Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sometimes Stressful to be Red . . . and Staying Ahead of the Curve

Lisa from Laughing Orca Ranch made a perceptive comment on the last post - she said that it must sometimes be stressful to be Red.  I've been thinking about that, and about different horse personalities and the suitability of those personalities for different people.

Red is a very interesting little horse - I call him my little red horse (his nickname is Red Man), since he's the shortest of my horses at about 15 hands, although he probably outweighs Dawn (who's about 15.1 hands) by several hundred pounds and is very muscular and well-built - he's certainly littler than Pie has turned out to be - Pie's matured into quite the tank and now is about 16 hands (and I certainly hope he's stopped growing).

Red is actually a bit of a marshmallow - very sweet and interested in people, and loves to socialize and find out what's going on.  He's extremely curious about everything and everyone, and is particularly curious about other horses and what they're up to.  He's extremely intelligent - in fact all three of my current riding horses are. He's quite affectionate and is very protective (and possessive) of Pie and seems to be quite attached to me.

But he's also got a strong personality - he's very dominant in the gelding herd, although not nastily aggressive, and he can have strong opinions and also makes his views known - he's not reticent about expressing himself and he can decide he wants to do something without any input from me - to go see someone or something, for example.  He's capable of saying no - to going somewhere he doesn't want to - wash stall and trailer come to mind - but since I'm patient and also persistent, we get through those situations a lot faster than we used to and I expect they'll be non-issues in due course.

He's also by far the most vocal of my horses, in lots of different situations - Pie only nickers for food and rarely calls for other horses, and Dawn can affectionally nicker to me but she doesn't do it that often.  Red talks constantly - to other horses and to me.  And he really doesn't like being ignored - he likes attention.  He's the only horse I've ever had who will leave his food and demand to come out of his stall to do something with me - and he never gets any treats.  He stands at his door and nickers at me continuously or sometimes even paws.  When I take him out of his stall, if we haven't done enough (in his judgment) he resists going back in his stall.  Some days, "enough" is just a thorough grooming, other days it's a walk around the stable aisles, but most days "enough" requires that we go on a ride together, even just a short one.

I think Red feels very responsible for things - he feels like he has to be sure everything (and every horse) is all right.  He's learned that he can safely accept my direction - this was a huge step for him and took a long time - he's able to let go of some of the need to be responsible if I give him direction and guidance.  We're slowly expanding his envelope of situations where he feels comfortable with me, rather than him, in control. We're expanding where we ride, what we do together and the level of distractions.  Some circumstances are still too much - being in the arena when a lunge whip is snapping is one - and we're taking our time with those. When I got him, he didn't trust humans to be in charge at all and felt a very strong need to be in charge and make the decisions himself - probably because his humans proved themselves untrustworthy by forcing him into situations he couldn't deal with, or in the opposite way by failing to give him any direction at all - we believe he may have experienced both situations.  When he feels this way, the big brace, together with spookiness/reactivity, comes back - those are outward signs of his inward anxiety about whether he needs to take over to be sure he's OK.

Both Red and Pie had long groomings yesterday - they'd both had baths the day before - the first and likely only shampoo baths of the season (I rarely bath to preserve coat oils, although I rinse off sweat with plain water) - so their tails got brushed out for the first time since late last fall.  I only brush tails when I can use ShowSheen, to avoid breaking hairs, and in the spring only after their tails have been washed.  So each horse's tail took about 30 minutes to carefully brush out - I did break a bunch of tail hairs but a lot fewer than I would have over a whole winter.  Both boys have beautiful long tails - Pie's is very thick and Red's is so long it trails on the ground.

Red is always extremely alert to everything that's occurring around him.  Keeping him focussed and on task has been a challenge for both of us.  He's also very forward and energetic, and getting calmness and relaxation at the same time is also a challenge.  Dawn has been a good teacher for me on this - she has somewhat the same personality, although she's a bit more standoffish and doesn't usually have as much of an agenda of her own.  Yesterday with Red was a good example.  We went out for a ride in the big pasture with three other riders, and there was also a lesson going in in the adjacent outdoor arena.  All of us were moving around, doing different things.  Although it was quite warm, he was very up and pretty revved, although he looked calm and was very well behaved with no bracing - there was a lot to look at and a lot going on, and he was constantly having to shift his attention to something new that was happening as our point of view changed and the other horses were moving around - visual distractions were everywhere.  We worked in the pasture and also did some work in the outdoor - with horses trotting and cantering and passing each other going different directions.  The other riders said he looked cool as a cucumber, and he certainly didn't put a foot wrong, but I could feel his energy level - one sign was that he really didn't want to stop and stand still for more than a moment - he usually stands still easily for an indefinate time - he needed to keep his feet moving so that's what we did.

Red's a horse where staying ahead of the curve is essential.  Yesterday, with the level of distraction and excitement around him, if I hadn't been giving him active direction - guiding him to do certain tasks with focus and precision - his anxiety would likely have increased and we would have been back in the land of bracing and spookiness/reactivity, because he would have felt a need to take control.  Yesterday, since we kept working and focussing together, he got more and more engaged in the work and less anxious, and by the end of our session, we did some very nice trot work and our first canter work ever in the outdoor arena, and he was happy to stand on a loose rein and relax and take things in. There was quite a spring in his step as we went back to the barn, but he didn't try to break into trot and even wanted to explore a bit in the pasture after the rest of the horses went inside.

I think a lot of people might find a horse like Red too much work - I have to always remain focussed and provide him leadership, or otherwise things might well get out of hand - and he's very fast and very agile.  He hasn't got a mean bone in his body, but he's a powerful, intelligent and sensitive horse.  I love building a relationship with a horse like him - they make me a better rider - and I believe if you bond with a horse like this, they would be willing, if you asked, to take you to the moon and back.

No comments:

Post a Comment