Hi all, I hope everything is good for you on the horse front!
Things have been wonderful here. Shiloh has really upped his game and I’ve been getting more confident as his leader. As I’ve mentioned in my last posts, for the past several months my work with Shiloh has been fraught with anxiety and self doubt. Shiloh was having explosive bolting episodes and I felt powerless to correct him.
Now, after weeks and weeks of painful progress, I can finally begin to say that I have learned to take control over scary or spooky situations. I keep asking myself what changed to get to this point, and I can only think of a few things I’ve done or noticed recently.
I’ve always been wary of anxiety supplements, thinking that feeding my horse something to change his mood was a crooked shortcut, that a real horsewoman would find a way to make him think around his fear. Well, screw that. It’s the same with humans and animals. If there is an imbalance in the brain or a genetic propensity to suffer from stress and anxiety, there is absolutely NO SHAME in treating this MEDICAL CONDITION with remedies that will ease that stress. Likewise, there are other factors that can lead to stress, ie. ulcers and chronic pain, which I am also looking into with Shiloh. I first discovered the miracle of anxiety supplements when I listened to the Horse Radio Network Healthy Critters episode on stress in pets. The radio show host, Tigger Montague recommended giving the nervous horse an appropriate dose of the natural root Ashwagandha to help with nerve and sharpen focus. Eager to try anything, I raced to the health food store and bought a bottle of Ashwagandha capsules. I took some myself, then popped open some capsules and dumped the powder (Tigger recommends about two table spoons half an hour before a ride) in a tupperware container for Shiloh.
Oh. My. Gosh. Shiloh is a bit of a lightweight for sedatives anyway, but the results from feeding this before my ride were unbelievable. It was like he was finally able to close out all the noise around him and focus on the task at hand. We didn’t have a single bolting episode and I was able to gain some ground in my canter work. The only problem is, it took quite a few capsules to get the dosage right and I think this could be a fairly expensive supplement. I’d like to order an Ashwagandha infused supplement, like Tigger’s natural and organic whole food line for horses, Biostar US…but, it has a whopping price tag of $71.50. Ouch. Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with other calming supplements, like the feed store brand VitaCalm. It contains things L-Tryptophan, which in some research studies has been proven to have the opposite effect on some excitable horses and even be toxic in large doses. In the end, I’m still skeptical of calming supplements and I’m hesitant to work with the commercial, heavily processed supplements. I prefer to use the Ashwagandha root, so I’m trying to find a cheaper alternative, like a loose leaf tea that I can just feed a few table spoons of when I’m about to ride.
The only other thing I’ve been doing with Shiloh is throwing out my dressagification mission and just trying to have fun. One day, on a whim, I decided to dig out my ground poles and play around. I should mention that Shiloh has a deep and abiding love for all things ground pole. If I lay them out and try to ride around them, he will actively try to steer us over the ground poles. I think he likes the fancy passage trot that he gets when he goes over the poles. As Monty Roberts says, if you find your horse likes to do something–do it a lot. So ground poles it is.
I moved them around in all kinds of positions: boxes to halt in, walk/trot poles, aisles to go through, single poles to canter over.
Then, suddenly the poles were reconfigured into cross poles. I have no idea how this happened…
When people ask me if I jump I always laugh and say that I like to stay on the ground as much as possible, hence the dressage. I mean, I’ve had maybe two or three extremely casual “jumping lessons” years ago on horses that had less knowledge of how to jump than I did. So my extent of jumping skills consists of:
Sit still, ride the horse to the jump, two point on lift off, grab mane/release reins, and sit back down for the landing. Don’t fall off or hinder your horse from getting the right distance from the obstacle.
Basically I set up three ground poles to trot over right before the jump and a baby cross rail following. The trot poles were approximately four and a feet apart and the baby jump was about 14 feet from the last pole to allow for about three strides. The trot poles kept him busy and kept his stride in check so he wouldn’t get too excited for the jump.
He did great! Ie., after a few attempts he made it over the jump with his front feet together and didn’t knock it over. That’s fantastic in my book. Not only did he make it over beautifully, but he loved every minute of it. I tried to canter a large circle around it in the middle of our workout and found that he kept trying to redirect our path to go over the cross rails again, with his little ears perked up and happy. Is he trying to tell me he wants to migrate to the jumper world and leave that stuffy dressage business in the dust?
Sorry the pictures turned out fuzzy, it was kind of dark.
The best part was, that my younger sister (my photographer and occasional riding buddy) put on some stretchy pants and climbed aboard after me. She’s a decent rider, but hasn’t ridden regularly since she’s gone off to college. Now that it’s summer, I’m hoping she can be my guinea pig and come ride more often. Here’s some of my sister.
Yes, in some of the pictures, he’s behind the bit and a teensy bit hollow, but she didn’t really understand how to push him into the contact. I count his submissive behavior and eagerness to please as a huge victory.
I’m so proud of my boy!!! I actually warmed him up before she got on and he was a bit of a pill. I was a little worried that he would act up for her, but she still wanted to ride. Voila! He was a perfect angel. I never pegged Shiloh as a horse that would gauge the riders skill level and decide to take care of the beginners, but he did just that. He walked slowly, lowered his nose onto the bit when I showed her how to hold the reins, and did everything that she asked. It was amazing to watch from the outside and see all the work I’ve poured into him really shine through.
Happy horsing around. Take heart, my friends! When you go through hard times with your horse, just keep moving forward. As ridiculous and cliche as it sounds, you’ll see the light at the end if you keep pushing and believing in yourself and your horse.