Prophecy is proving to be difficult for me to figure out, so I got help. Saturday I took him to Practical Equine Training, who had been recommended to me by folks around here as one who has started many a good trail horse and makes sure you understand his methodology and develop the relationship needed with your horse (not just take, train and hand him back). We have talked on and off a few years now actually, as he was an option for helping me with Tesla's loading issues, and I had talked to him about Prophecy last fall when his head tossing issues came about (which were later attributed to saddle fit).
After much discussion, we decided to meet for a 1/2 day private lesson/clinic at this facility, which took place Saturday.
So much to tell...I'll start from the beginning, and I'm sure I'm still not going to capture it all!
I was feeling a little pressed to get to the barn and be loaded and on the road when I said I would be, and I was worried it would translate back to Prophecy for loading, especially because I forgot his peppermints! I managed to get hooked up and my stuff into the trailer quickly and did my best to be cool and collected going to catch and load. He was easy to catch, then I added his safety halter, gave him a dose of omeprazole and walked out to the trailer. He walked right on with me and hung out nicely as I chatted with one of the barn owners before heading out. We were even on the road a little early :)
The haul over was uneventful. He backed off the trailer nicely and then we turned him out the round pen to explore while David & I chatted and did some paperwork. He was his normal mouthy self, taking things off the rails and checking them out. David went in with him to do an assessment and noted how cool and calm Prophecy was there. He never tried to call to another horse, he wasn't racing the pen even when alone, and easily wanted to be with people when given the option.
Next he had me go in to see how we interacted. While he did pay attention to David, he noted that Prophecy was really fixed on me, so we do have a good bond. We worked on a few items that we had been having some mis-communication with during our own round pen sessions recently and David noted that Prophecy was "up" and Performance horse minded in working on it - like he has had it done way too much and it is very quick to react to cues. Prior training maybe?, I rarely get that side of him in the pen, he is more lazy than anything for me!
David's initial assessment - he could not see a reason or gap in training as to why Prophecy was acting out with me the way I had experienced at Blackwater and at the barn the week prior. He seemed very in control of himself, respectful and confident in the situation at hand.
Next was getting a saddle on and ready to ride. Prophecy's lack of comfort with the whole tacking up process showed true, which David said "shouldn't be there" at his age. My thought that it is related to being used often in bad fitting tack prior to me (as he always been tack shy since his arrival) was discussed and is a possible cause for his mental anguish on it. We quickly found out he is very flank & rear end sensitive, another "shouldn't be at this age." He's been tail clampy since I got him, but quickly warms up and loosens up (when it comes to grooming, massage, etc). He has never had a rear cinch on that I know of, nor saddle bags bouncing on a pad. That turned out to be way more than he could handle and he turned into a total rodeo horse bucking around the pen scaring himself. David noted that Prophecy really didn't like feeling this way, and his bucking continued longer than what is usually gotten out of an un-broke 3-4yr old.
He became comfortable moving to the right, but as not much so going to the left. Another contradiction according to his "handedness." We found no physical reason for the difficulties, he uses all areas of his body correctly and fully...maybe a mental block, maybe something physical we can't see. We saw this difficulty in movement later under saddle as well; being sticky when asked, taking more effort mentally for him to complete the request.
Here David is working with Prophecy to "let go" of his tension and anxiety over what just happened (the bucking).
He removed the saddle bags and asked him to move a bit more to realize they were gone. Then he moved on to spook in place lessons with a hula hoop and some pool noodles. You'll have to turn up the volume to hear David describe what he is looking for with the pool noodles. 1. Stop the feet 2. Face the item and 3. Look to the rider for help. Using the pool noodles is where we could see Prophecy would look to the other horses, instead of people, for help. The hula hoop lesson was a bit shorter a process to get him coming to David.
Then it finally came time for David to ride. You can see some of the head flinging in the video when asked to do something that isn't his idea.
And then it was my turn to ride (no pictures!). We worked on shoulder and hip control, so that in the future I can disengage a meltdown or speed increase, and get his focus back on me without him being able to buck or rear.
Loading again went easily to go home and we arrived back to barn just as it was getting dark, so I tied him to the post while I went to fetch his dinner. He promptly untied himself and went back to his pasture area and munching grass outside the gate. I think he was done! He gobbled up dinner, drank some water, and then wandered off with Ransom.
So what did we learn in the ~4 hours:
I'd say he has quite a bit of emotional baggage to work through.
- David considered Prophecy a horse with "Performance Anxiety". He tries to anticipate your request and gets very frustrated and antsy when he doesn't do that correctly, or doesn't understand the request. The more harshly you ask, the more upset he gets.
- While he is a fairly confident horse, he is hiding the side of himself that is very insecure. He is currently Alpha in his pasture of 2 (sometimes 3), but would likely benefit from another horse taking this role from him. I'm actually hopeful this will happen with the new boarding horses coming this weekend (which includes a mare) without too much drama.
- He may have never experienced that deep bond with a human that allows him to turn to people instead of himself; Or quite possibly in the "lost time" where I don't know how he was treated or ridden, things happened to make him turn back in on himself.
- Soft and slow... While I am not heavy handed, I need to learn to be even softer with my requests and just wait for the response. If he doesn't get it, walk out of it and try again.
- He really does want to GO...but he needs to learn control. We're betting a few trips to Graves will teach him that he doesn't know how long a ride is going to be will help that.
So where do I go from here?
1. Looks like back to some basics - getting him more desensitized to the saddle pad and things on his flanks. My saddle, pad and saddle bag do not have the same contact area as made him meltdown, but still a necessary step to get him tacking up more comfortably.
2. A little bit of round pen work to clean up the areas I have trouble with (being careful not to overdo it), and a bit of walking in the arena to fine tune his shoulder and hip control maneuvers so that I can ask very lightly and get the disengagement I need before moving it up to more speed.
3. Some trail rides...hopefully meeting up with David again to see how it does with just one other horse off the farm. While Prophecy did occasionally look to horses at the facility for help, it was an unsuccessful endeavor getting him to hook on to another horse at Blackwater and get us back on track for the intro ride, so he still may rely on himself.
4. I plan to continue treating him for ulcers for a month as we work on the above. Possibly look at a Lyme test with spring vet appointment to see if that is a cause of the hypersensitivity on the flanks, and plan to have him adjusted April or May by the osteopath as we see how things progress.
Well that was quite a loaded post that took me a few days to write... tonight I'll be heading out to see him again and clean up some of the mess I left in my trailer after dark :P We have the BOT back pad to try out, which will be a good desensitizing tool as well as a relaxing tool. Since it rained last night I'm sure he'll need a good grooming to get rid of the mud and shedding hair too!