Days 48-54 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Week of May 25th – I have a funny story to tell about Phil this week. I am back teaching this summer semester, so Dan is feeding again in the mornings I teach. Dan told me that he poured Phil’s feed and headed to the gate without giving Phil the ritual head rub. Dan said Phil kept dancing around in front of him as he headed to the gate. He thought Phil was acting really strange until it dawned on him Phil was looking for his head rub. Dan rubbed Phil’s head and Phil trotted off to his feed.

Like many OTTBs our horses thrive on a constant routine.
We must always hold up our end of the bargain.

Emergency dismount.
This week I worked on the emergency dismount. If you ride, you are going to have a fall. It happens to everyone, eventually. A fall doesn’t have to be scary or dangerous if you have taught yourself and your horse what to do in such a situation. You may be jolted out of your seat by a few rough strides, your horse may trip, you may have a sudden sliding stop due to a terrifying, horse-eating monster (possibly a rabbit or a bird, or a flapping plastic bag). The last thing I want to do is scare Phil, have Phil trample me, or have to go catch him after a jolting fall. So, I am going to give myself a plan and desensitize Phil to me jumping off his back. Ultimately, I am going to teach him to stop if I ever fall off.

Safety First.
There are several safety measures you can take, to minimize the effect of any fall. You always must wear a helmet; you don’t know when you are going to fall, and you don’t have enough time to zip over to the tack room and grab your helmet on the way down. You may feel dorky wearing a helmet, but think how much more dorky it would feel to wear a wheelchair. I will tell you I was once bucked off so hard by a youngster that my helmet cracked when I hit the soft grass. Food for thought.

This lesson was to benefit the both of us. I wanted to teach Phil that if I ever fell off he is to stop. It was also important to desensitize Phil to me coming out of the saddle. Starting with ground work I asked Phil if he was ready and his ear on me and quick responses to my requests told me he was ready to get to work. Using the haltermore (I didn’t want to risk pulling at his mouth) and riding bareback I practiced a dismount off the right and left sides at a stand still. Phil doesn’t seem bothered by this. I dismounted at a walk and then a trot. Phil was somewhat bothered by me swinging off at the trot on the right side. This may be because I was uncoordinated dismounting off the right side. I need more practice; Phil was fine. Each time I dismounted I said “Whoa.” I used the mecate that was tucked in my belt loop to back him once I was on the ground if he didn’t come to a complete halt. Once he halted he immediately got a release.

Leading without a halter or lead rope. Phil is now leading to and from his pasture and the barn without a halter or lead rope. I am looping the lead around his neck, but will eventually not even use the lead. Phil will eagerly follow me without me holding on to the lead. The lead is just a prop. Watch a herd follow the Alpha mare and you will see them follow her without asking any questions.

More ground work.
I introduced Phil to a new ground work exercise. I put the lead rope around his hips. I pulled the rope until it disengaged his hindquarters and Phil moved around 180 degrees facing me. He was very worried about the rope behind him. I observed this “hole” and went back a few lessons to desensitize him to the rope behind his hocks and hips. This is a good example of how I started with a planned lesson on disengaging the hindquarters and ended up going back a few lessons to basic desensitizing based on Phil’s behavior. This is what I call student directed learning. Phil told me he was not ready to move on and needed a refresher on rope desensitizing. I reviewed our previous lessons of tossing the rope over his back, shoulder, and head. I ended the lesson when Phil stood relaxed with a cocked hind foot. It was a good confidence builder for him.

Riding lesson.
My 10 year old daughter, Paige, rode Phil in a lesson this week (see pictures) She walked, trotted, cantered, and jumped some 18” crossrails during her lesson. Phil took both his leads correctly for Paige. I was impressed.