. . . being allowed to create a safety buffer. Could the habitual and abrupt removal of these 2 liberties (dare I say prey animal necessities) cause a horse to worry excessively when faced with fearful situations?
Getting behind on fencing projects inspired me to explore letting Lucy Loose to graze about the property. Lord knows she isn't going off down the trail on her own--nor down that driveway to death yet--especially when all the other are staying behind. Supervising her exploits at liberty has been very enlightening. I have witnessed that she can be very bold when she is uninhibited.
One evening this week she stopped short coming back from our mounted jaunt into the woods to look through the missing stump pile at the view of the cabin she hadn't ever seen from that angle, and at various other changes directly in front of her in that area. One thing that bothered her quite a lot, when we advanced once again, was the large pile of dark green plastic Dan had piled up when cleaning up the debris left from last winters fire wood pile. She gave it very wide berth in passing and blew slightly at it, then hurried along.
As soon as I turned her loose after removing the saddle she rolled in the sand and then went directly over to closely examine that pile of plastic, blow at it some more and touch with her hoof. This puzzled and interested me! Why was this monster so much less worrisome when she was at liberty?
Once I witnessed her stepping onto the great huge steel tail gate that goes on the back of the dump truck to get over it because it was in the path she takes (shortest distance) to visit Dove. She stepped on it coming back to. Never stopped to examine it at all. The next day she walked right passed Dan and the Dump truck while he was working to get the tail gate on and making all kinds of noise. When I am on her back she eyes it more cautiously.
Another time there was suddenly a big black 15 foot length of plastic culvert blocking most of that path. She just stepped around it to fit through a 16 inch clear space left between it and the fence.
I thought perhaps it was because with me up she has so much more to think about: balance, what I am asking, what I'm going to do next, etc., that she can't process it all so quickly or efficiently. And maybe I focus too much on some scary things to try and be ready for a spook, and send her more "this is scary" vibes.
Then my very insightful friend Margaret suggested also, that Lucy likely feels much more secure knowing that at liberty she can flee as she sees fit without being encumbered or forced to stay closer than she thinks is safe.
That got me thinking about the several times this year I have heard mention of horses getting claustrophobic when fetched up hard in the bridle and held for too long. Horses who want to move along much faster than they are wanted to by a rider. Horses who are too worried to be given any slack in the reins for fear they will run away. Horses who will bolt hard losing their head and don't know when they are safely away. There are horses who have lived too long with these rules, or been too abused, or too frightened to be safe any other way. So,
I want to be very sure that I remind folks here that I am not very experienced at all in training horses and do not advocate letting a horse bolt and flee when it could injure someone or / and itself. I am simply contemplating some witnessed behavior and creating conjecture.
I've ridden horses who were quite comfortable with strong pressure on the reins for longer than I was interested in holding it. But I've had others who flipped out with continuous pressure in a variety of bits and head gear alternatives. So there are no hard and fast rules here that I am trying to give.
I did have one horse though who got very grumpy from too much pressure on the bridle at faster gates, but would leap and shake and sometimes buck when I let her go in the canter. Therefore, I was very reluctant to let her go. She always wanted to gallop from the canter and we ended up in tug of war which turned the canter into a squeezed up twisting unsafe gate(funny, gallop didn't seem so appealing to me about then!)
We finally had some really nice long canters on very safe ground (some on long gravel roads) and I began to let her out slowly. I soon discovered how quickly she flattened out into a very solid gallop once we had the canter relaxed. After that several month period she found me willing to gallop more often and I in turn found her willing to just canter if I asked, or even just trot on a long rein. It was a rather remarkable transformation in her--and I image she felt that I had transformed just as remarkably.
Lucy is sensible and has demonstrated that she can be trusted on a loose rein and will respond to a rein aid quickly and go right back to loose rein. ( We are about to do some riding with a horse that she has only met once and who excited her quite a bit, so I may have knew information on this topic come next Monday;^) I don't want to mess up that trust we have but I certainly can't have her leaping on top of Promise! So there may be some holding going on.
It will give me a chance to work on my own discipline by exercising my commitment to be consistent in the "do as little as it takes but be willing to do as much as it takes" theory, releasing at the proper moment over and over and over and over again, all day! Can I do it without resorting to holding? I will let you know. Although connected that's rather a different issue than the fear reaction thing. Another peice of the puzzle nonetheless.
Lucy is also very emotional. Perhaps I could introduce or exacerbate that uncomfortable feeling of restriction that may make her less willing to be bold when I am on her back, if I began to grab her up and restrict her at times due to my own insecurity. Like when meeting potential monsters on the trail.
It's all a big experiment in a way isn't it?
Anyway I will be riding with a new awareness that I could inadvertently cause her to feel claustrophobic if I over react to her worry. I don't want to create any mistrust of my ability to not just keep her safe but to help her to feel safe.
What are your experiences and / or thoughts?