Fight or Flight? Ike Says, “Run!”

Ike in the shade

So fall has really arrived here in Virginia.  Temperatures are cooler, humidity is lower, and you can hear acorns falling from the trees.  Leaves have a hint of fall colors. The crisp air seems to electrify the atmosphere for the horses and especially for my two. (No shock there.) The boys ramp up their gelding play – biting, kicking, running, and rearing are de rigueur.  As you try to lead them to and from their paddocks, you are either struggling to keep up with Ike’s walk or you try your best not to get run over by Cigar.  Cigar likes to demonstrate his piaffe ability if you make him slow down to walk with you; where was that skill when he was in work??

And riding can also become a bit more challenging when your horse is on edge and ready to make a run for it at any moment.  Five crows sent Ike into a tizzy earlier this week, and the invisible boogey man (or clown) had him ready to save himself yesterday.  He only saves me if I can stay astride.  Thankfully, my ability to keep my ass in the saddle has improved; perhaps it is the memory of the pain from my last fall.

But an amazing thing can happen if I can keep Ike calm and somewhat focused when he gets a bit agitated.  When the adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline start flowing, Ike feels like he grows another 6 inches in the withers as he sits on his hind end and prepares to run.  I relax my seat to sit deeper in the saddle; I exhale and shake my shoulders.  If I give a couple of meaningful and well-timed half halts, I have an upper level quality passage and a real collected trot.  Ike is through, connected, and using his back.  When I ask for a medium trot, Ike can answer. My ability to sit that trot is still in question.

This adrenaline-fueled horse can also perform walk-canter and canter-walk transitions with ease.  Since he is using his back correctly, we have more jump in our canter stride.  The only downside is that sometimes someone doesn’t want to slow down.

So now I ponder how to achieve this fear-motivated, connected feeling during my finals class…anyone have some pet crows that we can borrow next week?






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