Saturday, January 02, 2010

Looking Forward

And Thinking Forward

As I sit here waiting for the dishwasher repairman to call to tell me he is on his way, I am thinking about my horses.

When I first got Toby, he was a willing learner, but he had a stubborn streak. To this day, I'm still not sure what is was all about as I've never really had any soundness problems with him and that includes back issues. We would have a series of really good days and then there would be a major meltdown when he would quit, buck, refuse to work--often leading to my dismounting and simply sitting at the side of the arena in tears. Eventually, I sent him for some short term training with Chris, my former trainer.

For the first few days, Toby was superstar and Chris was confused as to what the problem was. Then, finally, it happened to him too. Toby simply exploded in a training session and showed his temperament big time. I think now, knowing him as I do, that he falls prey to what I call "Thoroughbred sensory overload." For whatever reason, including being physically tired or sore, or mentally overstressed, he simply loses the plot. All reason, sense, and the ability to respond properly to the aids just vanishes. My Russell R. did that a few times, and my PJ would fall victim to it too. I have learned to sense when a meltdown is on the way, and I back off. That trail ride I took a few months ago, when I dismounted and simply led him home is a good example.

Chris's training, however, managed to convince Toby that the best response was always "Forward." When a horse is going forward, it becomes harder for him to lose focus, spook, buck, or get out of control....well, aside from the runaway. Nine times out of ten, if I get into a difficult situation with Toby, "Forward" will ride him through it. The difficulty starts when he reaches the point where he simply can't mentally go forward--which means things have already gone too far.

Tucker was, early on, always on the edge of a meltdown. "Forward" was not in his vocabulary except when he wanted to go. His response to being pushed was to buck, badly. I, of course, have since found out that much of this behavior was caused by ulcers. Nearly everytime he began to work, the stomach acid sloshed around and caused him serious pain. Once I treated him for the ulcers, his attitude changed dramatically, but, I fear, old habits die hard.

Those years of being ridden in meltdown mode had taught him some bad habits including challenging my aids to go in front of my leg. I've worked on it since, but we still don't have a "Forward" guarantee in our training package. I guess if there is one thing I need to concentrate on with him for 2010 it is to establish that for once and all.

Chance is naturally forward, but he does "work down" unlike my Throughbreds. The Thoroughbreds I have owned never quit. They would still show as much attitude and energy at the end of a ride as at the beginning. Chance, on the other hand, gets tired. At least, he loses his energy as he works, and "over relaxes." Fortunately, he has a very cooperative nature and will go if I urge him on. I think the key with him will be to make him light to the leg aids, and to make sure I do not nag him all the time to keep him going.

Of my three, Chance is probably the easiest to train. So far, everything has been very straightforward, and all the traditional rules seem to apply. I hope it stays that way as I would love to have a nice easy horse as I grow older. Tucker will still challenge me, Toby will remind me of what can be accomplished, and Chance will just be fun.

Not a bad little herd when I think about it.


  1. Anonymous12:23 PM

    I'm familiar with the TB meltdown - I think you're right about it being an overload issue. Thoughtful insights into your boys and how best to work with them.

  2. The longer we work with our little herds the more we get to know them. And the more we get to figure out each individuals personality and good points and bad. I think as long as we've got their personalities semi-figured out, working and training them should lead us to some interesting ways to get what we need to accomplish done.

  3. Anonymous7:04 PM

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  4. Interesting analysis. It is the first time I hear about TB meltdown, but then it is a breed which is not used here.
    Riding school in France have reformed Trotteur, who have a wonderful mental, they are after all warmbloods, show-jumping WB, or the anglo-arab, but they are very temperemantal, very few people actually have them. They need a fairly advanced rider.

    Here in Italy, it is mainly QH, or for the English ponies of unknown origin or German, Dutch, French or Italian WB. Out of 65 horses, we have 2 TBs both for hacking/trekking, that should tell you something ....

    TB have always had a bad rep, and simply are not used.
    I have to say that due of the TB's bad rep, and the few I know, I would prefer to buy an Arabian (endurance or racing bloodline) than a TB, they seem cleverer and better minded.

    But really this is just an impression.

  5. I love TBs. That's what my old mare was, and she was smart, forward, catty (in the sure-footed sense), athletic, and great to be around. She had a couple of peculiar habits, but that's what makes horses fun, I think.

    I'm catching up on a couple posts here, and I just wanted to say that I don't think you dissed TBs as a breed. Your boys are exceptional individuals. ;-)