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Re-eventer: Pep talk please

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  • Re-eventer: Pep talk please

    I went to my first event in 20 years a couple weeks ago. I thought we were well prepared, but found upon arrival that we need to master:

    - how to load and unload in a mannerly way
    - how to tie quietly at the trailer
    - how to remain quiet when neighboring horses leave
    - how to walk over a small ditch to get to the dressage arena
    - how to relax around warm-up fences enough to actually jump them without exploding
    - how to jump stadium fences with fancy décor
    - how to stay ON the horse when he spooks away from stadium fences with fancy décor

    In retrospect, I realize that we needed to practice all of this at home before going to a show. He went to dressage shows and the occasional x-rail jumping class with his previous owner, but that's no guarantee of good behavior. He has always gotten on and off the trailer with little fuss, but in our few trailering times while changing barns, we’ve just gotten off the trailer and into a stall or paddock at a new barn - and his behavior alone in a new stall is as atrocious as his behavior was at the show. He flips out (dancing, pacing, pooping anxiously, rearing) unless he is babysat by other horses and humans, actively put into work (groundwork in hand or riding), or able to be at liberty to look around and get the kinks out. After a few days, he settles in nicely in new environments, but clearly we don’t have a few days to settle at small horse trials.

    We’re working on all of this step by step. So far, we’ve mastered mannerly loading and unloading (chain over nose works wonders). We are going back to ground tying 101 in the indoor arena, outside in the fields, facing a wall, and at the trailer. It is slow going, albeit gradually improving. But it’s hard to imagine how 10 minute intervals of quiet tying will work for us at a day-long show.

    My goal is to work this month on all of the above at home, then take him out for some local lessons where, if need be, we can just trailer in, work on ground manners, tying and tacking, and trailer home. When local travel is less anxious for him and more manageable for us, we’ll trailer in, tack up, ride an unfamiliar jumping course, and go home. Maybe by September, we’ll be able to try another little event or two to end the season. But I can’t really see this horse ever chilling out for an hour in between phases.

    Intellectually, I know this all takes time. But emotionally, I feel like a big fat failure. I love eventing, and I love the challenge of just getting out and riding a new course. But my horse is a nervous wreck. I’d hoped that this would be the year we’d be out and about enjoying our sport, not going back to basics like a 2 year old (he is 14).

    Please share your own pep talk and progress stories to remind me that even anxious TBs can learn to chill out and put up with changing circumstances!

  • #2
    Sounds like you have a plan in place and taking him out for lessons will be helpful. We all go through learning curves.... and even non TBs can be a challenge. My friend is actually going through some of this type behavior with a Connemara. It will get better with steady practice.


    • #3
      Well, clearly there are some things missing in your horse's basics.

      If your objective is to go out and have fun for you, then this is perhaps not the right horse for you. If your objective is to have a learning experience through starting with a horse who is clearly insecure and unhappy in parts of his job, and making him okay with it, then ... well, you have a long, slow, sometimes annoying and frustrating, but very, very rewarding road ahead of you.

      You might do well to look at some things outside of the basics of eventing to help yourself and this horse. I think perhaps there are some things missing in your own basics, as well.
      "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

      Spay and neuter. Please.


      • #4
        My horse shows some of these behaviors as well.

        I know lots of his anxiety is that we don't go to new places enough, and we're working on that.

        Depending on your area you may or may not be able to do this...
        But my horse is a COMPLETE DISASTER when tied to the trailer. He couldn't be any worse. Fortunately for me, only 1-2 shows in my area don't offer stalls. So, the plan is to just stick to places where he can get away from the "action" and be in a stall.

        You're plan sounds good. Just stick to it. All horses have something you end up "dealing with" because (hopefully) they have redeeming qualities that make up for it.
        Yes, I ride a pony. No, he would not be ideal for your child. No, he is not a re-sale project...


        • #5
          Well, I either put mine on the trailer, or, lead them around. I don't leave them tied to the trailer for any length of time. Hand-grazing is easy enough.

          Are you trailering him alone? Sometimes having a barn-mate can make herd-bound issues much, much worse. Go out alone. If you can, take him somewhere weekly. Start at a place where you can bring him in & tack-up on the cross-ties, when that is NBD, move on to another more stressful location.

          Learning to work him in-hand, effectively, is a good tool to get their mind on you vs. everyone else. If lunging, put the side-reins on, lots of up/down transitions, transitions within gaits, etc. I like to introduce lateral-work to engage the hind-end, supple them, and ultimately increase their submission. A BNR/T said not to skip this step with the anxious horse, ignore the on-lookers if they are staring wondering WTF, there's no point getting on an explosive, disengaged (mentally & physically) horse. Wish I thought of that sooner.

          And lastly, if he's truly that nervous, you should use Ulcergard or the like, 3days prior to traveling for the best results.

          Horses keep us all humble. Keep working at it, if it doesn't seem to be improving, re-evaluate his suitability as your mount. Not every horse is good for every rider.


          • #6
            My horses don't tie to the trailer, either. It's not a huge deal so long as they do load/ unload quietly since you can just stick them in if necessary. I actually think it's cooler in the trailer with the doors and windows open. A lot of the other stuff is pretty typical for a green horse-- and it does sound like yours is pretty green even if he's not young. Personally, I'd start off right away with the lessons, if you can. Get him out once a week, let him see all kinds of stuff-- school xc or go to a jumper show or two, too-- and if you do this 10-12 weeks in a row and he's still a spaz, you'll know and you can send him down the road then.


            • #7
              I think you are a leaving a few details out on this whole thing. Have you not ridden or been around horses for 20 years, or only eventing?

              One thing my trainer always reminds me of is that we need to go "back to basics" now and then to not only refresh what we think we know, but refine it and improve. Nothing wrong with taking slower steps and enjoying the process of watching your horse grow more comfortable with you and the changes in his life.

              I bought my fellow with the premise that he was well trained in dressage, he jumped 3'3" and was a really sweet guy. Perhaps all true, but as I was the "new" owner, (and inexperienced to boot) all that got tossed quickly. He would rage around the pasture at times, he would buck in simple dressage tests, he would jump at the sound of a butterfly wing. The day he stopped dead at a 2' jump (while I continued on) had me wondering what I had gotten into.

              I went back to my trainer (I had been away from her barn for a while), it took 3 months just to get us to be calm with each other, it took another few to get us listening properly, and a year later we are still working out minor issues. However, he now knows (thanks to my trainer) that I am the leader, I know he will always be wary of butterflies and we today can jump 2'9" (at home), perform a decent dressage and have fun on the trail.

              That was daily hard work. So, if you're just starting back after a 20 year time off riding I'd put the hubris in the back pocket, consider a trainer and accept that it will take time for both of you to settle in. Trying to get sex on the first date tends to not end well in the long run.


              • #8
                Keep working on it. If your horse is a rockstar in all other ways, then just keep at it. My 13yo Tb mare is a saint undersaddle. She and I are BFFs and we adore each other.

                However... she is a NIGHTMARE (pun intended, lol) getting onto the trailer, hauling (she has had to wear a kick chain before in the trailer), and standing at the shows, lessons, etc, even standing in the crossties at home.

                I've had her 3 years and still have to Ace her for the farrier!

                I'm lucky enough to have a trainer up here that is a Tb (specifically, a Tb mare) person, so she understands that Bella can be a basket case. My trainer is really good about helping me out and showing me tricks to help with her nuttiness.

                Stick with it and learn to work with and around his nuttiness. It DOES get better as your relationship evolves. He'll probably never be one of those super quiet rockstar at the trailer horses, but what fun would that be?
                Steppin Not Dragon "Bella"
                Top Shelf "Charlie"
                Check out the Military + Horses fb page!


                • #9
                  You've gotten some good advice already here. I will add my experience with my OTTB. When I started to bring her along, we went to several places for lessons and schooling in order to work on some of those basics you mentioned (i.e. unloading quietly, behaving in new places, not having a horse buddy with her at all times, etc.) She was very professional during those outings, so I had no worries about going to our first little show.

                  However, when we did go to our first show, she must've known it was "different" the minute we pulled in the grounds. She started with a very dramatic exit off of the trailer and then was pracing around when tied to the trailer. That day, she was not the same horse I had been working with for the past few months! Luckily, she was well behaved once I was on her back and did a nice dressage test, followed by a very spooky baby stadium round. And I thought we were totally prepared too!

                  However, a few more times out to shows and she was MUCH improved. She stood at the trailer tied and munched on her hay bag, and was quite chill. It may even be a little more stressful for you horse because he's older and more "set" in his ways.

                  Sometimes the first outings can be very unpredictable but getting them out again (and again) should help. Also, bring a helper with you (if you can rope someone into it) so that they can graze your horse, or just be an extra hand when you are dealing with a horse that is anxious at new places.


                  • #10
                    Have you considered going to shows just to be there and not compete? Some horse trials will let you come and hack around without competing if you contact the secretary ahead of time. This might really take away a stress factor for you. Sometimes unsuccessful show days feel that much worse when we consider how much we paid to be there that day.
                    See if you can find a show that will let you do this, doesn't even have to be a horse trial, just one that's busy enough to stimulate him. Go with a good horsey friend for moral support and take your time. Maybe he just needs the exposure and not competing will really take the pressure off of you so that you can deal with the issues at hand.
                    Good luck!
                    "As one of those weirdos that always enjoyed the grooming tasks that most others didn't, Kirsten decided it was time to make the most of it and create Shear Convenience Grooming"


                    • #11
                      It's just different going back to it all as an adult. 20 years ago, you were probably more in the child role. You might never have had to think this all through from the start before !

                      Don't make the mistake of thinking 'OMG! this is how bad it is, it will all take Years and Years to fix'. It's not. It's all one basic problem. It's just a trust thing. He doesn't trust you yet. You build the trust by all the little steps daily that you're working on, so you'll do fine. Don't make the problem more than it is - you underestimated how far outside your comfort zone this show would take the pair of you, and that showed you all the gaps you need to fill. That's all. No Biggie.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by PortPonies View Post
                        My goal is to work this month on all of the above at home, then take him out for some local lessons where, if need be, we can just trailer in, work on ground manners, tying and tacking, and trailer home. When local travel is less anxious for him and more manageable for us, we’ll trailer in, tack up, ride an unfamiliar jumping course, and go home. Maybe by September, we’ll be able to try another little event or two to end the season.
                        I agree with Kate. Don't make more out of it than it is--not a big deal. Sounds to me like you have a good and realistic plan. Remember you won't be able to "master" several of your issues without actually going to horse trials. I generally take inexperienced horses to a couple as a non competing horse as well. Set the precedence at home then go to stuff and keep working on it. You might suprise yourself!


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by KateWooten View Post
                          It's just different going back to it all as an adult. 20 years ago, you were probably more in the child role. You might never have had to think this all through from the start before !

                          Don't make the mistake of thinking 'OMG! this is how bad it is, it will all take Years and Years to fix'. It's not. It's all one basic problem. It's just a trust thing. He doesn't trust you yet. You build the trust by all the little steps daily that you're working on, so you'll do fine. Don't make the problem more than it is - you underestimated how far outside your comfort zone this show would take the pair of you, and that showed you all the gaps you need to fill. That's all. No Biggie.
                          good stuff here! Yes....ditto.
                          We get so picky as adults. He may never tie. That's ok, just put in trailer. And you know you don't have to be a hero and hold him to an Olympic standard. Chemicals are your friend. Give him some tranquilizer - mild - so that he keeps his wits about him and behaves a little. Do this at a schooling show that you know you won't be doing anything significant. This is purely to aid the horse in staying calm so that you don't get flustered by his behavior. Everything probably had him on high alert at the event; his next one might be worse, so be sure to be prepared by going to just a dressage show, for instance, to see how he behaves with the changes you make in management. Good luck.
                          Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
                          Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)


                          • #14
                            I'm working with a friend's OTTB mare, who had previously evented and all, and had okay manners. However before I started riding, she had quite a bit of pasture time, and forgot most of it. We have to tie at the trailer as there is no other place to tie her and she doesn't free stand.

                            After about 3 weeks (Once a week) of you pace/call/prance at the trailer you get worked routine she's changed. Last week she stood quietly, was friendly and didn't give a hoot her friends weren't beside her in the pasture. Not saying she won't have her bad days, but it has (I think) reminded her of her manners. You sound like you know what you are doing and are on the right track!
                            Telling a worrier to relax is counterproductive. Then we worry about relaxing.


                            • #15
                              I have a horse with a lot of these issues. You can overcome it with time, patience and following the plan. But my horse is not for everyone. I lease mine to my friend who handles her issues much better than I do. It does take a lot working on things, exposure to different environments, etc.

                              Only you can decide if this is the right horse for you, but it can and does get better.


                              • #16
                                I am going through this with my OTTB. I am using local open shows to get her used to the routine. I go enter a class or two and hang around until she is quiet and accepts what is going on without getting upset. The first show was last week and there is another in 2 weeks that I hope to ride her in (just did a halter class at the first show).

                                This is a cheap and easy way to get the experience.

                                I have also taken here to another farm and met friends for schooling and trail rides for additional practice.



                                • #17
                                  I also have some of these issues with my mare. It took me a year to re-introduce her to loading in the trailer. I moved her to my farm, she got injured and then I got deployed which led to nearly a year of her being a pasture puff, and then I got injured so it was over a year before I could finally work with her on it.

                                  She's still not what I would call a reliable loader. At home she's an angel 99% of the time and will get right on. It's when I try to put her back in the trailer at horse trials, shows, lessons ect... that she completely forgets how to get back in without a monster fuss.

                                  She also is not great about tying to pretty much anything(She's broken the tie ring on the trailer twice). The first time I took her to a big trail ride she broke away from the trailer three times in less than 30 minutes.

                                  Most of the time I take her to events she's a total freak at the trailer and I put her back in when I have to leave for any amount of time or I make sure I have a stall to stash her in. But's she unpredictable with this too. I took her to Kelly's Ford in May and she was an absolute pain at the trailer. She flipped from side to side, paced, pawed, eyeballed the cows in the field behind us and never settled. Thus we were awarded the Big "E" in SJ because we couldn't get our act together.

                                  The next time I took her out for a xc schooling with my trainer she stood like an ancient pony at the trailer and ate her hay.

                                  So believe me I hear you on the issues. But it may just take time and lots and lots of hauling to places. And I agree a little chemical help can be a good thing. Just keep chipping away at the issues and you never know he could end up being that horse who stands at the trailer three legged and has nothing more important to focus on than his hay.
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