Sunday, July 11, 2010

The second buck's the (bad luck) charm

I had the WORST trail ride EVER this morning, and by the title you can probably guess why.

It should have been an awesome trail ride. We went out early, and neither the bugs or the heat were too bad yet. There were five of us: Panama's buddy Voodoo and his owner, his loved-from-afar girlfriend Flash and her owner, and Windy and her two owners (the husband on a borrowed horse, Pawnee).

We didn't go very far before I got my first taste of the mood Panama was in. I noticed early on that Panama suddenly became very aware of Voodoo behind him. He was trying to crawl up Pawnee's butt, and kept turning his head and flicking his ears back to look and listen to Voodoo.

About ten minutes out, completely without warning, Panama stopped dead in his tracks — and started bucking! The first buck caught me off guard, and I lost my balance. I grabbed onto his neck, and probably could have pushed myself back into the saddle, if he hadn't bucked again. I don't remember feeling the buck that did me in, but he must have bucked, because do remember somersaulting. I landed some distance away from where he was — placidly eating grass, when I got up.

I was okay, but unfortunately, my friend (Voodoo's owner) had gotten kicked in the ankle. She said she was fine, though, and we kept going.

As we continued on, it became clear that Panama was ANGRY about something — something to do with Voodoo. Once, Voodoo was nowhere near his rear end, but Panama turned around and tried to back into Voodoo to kick him. A few circles and a boot in the ribs cured him of that notion, but he kept trying. Only when we took the lead, and Pawnee followed behind us, was Panama (relatively) calm.

The rest of the trail was nerve wracking — I could feel Panama's anger and anxiety simmering just below the surface, even when he wasn't trying to kick his friend — but we crossed the creek twice and a ditch once, and led quite a bit of the way.

The second creek crossing was pandemonium, though: I didn't want to cross with Voodoo and my friend, because of the way Panama was acting, so we were going to wait with a couple other horses while Pawnee and her rider took Flash and her owner across — Flash has been having problems with stream crossings. I didn't think that was a good arrangement, but I didn't feel like I had much of a choice. It didn't seem like anyone else was getting it — that Panama couldn't be with Voodoo, for whatever reason.

Anyway, Panama was happily munching on grass when he realized Pawnee was starting across the creek without him. In his panic, he jumped down the embankment onto the beach, shoved right past Windy, and inserted himself right behind Pawnee. And I just came along for the ride, because nothing I was doing had any effect on him, whatsoever.

After that we went along pretty smoothly for a little bit. We came to the public arena, which was essentially on the way back to the barn, but the others were talking about going on. "I need to go back," I said. We were just barely holding it together and I knew to go on an even longer ride could be disastrous.

"All right, we're going to keep going!" the others said brightly. I was dumbfounded. They were going to leave me, after how Panama had been acting?

My friend, Voodoo's owner, said she'd go back with me. I thanked her with some trepidation, since I knew Panama probably wouldn't react well to all the others going off and leaving him with his nemesis.

Sure enough, soon as they left he started flipping out again. He was trying to back up to Voodoo from practically 30 feet away, so intent was he on kicking poor Voo. I told my friend I wanted to take him into the public arena to ride him for a bit until he stopped thinking about the other horses having left, but Panama was shying at the fence (which is different than any other fence he's ever seen) and the bottleneck created by the arena and the hitching post and sign.

I kept trying to make him walk into that bottleneck, and for a moment it seemed like he would; then suddenly, unexpectedly, he shied hard to the left and took off, and I simply fell to the right. I was in such disbelieve as I fell: Twice in one ride! I jumped up and saw Panama standing at the top of a hill, perhaps 50 feet away, so I called to him. He stood there, facing away, looking at me over his shoulder for a long moment — and then ran off. It was so clearly a "Screw you, Mom," look.

One of the wranglers from the riding stables was leading a small group past when I fell, so he helped me find Panama (who, naturally, led me on a merry goose chase through thistles and weeds taller than my head). When I finally caught up to him, saying hi to the riding stables' horses over the pasture fence, he came right up to me. It would be his one act of contrition that entire morning.

The wrangler asked if I needed anything else, and I asked if someone could go with us back to the barn, as I was very worried about how Panama would behave if left alone with Voodoo again. He asked another wrangler to go with us, and we went back to collect Voodoo and his rider.

The wrangler tried to take the lead, but Panama quickly passed him by cutting off the trail, even though that meant stumbling through an invisible ditch and cantering up the hill to get in front. I confess that by that point I was just done — I just wanted to get back in one piece, and figured I could ride some sense into him in the arena once we got there. Luckily he was fine once he was in front, and led all the way back, with the wrangler between him and Voodoo.

When we got back to the barn, I took him right into the arena and rode for quite a while, but Panama calmed down only marginally. He rushed through everything, clearly wanting just to go back to his corral. I was getting frazzled, and even though he wasn't lame, I was also worried that he might have hurt himself falling into the ditch and that was why he was so anxious to rush through everything. In the end, I accepted the first good behavior he threw my way (not rushing the trot down the long side of the arena), made him do the same in the other direction, and then called it a day.

It has been so long since I've had a frustrating ride that I'd almost forgotten what it feels like — not that I've ever had one this bad. I have no idea where any of this came from — Voodoo is his friend, for heaven's sake, not to mention on Friday he was being so good that we practiced jumping. I'm anxious for tomorrow — I plan to get out there before our Monday-Wednesday trail riding buddies arrive, and ride him in the arena for a bit beforehand. If I can be sure he is going to behave himself, I'd really like a positive trail experience to remind him that he likes this stuff normally.


At July 11, 2010 at 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone has days like this - it sounds like he's got some sort of problem with Voodoo. Odd behavior - maybe they got into trouble when you weren't there. Hope things improve for the next ride.

At July 11, 2010 at 9:10 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

What's really strange about it -- and I think I forgot to mention -- is that we went for a trail ride with Voodoo and his owner just last Sunday, and they were fine together! We've ridden with Voo several times, and we turn them out to play together occasionally too, so I can't figure out why Panama would be so angry at him. Their corrals are totally separated from one another so they don't have any contact except when we put them together.

At July 11, 2010 at 9:33 PM, Blogger Sydney_bitless said...

I can sympathize as Indigo used to do the same thing. Kicking at other horses got her a) if I could not work her a good smack by me and a yell that startled her into paying attention or b) lots and lots of work. For instance if a horse cantered by and we were in an arena and she made a face or kicked out we would trot and canter for 10 minutes until she was good and tired then rinse, repeat etc.
Panama kicking at his buddy also reminded me of last year at the santa claus parade in town Indigo was wired for sound. She seriously was all over the place. When we were done she was so stressed at the trailer she was randomly kicking out. WAY out of character if you know her. She was kicking at Sheba, her pasture buddy and boss and just brushed my dad's coat (he was between them helping me un-harness sheba) who promptly turned around and gave her a what for. She stood stock still after that one.
Sounds like Panama could benefit from playing leap frog. Leap frog you start with three or more horses and you call out before you move. You can stop your horse and let the ones(one or two or more) pass and either take another middle position or the back. Then you again, as you call out to warn other riders either trot or canter and take a position further to the front or the front. Have all the riders do this. Eventually your horse will not care if a horse runs ahead or if he/she is anyplace in the pack. Works like a charm.

At July 11, 2010 at 9:54 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Sydney, sadly, there wasn't much I could do to discipline that kick as I was flying through the air! LOL But the next time he tried it, I circled it and let him know it wasn't okay. Cantering or working on the trail isn't an option for us, but a tight circle or two usually gets my point across. Since he's never done it before, EVER, and they are normally buddies, I'm thinking that should be enough. I don't think he's turning into a kicker, since he didn't care about anyone else being behind him -- I think Voodoo just did something that none of us two-leggeds picked up on, and it was making Panama mad. I'm just dumbfounded as to what it was.

As for leap frog -- yes, my usual trail buddies and I have been talking about playing that game, but the last few trail rides there hasn't been an opportunity. I'd rather set him up for success and play that game on a good day... and we haven't had one of those (at least not on the trail) in about a week. But maybe tomorrow!

At July 11, 2010 at 10:38 PM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

People are always saying that horses can't reason or feel the same emotions as we do, but I know horses can get into spats and hold grudges. It sounds like Panama's relationship with the other horses is becoming more important to him than his relationship with you, kind of like how teenagers start giving in to peer pressure instead of listening to their parents. I would remove him from group trail rides and go out alone for a while to bring his focus back on you.

People have commented or hinted that it is better to ride alone. I can see how the herd dynamic can interfere with your ride. You must be made of rubber with all the falls you've bounced back from, cowgirl.

At July 11, 2010 at 11:07 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

I am fairly certain Panama won't do well alone. I've been meaning to take him out just a little ways and see, gradually lengthening the distance with each ride, but I haven't started working on that yet.

I do know that I don't want to give up the group rides if I don't have to. I'm going to see how Panama does with a few more rides before making any decisions about that. I'm hoping he just had a few bad days, and it will pass.


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