Aero’s Diary

Sunday
Sunday was seriously, seriously cold and even more seriously windy!  We wimped out on our hacking plans and gave the horses a day off – nobody would have enjoyed it, we were chilled enough on Saturday and temperatures were down at least another 6C on Sunday.  Brrrrr.

The Boys in their shelter with Winter’s first snow on the ground

Monday
So on Monday, I was back on my own with no hacking companion.  I felt Flurry needed some arena time, anyway, he was a little bit footsore from time to time on Saturday’s hack, and when I looked at his feet on Monday I noticed how much his frogs have beefed up – they’re all slightly proud of his sole, now, which might explain some of his tenderness.

I rode Flurry first – an average warm-up, followed by work on leg-yielding which really helped engage his hocks and produced some nice light trot work afterwards.  His canter wasn’t bad, either, and we played with direct transitions.  Walk/canter was good and he made a fair attempt at canter/walk, so all in all I was very pleased with my little dun fuzzball.

Aero was next, I had my usual plan of lunging followed by a small amount of riding.  Having mulled over my previous rides on him, I decided that I had to try to make myself more comfortable on him, so I used Flurry’s saddle with the thick riser pad and shortened the stirrups a hole.

But to the lunge-ring first, I sent him off in the usual manner, but after a few step of walk, he broke into a trot and from there to an unbalanced canter.  Long story short, we had a similar argument to the last day’s lunging, where I checked him sharply with the lunge line when he ignored my “and… walk” request.  I could see the upset in his eyes, though, and I wasn’t happy doing it, so I unclipped the lunge line, dropped the whip and just sent him off.  I didn’t give him commands, but I kept him moving, using my body to send him forward from time to time.

I was gobsmacked when he went out beside the rail and settled into a rhythmic trot.  After a couple of circuits, I said “and… walk” and he walked.  “And… whoa” and he stopped – it took a few steps, but he did stop.  I rewarded him with a piece of sugar and carried on warming him up loose.  He continued to work well, in both trot and canter, so after a while, I connected up the Chambon and sent him off again.

This time, though, I picked up the lunge-whip.  Well, it was like he’d got an electric shot – head went up, ears pricked, nostrils flared and off he went in canter, a balanced canter admittedly, but not what I was looking for.  I dropped the whip.  He slowed down and the panic went out of his eyes.

Yes.  My horse, who I taught to lunge nine years ago as a three year old, and who has never, to the best of my knowledge, been punished or chased with a whip, is now afraid of the lunge-whip.  I pondered a moment as to why I hadn’t had this issue back in May/June, and then remembered I didn’t actually have a lunge-whip at home, I’d bought this nice shiny blue one in September, shortly before we left Ireland.

Breakthrough #1 : don’t use a lunge-whip

We continued the rest of the lunging session with Aero loose and me using a combination of voice commands and body language to control him.  He worked really well and stretched down long and low on both sides.  I rewarded him a couple of times with sugar cubes and was really pleased with how he was going.

Breakthrough #2 : use bribery and corruption

Last thing to do was sit up on him.  I fiddled around, took off the Chambon, pulled down the stirrups, put on my hat.  I showed him a sugar cube, mounted, and gave it to him once I was settled.  He’s not used to this, because he has always stood quietly to be mounted, but I think he’ll catch on pretty quick!

We walked around the arena a couple of times.  He was calm, settled, attentive.  There were no flies, of course, the sudden drop in temperature has seen to that – I’m sure that helped, too.  I could take a contact and he’d work round and on the bit, through circles and turns.  Ok, I thought, here goes nothing, let’s see if I still feel like a beginner when we trot, and I squeezed him forwards and told him to trot.

Wonder of wonders, I could ride him again!  I never felt unbalanced and he went forward in a nice relaxed trot.  We did a little work, on each rein, it felt decent enough but without eyes on the ground I can’t be too sure.

Breakthrough #3 : Use Flurry’s saddle until I’m fitter and used to Aero again

I quit while I was ahead, then, I guess I rode him for fifteen minutes or so, before I stopped, slipped him another bribe and made a big fuss of him.

I’m starting to feel optimistic about him again!

Tuesday
After Monday’s breakthroughs, I was determined to Not Go In The Arena and give Aero something different to think about.  Once again, I rode Flurry first, and did a very short, half-hour loop around the farm.  He was great… loved every minute of it.

I caught Aero and started grooming him.  I had already decided that I would tack him up (with Flurry’s saddle) and ride/walk/ride, whatever I felt like doing.  If he felt tense, I would lead him for a bit and then hopefully remount.

While I was grooming, though, something startled every single horse on the premises, they all stood stock still, staring into the distance, on high alert.  Aero was similarly panicked, staring into the distance, nostrils flared, heart pounding.

Right, I thought, forget the saddle!  You are not going to ride this horses even if you put it on him!  So I led him around the same loop I had done with Flurry, or rather, we speed-walked around the same loop I had done with Flurry.

Within the first five minutes, we had seen what had caused the sudden panic in all the horses – a couple of kids playing at the far side of the lavender field.  Apart from a brief fit of panic when he spotted them, Aero was very, very good.  Tense, rushing, but less anxious than previously.  And he has a happier, less worried look in his eye.

I’m still optimistic.

Wednesday
A washout.  My poor mother thinks the weather here is just like in Ireland and can’t understand why we’ve relocated 2000km for this.

Thursday
This was La Toussaint, All Saints Day, a public holiday.  Seeing as the LSH forgot to take the Irish public holiday last Monday, he’s decided to follow French holidays instead, so he was available to hack out with me.

I thought I was going to be in trouble.  As I was leading Aero down to the stable area, the little donkey came striding over to the fence to say hello.  Aero, who has walked past him nearly every day since he got here two and a half weeks ago, nearly lost his life, threw a major wobbly and almost got away from me!  He calmed down, but I did say “I might not ride him…”

Despite that inauspicious start, it was a great hack.  Once again, we stuck to forestry tracks and trails, with a very short stretch on the road at the start and a road crossing about half-way along.  Aero was much more settled, in fact Flurry did the biggest spook of the day when I inadvertently broke a branch behind him with a loud “CRACK.”  We were out for just less than an hour, and it was only during the last ten minutes that I felt Aero getting tense and anxious again.

He knew we were nearly home – was it a little naughtiness/nappiness?
When I untacked him, the saddle had slipped back a little – was his back a little tender?

I’ll use a breast plate next time, but all in all I was really pleased with this ride, I am quite sure he enjoyed himself this time!

Friday
I think riding Flurry before Aero is probably a good idea, as it means I’ve warmed up and loosened up before I get on Mr CamelHorse.  I did just about an hour in the arena with Flurry, he was stiff to the right at first but loosened out fairly well.

Then it was Aero’s turn.  He eyed the donkey suspiciously as I walked him past, but didn’t get silly.  Not until we got to the lunging ring, that is.  Little Donkey decided to stand at the top of his field and watch.  He must have looked like a fire-breathing demon from hell to Aero, because as soon as he saw him, the head went up, the tail went up and he was gone, doing the most elevated trot I’ve ever seen him do, punctuating his strides with occasional explosive snorts.

Little Donkey – what we see
Little Donkey – what Aero sees

My plans for sensible stretching work and a short ride went out the window, and the goal for the session became “learn to live with the donkey.”  Unfortunately, Little Donkey kept disappearing.  And then reappearing.  The section of the lunging ring from which Aero could see him became the zone of the demonic-horse-eating-sometimes-invisible-killer-death-donkey-from-hell.  If Little Donkey was there when Aero trotted by, he stared at him in horror and spooked.  If he wasn’t there, he stared at where he might be (if he was invisible) and spooked anyway.

All I could do was laugh at my silly horse and keep asking him to pay attention.

Eventually, he calmed down – a tiny bit.  He stretched his head and neck down and locked his ear on me for a couple of laps and obeyed when I asked him to walk and halt. I scratched his neck, gave him a piece of carrot and headed back towards the stables.

But we had to pass the demonic-horse-eating-sometimes-invisible-killer-death-donkey-from-hell again.  Aero stared at him, eyes bulging, ears sharply pricked.  I led him closer, and fed Little Donkey some hay that had fallen on the ground and then stood there while the two stared at each other.  Eventually, Aero gave a little sigh, which I took as a sign of acceptance, but he still didn’t want to go within less than ten feet of Little Donkey.

That’s another day’s work.

(Thanks to webweaver.nu for the free dragon image)

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8 thoughts on “Aero’s Diary

  1. Val I totally agree, If someone told me a horse is "afraid of the whip, don't use one" it would raise a red flag for me and imply to me that the horse was given good reason to fear the whip in the past. However, this is not the case with Aero so it's very puzzling. I'm usually pretty aware of my posture when lunging, too, and despite his tension I have tried hard to keep my own tension levels down while working with him – successfully, I think, although maybe not?Anyway we are not in a hurry to go anywhere, it will take as long as it takes & we'll get there in the end

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  2. It sounds like you are making great progress with Aero. Riding in a saddle that makes you comfortable makes a huge difference. That was a good idea.Maybe it wasn't exactly the whip. Was your posture, eye contact, or hand/arm position different when you held the new whip? Maybe this is what set him off. I read that you have used one with him for years without a problem, so that is very odd.I feel that it is very important to lunge with a whip for effectiveness and safety. When I try a new horse and I am told that the horse is "afraid of the whip, don't use one" that is a red flag for me. There are usually obedience issues present. Horses can train people not to use whips very quickly. I do not necessarily think this is the case with Aero, but it is something to think about.

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  3. Flurry is being a saint, but I keep reminding myself that he was pretty full of himself when I started riding him here in January, and gave me a couple of heart-stopping moments. He's grown up since then!

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  4. Most of the time when I lunge Winston, the lunge whip just lays on the ground un-used. If he is wound up, he will use it as an excuse to buck and kick out and he's usually obedient so I don't pick it up. Once in awhile though, I use it. Flash had a similar reaction to Aero last time I lunged him and he's been lunged with a whip for the entire 16 years we've had him — never touched with it, of course. Strange. Very strange.

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  5. Funny how what we think are that littlest things can be so upsetting to a horse. Good thing you have Flurry, he sounds pretty sane with all these changes. Aero sure is giving you quite the run around! Glad you had some breakthroughs, though! It makes everything a little easier to handle 🙂

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  6. I think eventually Aero and the horse killer donkey will become good friends. Interesting about the lunge whip. We just never know what's going to set them off. Glad you worked through all his antics. Can't believe there is snow on the ground already. I'm not looking forward to that.

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