Piper Update

After announcing the latest horse addition to my backyard at https://thebackyardhorseblog.com/2021/09/29/welcome-piper/, I thought I’d do a Piper update for today’s post.

Piper continues his process of settling into his new life. But no mistaking it. Transitions are difficult. It really is a tall ask to take a horse from all he has known and expect him to function well in a totally new environment.

I couldn’t miss the initial signs of anxiety in Piper. Constant pacing along the paddock fence line. Aggression towards the other horses at feeding time. Tension about being handled and ridden.

Now that a month has gone by, I am seeing signs that Piper’s tension is dissipating, although not completely gone. Despite that, he hasn’t done anything terrible through all we’ve done together- groundwork, riding, trailering three times and two farrier visits (I had his hind shoes removed before I put him in with Bear and Shiloh and then his front shoes removed more recently).

We completed ten rides to date. Mostly in my home round pen, but also in my open pasture as well as in the indoor arena and on the outdoor track at a nearby barn. Short rides practicing basic transitions, turns and crossing ground poles. Just trying to get the feel of each other.

He may be twenty-years-old with plenty of training, but we do have some things to work out between us. I am quite different from his long-time former owner in almost every way. A person that Piper really seemed to like. It’s actually one of the reasons I did not go through with Piper’s sale the first time. I had my doubts about how Piper, a bold- energetic- forward horse (even at age twenty), would adjust to my own skill level, confidence and demeanor.

But maybe I wasn’t extending Piper enough credit. I’m already seeing improvement in some of the areas that proved initially challenging. For example, he is now moving out of my space when I enter the paddock with hay or the ration balancer pellets as opposed to running at me when he sees me coming.

Piper is also improving at standing and growing roots at the mounting block, but we still have a ways to go. His former person was much taller and mounted easily from the ground. I remember when I test-drove Piper that I had to use an overturned bucket as his owner did not have a mounting block on hand. All that to say, Piper may not have had much previous exposure to mounting blocks.

He is showing more relaxation at the block than he used to, but I’m still having to channel my inner gymnast to get in the saddle more frequently than I’d like. This video clip shows one of those moments.

As far as Bear and Shiloh go, Piper quickly established himself as herd leader. That hasn’t changed. But I see much less of the resource guarding behavior that I imagine was related to his anxiety about being in a new place.

At first, Piper seemed bound and determined to guard every hay pile, even when I spread them out across the pasture. He completely blocked Bear and Shiloh’s use of the run in shed. During nap time, Piper would run them off the good patches of shade that appear in the pasture at different times of the day. Bear and Shiloh got a lot of exercise. Shiloh even ended up with three small bite marks on his rear end, likely when he didn’t move fast enough out of Piper’s way.

I contemplated separating the horses permanently with electric tape as I had when Piper first arrived, dividing the run in shed down the middle or buying a second run in shed. The herd dynamics have fortunately now improved enough for me to put that idea aside for the time being.

Moving forward with Piper, I am trying to find the right tack for us. You may notice several wardrobe changes in this post’s photos. Piper is croup high, with some muscle wasting behind his shoulders and well-sprung ribs. Saddle fitting is proving challenging (I’ve tried four saddles so far- some fit better than others- but I’m still looking for other options). He is also quite sensitive to rein contact so I’ve been changing out bits and reins to try to find the best combo.

I also suspect that conformationally croup high combined with some mental tension and his sensitivity level to rein contact leads to moments where I inspire him to end up leaving hind legs out behind him, curling behind the bit and dropping way onto the forehand as opposed to keeping a more level balance (you can see the contrast in the two photos below). Using my rudimentary dressage understanding, I hope to improve on these areas as we find some mental relaxation and a healthier physical balancing point between us. I am interested to see where Piper and I can go from here.