Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I have no idea what the heck happened to the post I wrote yesterday. It's just gone. :-(

Ah well, maybe it is for the best. I was sort of all over the board in my thought process on that one. While it may appear that I am often grasping at straws to explain away my continued inability to turn Moon into the kind of horse I think he should be...A lot of what I write is the scurried thoughts that go through my mind and yet, my real life changes are much slower and thought through.

Moon's inability to let go of his anxiety and my determination to ride him through it to the point of physical exhaustion may sound unnecessary and even thought of as cruel by some. I do not think it was a careless decision. I gave him opportunity after opportunity to let his mental strife go and he chose not too. Taken in context, it was no different methodology than waving a plastic bag on a stick at a horse. Horse doesn't like plastic bag on a stick being waved at him and he responds by getting excited and spooking away. You keep waving the plastic bag until horse decides it isn't going to eat him and you stop. The exercise is repeated over and over again until the horse gains the mental awareness and ability to control his instinct to run away from the plastic bag on a stick. In this case, the arena gate is the plastic bag on a stick and since it's a specific area and immobile, I needed to keep Moon moving through the area that caused him mental discomfort until he finally decided that it wasn't as big a deal as he thought. Moon's mind is tougher than his body unfortunately and obviously since I do value him as a competition horse, this is not a method I employ regularly. But it still needs to be done every so often to help him get rid of excessive mental anxiety and reset him on the path toward learning how to cope with the inevitable stress associated with competition.

Somewhere along the line, I failed to recognize that Moon was not handling competing as well as I thought. Moon has always been a super, dooper, quiet horse. Laid back, low-energy. Nothing much fazed him. You know, it's great having a low-key horse...but what I did not realize was that Moon's calmness was a facade. I always thought it was a little weird that he was sooooo quiet. His mother was no dead-head. I'd ridden a couple of other horses by the same sire as Moon and they weren't dead-headed calm either. But Moon, he seemed perfectly content to live in a near catatonic state and only exerted as much energy as absolutely necessary and then fairly unwillingly.

 If I had known then, what I know now...I would NEVER have allowed him to wallow around in that frame of mind. Moon wasn't lazy...he was being passive aggressive. And just because he observed everything quietly, did not mean he wasn't reacting to it...He just reacted on the inside...A true introvert.

A passive-aggressive introvert...Great! Just frickin great!

I rather prefer a dragon (a line out of my favorite movie...The 13th Warrior)

But it's true. My personal abilities are geared more toward taking a hot, hot horse and turning them into something you'd put your kid on. Horses like Jet and Little John are right up my alley. Those kind of horses function in a much higher state of energy than horses like Moon and Shooter do. My other horses function in a more normal range and for the most part react 'normally' to external stimuli. Basically, they turn on and off as the situation requires without an ounce of residual affect.

What I have finally came to recognize with Moon, after the ulcers and after working on the continued gate issues, is that I took for granted that this horse knew how to turn on and then turn off again. I had no actual thought that I might should be teaching him HOW to power up for a run and then how to shut it off again. Ideally, the amount of time put into seasoning a horse is supposed to do that. That is why good trainers do what they do...They haul green horses with them everywhere they go, they expose a horse to activities, they exhibition them every chance they get and yet may not run them in competition for quite awhile and when they do start competing on them, they aren't asking for balls to the wall runs. Everything about properly seasoning a horse is geared toward letting a horse build up the mental strength they need to properly function in the high-speed, high-stress environment world of barrel racing. And I did all of that with Moon. So how did I fail this particular horse?...

To Be Continued...


Unknown said...

This is an interesting train of thought that you have going. Once again your trainer brain has kicked into gear...or actually I think yours, like some others, never shuts off. It may slow down a little for a well needed rest, but it never shuts off. Not a bad thing for sure.

Maybe in horses like Moon, and Trax, instead of looking for on off switches, we should instead be thinking in terms of rheostat switches. A gradual brightening and dimming of the lights, as it were. Not sure if I am quite headed in the same direction as you, but these were the thoughts that came to mind to me today as I rode my horse, and contemplated your post from yesterday.

I'm curious to see where you go next with this.

Cut-N-Jump said...

That's a good analogy with the plastic bag. You can't give up until its over because if you do- next time it will take twice as long... Just getting worse and worse over time. I know, preachin to the choir. Lol sometimes you just have to ride it out and settle for just getting thru it In the arena. The true lesson being outside the pen. You rode the horse you had that day. Way to go cowgirl!

RuckusButt said...

My vet told me about a study looking at the external signs of stress a horse displays and the actual physical responses of stress (by measuring stress hormones like cortisol). I don't have the actual reference or details but in a nutshell, there was a subset of horses who displayed less outward signs of stress but who had markedly elevated stress-response physiologically. The horses who "acted out" actually seemed to do better physiologically than those who seemed to internalize their stress. They used their actions ("bad" behaviour) as an outlet for the stress. The internal worriers did not have such an outlet.

It makes so much sense, yet was a completely new way of looking at horse behaviour for me. Your description of Moon reminds me of this. I think it can help even if we just consider a new way of thinking about our horses. Not coddling, but not assuming the horse who displays nothing is not stressed. Interesting food for thought, anyway!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Thank you for mentioning that there are actually studies out there RuckusButt. It makes me sound less 'far out there' if there are actually people that thought this was worth studying.

I've never had this problem arise in one of my home-raised horses, but I have sure worked with a bunch of others that had the same thing happen to them. So lucky for me...It is fixable.

Sherry Sikstrom said...

Interesting post ,I am looking forward to reading more ,for a couple reasons, not he least of which is I have a feeling (*and have had for a while )that a couple horses of mine might also be masking some inner turmoil for lack of a better term, with that quiet facade, difference being is mine are rarely under the type of pressure a barrel horse would be