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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

September 2, 2011

Sensitive Horses

I seem to be drawn by some unseen primal force to sensitive horses.
 Sensitive = Challenging
This is not necessarily a bad set of circumstances, but it does require a lot more thinking on my part, a lot more patience which of late I have little of, and you really need to be in the moment.  If your mind drifts, so might your horse.  At this juncture some of Journey remains a mystery to me.  Though sensitive she is still inclined to brace against pressure, or instinctually move into pressure.  If pressure is turned up because she is doing one of these things she clearly gets angry and is inclined to rear (talking ground work here).  She inparticular becomes upset over front end yielding.  Her energy shoots up and her feet become frantic.  She has not found her place of relaxation in these exercises.  I'm wanting impulsion which she certainly has, but I need to find the point where she can do this with flow, and a relaxed eye.  We also cannot find "whoa" in any exercise that is above a walk.  NOT GOOD.  I'm keeping our groundwork sessions at an hour to an hour and a half.  I've been breaking it up between different tasks thinking I'd sour her, but now perhaps I need to pick a poison a day and work it until I get that relaxed response I seek.

I'm still seeing a lot of brace to her neck when yielding her hind quarters.  She is inclined to "think ahead" and anticipate the answer to the question before we get to step one, she wants to circumvent the process to step two.  Step one being horizontal flexion, step two being step over/yield.  She anticipates and just steps over.  So I can see an hour session of bending this weekend. 


The curtain of death has become the entertainment center of the kingdom of horse.  I'm not sure it will even last until my October ladies weekend camp out / obstacle / trail riding and cook out gathering.  Big Cree has figured out how to stand on the corner of it, get his big rump on the tarp, and wiggle back and forth to scratch his itchies...if that tree limb the tarp is fastened to lasts it will be a miracle.

We are having another heat wave.  Will hit about a 100 degrees today, don't know what the heat index will be but can't see riding Phebes in this heat.  They'll be sweating standing still.  What a miserable summer this has been!  I wonder what ride numbers have been like in the midwest?
The clinician we are going to has expressed an interest in trying an LD ride with her mustang.  She's a do all kind of gal, and it would be fun to do our first ride with clear back up on getting Journey off to the right start when the time comes.


  1. Tried to leave a comment before but screwed up . . .

    I have one horse - a mare called Dawn - who sounds a lot like your mare. When we got her, she was very braced, easily frustrated/overwhelmed and would do things like rearing (partly due to the bad training she'd had previously). We figured out that she really wanted to perform, but really got agitated if she didn't understand what we wanted or didn't know how to move her body in the way we were asking - rearing is often energy going up because the horse doesn't know where else to put it.

    We learned to break things down into very small increments, use short (15-20 minutes initially) work sessions, sometimes several times a day and focussing on one or only a few tasks at a time. This began to help her see that she would be giving the time and space to figure things out and that she wouldn't be punished/pressured for giving the wrong answer, but could work on figuring out the right answer and then be rewarded. This helped build her confidence.

    She now knows how to soften and relax, and has learned to use her body - lateral work and lovely backing for example - in ways she couldn't initially. But it required going very carefully and slowly. She's a blast to ride - but she'll always be reactive and a very challenging ride - that's just who she is.

  2. It is interesting you said that about breaking things down into smaller increments. Just had the conversation with my husband who is a great problem solver. He also suggested choosing one skill per session and focus on the one thing until it is right before trying a new thing. Right now our biggest difficulty is when I ask for the lateral bend, she thinks I want her to back up, so instead of giving she backs up which gives her a release, but is not the release that I wanted.

    She is very resentful if she thinks you are being "mean" in your forcefulness. Like if she doesn't yield and I follow with the end of the rope to get her attention she gets pissed! My old mare that is gone now was that way about the training stick, she hated that thing...and let you know it. With Journey pressure is okay, but contact makes her upset. I'm still trying to feel my way of how much pressure is right with her.

  3. I'd like to echo Kate. Small increments. Smaller than you believed possible. Sometimes a single step in the right direction is the time to quit, honestly...because then she can quit and think about that step. It seems crazy to accept just one stride, but it works.

    Also, if you haven't yet read Stagg and John Crandall's article in the Sept 2011 Endurance News , I heartily recommended it: they are both all about the concept of slow, small, gradual. The slow way really is the fast way with many horses. And those two men really really REALLY are the experts on teaching endurance horses to be good endurance horses.

  4. There was a drop dead gorgeous Mustang at the AERC Endurance Ride I was crewing this past weekend. They were doing the 30 mile ride and ended up getting pulled after 14 miles due to some lameness issues. I was bummed because I really wanted to see them finish.