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Reactive Greenie to Brave Eventer

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  • Reactive Greenie to Brave Eventer

    My ottb mare is turning 6 this year and still trying to figure out what direction is best suited to her. We have done a bunch of work on relaxation and it has worked wonders but she still lives on the slightly reactive side. Personally, I would like to get back into eventing. No crazy aspirations, a recognized novice would probably be my max. I worry that xc will be too much for her, but I know its hard to predict until you try.

    Anyways, anyone have an reactive/spooky type young one that turned out to be a brave eventer with age/experience?

  • #2
    Originally posted by ClassyJumper View Post
    Anyways, anyone have an reactive/spooky type young one that turned out to be a brave eventer with age/experience?
    Yup. Had a great eventer/jumper/foxhunter who never lost his spookiness.

    We learned to work with it. He learned that we understood him so he’d let us know when something was bothering him.

    He was terrified of... paper. Which of course also meant ribbons so you had to have someone else pick them up for you.

    He didn’t go to Halloween play days.

    He didn’t hack out alone.

    He wouldn’t pee in public.

    On course, he was an unrepentant looky-loo but that was fine as long as he paid attention to the jumps.

    He competed at Prelim till age 22 and lived to be 35. Great horse.

    What worked for us is that we accepted him for who he was. This made him comfortable enough to let us know when he didn’t like something.


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    • #3
      Best horse I ever had. I could not under any circumstances school on the flat in a jump arena. He would shy at everything, but once he was concentrating on jumping those scary monsters he was totally focused and never missed a beat. An absolute machine on XC but would shy at nonsense on the walk back to the barn.

      He wouldn't spin or bolt which is a problem for me soI could maintain a very minimal response on my part. I'm a big believer that when they shy, they get hit in the mouth (or punished) which of course confirms they were right to shy! Once he was really out competing he would drop down to the ground then just step forward like nothing happened.

      My youngster now is reactive, but he's got such a good brain that the processor doesn't stop working. And he can quickly carry on. That and he likes to touch whatever is bothering him, then once he touches it he's done with it. Sometimes you get one who has a moment then loses all mental acuity for the rest of the school--that's hard. I'll admit I don't have the patience for those types anymore.

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      • #4
        A lot of horses in eventing are quite reactive, it's the riders that are brave!
        http://trainingcupid.blogspot.com/

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        • #5
          I've had several and funny thing was the number of upper level horses that understand what is a jump and are suspicious of anything that presents "wrong" in their mind. Somehow when the pedal was down, they drew from a different part of themselves and applied the confident side of their brain instead of the reactive.

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          • #6
            My 9 year old eventer has always been a super spooky, fire breathing dragon type, but jumps everything he's pointed at and knows his job well. He's running training with a few PT's and planning to move up to prelim.

            My 6 year old OTTB is much the same way. Super spooky and reactive, but knows to jump the jumps and I'm anticipating will be much the same way in a few years.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by ClassyJumper View Post
              My ottb mare is turning 6 this year and still trying to figure out what direction is best suited to her. We have done a bunch of work on relaxation and it has worked wonders but she still lives on the slightly reactive side. Personally, I would like to get back into eventing. No crazy aspirations, a recognized novice would probably be my max. I worry that xc will be too much for her, but I know its hard to predict until you try.

              Anyways, anyone have an reactive/spooky type young one that turned out to be a brave eventer with age/experience?
              Yes..... and no.

              I have a "turn and run first, ask questions later (or not at all.... just leave.... it worked for your ancestors) mare. Also, she's a bit alpha, so she's sure that even though she's scared, everyone else is an idiot, so no reason to trust her rider.

              This is who she is by nature and a few things have gone a long, long way to change that.

              1. She learned to push cattle. The magic here comes from the fact that when the horse goes toward the scary thing, it moves away. Also, cattle tap into the horse's inborn sense of how power dynamics work in a herd: whoever makes the other guy move is The Man. In other words, this is one of those unique situations in which the horse is instantly and inherently rewarded for being brave.

              2. Same horseman/cattle guy who helped me with this schooled me a bit about "putting a horse 'in the box'". That means this mare got ridden such that she was right on the aids. He emphasized precision and slowness. It didn't matter what we did, but she had to put her feet just where I said. If she got in the wrong spot, I just put her back. This really taught me how much horses want direction. I had been offering her that "sit chilly" hunter ride I learned as a kid on TBs. To her, however, that felt like abandonment. I could give her a soft ride with, say, longer reins and still have her "In the box," but only after I taught her that that was the level of attention on her I expected, AND that there was peace in that for her.

              3. I rode her toward stationery things "in the box" and as I did toward a cow. So she had to face the scary thing-- no turning way. I might tolerate a few steps of backing up, but after standing for a moment, I'd ask for a step forward again. When the mare looked at the object or stepped toward it, I'd put the reins in one hand and my knuckles down on her neck, as if she were a cutting horse who had latched onto the cow. The idea was that she earned a soft, non-distracting ride from me when she mentally addressed the scary object.

              4. I could do the same thing on the ground. This mare is very, very broke on the ground the way Buck Brannaman gets them broke. I can move one foot of hers at a time where I want it. This means that I can also practice "sending" her toward scary things. The same goes for line-driving. I just pick exercises that put the horse out in front of me on the ground where they feel a bit alone and vulnerable out there, but with me there adding pressure as needed, taking it off when that's earned, and adding praise when the horse gets brave and tries. In other words, the horse is alone but still with me mentally at the same time.

              I would give every young or timid horse a chance to learn to push cattle. But if you can't/before you do lots and lots of this kind of thing before. How do this at speed? Create the relationship with your horse in these slow, small exercises so that when you "put him in the box" at the canter (he is between your hand and leg and straight), he will go forward in the direction you want. He doesn't have to like it. He doesn't have to be relaxed. He has to go forward. While he's there and cantering, praise him a big with a pet on the neck and your voice and keep going.

              Of course, you can start this "brave with speed" thing at the trot. After I got help from the cattle guy in a weekend clinic last spring, I spent the summer trail-riding my timid mare and we just.went.forward. When I thought I wasn't going to die, (and boy-howdy, nothing makes you finally ride with your reins short enough like this job), I would ask her to bend gently or leg-yield a bit at the trot and allow her to stretch down if she at all offered it at all. In other words, I showed her that there was a softer ride she could earn, even outside, even with some speed. And I showed her that I was still up there, riding her, and requiring that she stay attentive to her rider just I would ask her for in the ring.

              Now this mare can go out on the buckle, which would have felt like abandonment for her six months ago and which would have got me spun off. But that came from establishing the fact that she could live through me sending her toward things that frightened her. I earned her trust, but some of that, too, came from me insisting on a level of "too damn bad" obedience.

              Hope this helps!

              The armchair saddler
              Politically Pro-Cat

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              • #8
                mvp Awesome post!

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                • #9
                  mvp post is awesome. I will be doing more of that with my young horse. He is brave until he is unsure and than he turns into a chicken shit. LOL He is brave as can be to going through water, hacking out with bikes and cars, and jumping ditches and banks but is inclined to spook at logs. He likes to be in the lead when hacking out but if he sees something that is spooky he stops and looks. I give him time to process than ask for a step forward. He is allowed to look and if he touches the scary object he gets LOTS of reward.

                  He can be a stubborn (not scared just stubborn) when he thinks he can get out of work. When he plants his feet and refuses to move pressure is added until he moves forward. Pressure, movement forward, release with a verbal and a physical or cookie reward. I spent 20 min on a very spooky foot bridge that we had to cross to get home that he eventually went confidently over both ways.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by horseshorseshorseshorses View Post
                    mvp post is awesome. I will be doing more of that with my young horse. He is brave until he is unsure and than he turns into a chicken shit. LOL He is brave as can be to going through water, hacking out with bikes and cars, and jumping ditches and banks but is inclined to spook at logs. He likes to be in the lead when hacking out but if he sees something that is spooky he stops and looks. I give him time to process than ask for a step forward. He is allowed to look and if he touches the scary object he gets LOTS of reward.

                    He can be a stubborn (not scared just stubborn) when he thinks he can get out of work. When he plants his feet and refuses to move pressure is added until he moves forward. Pressure, movement forward, release with a verbal and a physical or cookie reward. I spent 20 min on a very spooky foot bridge that we had to cross to get home that he eventually went confidently over both ways.
                    That sounds like a typical young horse to me!

                    Let me tell you what this looks like from his side:

                    The world is fun until you have a reason to think it is not. Then, and being a flight animal, there is no reason to investigate further. If he were a cat who had to hunt for his food, natural selection would have installed a bit more curiosity in there. But that has little value to a horse. Oh, and by the way, a log looks a heckuva lot like a crouching predator. Ask any horse. My mare will tell you.

                    The stubbornness attribution is always one that I have reservations about making for an animal. I think it has two possible sources. 1. He was kinda scared but, when pressed, will go balls-to-the-wall to defend his life. 2. He doesn't yet know that he has to do as you ask, no matter what. I mean, sure, when the request doesn't create a conflict of interest, he'll comply. The stakes are low, it's easier and he has a habit of doing as you ask. But where would he have learned that soldiery, do-or-die kind of obedience that we need? I think your baby horse on the bridge wasn't stubborn so much as not yet a graduate of boot camp.

                    And here's the thing about that level of obedience--- it can be misunderstood or misused. An article Jimmy Wofford had written about causes of the demise of safe and challenging eventing had a part in it about how much of the horse's self-preserving "fifth leg" by placing so much emphasis on dressage. The idea (and there are some dressagists who do this), is that the horse is taught to be *so* obedient that he de facto abandons his body and gives it up to us because we demanded such careful listening to out aids at the expense of the outside world. There are my words/my paraphrasing of a criticism of dressage that I have heard from other good horsemen as well as Wofford's version.

                    This is not what obedience is for. Obedience to me is synonymous with "learning to accept training." To me, that means a horse has learned that 1. I am relevant to him. 2. There will always be a "right answer" somewhere if he keeps trying to figure out what I wanted from him when he is confused. 3. He can control the kind of ride he gets by figuring out how to please me. IMO, this meaning of obedience is what all young horses need to learn. And I'm pretty unapologetic about asking for this kind of horse who mentally engages with training, no matter what, because asking him to mentally show up is not hard for him (if I'm a sane and predictable handler or rider), and it makes him nice to be around and useful. I'm unapologetic, too, because I think it makes us safe on these large, strong animals. I need a horse I'm on or around to be invested in our success or I am unsafe near him.

                    But speaking to Wofford's concern, everyone should know that the good natural horsemen who seemingly pick on horses on the ground about how they go through a gate, or where they put their feet, you know, "the small stuff" seemingly ad nauseum, will also tell you that you need to take that horse out and do a job with him. He needs to see what all of that precision is for. With my mare, my ability put her just where I wanted helped her find the right calf (and the one that I thought would be most responsive for her so that she thought she could boss him around), allowed her to have a good experience. If she had thought she was wrestling with me in the face of a dangerous cow, she would have had two problems, not one. And the goal for an obedient cutting horse or a brave, well-broke jumping horse is the same: They need to allow us to set them up *So That* we can let them go and do their job when it's time. Obedience, then, is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

                    But obedience is something that no baby horse comes knowing; it has to be installed. And the reason to that with the small stuff is because it makes bigger stuff like a bridge not be A Thing. I think it's great that you "pulled over" from whatever ride you had planned to address his question about whether or not, when the chips were down, he really had to do your bidding and whether or not that would work out OK for him. That just has to happen over and over until these horses ask the question about their safety-vs-pleasing-you less and less.
                    The armchair saddler
                    Politically Pro-Cat

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by dotcantrot View Post
                      I've had several and funny thing was the number of upper level horses that understand what is a jump and are suspicious of anything that presents "wrong" in their mind. Somehow when the pedal was down, they drew from a different part of themselves and applied the confident side of their brain instead of the reactive.
                      So interesting. I can definitely see my mare being this way. She loves to jump and has a bit of an alpha/stubborn/"competitive" streak to her that I feel could really make her a brave xc horse with the right regimen.

                      I am, admittedly, not the bravest rider. I am pretty confident but have quite a bit of self preservation that keeps me from being truly "brave".

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I rode a horse for a time that was hugely spooky and reactive - if it weren't an Elementary (18") level show, he would have been rung out of dressage for backing/sidestepping/spooking and otherwise not doing the test. Someone else was on him for that and stadium, which went only slightly better. I was asked to hop on him for cross country and once we got out on our own, he completely relaxed. Half a mile from anyone else, there wasn't anything to scare him.

                        My own mare did the same thing, though not reactive to the point of not completing a phase, just that she relaxed a lot more once there was nothing really "jumping out" at her (loud speaker, warm up, people rushing about).

                        My always reactive mare (my filly's mother) was never AS reactive out on cross country, though she DID initially think all jumps were demons lying in wait to attack her. Once she got over that, she was quite the cross country machine.

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