Heidi’s Issues: She won’t go forward.

In Heidi’s sale videos, when they asked her to move forward, she resisted. She would fling her head up, move sideways, or do a mini buck. She was very resistant to go anywhere. She still is, but we’re working through it.

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At first, she would balk at leaving the barn. Rather than get out the lunge whip, I decided to wait it out. I just put steady pressure on the reins or lead rope until she gave in and moved her feet. I wanted her to realize that I’m patient, but persistent. We’re going to go to work so she may as well get on with it. She quit balking about leaving the barn.

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But she still balks about moving from the gate out into the pasture where I lunge her. She puts her head up and pulls backward, but I just stand my ground and put steady pressure on the reins until she gives in. Sometimes she paws the ground and then she starts moving forward. The trick is for me to stay put and not move backward toward her. She has to move forward to me and then the pressure goes away. It gets better every day and, once she gets moving, she’s fine. She just tests me to see if she can get out of working.

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Heidi’s Issues: She bucks.

I bought Heidi knowing she had an issue with bucking at the canter. I figured it was caused by being out of shape. Cantering is uncomfortable for a horse that is unbalanced and unprepared physically to do what’s being asked. It’s like asking an overweight, couch potato to sprint. It sucks.

Turns out Heidi also bucks at the trot. And the walk. And as soon as you sit on her.

So I decided to completely restart her and get to the root of whatever is causing her to buck. If it’s pain, the long and low work on the lunge will build her topline and get her fit enough to be ridden without pain. If it’s simply an attitude issue and she’s learned that bucking gets her out of working, then I have to address that as well. In my experience, bucking is usually a combination of attitude and physical discomfort. You’re crabby too when you’re in pain.

I started going through the routine in the picture below every night with Heidi. While she was standing in the barn aisle eating hay, I started rubbing her all over, swinging my leg over and laying my body over her back. I did this from both sides. At first she pinned her ears, backed up, and arched her back upward like she was going to buck. I would back off a little and then try again. She realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t a big deal, that I wasn’t going to hurt her. After about a week I could get on her from either side with no issues. She stayed relaxed the whole time.

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I’ve got a neighbor kid, a friend of my daughter’s, who comes to the barn with me all the time because she’s horse crazy. Once I could sit on Heidi with no issues, I let Neighbor Kid try. Heidi didn’t mind her at all, probably because she weighs so little.

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The next step was to lead Neighbor Kid around bareback on Heidi out in the yard by the barn. We did that for a few days until she was used to it. Then we moved to the little arena and did the same thing. Next we put a saddle and bridle on her and got on and off in the arena and walked around a little. Heidi accepted all of this with no attitude.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the ridden work. I’m not going to ride her much until she gets in better shape and has more topline, but it’s good to get her used to having someone on her.

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I realize she’s not a wild mustang and this is probably a little overcautious, but I want to solve this bucking issue and nip it in the bud. I don’t want to wonder whether or not she’s going to buck. I want to be able to trust her. That comes slowly by building a good, solid foundation. I’m approaching every part of the process like it’s brand new, going slowly and reassuring her that nothing bad is going to happen and no one is going to hurt her.

The trick is to keep it short and not ask too much. Once she accepts one thing, we move on to the next thing. And she always gets treats after! This girl loves to eat and the treats make it seem like there’s something in it for her.

As long as I go slowly, she takes everything in stride. If I try and jump ahead and skip steps, that’s when the problems start.

Heidi’s Issues: She hates everyone.

Well, she doesn’t hate everyone, but she would prefer that people leave her alone. At least that’s how she was when I got her. Heidi is my first mare and everyone told me to prepare myself. My gelding is the most lovable, affectionate horse that ever lived. He is attached to me in a codependent way. Heidi, not so much.

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For the first couple days, Heidi allowed me to be affectionate with her. I think she was looking for a friend. Once she integrated into the herd, she didn’t need me anymore. She would pin her ears at me when I approached and she made it clear that she tolerated being groomed, but she did not enjoy it. She would resist everything from being brushed to picking up her feet. She absolutely did not want to be hugged and loved on, thank you very much.

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She has an epic RBF.

 

So I honored her wish to be left alone for the most part. I did go catch her in the pasture, but I didn’t make a big fuss over her. I kept it all business. I did what needed to be done as far as grooming, lunging and feeding, but I wasn’t as affectionate as I normally am with my horses.

I’ve had her for a month and a half now and I’ve seen a big change. Slowly she allowed me to be more loving with her, to pet her and hug her neck and give her poll rubs and wither scratches. She quit pinning her ears at me when I came into the pasture. Now, I realize a huge part of this is that I’m the one who feeds her. She’s realizing that when The Woman shows up, buckets get filled with food so, instead of pinning her ears, she meets me at the gate to be brought in for her dinner.

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Doesn’t she look thrilled?

The second thing that helped her warm up to me is our routine. I do the same thing with her every day. She knows what to expect and she finds security in knowing what’s going to happen. I bring her in to the barn where she eats hay while I groom her. Then she works out- either lunging or a long walk in the woods (in hand, not ridden). Once her workout is done, she cools down and then she gets her dinner, which is just a small portion of sweet feed. She’s pastured on 20 acres of grass, and she’s fat, so she doesn’t need much.

 

I think she’s learning that I’m not going to hurt her, I’m not asking her to do anything crazy, and I always have dinner and treats. I’m not all that bad as far as humans go. Does she love me? No, I don’t think so, definitely not like my gelding loves me. But she does derive a measure of security from me and she tolerates me. She seems to enjoy being groomed and she lets me be affectionate with her. I noticed she still pins her ears at strangers who try to touch her. She doesn’t do that with me anymore. I guess we’re friends now!