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Horse loses his Birdie at very specific time
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Redmare
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 Posted: Fri Jan 19th, 2018 11:06 pm
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...at least I think this is a Birdie issue.

Dr. Deb, you may remember that nice gelding I've written about who belongs to an older woman I'm working with. She doesn't come out much in winter due to the cold so I'm getting plenty of time in with him.

You and I have talked about this gelding's propensity to be laggy about the leg, especially in an indoor arena. Unfortunately, winter weather and lack of daylight (or perhaps I should say my lack of ability to make it to the farm during daylight hours) have meant a lot of riding indoors. Now I've gotten this horse to where he'll make nice, crisp transitions off my leg, but we've started to develop a new situation: he's gotten quite spooky in the indoor.

I've always known this gelding to be MUCH more comfortable in an outdoor space, so I wonder how much of this is just him being sick and tired of being hauled up indoors (can't blame him, I am too!)

Specifically: I can currently take this horse into the indoor, groom him up and saddle/bridle him at liberty and he won't move an inch. I can have him follow me around at liberty and go anywhere in the arena, on any kind of line I like and he follows happily. Most of the time, I can put him on a line and move him about and he'll go where I ask him to go. But as soon as I go to get mounted, the arena develops "no fly zones" where he will clearly want to avoid going. Interestingly, getting straight from this horse in the indoor is difficult whereas straight out of doors is much easier. I have no doubt this is Birdie-linked as well.

I'm unsure how to help him in this. His spooks are manageable but for a horse who has some significant physical challenges to straight and soft we have enough to contend with without him feeling bothered in an enclosed space. I can observe that the change seems to occur somewhere around when you ask the horse to direct his attention inward, for example on a circle when you put him out on a line or once you're mounted...but again, no issue with either of these things when we're outside in an outdoor arena, field, etc. What am I missing here, or what do I need to change to help this gelding?

Edited to add: I should mention this horse does go out daily from sun-up to sunset, so I don't believe it to be an management issue in that regard.

Last edited on Fri Jan 19th, 2018 11:08 pm by Redmare

sodapoppers
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 Posted: Fri Jan 19th, 2018 11:27 pm
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Not sure if this is helpful to your specific situation or not...but my mare gets like this too. The only thing I have ever found that works for her is to keep her mind busy...I make it a point to not go more than 1/4 of the arena without some kind of transition, movement, or change of direction when she is like that. Usually after about 20 mins she's calmed down and very focused, and then we can move on to other work.
Usually, walking her up to something slowly (3-4 steps, stop, look, 3-4 steps, stop, look) until we're up to it and she investigates it will solve the issue. But in the indoor, there is one end of the arena that houses horse-eating birds and no amount of checking it out u/s or i/h seems to convince her otherwise :)

Redmare
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 Posted: Fri Jan 19th, 2018 11:59 pm
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Hi soda, yes, this is how we warm up pretty much every ride: at the walk, and every few strides we change directions, add a shoulder-fore, untrack a step and travel off, go from really striding out to "soft walk", pick up the reins, wait for him to soften up, hold the soft and release to the buckle, stop and back a step or two, etc...lately this takes about 15-20 minutes at which point I'll have him walking on the buckle and about 90% okay...but if I bump him to trot at that point, he loses the okay-ness and we're back to square one, so I take that to mean he was never really okay to begin with.

But like I said, this is a horse who had some trouble with Birdie long before I started working with him and while he's gotten much better, we've taken some steps back lately. On a good day there are no "bogeys" in the indoor, so I am pretty darn sure this is a deep focus issue but have been unsuccessful in helping this gelding get 100% okay.

Last edited on Sat Jan 20th, 2018 12:01 am by Redmare

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Jan 21st, 2018 01:45 am
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Red, Soda, et al: Yes, you're right -- this is a 'Birdie' issue, and a rather common one.

Picture the physical layout at your farm. Note the following:

1. Where does the horse get fed?
2. Where are the horse's buddies? Does he live in the same enclosure with other horses, or not?
3. Where does the horse get tacked up?
4. Where is the gate that you go through to get into the riding arena? Is the gate on the same side as 1 and/or 2, or on the opposite or far side?

Now, for the next two weeks, I want you to practice the following:

1. When taking the horse from the area where he gets fed and/or where his buddies are TO the place where he gets tacked up, you must make sure that the horse's Birdie accompanies you every step of the way. You do this not in a punishing way, but in a "noticing" and "reminding" way: after calling him to you in the enclosure where he lives, you put the halter on. From that instant onward, you NOTICE every single time when he is not looking at you. He does not have to stare at you; in fact it is better if his focus is not too intense, just "normal" attention. He must pay attention to you. A horse can only think about what he is looking at; therefore, if he is not looking at you, then he is not thinking about you, rather something else. So every time he looks anywhere BUT at you, then you bump the halter or touch him or stop and untrack, whatever it's going to take, and get those eyes back.

2. When you arrive at the area where you tack up, I hope to goodness that you NEVER use cross-ties. If you tie straight to a rack or ring, OK, but even better if you could begin practicing grooming and tacking up at liberty. Take the horse into a pen (the arena will work if it's fenced and there's nobody else using it at the time). If you haven't done this at all before, begin by keeping the horse on the halter with the lead rope over the crook of your arm. Take your grooming tools out there with you in a basket. When the horse tells you 'I've had enough for the moment, thanks', and he wants to walk off, then you walk off with him like two best buddies. Then in a minute or two lead him back to where your basket is, or else you can take the basket with you when you walk off. You will find that grooming him this way is much FASTER than by tying him up. After he's groomed, put the saddle on and girth it. Then go pick up your bridle and, still leading the horse by the halter, walk to some other spot and put the bridle on. Then walk again, perhaps several times, until the girth is fully tight, notch by notch. It goes without saying, I hope, that you're also keeping the horse's eyes on you the whole time you're doing this.

3. After the bridle is on, then you lead the horse by the bridle-reins over to where there's a hook or post and hang your halter on that. Then lead the horse to the mounting-block. Need I mention that mounting is a multi-phase process? So you go through each phase, telling the horse the whole time that its job is to STAND STOCK STILL AND WAIT, PAYING ATTENTION TO YOU while you get ready to mount and then mount. If the horse does not stand stock-still and/or does not know how to stand stock still and HELP you get on (not merely tolerate you getting on or permit you to get on), then your work for that day and until it is completely successful is to teach him to do just that.

4. Now you're ready to assess your arena:

a) Where was the 'fall line' when you initially wrote me this query? Halfway down the arena from the in-gate? Most of the way down toward the end opposite from where the horse lives/from the in-gate? Only involving the farthest corner? The 'fall line' is the place where the horse's eyes leave you, where its Birdie flutters and/or leaves, going back as it will to where he lives or where his buddies are. Did you initially relate the place where 'trouble' occurs as being ten steps PAST this place? You only have trouble because you're riding your horse PAST the 'fall line'.

b) Now that you've spent a couple of weeks solidifying the horse's habit of paying attention to you AT ALL MOMENTS, has the fall line moved? Has it disappeared all by itself?

Let me know. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Jan 30th, 2018 08:25 pm
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So I've spent the last week focusing on what you've recommended, Dr. Deb. In answer to your questions:


A) The "fall line" when I initially wrote in was about 2/3 of the way down one long side of the arena - this long side is smack in between where this gelding is usually turned out and where his stall is. I do think I have been missing the exact point at which he leaves some of the time.

B) The short answer to "has the fall line disappeared or moved?" is yes.

The longer answer is this: I did a bit of an experiment inspired by something Tom Curtin talked about at the clinic I attended with him last summer. I decided that, when I got on this gelding, I would ask him to walk off and then let him "go where he goes" so to speak. Instead of trying to direct him to stay one way or another, I just let him go about where he wanted. The first day I did this, the gelding spent about 3-4 minutes on about a 20 meter circle to the left right by the main gate to the arena. As soon as we walked off he made a B-line for right where the gate latches. I let him go there and then redirected him to continue walking past it when he showed a desire to stop there. It took him a few minutes before he felt comfortable to wander in a straight line down any long side. Several times he didn't even make it all the way down the long side before he felt the need to turn back towards the gate. He did not willing switch directions of his own accord initially. I just went with him and let him expand upon his "boundaries" until he had touched every point of the arena.

Then I started suggesting things. While walking, if we were coming through a corner and approaching a long stretch and I felt the gelding want to cut across the diagonal, I would touch him with my inside calf and say "why don't we head down this long side?" Much of the time he obliged and came with me. A few times I felt that he could not follow that request and so I went with him wherever he felt he needed to go. Eventually it got to where he no longer felt the need to do this and he could come with me when I asked. I ended each of these rides by waiting until I felt him slow his walk almost as if to stop and then I'd ask him to whoa. At that point I'd get off and pet him.

What I noticed in doing this: not once over the last week did this gelding spook or shy in the way he has been once I stopped immediately telling him where to put his body before he was ready.

What he DID do is still have a tendency to lose himself down towards the gate - the couple times he startled it was because something was going on out there and he got sucked right to it. There is a big sliding door down there that we call the "horsey TV" because it frames the parking lot and this is where I believe this horse's birdie goes - right out that door. I think this is where I have been losing him - as we come down the long side towards the door, I sometimes lose him about halfway down, but the spook doesn't come until close to the gate.

The other thing I noticed was this: regardless of whether he was at liberty or tied, the gelding shook his head when I put on the saddle pad, saddle and started to girth up. I do not recall seeing this with any consistency recently. It was every. single. time. Not the full dog-like shake that I now know to mean "take a swift trip to the hot place", and not a head nod, but like he was shaking off a fly. I have to assume he's telling me he now finds the saddle, pad and/or girth irritating in some way, but even if he's at liberty he doesn't leave, just shakes his head and neck. I am now wondering if this is also contributing to him losing his birdie once I get on.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Feb 5th, 2018 11:03 am
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Red -- Sorry I haven't been able to get back to you sooner. I am most pleased by your reply, because it exemplifies the essential thing, the central thing, the most important thing, that I look for in all students: you have grasped the gist or heart of the matter, and you are able to generalize that insight to cover situations different from or issues larger than, the initial one that provoked our conversation.

In this case, you have gone beyond my lesson on "have you ridden past the fall line", to seeing WHY the fall line even exists, which is to say, because in taking the horse away from the stable area where it eats or from its buddies, the handler is stretching the horse's (metaphorical, yet real) "thread", that which ties its birdie to its body. In bringing the horse from the stable/herd to the arena, the handler has torn or pulled the horse's body away from its birdie, or in other words has failed to pack the birdie along on the trip. By the time the horse reaches the arena, he already about can't stand himself, because when the thread is stretched, the horse becomes very anxious and needy, because breaking the thread is, to him, the last event before he would die. He may even think that the handler is doing this on purpose; and why should he not? -- in which case, he not only thinks he's going to die, he thinks the handler is trying to kill him.

So now you're reporting details which you can easily interpret because you "get" the gist of the thing. Yes, of course he loses himself more easily when facing the gate....he came in that way, why (in his mind) should he not also go out that way? Because the essence of himself, his essential self, IS his birdie, so if his body cannot go out because the rider physically prevents it, the birdie will go out anyway. Harry Whitney says, "if they can't flee physically, they will flee mentally." The cure for this, as I have indicated in previous posts, is to INCULCATE A HABIT in him of entrusting his birdie to you. This takes time -- in bad cases, sometimes years -- and it will be intermittent for some time after you commit to this way of life with him. In other words, don't expect to succeed 100% every single time for a while, but do keep the faith that "birdie escapes" will happen less and less often over time. Eventually, they will only happen when you yourself blatantly forget to help him, or have a bad moment where you get mad at him or impatient with him, and blame him, when he was in fact trying his hardest to warn you or let you know that there was something of concern to him.

Tom Dorrance used to observe that if a horse gets uncomfortable physically, it will be hard for him to maintain equanimity, inner comfort and ease, or "birdie with himselfness". So if your saddle is uncomfortable for him, it will be more difficult for him to stay with himself and you.

My compliments again on getting the core idea. That you do get it is revealed by your letting the horse stand and look, absorb, think about things, and then get OK with himself BEFORE you make further demands of him. What's really going on there is that, during that time, he's calling his own birdie up to himself from wherever he left it behind. So your letting him stand and look, and my advice to groom and tack up at liberty, are one and the same at a deeper level, they accomplish the same thing.

Keep us posted as to how this continues to go. And by the way: NEVER get off the horse in the arena while near the gate or facing the gate. Always keep him thinking either "in" the arena, or else out past it, away from the gate, away from the feeding area, away from his buddies, and do all you can to help him remember all the time that his job is to help you. He has to CARE about you in order for this to succeed, and that's what buddy-up time is for -- another reason to groom at liberty, it just feels good to him and he knows you're the one with the fingers for scratching and rubbing that he hasn't got. Tom used to say, "until I have THAT, I don't even want to get on them." Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Mon Feb 5th, 2018 06:36 pm
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Thank you so much for your reply - I am especially grateful to have you mention that this is a long-term endeavor and not one that I should expect to have 100% success with every time...while it certainly doesn't alleviate me of the responsibility I have to the horse to hear what he's saying, it does encourage me to not get DIScouraged when we have a day where things just aren't jiving.


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