View Full Version : Jeckyll and Hyde?

Jun. 29, 2010, 11:50 AM
Let me preface this post by saying that I don't ride with a trainer, I am not inexperienced (this year marks 30 years since I started riding), but I AM new to eventing. I stick to weenie levels at unrecognized events; so far I've done Intro (18") twice and Starter (2') once. I am really a "just for fun" kind of rider, and I have absolutely no aspirations beyond BN at unrecognized events.

Horsie is a 7 y.o. OTTB that I have had for about 2 years now. I board at a small barn where I usually end up riding alone (I ride 3-4x/week). We spend about 30% of the time inside an arena; the rest is field work and trails. Horsie is out in pasture 24/7, only comes inside for meals. He is 99% quiet at home; I joke that he’s the World’s Slowest Thoroughbred, because he’s usually quiet to the point of being lazy. The only times he has issues is when we’re in a HUGE open field, and/or when he can see other horses running (in pasture or under saddle). The “issue” usually consists of a snort-&-scoot for about 10 feet, sometimes a little crow-hopping, nothing unmanageable. And he has gotten much better with this over the past year.

When we’re away from the barn, it’s a different story, which is understandable since I don’t have a trailer so we don’t get off-property as much as I’d like. Again though, he’s getting better… we did a ST at the beginning of May, and he was such a firecracker for our dressage test that the judge suggested I get a different horse. :( We did another ST this weekend, and he was MUCH calmer for dressage, probably a 75% improvement over the last time. Same goes for stadium—he’s a little wound up, but nothing bad and there has been improvement in subsequent events.

Our problem, though, is XC. I think he’s figuring out that XC is the FUN part, because while he’s settling down well throughout the rest of the day, by the time we get to the start box, he’s a powder keg. He’ll jump anything I point him at, but he’s so wound up waiting to GO that, frankly, it’s scary. We walk and trot circles waiting for our turn (standing still just seems to wind him up more), but the longer we have to wait, the worse he gets. This weekend, we had an “explosion” after our first XC fence and I came off; I got right back on and was given the opportunity to hop over a few XC fences for schooling about 20 minutes later, but once we got back to the start box, he was considerably more wound up than he was the first time through. I’m not a quitter, but self-preservation kicked in; I had a feeling that if we tried it again that afternoon, someone was going to get hurt. So we schooled on the flat for a few minutes and called it a day.

XC schooling, he’s fine. We occasionally do H/J schooling shows, and he’s fine at those, too. It’s just something about “game day” for XC that seems to flip a switch in his brain and turns him into a fire-breathing dragon when he gets anywhere near the start box.

I understand that he’s probably picking up on MY anxiety, despite however much I try to stay calm…

So, any tips/tricks/insight/ideas? Again, I’m really only in this for the fun of it… XC was the highlight of the day, but it’s been getting progressively LESS fun, unfortunately. Do I just need to do more events? Spend all day hanging out at the start box with him? Schedule an appointment with a sports psychologist to fix my OWN head?? Accept the fact that he just isn’t cut out for eventing and stick to H/J instead?

Jun. 29, 2010, 02:33 PM
My mare used to get the same way about xc and stadium as well. With the help of a good trainer ( even though you have ridden forever, the help of someone who specializes in eventing is soo valuable and you really do need someone who has most likely had to deal with the problems you come across ) we figured out that the perfect warm up was a trot to the warm up, a canter circle around the warm up ring, over a few fences and literally walking into the box as the starter says 3 2 1. The more she was in warm up, the more she was like riding a stick of dynamite.

So, if I were you, I would find a good (proven) event trainer in your area and work with them to fix this problem. You said you have xc schooled, but have you gone to an actual schooling day at a xc course? Lots of people, excitement, but still a schooling setting. And string a few of the fences together so you are no just schooling as a group over once fence at a time, if possible. Also maybe taking him to a hunter pace with a super quiet horse to set the pace and just trot around the course; no jumps the first time, just a nice hack. But seriously, do get a trainer, especially if you are scared. Even the best riders in the world take lessons and get help with problems.

Jun. 29, 2010, 03:09 PM
Everyone needs a trainer. Whether they need them a lot or a little. Doesn't matter. You need someone on the ground to figure out what's really going on.

Jun. 29, 2010, 03:16 PM
And if that doesn't work for you (no trainers in the area who will travel), at least get to a few sessions with really good clinicians. It is absolutely worth the investment!

Jun. 29, 2010, 03:17 PM
Not uncommon for them to get wired at shows, and particularly, to feed off of us.

For example, I have a very experienced upper level horse (he's done 70 career events, at which more than 55 were at Prelim or above). At home, he wants to be sweet and pretty kicking quiet - my mom can trail ride him. But, at shows, his prior rider warned me that he can be downright stupid about the start box: cantering sideways, hopping up and down, all four feet off the ground - and a few events in after having him, I found this to be true, to the point where we could clear out the general area around a start box in about 10 seconds flat. But, if I essentially dropped the reins, sat still, kept breathing, he's enormously better about the last thirty seconds, and the more I can do nothing at the start, the better he is. In other words, the horse 100% reads off what I'm thinking, and thus, I've found a much more productive mental dialogue at the start to be something like "ho-de-hum, what a nice day we're having, ho-de-hum, there's a nice man saying numbers at us, ho-hum, let's wander in here, hmm, let's walk out slowly and then pick up a canter and oh-gee, here's a nice fence with flags on it, let's pop over it." In short - if I give him the idea that this is something to be concerned about, he ramps up. If I stay calm, he's much much better.

I suspect my guy is not unique in this, and wonder if your guy is the same way. Can you have a pro or someone experienced take your horse to an event to see either if you're the one feeding into him (many of us tend to catch up on the reins when we're tense which can really get a horse jazzed up/trapped feeling). Or, if he's just being naughty, they can read him the riot act so that he behaves himself (at that size of jumps, even if his heart is into being lazy, you're really not asking anything major of him and he needs to be a good citizen and take care of his mom)? Life's too short not to have fun with your horse, and it can be really helpful to have someone take him out once or twice to help figure out the problem.

Jun. 29, 2010, 03:35 PM
Oh I'm not implying that I don't NEED a trainer, believe me... :) But money is a factor; regular weekly lessons would be out of the question. There are a few trainers locally that I could probably catch a lesson with here and there, and I'd like to do that. But in this particular case I have a feeling it's more about whatever energy I'M transmitting to him that's causing the problem, considering that we can go XC schooling and he's pretty much OK. (We've done a hunter pace and gone to FPP a couple of times with a group, and aside from an issue with his first time through water, he was fine.)

I was going rather easy on Horsie for warm-up on Sunday because it was so wicked hot, and I'm pretty sure my legs slipped back over the first fence and I goosed him, so my fall was definitely my fault, not his. But his attitude in the 2 minutes before our go was horrifying. :(

GotSpots, I think your advice re: the "productive mental dialogue" is spot-on...

Jun. 29, 2010, 03:51 PM
How about a little Rescue Remedy for BOTH of you. :D I have had some good results with it on a youngster that still gets a little weirded out in big open spaces away from home. I combined that with "going forward" plan instead of a "containment" plan for naughtiness and had some real success.

Jun. 29, 2010, 04:17 PM
I've heard of Rescue Remedy but I don't know anything about it... so would the human version of RR be a glass of wine? :) Hey, maybe Horsie and I could BOTH use a glass of wine before XC...

Jun. 29, 2010, 04:29 PM
I've heard of Rescue Remedy but I don't know anything about it... so would the human version of RR be a glass of wine? :) Hey, maybe Horsie and I could BOTH use a glass of wine before XC...

Rescue Remedy is for humans and animals alike. They even make an alcohol free version for infants which I've given to my daughter. It has helped me a lot, not riding wise, but I get horrible anxiety when travelling and visiting the in-laws. I take that stuff constantly and it has saved my life, lol.

You can buy it usually even at the grocery store in the all natural/organic section. I buy mine at Feel Rite because it's cheaper than the grocery store.

Jun. 29, 2010, 04:49 PM
I don't have any words of wisdom for you, but you are not alone in the Jeckyll and Hyde issue.

I started eventing very recently and was surprised at my Arab's "go" button in XC. He is usually laid back in SJ, during trail rides I have to kick him to gallop faster or canter for longer than 1-2 minutes at a time, and while XC schooling one or a few jumps he is also very lazy. But when I took him XC at BN level he started at a casual pace and half the way thru the course he started picking up more speed and literally dragging me to the jumps at what in my mind was TOO FAST!! I didn't fight him, just followed along as he cleared the low jumps easily, but I sure didn't like the feeling of little to no control. I am not sure if he is really too fast or if it is just me not used to the speed. He has done Novice and Training events with DD in the past. Maybe he is just thinking he still needs to go at the 400-450 mpm when I am hoping for 350 mpm??

Unfortunately he also gets very tense in the dressage ring. Warming up he's fine, but enter at A and his mind checks out. Maybe it's me, but I've tried different warm-ups and tricks to no avail. Last time I tried to walk around the arena in a long rein prior to the judge ringing the bell. He was relaxed and good in the warm up area, so I thought I'd preserve his relaxed state of mind for the actual test. But... no, it was even worse - he cantered down center line zigzagging, head straight up in the air! Luckily I got a hold of his brain again after X and the rest of the test was much better, but still with a super tense horse.

I, too, would like to know how to get rid of Mr. Hyde!

Jun. 30, 2010, 07:32 AM
I would rather spend my hard earned dollars on a few lessons than a show and possibly have this issue crop up and my money wasted.

Jun. 30, 2010, 07:38 AM
Everyone needs a trainer. Whether they need them a lot or a little. Doesn't matter. You need someone on the ground to figure out what's really going on.

Agree, I would insert the word "good" between "a" and "trainer"!

Jun. 30, 2010, 02:43 PM
I did my first BN event in eleven years two weeks ago. The horse I am leasing is a former Prelim packer, and is DEAD quiet and lazy in the ring, dressage or jumping. In our first x-c school (one week before the event, lol) he turned into a steaming locomotive and dumped me! He wasn't being bad, he was just having SO much fun in his first x-c run in years that he kind of forgot I was up there :) Anyways, all my old anxiety came back, and in our next school, he got incredibly tense, looking around and thinking, "wait, what are we scared of?" My trainer reminded me to just sit quiet, calm myself, let him munch some grass, etc...and he chilled out. The day before the event, I happened to pick up my Practical Horseman from April (I think) and re-read Jane Savoie's article about calming anxiety. She suggests lots of positive imagery and self-talk. So I went over in my mind the "worst-case scenario" and how I would handle it sucessfully: heels down, shoulders back, etc. In the warmup ring, I did some good deep breathing (in for 4 counts, out for 4 counts) and lots of positive self-talk "I am calm, horsie is calm, I am strong, horsie is awesome" and just sort of jogged around, popped over a couple little things, wandered over to the start box, and ambled out at a nice walk. Now, my guy never had explosiveness issues like you described, but I certainly do have anxiety issues, and the horses do pick up on that. Doing the breathing and the self-talk really helped me stay calm and relaxed.

It sounds very "new-agey" but the fact is that the horses really do pick up what we're feeling. I would recommend looking for the PH article and maybe even doing some yoga to learn deep relaxation and breathing techniques.

Jun. 30, 2010, 03:12 PM
And, it may not just be you. A lot of horses, even not super experienced ones, absolutely recognize the difference between schooling and showing for real and reflect it in their behavior, but it is easy to get into a negative feedback loop, so all of GotSpots thoughts are helpful (and her horse is apparently somewhat like this regardless of who is on him).

Also, if your horse raced, being at events may bring a bit of "flashback" I had a young very successful former race horse, who definitely was worse at some events than others. Turned out that the presence of white board fencing apparently triggered his track memories, but he got over it with time (though we were out and about a fair bit, which can also make a difference). If you have the opportunity to school or do a clinic at a venue that you can then event at, that can help (as you will have both seen everything there before).

And, I definitely think yoga breathing in any situation where I feel either I or my horse might be nervous.

Jun. 30, 2010, 03:20 PM
a few things will help.

#1) Ive used rescue remedy on me to calm me down when i would get nervous shows. it worked ok, but I don't use it anymore, what calmed me down was alot of mileage. that's the only way to do it. go to schooling shows,go to other barns, be prepared to bomb and don't worry about winning. go for the "complete" and it doesn't matter how bad it is but to have fun and not worry about everyone else. but try to go to as many different places if possible, get him used being away from home.

#2) go to clinics or a good trainer, even if on ocassion. It really does help and they will give you the tools to deal with your horse.

#3) have you tried putting your horse on b1 (thiamine) when I first got my tb off the track, i used it to help slow his brain down and give him a sense of well being. not a doping drug, but a supplement. I don't use it now because Mine is so laid back that hes' fine, and he did most of what you spoke about. now he's fine and doesn't need it.

#4) more mileage. try to get to know people to see if they can come pick you up or ride where you board. get your horse used to other situations and that he learns he has to be the same horse no matter where he is.

Jun. 30, 2010, 07:40 PM
So, am I the only person who was psyched when my horse finally figured out XC and became a firecracker in the warmup and shot out of the start box on a mission?

She was a much better XC horse like this than when she would noodle along and snooze in the start box.

Jun. 30, 2010, 07:54 PM
Psyched and ready to zoom out of start box good. Rearing, bolting running sideways while in the warm-up and approaching start box, not so much. :lol: And different riders probably have different comfort levels for forwardness and/or antics

Jul. 1, 2010, 09:06 AM
So, am I the only person who was psyched when my horse finally figured out XC and became a firecracker in the warmup and shot out of the start box on a mission?

She was a much better XC horse like this than when she would noodle along and snooze in the start box.

Ha ha. No! My old horse who was a hackney x and a powder keg on a good day (had to beat him around the ring when flatting though ;)) was a firebreathing dragon in the box. I loved it! I used to park him facing backwards and whisper "Are you ready?, set?....." over and over and when it was time all I had to do was say "Go!" and hang on!! Probably one of my favourite feelings in the world is that rush. There was a minute bit of method to that madness though in that I thought it would be better for that smart little buggar to learn my cue then the starters. I also would not jam him in a small warm up but go off on my own and get ready then cruise in and out of the area until it was time. No standing still ever!!

I was a lot younger and a lot less concerned about getting mangled back then. With my current thbd I use a product called Chill by Omega Alpha. It takes enough edge off to keep his brain functioning.