The Monster in the Corner

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.

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About subodai213

Retired U.N.C.L.E agent. Living in Laurasia.
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5 Responses to The Monster in the Corner

  1. subodai213 says:

    I won’t say he’s NOT spooking at the corner because we’re thinking he’s going to spook at the corner. Horses, as you are well aware, hear everything we think, and even on the ground, I’m always thinking of my safety. So you may be right, he may be reacting to us. He’s pretty sharp and very tuned in to both of us.
    Yesterday I wasn’t able to meet up with Sue and Raven, as I had other plans, but today, we had the freshly groomed arena to ourselves. Super Bowl Sunday, ya know…….anyway, Sue had worked him with an entire herd of folks in the arena and Raven pitched a fit about the whole situation in the arena.
    Mind you, this is VERY unlike him. Nothing really bothers him, which is why we’re at a loss to understand what it is in the corner that he’s reacting to.
    Today, it was just us three and he was completely blase about the corner. Sometimes horses get worse before they get better, and I’m thinking that is the case here. He was very very good. He didn’t even need cookies.
    The birds were back, but the chipper wasn’t operating, and, as I said, we had the place to ourselves.
    (what IS it about a freshly groomed arena that is just so………so enticing. Oh my gosh, that virginal footing…)
    So we’ll see.

    • Is Raven prone to being a bit cheeky at all? It sounds like he’s getting over the issue, and it could be just one of those things (I had an Arab who had an issue with one specific pothole for about 6 weeks and then it just went away, mad mare!), but it could be him taking advantage of there being a lot of horses in the arena and deliberately overreacting.

      They showed the Super Bowl over here for the first time ever last night, but I didn’t manage to stay awake because they were showing it live, which meant a 10.30pm start!

      I would kill for a nice arena right now; it’s been six months of solid rain over here and I don’t have anywhere to ride except the one field we have for the horses and out on the roads…the worst part is we can’t start work on the stable yard and future arena until it dries out a bit!

    • subodai213 says:

      Cheeky? No, Raven isn’t that. He’s a warmblood, meaning-he can be hardheaded at times, but there’s not a lick of mean in him. He’s not the type of horse to blow up solely to impress the fillies or the other geldings. He’s always been a rocksolid kind of guy, a horse who stands and looks at a Big Scary Thing before he reacts…which is why this sudden dismay over an IHEM (Invisible Horse Eating Monster) was so out of the blue. I believe you are correct, that he is getting over an issue, whatever it may have been. We are pretty supportive of him, he knows that when either Sue or I or both of us are around, that we’re going to protect him. He’s such a dollbaby at times…he’s trusting and kind. Holy cats, I love that horse.

      I know exactly what you mean about Arabs, “my” last horse (meaning I owned him and kept him here at my home) could be spooky. But I think that’s just Arab, if you know what I mean, they’re super aware and far more oh, what’s the term-personable than most other breeds. Jordan wasn’t a horse with a personality, he was a personality that just happened to be inside a horse.
      The Super Bowl is on par with your World Cup, but with deep layers of greed layered atop it. It’s money making. Nevertheless, my home state is pretty ecstatic right now, ‘our’ Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos, 43-8. That is a HUGE gap. I have to admit, the Seahawks played a very good game. They’re a tight team and worked like one.

      Oh, yes, the covered arena is so very very nice. We get rain for 9 months of the year, so a covered arena is a necessity if you want to ride at all during the winter.
      I’ve heard about your rains. I have to warn you, get used to it. Whether we like it or not, climate change is here to stay.

    • He sounds like an absolute sweetheart! Whatever it was, it does sound like he’s getting better about it. I took one of mine out in the wind today and she looked at EVERYTHING, which is fairly unusual for her.

      Perry (the Arab) was actually fairly bombproof for her breed, but she had unresolved saddle issues which I didn’t know about through inexperience and listening to the owner when I should have gone with my gut. Once she got over herself though, she was a lovely girl, mostly because she was far more cooperative than most other horses I’ve ended up with.

      I have to admit, I don’t watch sport very often and I’m more of a rugby girl than a football (soccer) girl but I understand the hype! Well done to the Seahawks, that is a great win!

      It’s the constant mud that wears me down; I have no problem with riding in the rain but round here it’s clay soil which is treacherously slippery when even a little damp and turns into a lethal bog when it’s saturated, which is what it is at the moment. As soon as my trailer’s in a fit state, I’ll be taking mine to my instructor, who has an arena but until then, I’m literally stuck in the mud! Even the roads are covered with a layer of mud!

  2. Perhaps he’s responding to unconscious tension from you about that corner? Maybe something was legitimately different about that corner originally (strange bird, gust of wind, something flappy etc) and the next time he was ridden past it he sensed your extra attention and reacted to that. Could it have been that his reaction to the new horse, woodchipper and birds etc, was a reaction to you imagining a reaction from him?

    I have a youngster who I’m working through some bucking problems with, and I know that I am a tense rider and I’m almost certain that her bucking is a reaction to my tensing up in open spaces/on grass/wherever I feel like things might get out of control (this is due to a combination of general anxiety and leftover paranoia from an accident I had a few years ago which left me on a crazed horse with no brakes) because of the first time she was ridden in an open space and wanted to test the boundaries.

    It sounds like you’re focusing a lot on that corner in particular, and while I’m not saying that he’s not spooking at it, have you tried completely ignoring it and everything he does around it? You know Raven best, and you know your riding, so feel free to tell me if I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I’ve always found that any suggestion is better than no suggestion at all.

    Great blog, BTW! I’m sorry about the essay, but horse behaviour tends to put me on a verbal express train!

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