Today I unearthed an issue from Phil's past that I had an inkling of, but didn't fully understand. More than once when I had been riding him he had taken off in fear. It was mostly when there was a lot going on, and I figured he was a little overstimulated and having a difficult time concentrating. Now I'm certain that it's a past trauma that is rearing it's ugly head.
During our ride today, there was nothing going on at the barn. He was the only horse in the arena, and it was pretty quiet. But he took off on me twice in a panic. The second time I realized what was going on. He had gotten a little quick at the canter, and I needed to take up on my reins. Both times he bolted it was because I raised my hands up, specifically my right hand. And when he took off, he wasn't bucking or spooking - he was running in fear, haunches tucked under and head high in the air, trying to get away from me.
When I finally got him stopped, I tested my theory. I simply raised my right hand up and forward and slightly out, towards the side of his head. He about jumped out of his skin trying to avoid the blow that he was sure was coming.
Someone has hit this horse in the head, with their right hand, while on his back. Maybe only once, maybe a lot, but I'm certain that he has been punished harshly by someones right hand in the direction of his head.
This makes me unbelievably sad.
Phil has done nothing but try with me. I can't believe that he's ever done anything to warrant such punishment. It makes me sad, and angry.
But that doesn't matter now. I can't change the past, but I can try and convince Phil that he can trust me not to bash him in the side of the head. I know there are going to be times when I'm riding and I'll need to adjust my reins or move my right hand. I can't have him bolting in fear every time this happens. We need to work on this.
The last ten minutes of our ride consisted of me moving my right hand up and out, him freaking out, and me patting him and telling him it would be okay. We started at the walk, in small circles, so I could control the bolting.
Let me just say at this point, that I've been bucked off of two horses who have bolted on me. Both wanted to dump me, and pulled some nasty moves to achieve this. I have a bit of fear about horses who bolt, but with Phil today I was sure that he wasn't trying to throw me in the dirt. He was just scared.
Anyhow, after some time at the walk with me raising my hand and him not reacting, I was able to move out to a 20 meter walk circle and have him be wary, but okay. Then we went to the trot. This was much harder on him, and me, but we were eventually able to get to the point where I could move my hand and he didn't bolt. I won't say that he was relaxed, but at least he wasn't reacting as much.
So now I'll be spending at least part of every ride waving my hands around. I know it will look silly, but this is something that I have to include in our training. I can't expect Phil to give me his best if he's afraid of getting punished in such an unjust manner. Time to build a lasting, trusting bond with this horse.
The Harmany Muzzle
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