We had some very nice weather yesteday, and I managed to ride all three horses.
There's a big (as in big jumps) lesson in the mid to late afternoon on Wednesdays, and I usually don't even try to ride at that time - our indoor is very small and all I end up being able to do is stand around in a place in the ring where the jumpers don't have to go. Not very useful - except as a just standing around exercise - neither of my boys really need that now as they both stand well, regardless of what else is going on. (And I don't take Dawn into a crowded ring - she's a middle-aged lady (like me!) and there's no need to try to change her behavior now, I just work around it.)
But since it was so nice yesterday, I was able to take Pie outside instead. But as we were heading out of the indoor through the gate to the pasture - the outdoor arena is a couple of hundred yards away across one of the large turnouts (empty after bring-in time) - all of a sudden he got very nervous and spooky. There was nothing obvious to spook at, and he usually marches right outside without a care in the world, so this was very odd. It took a few minutes for me to figure out what he was worried about. He wanted to head back inside, but we just kept doing circles and going in and out of gates and one of the small paddocks next to the gate - he was particularly nervous in there - he willingly did everything I asked although he was still worried. It became clear that he was most nervous towards the gate to the geldings' turnout. We stopped for a second, and then I got it - I heard a very quiet clicking - there was a short in the electric wire that runs along the top board - just past the gate to the geldings' pasture and along the board that runs between that pasture and the small paddock - where Pie was most worried. The barn owner was nearby, and I had her check it out - sure enough that's what it was. Pie's good at picking up these things, and it's a good reminder that when horses spook or are worried, they have a good reason (in horse terms) to do so.
After Pie was reassured a bit, we went through the gate - he was still worried but did it willingly since I asked - and we headed to the outdoor arena. We'd only been out there once this year, and it was very windy with no horses anywhere nearby, but Pie couldn't have been better - we had a marvelous session with lots of trotting and cantering - he was wonderfully forward and soft.
While we were out there, the barn owner brought a truck into the pasture with a large plastic water tank - this was next to the barn and a couple hundred yards from us - and used it to cover a hole that the barn workers needed to deal with the next morning. Pie kept an eye on it as we worked but wasn't concerned. When we came back into the barn, we passed right by it - it was now topped with a huge orange cone - and Pie didn't bat an eyelash at it. He also was less concerned as we passed through the gate back into the indoor. Good Pie!
I came back in the early evening to ride Red. I rarely ride him at this time of day, and he was in the arena with a horse he didn't know well - which with Red leads to lots of eyeballing and sniffing on his part - but we had a very nice session with lots of good trotting and a little canter. He loves to go outside, so when we were done with our work, we headed out toward the pasture. Unlike Pie, he didn't care about the ticking of the electric fence. But then he saw the overturned water tank and the cone . . .
He was clearly alarmed and did a fade/skedaddle back the other way - I went with him and just softly asked him to turn back towards the alarming object. He was able to do that, and was able to stand there for a moment on a loosish rein - I was prepared to go with him if he bolted - I loosely put a hand on the saddle horn - while I reassured him. Head straight up, eyes huge, much snorting and blowing. I dismounted to be able to lead him - to give him extra confidence by going first - and we led out towards the scary objects. His curiousity overcame his fear, and he came willing - we did it step by step, with much praise and petting at each step, and only moving forward again as he indicated he was willing. After the inital startle, he never once said that he wanted to turn away, and in fact as we got closer he really wanted to check it out. Within a minute or too, he was nudging and sniffing the objects with interest and no alarm. The real test is always when you turn away and have the scary thing at your back - I turned him to walk him back inside and he was completely relaxed.
This is huge progress for Red. In the old days, his skedaddle would have likely turned into a full, terrified bolt. He never once got hard or braced, and he was able to cope and respond to everything I asked him to do. He also calmed down immediately, rather than carrying tension forward. Every time something like this happens, and he overcomes his fears and is successful, I think he is quite proud of himself (I certainly tell him he should be, and that he's a brave, good horse) and it builds his confidence. Good Red!