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High Spirits?
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Helen
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 Posted: Fri Aug 24th, 2007 05:17 am
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Hi everyone,

I was riding the green 6yo mare I have mentioned previously on this forum recently. Was very pleased to note that she is starting to calm down jumping - previously, as soon as she saw the jump she would rush towards it. Now she keeps a steady speed over the jump and through the grid following it... but once out she speeds up and puts her head down and tosses it around.
I was wondering why it would be she does this. I have been told it is high spirits, which seems to make sense to me as she does not have a great deal of experience jumping. Also her ears are always forward, though they do flick back once I ask her to come back to me.
So, what are possible causes of this behaviour, and possible fixes?

Thanks,
Helen
(I really need to sign up properly and forget all this guest stuff, don't I?)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Aug 24th, 2007 05:34 am
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Helen, usually when horses bounce around and put their head down after they finish clearing a jump it's because they're thinking of bucking your sweet ass off.

I am dead certain that this is why your instructor puts a grid of poles after the jump, and maybe one or two poles before the jump too. The poles before the jump help the horse regulate rhythm and stride. The poles after the jump make it a lot harder for the horse to pull any shenanigans. By the time they've dealt with the landing and the poles, they've lost some of their steam and momentum and are less likely to buck hard enough to dump you.

But this is merely a mechanical stopgap. We need to find out the deeper reasons why the horse would want to buck. Thus, you need to ask yourself a few questions about the exact particulars that the HORSE experiences up to, over, and during the landing phase. Are you coming down with your butt early? Are you getting left back? These occurrences are real hard on a horse's back and they hurt and irritate the horse.

Are you releasing the reins adequately and exactly in the style and to the degree that your instructor wishes? If you're catching the horse in the mouth just as she goes to make the big thrust that will carry you forward over the fence, you'll soon enough make her mad, and her first opportunity to express this will be when she lands.

My advice always is to pay more attention to the feel than to your position. If you too much think of your position, it will make you wooden and "posey" and you will lose the sympathy that it takes to ride over a fence (or anywhere else) well. The horse does not care what you look like. You can look like a sack of shit, so far as the horse is concerned. But what the horse CARES about is how you feel to her, how good your timing is for both the aids and the release, and whether, overall, your goal is softness rather than the performance itself.

There is a deeper level to this as well, and that is, never to let anyone tell you to "throw your heart over the fence and the horse will follow it." No, instead, you must get the horse's Birdie to jump the fence; that will pull the horse over the fence, and not only that, it will pull the horse over the fence in the perfect rhythm, and straight as a die. Your Birdie is to go over the fence, too, one-half tick BEHIND that of the horse -- NEVER ahead of the horse's Birdie -- this error is the essential cause of stopping. So you "send" the horse, you let HER do all the physical work, you stay out of her way, and you follow her over the fence in a way that supports and even comforts her. This is how you become not a good, but a great rider over fences.

I'd suggest that you go speak to your instructor about all of these things, Helen, and see what her perspective is on why the horse wants to buck. I'm on the horse's side and so should she be -- it will be you who needs to make the modifications.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Fri Aug 24th, 2007 10:24 pm
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Thank you for the reply, Dr Deb, but I really can't think if any of those things apply. I have spoken to my instructor frequently about it, whether it is a problem and what I should do about it - she says that it is merely because she is green and gets 'fresh' over the jumps. She tells me to half-halt and slow her down, but not be too severe because it is just youthful high spirits.
I have thought about what you said (both before and after you posted it) and I can think of none of those things happening. I have been jumping for years, and while that doesn't mean I'm right all of the time, I do like to think it means that I can feel when I'm jerking the horse in the mouth, or ahead of them, or landing too soon. While jumping this mare (her name is Millie) I always felt that we were working well together, that she was keen to go over the jumps without rushing (which is a step up from some previous behaviour) and that afterwards... well, I'm not an expert, but it really doesn't feel as though she is uncomfortable or unhappy to me.
I have also ridden horses who after jumps put their heads down and really leap around - I know what it feels like when they lift their front legs and arch their backs. She doesn't - just puts her head down. I don't mean to imply that that means she isn't unhappy - just letting you know my observations.

I have seen, often, young horses at play in the paddock leaping and bucking. Is it possible that she hasn't yet worked out work from play?
Also, she is a lesson horse too (though ridden by much fewer people than most). Could this be a response she has learned from someone else, or is that unlikely?

Thanks for your time,
Helen

Helen
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 Posted: Sat Aug 25th, 2007 02:53 am
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Also just wanted to clarify that by 'grid' I was doing a crossrail, one stride over a pole, crossrail, 2 strides (no poles), straight bar. Each jump was around 2 feet high.

And wanted to ask (pre-empting myself) whether there was any real need for a horse to 'seperate work from play'? Or should they be 'playing', in a sense, all the time, so long as their birdie is where you would like it to be?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Aug 25th, 2007 04:05 pm
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Dear Helen -- I smile as I write this. Let's just do an experiment, then, based on your response: let's just let the horse keep "playing" more and more vigorously, and then, when you're looking up at her from the ground, see whether at that point you are still willing to call it "play".

You've written in here previously to say that you don't actually own a horse, Helen, and the sort of POV you're expressing relates directly to your inexperience in this area. Coming out as you likely do a couple of times per week to ride somebody else's horse, you may not realize that everything a horse does, from the first step out of the stall to the last hop over a grid, is related. In other words, small things with horses tend to lead, sooner or later and usually sooner, to bigger things. A wise old horseman once said: "once a mistake, twice he only noticed, three times a habit."

There is a very fine line, in horses as in many other animals, between "play" and "fight". You may observe this among geldings loose in a field. While horses are, as a species, not very prone to snarly kinds of fights where one or the other of the animals actually gets hurt, you will observe that as the "play" escalates from neck-wrestling into rearing, bucking, kicking, chasing, and biting, it can get to where it is just "this side" of the line. And, you will also observe in all humility I hope, that if you were mounted on the horses' backs when they are "playing", that you'd need to be a damned good rider just to stay on.

It thus does not matter too much what our interpretation of these physical actions is; at that point it is academic whether we call it "play" or "serious". The point is that the horse not do any such actions when we are riding or handling him.

I therefore always take any such attempt on the horse's part rather seriously -- not, I mean, without a sense of humor on my part -- but I would do whatever necessary to get the horse's mind back on her work and to discourage her putting her head down, especially if, as part of the gesture, she shakes her head. Shaking the head is a definite signal from the horse that she is pissed off, and the curl-and-flip gesture is an even stronger version with overtones of "I don't care about you" or even "screw you". So Helen, if this is the language the horse is uttering with its body, then you need to review your own actions on horseback again, whether or not you think you've been perfect over the jumps. It is always to the horse, and not to yourself, that you need to turn for your primary instruction. -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Sat Aug 25th, 2007 11:08 pm
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OK, thank you for your insight. Next time I ride her I will pay even closer attention to my own actions. What you say makes clear sense, I hadn't thought of it that way, but it is easy to see you are right. Thank you.

Helen
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 Posted: Sun Sep 16th, 2007 03:29 am
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Hi again Dr Deb,

I have recently read the section in 'The Birdie Book' about the connection between play and fighting in horses. I had never really understood that before it was set out so clearly, nor that the headshaking was such a strong sign of anger.
So I just wanted to say thank you for that, I now see 100% where you are coming from, and though I haven't ridden her since I posted the above, next time I do I will most certainly be paying the closest attention possible and trying to minimise any necessity for her to feel this way.

Thanks again,
Helen


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