Getting back in the saddle: If at first you don’t succeed…

It’s been a frustrating week on the horse front. Actually, on many fronts. Frustrating because I spent much of last week sick, frustrating because my horse is a prick and frustrating because I’m an adult.

These first few weeks I wanted to focus on walking and trotting until Flynn’s fitness got up a bit more. Cantering is off the cards for a wee while yet. I also wanted to focus on getting his transition from halt to walk to trot more immediate and getting him to respond to leg aids rather than relying on the reins.

Monday

The weather was awful today so decided to put off working with Flynn today. Instead, with the help of my wonderful boyfriend, we unloaded the hay I purchased into the shed and headed home.

Tuesday

The saddle I purchased for the boy arrived but as it doesn’t come with a girth, I was restricted to doing ground work with Flynn. I found out the following things:
-He does not like being tied up
-The hay shed we were working in front of is super scary
-He doesn’t like standing still
-He’s a nervous wreck

Never in my life have I worked with a horse who gets a look of pure terror in their eyes. It breaks my heart that an animal of this size can be reduced to fear so easily. I spent some time giving him a decent brush, getting all the dirt off him and just talking to him. The grooming process is a bonding exercise between horse and rider. After all its what horses do to each other in the wild, its their way of showing affection and friendship for each other.

We worked on some ground manners and simple things a horse of 11 should be old hat at. By the end of the hour I spent with him, he had learnt to walk when I walk, stop when I stop and walk beside me not in front of me. He was getting the hang of moving back when I asked. Although it didn’t feel like I had done much with him, we achieved a lot and I was starting to find out the things that were his triggers for freaking out.

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Wednesday

Sickness set in today. But I still had to drag my sorry self out to Flynn to feed him and whilst there decided I may as well do some more work with him. After catching him and taking him up to the shed we encountered a problem similar to that of the floating incident.

Flynn appears to fear enclosed spaces. He was not keen on entering into the enclosed shed and stood firm at the doorway as if to say “No way am I going in there, just you try and make me!”

A lot of encouragement, talking to him and trying different methods from pleading through to threatening to get him he finally took his first steps inside when I grabbed a handful of feed for him. Typical male, always thinks with his stomach. It saddens me that he reacts like this to many things. I don’t know if he’s had a bad experience in an enclosed space or just generally hasn’t been treated that well in the past or maybe, he’s just been left to his devices for so long, that he has forgotten how to behave.

Again he wasn’t keen on being tied up, pulling back on his lead rope and moving side to side and at times pining me against the wall. It was not an experience either of us were really enjoying.

Once his gear was on we headed to the arena and I chucked a lunge rope on him and tested out his paces. He was lethargic and lazy in all paces. It was quite clear that he hasn’t done any work, for a very long time. He wanted to try though, even though physically he’s just not capable of doing much. After 15 minutes I decided to call it a day. He had done good to get this far and I didn’t want to push him too far. This whole process has to be something he enjoys and I enjoy, otherwise why put us both through this?

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Flynn is not a happy camper

Thursday

This day I questioned ever getting Flynn and ever deciding to go through this process on my own. Again he was scared of the shed, he wiggled around whilst being tacked up, he tried biting the doors in the shed and was just generally being more of a so-and-so than yesterday. He refused to lift up his feet to be cleaned out and brushing wasn’t high on his agenda either.

I had every intention of getting on him today but that didn’t happen. He whinnied, and pawed the ground and flatly refused to go down the slight slope to go into the arena. I had to walk him in small circles in an effort to get him to move closer to the gate. When he clicked what was happening we would pull back and retreat a safe distance from the gate.

Something was spooking him but I just didn’t know what it was.

Turns out it was someone in a paddock at the far end of the arena putting up fencing. Once in the arena, the tanty continued. I wanted him to do one thing, he wanted to do the other. I wanted him to lunge on the right hand rein? Nope, bugger that!
We pushed and fought each other the entire time. It was exhausting, for both of us. It felt like we had hit a wall.

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Flynns “I am not doing work today” face

Friday

I will be honest. Friday I did not want to work with Flynn. I was frustrated with him and the lack of progress in the time I had had him. Sold to me as this wonder horse who was willing for anything, I was now faced with a teenage boy in horse form. Lovely.

Although I know the feed he is now getting is behind his pep and attitude, it doesn’t make it easier to deal with and debated if I would have been better of spending more money on a horse that didn’t need work to get back up to speed. Would he ever be up to speed? Had I just been lied to about his abilities?

I conceded that I needed to ride him today. He works a lot better with a rider than he does when your on the ground. One thing I like about Flynn is that he stands dead still while your getting on him. Which was handy because with no mounting block and not wanting to climb a fence and mount him that way, I was reduced to getting on him from the ground. When your horse stands at 16.3hh, that’s a long way up, and took a few goes to swing my self up.

He surprised me by being a complete dude the entire session. I asked for a walk, he walked, I asked for a trot and he obliged. I asked for him to turn in a tight circle, he did it. Finally we were making progress!

We trotted over poles to get the rhythm of his trot more even and focus on his balance throughout. We weaved in and out of cones to work on flexibility and responsiveness to my leg aids and worked on our partnership as horse and rider.

Although we still had issues with him walking into the shed, he didn’t shy away from the arena, and he was showing signs of increased fitness. He was stretching out his neck to the ground in the trot which is a great sign of things starting to happen in terms of muscle.

Sunday

Due to other commitments Flynn got Saturday off. Sunday morning the boyfriend and I headed out. It was a lovely sunny day at our place, but once we got to grazing it had starting drizzling. Deciding to brave the elements we got Flynn in and tacked him up anyway – a bit of rain wouldn’t hurt us and I wanted the boyfriend to be involved in this process and build his confidence working with horses.

I also got to use my new saddle holder which the boyfriend lovingly made for me. Clever chicken that one!

Another tanty going into the shed was quickly fixed by a slap on he bum and for the most part he stood still during the tacking up process. The boyfriend was quite surprised given my accounts of his behavior during the week, I think he expected a demon horse.

We headed out to the arena and I told the boyfriend to hop on. He wanted me to ride first. Fair enough after my tales from the week I thought!

I jumped on and walked and trotted out way around the arena, Flynn showing off his new found responses to leg aids and we very nearly managed to break into a canter.

When the boyfriend hoped on Flynn learnt pretty quickly he could do what he liked because his pilot wasn’t overly sure what he was doing/ wouldn’t listen to what I was telling him to do (males, I tell you!). Never the less they walked and trotted around the arena, the boyfriend getting a bit more comfortable in the saddle with each circuit, but not quite being able to get the whole rising trot thing.

By the time I hoped back on for a warm down, Flynn was not listening at all. He wanted done with work for the day and we engaged in a battle of wills. I wanted two more laps and to finish the session on a high note. Flynn had other ideas that involved food.

I managed to pull him round to get a few more laps out of him on a long rein before we finished up for the day.

Not thinking he would move, I tied up his reins and went to move the poles and equipment back to where they had been. Something rather special happened. He followed me. All around the arena. He walked when I did, stopped when I did and didn’t once make a bolt for the gate. He was quite happy to follow me around because he was finally learning I wasn’t going to take him to any place scary.

 

It really was a mixed bag of a week. Flynn went from being a bit of an a**hole to something resembling a well behaved horse. We have a long ways to go but he seems to be getting a few core lessons through his head. It’s been a great test of my patience working with him this week. The list of things to work on seems to be getting longer rather than shorter, but I feel like our bond is growing.

The biggest plus this week has been the slight increase in his fitness, while at the start of the week a circuit of trot would leave him a bit breathless, he can now easily do two circuits and still has enough left in him to nearly make it into a canter. Although the progress is slow going at the moment, I am trying to take pleasure in the small triumphs.

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A quiet moment with Flynn, who slowly but surly is learning to trust me
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Despite it being a tough week, progress is being made!

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