Trepidation

17 07 2015

My last visit to see Puzzle went terribly, and left me angry, disappointed, upset, and with doubts about my horse-handling capabilities. It was the first time I had gone to see him by myself with no-one there to help me. To begin with, everything went as it had done on each previous visit; I went out to collect him, he came to the gate of his own accord and claimed his treat, he was calm as I led him back to the stables. He was a bit fidgety while I groomed him, so I tied him up outside by the wall while I finished him off and tacked him up, but after that, he stood for me perfectly obligingly. In fact, everything seemed perfectly calm and normal until we got to the school.

There are two gates to get into the school. The trouble started as we went through the first gate into the little mini-paddock between them. As we were halfway between the gates, he just stopped dead in his tracks and wouldn’t walk on. I asked him nicely, then asked him in a stern tone of voice, all the while keeping even pressure on the reins under his chin rather than yanking at or pulling on them, because that’s just not fair. But he flatly refused to move at all. So, I took the reins in my left hand for a moment, tapped him on his back end with my free hand (not hard, just lightly to indicate that I would like him to move), and asked him to walk on again. It was clear from his tail-swishing that he was not impressed by that, but he walked on for me, and on through the second gate.

Once I closed the school gate behind me, it was like he suddenly turned into a different pony. He stopped again, and this time he started pulling back on the reins as I tried to lead him. Wanting to remain calm and quiet, but at the same time firm, I stood my ground and kept asking him to walk on. Then he started pinning his ears and trying to bite me. I stood my ground and told him ‘No!’, trying to evade him with my hand on the reins; then, in a bid to make a gentle gesture that I wasn’t going to stand for him trying to bite me, I lifted my left hand up just to push his muzzle away from my other hand, and he seized the riding crop that was in my hand between his teeth and took it off me. Then he just stood there looking at me, and it was like he was going, ‘Your move, human.’ As I tried to remove it, he let go, but he also reared and yanked his head away from me, causing me to lose my grip on the reins, and then kicked out towards me as he ran off a few paces. Then, looking me right in the eye as though to make sure I was paying attention to what he was about to do, he got down on the ground and rolled with his tack on.

I took a deep breath. It was going through my mind that this must be some kind of test to measure which one of us was in charge, and that I needed to remain calm and confident, and just work through it, somehow. At the same time, I was conscious that I didn’t want to do anything that might hurt him or give him a lasting bad impression of me, and that first and foremost I needed to keep myself safe. I advanced back towards him, took the reins back in my hand, and started walking him back towards the gate, and across to the mounting block. We managed to go a few calm paces before he started rearing, pulling and going for my hand again. I don’t remember much detail about what happened after that, other than that I attempted to regain control of the situation, became afraid for my own safety, and left the school, leaving Puzzle shut inside. Twice. Between attempts, I collapsed in the mini-paddock in tears, and didn’t really stop crying. On my second exit, as I leaned slumped over the gate looking inward, sobbing, and trying to think clearly about what to do next, I thought I saw sympathy flash across Puzzle’s face, and he advanced towards me calmly with little furrows around his eyes. I’d given up by that point, however.

I left him in the school, went back to the stables, and fetched his headcollar and lead rope. I took them back to the school, went in, put the headcollar on over his bridle and walked him up to the top of the school at the end of the rope. He was calm to lead in this way. Before I’d gone to fetch him from the school, I’d set up some poles down the middle of the school, hoping to do some exercises on him with them. He was fine until it looked like we might be going towards the mounting block; then he started pulling and lunging and rearing again. I just slackened the rope and let him, keeping myself a safe distance from him, but still with my shoulder in line with his. I was still upset and angry with him at this point, but just trying my best to calm everything down. Including myself.

I took him back to the wall with the tie rings, tethered him, untacked him, and then led him back to the field. I didn’t give him a treat because I wanted him to know that he’d done wrong and I wasn’t happy with him. He looked disgruntled, but backed off into the field, allowing me to go and put everything else – the school, the tack room, his stall – back to normal.

I know that in horse-handling terms, I did the wrong thing in that it seemed obvious that he was either playing up because he didn’t want to work (his human has been on holiday, so that evening was the first time he had come in from the field since I hacked out with him at the weekend), or was trying it on with me to establish which one of us was in charge, and whichever it was I acquiesced to it. However, as there was no-one else around I could call on for help, on this occasion – for not knowing how better to address the situation – I prioritised my personal safety, because I just didn’t know what he was going to do.

As I was leaving, the other two ladies who own horses on the yard came in. I explained briefly to them what had happened, and burst into tears reliving it again. They were very reassuring and sympathetic, and told me that Puzzle is known for having episodes like this occasionally; they don’t know what causes it, but they do know that it tends to happen when he’s being taken into the school, and that he especially seems to have a problem with the mounting block in the school; although, if he’s mounted at the block outside and ridden into the school, he tends to behave better. They said that his human has been through all of this with him, too, and that the difference is that over the years she’s developed a mental toolkit of ways of working through things with him that work, whereas I had no idea what to do, being confronted with it for the first time.

It was a shame, because the weekend before I had had two lovely mornings’ hacks with him, and he was a perfect, polite angel on both occasions. The difference, I suppose, was that he hadn’t had any days of not being exercised up to that point, and I was in the company of someone else he knows well, who was riding another horse he knows. And the hacking really was great. Glorious scenery, exciting canters through fields and woodland, wildlife, dogs and passing other riders; we had it all!

I will next be seeing Puzzle tomorrow morning. I shall be unaccompanied for this visit as well. I’m just going to go along, try and do everything normally and see how it goes, to be honest. For all I know, he might just have been in a mood on Wednesday, and might be back to his usual polite, obliging self again. If he isn’t, I will try to work through it, and see what happens. I wanted a life with horses, and this was bound to happen to me someday. I’ve got to learn to deal with it, and if I can’t, then maybe I’m not cut out for this yet, and I either need more experience handling horses, or a different pony. Time will tell, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to have these thoughts in my head at this stage.

To end on a less dreary note, and because he is cute when he’s not being ‘an arse’ (as the other lady put it), here are some nice pictures and a video of Puzzle from the weekend.

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10 responses

17 07 2015
theInelegantHorseRider

You did brilliantly in my opinion. This was the 1st time you dealt with this and by yourself too – i think the fact you tried various options and worked through it is really good. You are being too hard on yourself, i reckon every new horse owner/sharer feels these things. I know i don’t have experience of this directly. I am sure that tomorrow will be better – a trick I use when I feel something has gone badly is think of 3 positives from the situation and in this blog post there are many positives too. So happy to hear the hacks went well and the pictures are very sweet.

21 07 2015
Soapy Photo Girl

Aww, thank you!

17 07 2015
gsug

I agree, and I think you were very brave to try so hard in what sounds like a very scary situation. Here’s to a continuation of your positive relationship with Puzzle and less of the ‘arse’.

18 07 2015
Sparrowgrass

Nothing is ever easy!
IMO, If this is not uncommon for him, you should have been told to expect it. Forewarned is forearmed and, even if the owner was thoughtless about you, her horse and her tack would have been in a better position of she’d told you it might happen and what she does to deal with it. But it’s easy to forget your own horse’s faults. Best of luck with round 2.

21 07 2015
Soapy Photo Girl

I think you’re right… having now heard back from his owner, I think the thing was that while he has behaved like this before, it hasn’t happened in a long time, so nobody expected him to start doing it again. He’s had sharers before, but I guess I must have the least experience in handling horses or something.

Thankfully, nobody (human or equine) is injured and nothing got broken!

18 07 2015
robinofrockridge

Sigh….Feeling sorry for your scary experience.
A word of advice (from a lifelong horse owner): When one hasn’t ridden the horse for a while, especially a new one, turn them out first in the arena (you call it school) and encourage them to run & play. Then do ground work, lunging, etc. and allow him to rest ONLY next to that dreaded mounting block. If the arena is not available, a good sized round pen will do. And if you feel afraid….trust your gut…keep up the ground work & don’t mount until someone else is around. No matter how gentle the horse, it’s not wise to ride when no one else is around. Good luck!

21 07 2015
Soapy Photo Girl

Since I have been back in contact with his owner, she has suggested doing groundwork with him, and has agreed to meet me so she can go over what she’s learned to do with him with me. She’s also going to be there with me for the next couple of times I see him. Thank you for your advice! It’s always good to hear from people with a lot of experience.

21 07 2015
robinofrockridge

Am happy to help. Despite growing up with horses I still consult experienced help when needed. One can never know it all when it comes to horses.

21 07 2015
Soapy Photo Girl

Absolutely!

21 08 2015
devaneyvi

You’re not alone! But, I think you did great.

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