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De-spooking Dressage RIDER* Photographic Evidence#59

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  • De-spooking Dressage RIDER* Photographic Evidence#59



    It worked! Schooling yesterday we stayed (okay, *I* stayed) focused despite fireworks, gunshots, and loud motorcycle surprisingly appearing.

    Backstory:
    Talented young mare* (not just my ammy-owner opinion) with PSG potential. She's not particularly hot, just Very Expressive about new things.

    We are having a little summer vacation that is meant to be about seeing the world -- trail riding (real trails, not tracks around the pastures) and some obstacle training clinics (both of us, together) ... and her trainer recommended "NH" groundwork, for (mostly) my confidence.

    The gal we are staying with is a competitive trail rider (the obstacle kind) and enjoys ground work. She has reduced her gelding's startle by "scaring" him until he doesn't jump. She just puts her hands up gives a little jump and says "boo," like you might to a kid, not like you might to the real bogeyman.

    I watched her do that to DCM and it was somewhat comical ... very quickly DCM actually stretched her nose at the gal as if "who ARE you?"

    I have some reservations because I've seen other horses come out of de-spooking "clinics" fried out of their minds. I know of one lovely dressage Haflinger who was "fun" but a very reliable citizen put with a trainer (?) who flapped tarps over him and made him a jumpy mess. (He was sold to another person and quieted right down. Go figger.)

    Experiences, thoughts, opinions? ... all welcome!

    *a.k.a. Darling Chestnut Mare
    Last edited by AllWeatherGal; Jul. 7, 2013, 07:03 PM. Reason: added update & new question
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  • #2
    It is the rider who makes all the difference.

    and her trainer recommended "NH" groundwork, for (mostly) my confidence.
    Not "mostly" your confidence. All of it is from you.

    It is hard work to overcome this and believe me, BTDT and still learning and going thru that with my mare.

    I wouldn't care much about the "NH" work or much ground work because I believe your problems are while undersaddle anyway? I would find a good dressage or jumping or the discipline of your choice, to teach you how to react to the situation; when and how to correct, when and how to praise, what you should or shouldn't do (there is A LOT of thing we should just ignore) and how to redirect that crazy energy into something usefull.
    ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

    Originally posted by LauraKY
    I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
    HORSING mobile training app

    Comment


    • #3
      You de-spook a dressage horse, the same way you de-spook any horse. Lots of exposure with a calm competent rider. The rider has to stay calm, and react consistently at all times.
      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.

      Comment


      • #4
        I ride a real looky-lou and have found that miles and mind control (mine!) are the best medicine. I start each work session with 15 minutes of walking and don't do anything faster until he's relaxed. If he acts stupid with something we do a lot of small circles until he can pass it without having a problem. I don't get mad, he just works harder. Shoulder-in is also helpful. I also have to remember to sit back, as this is one of my bad riding habits and affects his go forward attitude as well.

        Finally - my mind control is to totally ignore the spots where he has had problems in the past. I just look to the inside, clear my mind of any thoughts that he might spook, and ride on by. I know it sounds all new-agey but I have had many fewer problems since I've started doing this. I think he could feel me looking at it (anticipating a spook) and he decided that there *was* something to be worried about since I was worried. This is a horse that is so sensitive that he will canter on a thought, so I realized I might unintentionally be cuing him for spooks too.

        Lots and lots of trail miles too. And turnout. And no carbs! (for him and me both! :-))

        We did a main ring Arab class this weekend - indoor arena, judge's stand in the middle, banners, crowds, other horses in the ring - and he did really well. I think we're getting somewhere at long last!

        Comment


        • #5
          Yeah, what ^they said.... get out of the ring and expose the mare to anything and everything. You sit quiet and behave as if you've seen "the thing" a million times and it's no big deal.

          Take advantage of invitations to ride out to different parks and trails. Feel free to attend a NH clinic (or at least audit first to know what's coming).
          <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by AllWeatherGal View Post
            She has reduced her gelding's startle by "scaring" him until he doesn't jump.
            THIS is what "despooking" is all about. Well, mostly You teach the horse an appropriate response to being startled/scared. You CANNOT expose him to everything that might scare him, but you CAN expose him to enough different things in a controlled manner to teach. You can never tell him "don't be scared", but you can teach an appropriate reaction.

            John Lyons was the first one I read who did this. The first thing he did was instill a good solid Whoa. Then, he's work on being able to send the horse out, on a long line, at a quick clip. He'd work on the stop after the send. The point was to raise the level of excitement by the level of energy of sending the horse away, to work on the whoa in a more exciting situation.

            After that he'd use increasingly scary situations - still in the controlled environment, to further instill the reaction he wanted.

            THEN you can work in uncontrolled environments.

            So yes, groundwork is very important because it keeps you a lot safer for teaching the really basic issue - don't flee.

            Anyone with good horsemanship skills can teach that. It DOES seem the NH guys - they good ones, not the flakes - have a better handle on that in general because that's just part of what they do. But it doesn't matter the label on the person.
            ______________________________
            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Thank you for the encouraging words!!

              I have a fair bit of experience developing training-1st level OTTBs who went anywhere and did about anything, a couple of years with an FEI schoolmaster who hated anything outside the arena, a year or so with a difficult (but very much loved) unsuitable-for-ammy horse, and now about three months of participating in the training of an ammy-suitable but very athletic sporthorse

              I appreciate your sharing perspectives and insights.
              *=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=

              Comment


              • #8
                I already had incorporated miles of trail riding into my conditioning program for my dressage horses; but, when my son decided to start competing in trail (obstacles) challenges we had to ramp it up a bit because his junior status required an adult buddy rider in order for him to compete. It was the best thing we ever did. I start all of mine like most from the ground up but once under saddle with a stop and a go, we head out on the trail sometimes clocking 15 -20 miles a week before we really worry about arena work. Exposure is key. If we're going to a schooling show and I'm only competing one or two I load up the babies until the trailer is full. Plenty of time between rides usually to just lead them around and let them see the sights. Calm, consistent and repeated handling both from the ground and in the saddle is what will give you an animal that can be controlled in a stressful situation. Now I say that knowing full well that there are those who will react and stress more than others to certain things ........ the key is whether they look to you to take the lead so you can at least contain it or whether they just decide to head for safer ground whether you're coming or not
                Ranch of Last Resort

                Comment


                • #9
                  I firmly believe that my horses must have confidence in me at all times.

                  I show them that they can trust me by every action I take, every day of the year, in the barn, in the field, in the stall, under saddle.

                  Sometimes that means getting off of my horse if riding and casually walking over to the 'object of fear' and touching the 'object' while calmly talking to my horse and inviting them to touch or sniff it. I always give them time and if they are still not sure, we walk away calmly. There will always be another opportunity to instill confidence and trust.

                  I have found that if I stand in the scary place or I touch the scary object they quickly decide all is well...usually...within a minute or so.

                  I had one horse freak out at a horse show over the garbage cans. I will say that the most challenging part of 'touching' the scary object...were the honey bees.
                  We did not get too close but close enough to convince my horse all was well. The cans were in front of every dressage ring and as such, unavoidable.

                  Just my thoughts...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Ticker, I like your response. There are many good ones here. Personally, I think a "generalized" de-spook "program" is difficult to fit to all horses, so you have to build confidence in your horse. I think you mentioned this on a previous thread, but how old is your horse? I rode some OTTBs and both benefitted greatly from trail riding. The gelding was calmer and he was good off the bat. The mare was very tense and could only go out in groups at first. The only thing that worked to "desensitize her" was time, work, and patience: it took a good year for her to stop reacting on her own and look to me to gauge her reaction. She was eventually sold to an amateur eventer and did great. My Trak mare pretty much hated nature from when she was very young, and learned to "tolerate" nature in her pre-teens (this horse HATES not having a stall). Trail rides, beginner cross country courses, etc. stressed her out despite my efforts to expose her to it all. My current youngster would probably kill us both on a trail ride because he has a very strong flight response. I'm thinking that maturity and experience will help this, but I have to be very careful about what I expose him to. Oh, when restarting him, I did do the 'jumping up and down' next to him on the ground, 'jumping up and down on the mounting block', patting all over, rubbing the stirrup over the small diamond-patterned saddle pad to make that weird noise, etc., and all of that helped a lot (he reacted to all of that at first). Food helped change his attitude a lot. I do expose him to "scary" things put I pick and choose the stimulus because I want him to always think I'll only put him in situations he can handle (ideally, I have no idea how he'll handle a show environment and the first one - I'm not even going to enter him or bring tack). I wouldn't do the mild scaring that you describe with this horse because I don't want him to think he can't predict my behavior. All I can say is be careful. You know your horse and her limits. You want to push her a bit but you don't want to lose her confidence. Please do report back on how your vacation goes! It sounds really cool!
                    Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I used to have a mare that, when I got her, was afraid of everything. Exposure to lots of things and places definitely helps, and trail riding is one way to do that. Another suggestion is to find some cheapy-cheap schooling shows and ride in every class you can (within reason). Expect your horse to behave just as well as at home, and if it gets pissy or jumps at the flowers.... circle around and make them do the movement until it's correct. Who cares if you are knocked for going off course, or if you get some odd stares? Your horse will learn that there are no loopholes for behavior.

                      Also, my own horse seemed to really mentally chill out when we started getting into the nuts and bolts of dressage around 3rd level. She was still fairly spooky, but the training seemed to make her braver and much more focused on me instead of everything around us.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        what Ticker said.

                        De-spooking is ultimately a product of mental submission and your relationship with your horse.
                        See those flying monkeys? They work for me.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          My new mare has done NH stuff. You could create a bomb out of pool noodles and a blue tarp dragon could fly overhead...she wouldn't care. However walk her past a patch of dead grass or let her imagine trolls in the shrubbery and holy guacamole...unhinged.

                          When she first arrived her spookiness was the rule, not the exception. The more confidence she gains in me, the less spooky she becomes. She is a BIG TB mare and her throw downs are big, too, so sometimes I am the one with the confidence issues. At those times, I have to remind myself that I lived through the Alpaca Death Squad incident...I have to captain this ship and my mare is counting on me. That's when things settle down.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            The real JB was pretty ok with most things - he would literally hide his head behind me if he encountered something scary while I was leading him. But show him a dry line where a pole had been on the ground, or the freshly raked dirt aisle in the barn, and all bets are off LOL!!! THOSE were scary things!
                            ______________________________
                            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I have a red headed TB mare who was very spooky when she was younger. I did tons of ground work with her leading her over, around, through scary stuff. Then we hit the trails. At first, I would lead her(no steady eddie buddy to ride with) all tacked up on trail walks.I have done a number of "bombproofing" clinics, judged trail rides, regular trail rides,team penning clinics, and even a few parades. She went from being a spook all the way across the ring type to mostly a slight flinch or rarely a plant all four feet stops. This past weekend I took her on a trail ride to a multi use park. We did 5.5 miles with some road crossings, bikes coming towards us and from behind, joggers, dog walkers and lots of riders coming from both directions, deer in the woods, bridges. Not a spook the whole ride.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Finzean View Post
                                My new mare has done NH stuff. You could create a bomb out of pool noodles and a blue tarp dragon could fly overhead...she wouldn't care. However walk her past a patch of dead grass or let her imagine trolls in the shrubbery and holy guacamole...unhinged.

                                When she first arrived her spookiness was the rule, not the exception. The more confidence she gains in me, the less spooky she becomes. She is a BIG TB mare and her throw downs are big, too, so sometimes I am the one with the confidence issues. At those times, I have to remind myself that I lived through the Alpaca Death Squad incident...I have to captain this ship and my mare is counting on me. That's when things settle down.
                                I want to hear about the alpaca death squad!
                                LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...

                                Comment

                                • Original Poster

                                  #17
                                  Ticker ... your reply is exactly why I believe my dressage instructor suggested I work with someone who would take the time to teach me ... as she says, we are training our horses every time we interact with them, and DCM has total confidence in her.

                                  Ju-Lu ... "generalized" de-spook "program" is difficult to fit to all horses ... is why I'm so grateful for all the different replies! My "Darling Chestnut Mare" is a seven-year old TB/Hanoverian (bred for eventing). She's actually very brave and (I think) appropriately reactive to new things. She isn't hot, just sensitive. The problem is definitely me. I had a pretty bad fall last month and it shook my confidence, and I think her confidence in me. (She reacted, I was unprepared and lost my balance, she bucked (her typical response to my falling over her shoulder), I bailed.)

                                  Thinking over how yesterday went, I realize that my worry is about the "first" time because by the third time she just notices things. If I can stay with her through that first encounter of whatever surprises her, I think everything will be fine.

                                  I longed her with sliding side reins and she relaxed for moments a few times. She also bolted in the canter a few times with less and less effort. After riding around the property a little with the owner and her super sweet gelding, I got off and we handled crunching dried palm fronds (she's always been strange about them, so it will take more than once), waving yellow tarp (first response was to swing away about 3 feet and stop to graze), and some wacky chain of milk jugs with bells for dragging (She had spooked at the pile when we first arrived, but after watching the gelding drag back and forth, she didn't seem to care when I picked up the lead and pulled it along while we hand walked.)

                                  It was a lot, but she took everything in stride Additionally she is drinking, grazing and pooping just fine, so I think the relaxed environment will also work in our favor.

                                  I, too, would like to hear about the Alpaca Death Squad!
                                  *=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    IMO an excellent place to begin a "de-spooking" program is to read a book entitled Evidence Based Horsemanship. It's less than 100 pages long, costs $17, and will give you some insight into equine behaviors that are based upon neuroscience, not folklore or custom.

                                    I'm working a four year old and started with a fair amount of round pen work (10-20 min. sessions, mostly at the walk, designed to teach the horse that I am the benevolent god at the center of their universe and in my presence he must do what I tell him to do but that there is never need to fear). I'm not a "touchy feely" kind but have learned that this simple foundation has laid the groundwork for more serious stuff. My four year old is, still, a four year old and often behaves like it. But I don't worry about getting dumped. Falling off in sudden "teleport" is another issue.

                                    Another outstanding tactic for "desensitization" is to ride out with a quiet, experienced horse (or, even better, a group of horses). The Army used this method with the Horse Cavalry to quiet and give confidence to young horses.

                                    I'm leery of "clinics" that turn out to be a "Little Shop of Equine Horrors." That, IMO, has the potential to "fry" a brain.

                                    Read the book and then apply it's lessons. I think you'll find the results favorable.

                                    G.
                                    Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by oldernewbie View Post
                                      I ride a real looky-lou and have found that miles and mind control (mine!) are the best medicine. I start each work session with 15 minutes of walking and don't do anything faster until he's relaxed. If he acts stupid with something we do a lot of small circles until he can pass it without having a problem. I don't get mad, he just works harder. Shoulder-in is also helpful. I also have to remember to sit back, as this is one of my bad riding habits and affects his go forward attitude as well.

                                      Finally - my mind control is to totally ignore the spots where he has had problems in the past. I just look to the inside, clear my mind of any thoughts that he might spook, and ride on by. I know it sounds all new-agey but I have had many fewer problems since I've started doing this. I think he could feel me looking at it (anticipating a spook) and he decided that there *was* something to be worried about since I was worried. This is a horse that is so sensitive that he will canter on a thought, so I realized I might unintentionally be cuing him for spooks too.

                                      Lots and lots of trail miles too. And turnout. And no carbs! (for him and me both! :-))

                                      We did a main ring Arab class this weekend - indoor arena, judge's stand in the middle, banners, crowds, other horses in the ring - and he did really well. I think we're getting somewhere at long last!
                                      This ! In spades! I had a TB who loved Trail rides, but his competitive side made him an idiot to trail ride in groups, I found that when I took him out alone he was great, And if I relaxed about the big HArvester or combine in the field (The GReen Dragons) LOL He was just fine.
                                      He used to never spook at shows, Only if there was a mini at the host barn.
                                      OMG! He thought they were the spawn of Satan.
                                      Until after I retired him I moved him to a farm where the woman had 4 mini's.
                                      She ended up giving me permission to turn him out with the little stud.
                                      They ended up best buds! LOL

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I realize that my worry is about the "first" time because by the third time she just notices things. If I can stay with her through that first encounter of whatever surprises her, I think everything will be fine.
                                        That kind of attitude is not going to get you there. Horses are masters of processing and interpreting body language. When we sit on their backs, we lay our some of our largest blood vessels over them so they are taking our pulse in stereo all the time. They are taking note of our respiration rate too. Horses, particularly those trained in dressage (hopefully), are sensitive to the slightest changes in contact and posture. They know when we are anxious. If we have trained them to follow our lead then they will become anxious too.

                                        It's not enough to "not act nervous", we have to not be nervous.
                                        That's one of the more interesting parts of horsemanship, IMO.
                                        See those flying monkeys? They work for me.

                                        Comment

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