What a hectic few weeks it has been! Since myself & Dante went to the beach a few weeks ago (read about it in our last blog post), he has been a NIGHTMARE. Dante was making it his job to try and take control of everything I tried asking him to do, it was like fighting a losing battle, and sometimes resulted in dangerous situations which could have caused serious injuries to myself & him. So I decided to nip his behaviour issues in the bud once & for all.
Below I have given a brief outline of our problems, what I did to help resolve them & what I will continue to do to get him back on track to where I want him to be.
Behaviour Issues – What was Dante actually doing
To put it simply, the beach blew the head off Dante! He got a taste of control & he did not want to let it go. Coming back to the yard after our beach ride I gave him two days off to settle thinking it was a once off and that he would be back to his normal self again. This was not the case. My first day back riding him I decided to take it easy. Accompanied by one other horse, I brought him out into the field, a place he really enjoys and generally tends to really relax in, but no, it was like being on the beach again. He was bunny hopping, rearing, leaping, shaking his head & charging. The same thing happened in the arena when I went to ride him, he was trying to take every bit of leverage from me that he could, and eventually it came to the stage where I had enough.
It is worth mentioning here that there was nothing hurting him. He wasn’t acting out because he was in pain. His teeth had been checked, his saddle fitted, no back problems he was a very happy horse on the ground it just would not translate up into riding.
I will admit that he began to freak me out a little when it came to riding him as I literally did not know what to expect. If I gave him any bit of freedom he would take it and run. So I began to think, what was I going to do? I considered giving up, what with us being in the late stages of his training. Was it really worth it? Should I continue to put myself in these situations with him? But…I wasn’t ready to give up.
So a decision was made, I was going to need help with him. As I am quite short I felt I didn’t have a strong presence on my 17.1hh (and still growing) horse. I’m also not exactly the fittest person in the world, but fortunately for me, I had a gentleman in the yard that had previously helped with Dante. I had asked him to sit up on him after all of his antics and he himself was as shocked by his behaviour as I was. With that he agreed to take him for the week to set about putting manners on him.
Days 1, 2 & 3
One of Dante’s biggest problems is getting him to accept contact, he is very resistant to it. So for the first two days he was kept to groundwork. He was long lined, then put onto the walker with breaking equipment on (roller, side reins, snaffle bridle), teaching him to carry himself properly and to keep moving forward as opposed to lifting and holding his head in the air .
Dante did not like being long-lined one bit, he went straight up in the air rearing in protest against it, and I mean full on rears – the boldness really came out in him. On the third day we saw some progress, he began to realise that fighting does not solve the problem, and he began to accept the contact and move forward with it. Which was the right direction we wanted him going in!
Day 4 & 5
After 3 days of groundwork, he was ridden on the fourth day. He was good to an extent. He needed a few smacks on the bum to correct some bad behaviour but then he started moving forward.
From watching him being ridden, I could see how much work he needed. He needed to be told that he was not the boss and he was not in control of situations. He was slowly beginning to get the idea and started to naturally work in an outline. Dante is very light in the hand so I always need to make sure I dont’ have too much of a strong contact. The key was pushing him forward from the leg and into the contact.
On the 5th day, Dante’s first 5 minutes of being ridden was amazing. He was beginning to naturally work in an outline and he was also jumped. Dante loves him jumping but he has a habit of rushing things and charging to fences, which either causes him to knock them or to just completely meet them incorrectly. He was soon put through his paces with jumping and a huge improvement was seen!
Overall it was great to watch such a talented rider on him. I have learned so much from just watching alone.
So as agreed at the start of the week, on the Saturday, which was the 6th day I would hop up and ride Dante myself to see what I thought. I did and I was in awe!! It was a total transformation, once I had him moving forward from the leg he would drop into an outline and really work himself, which he never did before. It was the start to our new chapter… or so I thought.
Progressing Forward – Don’t take the good days for Granted
After sitting on Dante, I was delighted with him. I couldn’t believe the transformation in him. So with that I gave him the Sunday off to recover from a hard weeks work.
Monday came along, and as agreed with Dante’s trainer, I would keep him in regular work to ensure he kept progressing. So I tacked him up and headed down to the arena. The first 15 minutes of our session were bliss, I was riding the horse I had ridden on Saturday. He was working forward, responding to my aids, working in an outline like I asked of him and then all of a sudden, his bad habits came creeping back.
The last 15 minutes of our session were a nightmare. He was cocking his head up, locking his jaw and taking off with the contact. So with that I got in contact with the gent who had been riding him, and he agreed to come and ride him the next day.
I had it in my head that I was the problem, I wasn’t strong enough for him, I wasn’t able to ride him but when he was ridden the following day by his trainer he acted the same. An hour was spent fighting and getting him to work forward but he wasn’t having any of it.
I was beginning to think if it was even worth it anymore! Should I put up with this behaviour or should I move on?
So the next few days he was put back into boot camp and the improvements were phenomenal. He just needed that extra bit of time.
Come the following Sunday, I had Dante back. From watching him over the last few days or two weeks should I say, the improvements in him were massive. It was like the pin had dropped, he finally realised he wouldn’t win if he kept fighting and fighting.
As he is such a big horse, and still quite gangly, I have taken the advice of my instructor and Dante’s trainer to ride him in draw reins. I know, some people might not agree with this method, but it is what he needs.
He is a completely different horse with them, and until he gets his balance & his co-ordination, I will take all the support that can help him!
As mentioned above, I will be more frequently riding Dante, as he needs regular exercise. Keeping him moving forward from the leg is key, and with myself, I hope to improve my fitness massively so that we can both work together. Its not just the horse that needs improvements!!
During the last week, Dante did a lot of grid work as well as jumping, so I will continue to do this kind of work with him. His grid work consisted of a lot of ground poles to help contain his long stride and to help him gather himself so I will definitely use plenty of those too.
Myself and Dante had a lesson with Sue Byrne and the difference in him from those two weeks in boot camp was out of this world!
It has been the best decision I have ever made for him. We can finally get stuff done in lessons without stopping half way trying to figure out why he does certain things, or why he wouldn’t listen to certain aids. I am forever grateful for all the help I have gotten (Jeremy & Joan, I’d say you are extremely happy to see the end of me and my camera!) if it wasn’t for your help I don’t know where I would be with him!
A huge thank you also to Sue Byrne, your words of wisdom keep me going, and our lunging lesson was just what we needed!
Keeping The Momentum – A few Things I will be doing to keep Dante on track:
- Lunging before riding – This will help to get rid of the fizz in him, Sue was kind enough to show me a few tips to help him in the lunge arena before we ride!
- Continue to long line him weekly, to ensure he keeps accepting the contact
- Forward Forward FORWARD!!! – keeping him moving from the leg
- Not being too severe on the mouth – he does not need a strong contact, as he is sensitive in the mouth
- Regular exercise, he will still have his day off, but he will be worked a lot more
- Jumping – More Grid work shall be done
- Kicking him on when he starts to act up, or when he starts to shake his head in protest of the work I want him to do