Not exactly riding off into the sunset just yet

In a previous post, Best Laid Plans, I wrote about taking my horses over to a friend’s property to ride with the hopes of eventually getting out onto her trail system. I also wrote about a day when my other horse, Bear, refused to load on the day of a planned follow-up field trip. I thought I’d give an update here on what we’ve been doing since in regard to working on trail loading and resuming our away-from-home trips.

First, if you need to catch up, you can read the above referenced previous post at https://thebackyardhorseblog.com/2021/06/07/the-best-laid-plans/.

Second, here we go with the update . . .

For inquiring minds who want to know, I DID eventually get Bear to load later that same morning after I canceled the follow-up trip to my friend’s property. As for Shiloh, he was willing that first morning to load but only if I led him in. So besides practicing with Bear, I also practiced self-loading with Shiloh.

In light of the earlier-in-the-day snaffu, though, I decided to leave the trailer hooked up and practiced loading the next morning and the next afternoon without actually taking the horses anywhere. By the second day, both horses were self-loading smoothly.

I had to wait another week to plan a second trip to my friend’s place. On the day of that trip, the previous week’s loading practice seemed to help. Both horses self-loaded well.

While I did ride Shiloh once there, we unfortunately did not get out on the trails that trip either. Both my horses were quite nervous about separating.

I rode Shiloh while Bear stayed in a stall like last time with another horse in the barn. Shiloh seemed especially undone by Bear’s anxious energy in a way that he wasn’t during the previous trip.

In doing groundwork with Shiloh prior to the ride, he wasn’t leaping through the air, but he wasn’t paying attention to me that well either. He was looking around a lot and calling out to Bear.

I felt comfortable enough riding Shiloh in my friend’s arena, but I like a horse to be pretty “with me” before we go on a trail system where their attention and obedience to aids is arguably more critical than when riding in an arena.

So long story short, there was no trail riding for us on that day either. Here we are looking out towards the trails where we have yet to go together. The next photo is us riding with my ever-patient friend in her arena instead of the woods.

The following week, I brought my horses over for a ride at the training/boarding/lesson barn that is closest to my property.

The horses hadn’t been back there since April. I absolutely love riding on their outdoor track system. Great place to practice Shiloh’s gaiting.

Unfortunately, the horses’ distress at being separated, even when they could see each other, was obvious.

The barn owner noted that both horses acted quite differently than when they were there in April. Bear was much more “pumped.” Shiloh would periodically call out to Bear, especially when Bear was later taken from the round pen to the indoor arena while I stayed outside with Shiloh.

Photo here of Bear in roundpen. Instead of taking the opportunity for some unmuzzled grazing, he is looking out anxiously. One red arrow points to Bear in the roundpen while the other red arrow points to the indoor arena.

Shiloh all the while was rideable for me, but his attention flipped between what we are working on and anxiety about “where in the world did Bear go” as he periodically looked around and called out.

Here Shiloh is back at the trailer after our ride while Bear is still in the barn. Shiloh is sufficiently tired at this point to not care quite as much about where is Bear. Fun fact- All that hay was not there when we pulled in. It’s not my hay, of course, but I still think it’s a beautiful sight to see all that horse food.

Then last week, I took the horses back over to the nearby barn. For that visit, both horses were much more calm and quiet. I think I heard Bear call out only once. Shiloh never responded. Shiloh and I had a nice ride around the outdoor track, enjoying a day of unseasonably cool weather.

Fortunately at home so far, my separating the horses is not a problem. I can take Shiloh out into my round pen or down into my south pasture without him getting upset. I am grateful for that.

But clearly, something has definitely changed in their insecurity regarding being separated when we are off the property. I am guessing the horses may continue to cycle between feeling okay about being apart and feeling quite insecure. This makes me think I am not getting out on any trails anytime soon. No riding Shiloh off into a sunset on the trails just yet.

I’ve known that keeping just two horses together long enough runs the risk of developing buddy sour problems. And I have been looking for a third horse since last year (that’s not guaranteed to solve the problem but it would allow me to leave Bear at home with companionship so I’d only take one horse with me on my field trips, whether Shiloh or the new horse).

Considering it took me about two years to find Shiloh, I am doubting a new horse will appear anytime soon. Stranger things have happened, but it has gotten weirdly difficult for me to find the type of horse I want, in a location close to me, in a price range I can afford.

In the mean time, this issue of separation anxiety gives me the opportunity to expand my horsemanship skills. I know a better horseman would do a better job at keeping Shiloh so focused that he wouldn’t even think about Bear.

But . . . I seriously struggle in that area. I always have. Probably always will. Doesn’t mean there’s no hope for improvement. But it’s a definite challenge for me.

It is an ongoing area of work that I am willing to tackle so long as the horses and I can remain safe while doing so. I may have to cry uncle at some point if their anxiety causes their behavior to get completely beyond my skill set, but we are not there just yet. So I want to keep trying, at least up to the point where the risk to me or the horses seems unreasonable.

One of my favorite horse professionals, Anna Blake, wrote a recent post “Calming Signals: Planning For Stress” on her blog Relaxed and Forward. I thought her words were particularly applicable to this situation of mine.

I will end this post with a quote from Anna’s post, in case any other readers who might struggle with certain aspects of horsemanship might also take fortitude from Anna’s words.

“Horses and humans both feel stress as a natural response, but humans have more choice about our response . . . The world will always be chaotic. We will always face the things we never saw before, and we cannot desensitize our horses or ourselves to life. We can learn to lay down our natural leaning toward dread and train ourselves to say yes. To become the sort of human a horse can rely on. They say horses make us better people, but the work is ours to do.”

From Anna Blake’s “Calming Signals: Planning For Stress” post on 6/18/21 from her blog “Relaxed and Forward” at http://www.annablake.com

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