Monday, July 10, 2017

Dante’s “Problem” is Back

Dante’s “Problem” is Back

You may recall that last summer, Dante developed a “problem.”  He randomly did his business in the river for the first time--and terrified himself.  His typical prodigious amount caused a huge splash, and he bolted out of the water.

He managed to work it out by going on land, or on the islands that are part of a few of the river crossings.  

This spring, Ellen and I simply forgot about it.  He did his business wherever he felt like it, and we rode along in ignorant bliss.  That is, until he inadvertently did it in the water, again.  Ellen was unprepared, and he bolted out of the river.

This caused weeks of stress for Ellen.  She worried on every river crossing.  He went only 2 more times--only in the river.  (Successfully, because Ellen got him to stop.)  He used to go once or twice on a ride.  Now he usually waited until he got back to his stall.  Apparently, Dante was traumatized.

What saved him was he got into the habit of doing his business in his stall before the ride.  That way, he could go about an hour and a half and hold it.  

Then came the morning that he didn’t do it pre-ride.  It wasn’t that long of a ride, but by we got to cross the first river on the way home, Ellen was suspicious.  He refused to step into the water.  He would try to spin and head up the bank.  Ellen had me go first.  He didn’t want to follow and still continued to try to spin.  Finally, he succeeded in his spin and ran up the bank.  He adamantly refused to step down.  Ellen decided to take him across the ford.  Kevin was with her on Starry, so they went together.  I was already on the other side, waiting.

We now realized that the “problem” really was a problem.  As we headed home, we talked it over.  Since it was a lovely day and we had the time, we decided to pass up home and keep going at a walk--hoping he would do his business.  Then, Ellen could click him, treat him and praise him like crazy.

It took a long time, but the plan worked.  We were so happy.  Hopefully, it made an impact in his brain.

The next day, we planned a ride up to the show ring.  It is a longer ride and crosses the river at  different spot.  Once again, he didn’t do his business in his stall before the ride.

We had a lovely ride.  The weather was comfortable and there were hardly any bugs to pester us.  

On the way back, we arrived at the river.  This is the crossing that last year, Dante figured out that he could walk over to the island off to the left, do his business and then cross.  Ellen figured she would take him there, and hopefully he would remember.  I crossed to get out of the way.  Dante was happy to go down the bank and to the island.  There, Ellen waited and waited…

On the other side, I saw a group of four dragonflies that I never saw before.  I have developed a fascination for these amazing creatures over the last year or so.  When I am out and see a new one, I memorize the markings and head  home to check my dragonfly guide.  It is often hard to see the marking when they are flying around.  One of these guys landed on the ground, and I hopped off Cole to get a good look at him.  He was small, with a blue head and a blue tip on his tail.  His wings were clear.  (Turns out he was a blue fronted dancer.)

I looked over to Ellen, and she was still on the island.  She was getting frustrated and decided to try crossing.  As she walked off the island, he spun and ran back up the river bank.  I couldn’t see them, so I waited a few minutes and decided to ride back.  

Cole didn't mind going back across, because he was going to help Ellen.  I found her--stuck.  Dante wouldn’t move.  We discussed our options.  

We can cross on the ford, but the traffic was ridiculous.  There were so many cars and bikes--after all, it was a perfect day to be in the park--we really didn’t want to cross that way.  Besides, it wouldn’t be helping with the problem.  He would just hold everything in--and we still had to cross the river by the barn--where there was no ford that we ride over.

The other option was to cross the river.  I asked her to see if he would walk towards the bank now that Cole was here.  He took a step in the right direction.  That was hopeful.  Still, Ellen hesitated in making a decision.  I asked her if she wanted to switch horses.  This is a good crossing.  The bottom of the river is sand--or slippery slate--and Kevin had cleared all the rocks away.  If he bolted--he was just bolting.  Still, I didn’t want to deal with it any more than Ellen.  I was just less intimidated by it.

She said I could give it a try if I wanted.  I was going to march him down the bank and go straight across.  I braced myself to keep him off the island.  I thought he might get stuck on it.

My bracing did no good.  Dante is so strong.  He bullied his way to the island and marched down it.  It is just a narrow strip of shale that is about 15 feet long.  He went to the end, I turned him around and started bringing him back.  Before we got back--we had success!  My first thought was, “ I sure did get out of this easy!”  We were all happy.

He then willingly crossed the river.  Ellen, unfortunately had a bit of trouble with Cole.  For some reason that we haven't figured out, Cole gets stuck and backs up on her.  He never does that for me.  She worked him through that and then he tried spinning on the bank.  That is a problem I have with him.  He doesn’t like going down banks since the time when that mare freaked out on a bank right by him and terrified him.  

Dante and I were on the other side.  We got to watch Ellen ride Cole across the river; giving him a lecture.  Well at least we got both horses on the right side of the river-finally.

Dante’s “problem” has become a problem.  It wasn’t our imagination.  He is definitely reluctant to do his business on the trail because he is afraid he will suddenly get splashed.  Not only is he worried in the river, he doesn’t seem to understand that the way to avoid it isn’t to try to wait to get back to the barn, but to just do it on the trail.  

This is the weirdest thing we have ever heard, and we aren’t really sure what to do.  I will keep you updated.


KT said...

First time commenter (fellow Morgan owner). Do you do any "sponge" work like what endurance riders do? I would practice dangling a sponge in the water, giving him a nice cooling bath with it. As he gets better with it and the sponge is heavier you can get some pretty good "splashes" out of dropping it in the water.

Judi Daly said...

What a wonderful idea! A heavy, wet sponge would make the perfect plop. Thank you for the suggestion. I think it will help.

KT said...

Glad you like it! We all know that when you want to desensitize a horse, you need to recreate the circumstances. Hard to recreate a horse taking a ker-plop in the water! Dropping a big heavy sponge in the water should do the trick, though! Goodness knows, sponge training a horse is itself sometimes quite traumatic. I have a few friends whose horses always evacuate in the river by us, never thought about whether any of them might have issues with it. Best of luck!