February 13, 2012


My pony has a confidence problem.

As John put it today, he's so cocky out in the field, but put him in a situation in which he's remotely uncomfortable and he turns into a nervous, hyper-sensitive version of his normal self.  It's completely Jekyll  & Hyde, almost as if I had two different horses.  Even though he knows and trusts me, I still have to catch him both in the field and in his stall as if I were approaching my wild Mustang I trained in college, because a too-aggressive step forward on my part will make him throw his head up and roll his eyes white.  My trainer walking around in her long coat during a lesson causes him to curve his body away from her and give her the evil eye.  Austen walking toward him with a camera when we were stopped on the rail caused him to shake like a mountain lion was chasing him.

You get the point.

To work through this, I'm following a simple rule: never put him in a situation in which he will ultimately lose.  It may take him a little while to realize that there is a way to win, and that he will win, and it may be scary in the meantime, but in the end, I always want this horse to feel like he is the winner of any situation I put him into. 

Today, I took him to the little Dressage arena we have set up in the open grass field across the road from the barn and schooled him there.  After beginning with a spook at a Kildeer that flew up underneath us, he was on edge, so I put him to work, at the walk, entirely with things he is familiar with and good at already.  Halt-walk-halt transitions, shoulder-in on the straight, 20m circles, giving more on the inside rein.  I asked consistently and evenly, and watched his ears for a sign of life while I tried to gain his attention.  Finally, about 20 minutes into the ride, he flicked an ear back at me during a transition, and immediately became lighter in the bridle.  After another ten minutes of work in which he was about 75% focused on me, I called it a day, dismounted in the grass ring facing away from the barn, and led him across the street.  Can't be too predictable!

Just like the effort and practice we put into our figures and gaits inside the arena, his confidence is not going to come together overnight.  Only with many long hours of hacking, desensitization (to a point), and confidence-building situations will Connor begin to believe in himself.  In the end, though, even if it takes me years to have a pony that doesn't give the rearranged chairs in the corner of the arena a funny look every time we pass them, I would much rather have an overly-sensitive pony than an overly-dull pony.  I didn't purposely fall in love with the breed that breathes fire for nothing!

1 comment:

  1. Jen, I think overall he just needs time. He has had a pretty hectic life over the last few years. I don't know how much you believe in holistic remedies, but we used some bach flower remedies on our horses. The main one we use on us and the horses is called Rescue Remedy. It tastes awful, but works well. I use it for shows and it got me through college exams. Our holistic vet recommended it for when Roscoe gets gelded. The other remedy we used for Winston, who is our cowardly lion, is Rock Rose. It is for "Terror, panic-stricken: body trembling, cowers or runs away" That is from the bach flower website. We found that it helped Winston be calmer.
    There are so many bach flower remedies that you can look at and match to his specific needs. These tend not to be expensive, so are good for the budget and won't hurt him. Here is the address to the Pet Bach flower remedies:
    Just a thought.