Saturday, 20 January 2018

Risk Hemostasis

I find herd dynamics fascinating and have the perfect setup on my farm to observe much more than the average owner may get to. My horses' paddock is situated directly behind the house with no obstructing buildings or trees. I can see what they are up to right from my home office window, while doing dishes in the kitchen or eating a meal in the dining room.

Back when I had geldings this proved to be not so good for me. Geldings tend to play MUCH more than a herd of mares ever will, which meant watching much play fighting and high-speed chases that would give me a panic attack on muddy days. More than once (four times) I had to head outside and help a horse get his legs out of the fence after running like a fool and then slipping and falling into the fence. I have never had to pluck a mare's legs out of a fence.

But mares definitely come with their own set of troubles. Like opinions.
With the mares I currently have, Meyla, the bison Icelandic, is the leader. She is confident and methodical. Savvy came in second and as I have written in past posts, there has been a great deal of difficultly keeping Savvy from getting hurt because she continuously pushed to take over leadership. Shiraz came in third and was happy to hang out beside Meyla, treating her like a mom and trying to stay away from Savvy.

A shift has been occurring in the back yard of this little farm for the past month though. It started as a slow rumble and then the full quake hit. Shiraz has successfully moved from third in the pecking order up to second. And Savvy is putting up with it.

This drop to third has changed Savvy's overall demeanour. She seems resigned to it. She has not once gone after Meyla since this happened.

And she has no injuries! Not one new cut in three weeks!!!

So I should be happy. But now there is possibly a side effect to this power shift that involves a particular horse in training.

Last week I was excited to write about the fact that Shiraz had learned to jump. I couldn't wait to get back at it and so arranged for another lesson a week later. We worked on raised trot poles for a while which proved to be quite challenging (OMG Shiraz and I almost ate dirt a few times tripping through a small line of three raised poles!) but then we moved on to cantering over regular poles to a jump that was not up yet. We worked on coming at this line from a tighter turn (quarter line to jump line that was still only all ground poles) helping her and myself figure out how to sit back and get Shiraz off her forehand. This all went very well.

Then coach made a cross rail and asked us to come at a canter. She begrudgingly picked up a canter.

And then she bucked.

Lets all just pause and take this in for a moment.

My sweet, docile mule gave me the finger hard. I know I should have considered this an "I don't wanna" buck, kicked on and got to work. No big deal. My other horse Savvy has bucked tons of times and I was completely fine giving her a smack with the crop and carrying on. But I didn't. And I watched my brain fall out of my skull and run away to hide under the bleachers.  Because I was now wondering if she would give me the buck I have seen on the lunge line which is fucking huge and the reason I sent her to a trainer for learning to canter. I immediately hopped off and I asked my coach to ride her.

So ya, I'm apparently now that girl. I'll own it.

Shiraz proceeded to throw in bucks with trainer too, but mostly just did what she was told with a lot of attitude.

So I know. I have told myself all the things. She is young. She is unbalanced. She is lazy and is feeling a bit full of herself these days as she matures.

I felt like I needed to force myself to look at this with some sense of reason. Many of you are out there riding young horses that do scary stuff and just dig in and get it done. Some of you don't even think this shit is scary!

I rode today. I specifically mounted telling myself ride with grit. No anger. No fear. Just train the fucking horse. Slippery conditions be damned, I worked on asking for three strides of canter (on a straight line to be safe from slipping) after a very thorough warmup and working on turn on the forehand, haunches, halts, walk/trot transitions, et cetera. And yes, she bucked almost every time. And you know what? I was fine. I could sit it. I could hold her head up to keep it from becoming dangerous. And I got one canter finally without a buck and ended there.

Sigh. horses.


  1. Training baby horses is hard! I will throw it out there that young horses can change their shape regularly and it's possible that the saddle is pinching a bit. It can also be because she's seeing what her options are for leadership. It's hard to know.

  2. Oh man I know how you feel, when your brain immediately starts worrying about what they'll do next.... But glad you could work through it at home and get some confidence in that. It's so hard when behavioral issues crop up in times of suboptimal riding conditions bc there are so many environmental factors it's impossible to know the exact source of the behavior. Hopefully things smooth out esp as riding can become more regular in better conditions!!!

    1. hope things have been going well with the herd up in the snowy north lately! maybe spring is starting to show signs of waking up??

    2. No sign of spring yet! Massive changes going on here...hoping to have time to write about it soon.

  3. One persons 'not scary' is another persons 'omfg no way'. I know what you mean though, I have seen Dante play and buck hard in turnout and everytime he's sassy the thought lurks into the back of my mind 'is he going to do the spinning bucking thing because I will for sure eat shit.'

  4. I think it's so cool that you get to watch the herd dynamics and link the goings-on at home to the kind of behavior you see in a lesson! I think our horses' lives outside of our time riding them influences their behavior tremendously, but so few of us get to witness it. You two will find your new flow soon enough, I'm certain! She'll come to understand that being higher in the herd doesn't mean she can boss you around, too.