my approach to getting her to calm down on trail was actually exact what Funder did. I'm expecting a relapse now since she hasn't been ridden on the trails alone in 2 months, but I would be very surprised if it takes her more than a handful of rides to get her confidence back. We'll start out riding with a buddy before we try going out alone again.

      When it comes to training, I DID train at the same pace or faster than I expected to ride at endurance rides, mainly because the terrain I practice on is easier than the terrain at rides. When possible I did my faster-than-race pace with a buddy: Lily will go faster if she's leading a friend. She does tend to be slower on her own. We alternate: sometimes I let her trot out at a slower pace, sometimes I push for a faster trot and sometimes I just add canter sets for more speed. I also make sure to have just for fun rides where she gets to choose the pace. :)

      And I too have heard of too many Arabs that are excellent at endurance but just never settle down. Do your best but don't take it personally.

    5. Liz - yoga helped me SO MUCH with the body control. Fake it til you make it with the calm! I don't know if you others practice but it's worthwhile. I don't currently manage to do yoga, but I did it long enough for it to really help my riding.