Hello, my friends,
I’m putting this out to you, looking for advice.
Recently, Raven has begun spooking at the southeast corner of the covered arena. That’s always been a spooky corner for many of the horses in the barn. But recently, Raven’s been over reacting to it. No matter if he’s being led, I’m riding him bareback, or Sue is riding him in a saddle, he will startle at the corner when he’s in it.
The weird thing, it doesn’t happen all the time. Like most startles, Raven will be fine four times and the fifth time he passes the corner, he’s jumping sideways. I’m amazed all over again at the fact that I’ve stayed aboard (bareback) every single time and I shouldn’t say this, because I may just be queering my luck. Knock wood!!
We’ve been doing a lot of work in that far end, these past few days. I rode him bareback the other day and perhaps it’s because there was were several horses in the arena at the same time, Raven was fine. Then several things came into play. A woman, new to us all, entered the arena with a mare who, her rider warned, could be a basket case in a new situation, so everyone, heads up.
At the same time, a very large mixed flock of starlings and red-winged blackbirds arrived and perched in the trees outside the arena. They made a hell of a racket.
Then, someone has been cutting trees in the forest, and from the sounds of it, chipping the slash with a chipper. If you’ve ever heard those things, they’re unnerving and loud. The tree cutters fired up their chipper, and it reverberated through the forest, off the hillsides and right into the arena.
Whatever, I began to realize that Raven was no longer listening to me. That fabulous mind connection we establish when I ride was gone and in its place was-nothing. As if a door had shut, I was no longer conversing with Raven. I was merely on the back of a horse who’s attention was elsewhere.
I rode him past the boogey corner and pffft——he leaped sideways. I’m always amazed at how fast he is despite his size. I was solid on his back so didn’t even come loose. His thoughts had scattered like so many quail.
We stood, looking out of the arena. I could feel his back coil up, preparing to jump again, and I reached down to stroke his neck and tell him it was okay. His back relaxed but he was still alert, ears pricked forward at….at WHAT?
When I felt it was safe, I got off and told Sue, “he’s not listening”. She took him, attached a lunge line to his headstall (no bit in his mouth these days) and began to walk him in a circle in the monster corner. But the walk wasn’t.
For the next twenty minutes, he was a basket case. Going into the corner he was fine, but then he’d bolt when he turned his back on the corner. If you can imagine the face of a clock, with the monster corner at six-he’d be fine walking clockwise from twelve to six, and then race like hell from six to twelve.
It was obvious that turning his back to the corner was frightening.
Yet none of the other horses paid any attention to the monster corner.
We gave him plenty of opportunity to stand and just look. He gazed out the arena, sometimes flinching…at what?? There’s twenty acres of open pasture between the arena and the road. I could see nothing but the occasional car going down the road.
Everyone else left the arena, and the chipper had shut down. Finally it was just us three again. The birds were still racketing, though, and I thought that perhaps he couldn’t hear what was going on for the birds. I’ve noticed that horses are far happier when they can hear what’s going on around them, which is why I don’t like the seemingly universal habit of playing a radio in the barn 24/7. I’ll shut the radio off and can see the horses in their boxes relax, because they can finally hear the outside world. But no one believes me when I say horses don’t need a radio, that they’re happier hearing the world. I had one woman tell me her mare needed a radio because ‘she’s afraid of crickets’.
Right. We don’t have many crickets in winter.
But I digress.
I usually don’t interfere with wildlife, but after telling Sue what I was going to do, I shouted at the birds. The starlings left and the red-wingeds shut up but didn’t leave.
After many minutes of Raven racing instead of trotting in a circle, Sue decided he was much too much horse to saddle and ride.
She led him to the corner and merely let him stand there. He snorted and flinched at times, but eventually calmed down.
Once he’d stood quietly for several minutes, we called it a day.
Since then, we’ve been doing a lot of work in that corner. I’ll sit in the corner with a handful of cookies, and Sue will ride in the middle of the arena, doing transitions, etc…and ride him to me, in the monster corner, where I feed him cookies and she lets him rest. As long as I’m sitting there, he’s fine. We’re trying to get him to associate the corner as being a Nice Place to Be. That corner means me feeding him cookies, him not having to work, him getting a chance to just stand and rubberneck.
Yesterday, despite the rain, I hand grazed him outside the arena, right next to the monster corner. He never turned a hair. No flinching, no startling, no fear.
So there is something IN the arena that is frightening him. I cannot, for the life of me, figure it out. No loose flapping anything, no electrical shocks coming through the ground from a shorted out electrical wire, no weird noises from the watering system. I even stomped around in the corner, wondering if there was something in the footing itself that upsets him.. Nichts, nein, nada.
If any of you have any idea what we can do, other than what we’re already doing, we’ll appreciate it.
Sue’s riding him today, but I’m home, as I realized that if I didn’t get SOME housework done, the dust ponies (they’re far too big to warrant calling them dust bunnies) will turn into dust elephants.