Winter Tries to Return

This week was full of physical soreness for me, and changing weather for the horses. 

When I arrived at Debbie’s stable Wednesday morning for my lesson I told Debbie that I was not up to much activity.  That suited Debbie just fine; she had to give her soon to be endurance horse, the Arab gelding Tercel, another ride before her first formal long distance ride to get him used to his new endurance bridle and breastplate.  She also wanted my opinion on how Tercel was reacting to his new gear.  Her new bridle is a functional work of art, if you like Beta, with a built in halter for leading, lots of snaps so the rider can easily remove the bit/reins/whatever, and a running martingale. 

She groomed Bingo and tacked him up quickly as Tercel fretted and “weaved” where she had tied him down the aisle of the barn.  When Bingo was tacked up, I got my husband to come out to the ring with me so he could lead Bingo and hold him as I mounted, while Debbie groomed and tacked up Tercel.  When she started, she lunged Tercel first with all his new gear so he would get used to it before she rode him.  I watched Tercel, and he seemed mildly annoyed with all the new jingles and he seemed confused by how the running martingale affected the reins.  She unsnapped the running martingale attachment and Tercel settled down a little bit. 

As Debbie started her ride on Tercel, Bingo decided that he did not particularly want to share the ring with another horse.  Bingo’s go to first resistance is balking, this can be irritating but I prefer a little melt down in place to a big melt down careening around the ring.  Each time I got Bingo moving again, though sometimes I had to go into “diplomatic negotiations” to get him to walk where I wanted him to walk.  I practiced my two-point some, worked on obedience to my turning signals as we wandered around the jumps, and I concentrated on keeping myself centered in the saddle.  I did not have the energy to do anything more.  I spent a lot of my time admiring Tercel who is an absolutely gorgeous horse, as he calmed down and started acting like a normal horse instead of a crazy Arab, putting his head down, striding out at the walk, and trotting without any meltdowns.

Debbie told me that Tercel was ANXIOUS about her new trailer, which is big and bright white.  When I dismounted I asked my husband to take Bingo so I could help Debbie get Tercel to come up to the new trailer.  When Tercel planted his feet, refusing to go any nearer to the trailer, I went up to the trailer, “petted” it and then leaned up against it.  Finally, Tercel got his courage up and cautiously crawled up to me, put his nose up to my face for a second or two, and relaxed a little bit.  Finally Debbie was able to get Tercel to touch the new trailer with his nose even though he obviously was scared by the thought that the trailer might attack him.  I do not know why Tercel has this thing in his head that if he touches my face with his nose it is safe for him to relax.  Normally this is not a behavior I encourage from a horse, but Tercel is such a mental case sometimes that I will accept anything that will calm him down.

When I woke up Friday morning it was COLD, in the low 30’s F, with a strong gusting North wind.  I put on my winter breeches, shirt and coat and prepared myself mentally for the cold.  I had a long drive in the car the day before and my neck and back were hurting worse than usual so I was not terribly ambitious that day.  As my husband and I got Mia groomed she was quite irritated and demanding, and she grudged every minute we groomed her before we put on her BOT poll cap, saddle pad, and butt blanker.  She was not in a good mood!  A new mare was yelling her head off at the other horses from her paddock as we led Mia out, and Mia started responding to her.  The cold North wind got colder and stronger as I tightened Mia’s girth and mounted her.  As we walked off it was obvious that Mia’s attention was riveted on everything around her and not on me.  Hey, it was cold and windy, how ELSE did I expect her to react to all the horses yelling and running around in the cold?  So I would walk Mia around the ring some, she would notice something and want to stop and LOOK, I would tell her to walk a few more steps and tell her to whoa just so she was still obeying me.  Then she would LOOK, first at the yelling mare, then at the geldings racing up and down their pasture, then at the older mares basking in the sun, and then she would consent to walking a little while longer until something else caught her attention.

I don’t blame her at all, her winter coat is mostly shed out and she was feeling the cold.  Most horses react to the wind, and the wind on Friday was no gentle breeze but strong gusts of bitter cold.  Mia was stiff and I just did not have the energy to trot her around to warm her up properly.  I was also getting stiffer in the cold wind and it sucked all my energy out of me.  So we were both compromising with each other throughout our short ride.  Mia has started losing some weight again so I fed her around twice as much for her after ride treat.  It can be a struggle to keep weight on a 30+ year old mare, and the rapidly changing weather does not help at all.

On Friday Debbie was getting ready to take Tercel out for a weekend of long distance riding, 10 miles one day and 15 miles the next day.  I had dug out a pair of reins that buckle onto the bit in case Tercel got too irritated by the snaps attaching the reins to his bit.  Mia, for one, absolutely HATED the extra vibrations from the snaps the few times I tried them on her, these vibrations irritated her sensitive mouth and she eloquently told me how much they bothered her.  I do not know if Tercel is as sensitive as Mia is, but I wanted Debbie to have an easily used alternative to her reins with snaps.

Tercel tends to melt down.  Debbie has been working on reducing his triggers and I have been providing products that might help him keep his cool.  Back when I was riding him, I noticed that when Tercel saw a moving object behind him in one particular place on his retina he would melt down, so I got him the Dy’on blinkers.  These work well, but sometimes Debbie forgets to switch them to a new bridle and Tercel ends up zigzagging down the trail as he gets spooked over and over again.  I also bought Tercel a Fenwick mask with ears, which is made with a technical fabric that uses titanium spun into the fiber that reflects the long infrared waves back into the horse’s body to relax the muscles.  The Fenwick mask seems to help Tercel to process spooks better, but if Debbie forgets Tercel’s blinkers it does not seem to help much.  Debbie also changed his bit to a Myler D-ring high-ported comfort snaffle that he seems to like better than any other bit.  Little by little, she is changing Tercel from a raging maniac to a horse that acts like a normal well-trained horse.

I hope she can get him quieter so I can ride him again when Mia finally decides that living is not worth the effort to keep going.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran      

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