The Lungeing Course for a Frantic Horse:
Anne and her mare Pia
Click here for the video of Anne and Pia
Pia is my heart horse. I never thought I would own a horse until I met her. I have been riding for twenty years now, starting at age eleven. I took regular lessons at a riding school with a medium amount of fun and responsibility.
Then came Pia. Her pretty name stands truly for “Pony In Action”. She was seven years old when I bought her. She had been a school horse in a riding club for three years. This job meant that she had to go in two to three lessons per day, and rarely got turned out. In summer, she was put out to a mini pasture for at most one to two hours a day.
When ridden in the indoor or outside Pia got hot – that is, fast. Her only way out of not understanding was flight. Even after the lesson was finished and she was supposed to relax in walk, she got faster and faster. Then she started trotting, ever faster, until she ended up galloping. Without a tight rein, she could not be kept at the walk. The decision was made to sell her.
I would have been inconsolable without her, so I bought her.
First Groundwork with Setbacks
I wanted to do everything right from the beginning. Even before I bought her, I started with simple leading exercises, basic stuff. Pia got really nervous even with walk – stop – walk – stop. She just could not understand and her “I don’t get what you want” always ended in a frenzy. She began to rear.
Pia’s move to another barn brought social contact and much more light, air, and turnout. In hindsight, the environmental change was less important than the right training method and calm and confident handling for turning her into a relaxed horse. However, it all works together and good horse keeping is a basic need. Due to her being so cooped up in the riding school, all environmental stimuli were too much for her. We began going for walks just around the barn. In the beginning less than a hundred yards from the stable, then ten more every day, then into the nearby woods. It was still a lot for her to handle after only seeing the insides of a small box stall and an indoor ring. We accomplished it only with a long lead rope, dressage whip, bridle, gloves, and Bachflower rescue remedy – for her and myself!
Many, many times Pia just raced around me at a canter, but today I can say that my perseverance was worth it. I constantly worked on my inner calm and praised her for every little success. When I found the online courses of Babette and Tania I was extra lucky that Babette gave clinics in person nearby several times a year.
First Clinic with Babette
We practiced intensely for our first clinic with Babette in March 2013. We could perform “leading in position” even in a new place, a success! Pia disliked having my hand directly on her nose from the beginning. She got tense and started nipping when she felt pressured or the task became too difficult.
During the first clinic she was confronted with dual-alleys made of blue and yellow beams. I tried to lunge her at close distance and she was totally overtaxed, jumping around me like a wild horse. I needed to learn to exhale despite my ambitions to help my girl become more at ease. We practiced on the lunge three to four times a week. I saw no improvement for weeks!
I did not get mad and I did not give up, I felt this was our only chance. Then, suddenly, three months after the clinic, Pia gave a positive answer to my beckoning on the short lunge: “Like this? This is what you want?” with a super nice soft bend. Heaven on earth!
From then on we could talk. With little misunderstandings, but Pia did not say “I don’t know what you want and I can’t do it anyway”, but instead “what should I do? Like this or like that?” Completely different work! I had followed Babette’s advice and used clicker training and food rewards when Lungeing. And I changed over to Babette’s cavesson which gave Pia a visibly better feeling and let me keep the softest possible connection. We took three clinics in 2013 and made great progress. We just became a better team.
Many Learning Goals
At the same time, it still made no sense to take Pia out on the trail. One little provocation was ok – one tractor, one biker. But one on top of another put her over threshold. Now Pia responded by rapidly going backwards. Loose rein, the other horses leaving or waiting, leg pressure – nothing helped. I could only lead her home. I knew this highly sensitive and frightened horse needed my help.
We went on more walks together, always new and different ways. I insisted on good behavior. Sometimes Pia was excited and tried to push me. I did not allow this and sent her to a proper distance. I also asked for many groundwork exercises on our walks, many of them suggested by Babette’s blog. I think I got many things right intuitively and slowly earned Pia’s trust. And she mine.
The following year we attended more clinics with Babette. The lungeing lessons and our talks gave me many great ideas for working at home in the next months. I remember how impressed I was when I saw another horse perform a beckoned travers along the rail. I wanted that, too. I worked diligently and got closer to that goal.
I became pregnant in late 2013 and decided not to ride on the trail anymore, but still rode indoors and did a lot of lungeing. We took two more clinics. Our connection became more stable, Pia more and more relaxed.
Of course, our old problems surfaced. Pia just does not like my hand directly on the cavesson. I am afraid I may have been too harsh occasionally. So we do it just a little bit and practice lowering the neck at the same time. I say “OOOOM”, massage her neck, and praise her extravagantly when she responds.
A year and a half after I started working with the Lungeing Course, I turned Pia out in the indoor. It was late and I did not have much time. I was about to send her off one more time when she offered a pretty volte around me with a full bend! I was surprised but praised her with a treat and asked again. The answer was genius! “Like that, right? Ok, no problem!” That was our first time at liberty!
We never really tried liberty. I was always a bit worried to be disappointed. But once I had it even for a few seconds, I was hooked. I began by setting up the “Square Volte” with the bands in the indoor and tried to free lunge, or better, navigate, Pia through it. Clicker training works really well here. Pia always had lots of ideas and she had learned that that was ok. Work at liberty turned out not to be difficult in combination with solid training on the lunge
Lifelong Learning with Pia
At the beginning of our work on the lunge Pia let me know when she thought she had done something well. She made this funny muttering sound, saying “told you so, I can do it”. Even today she does that when she thinks something was really hard. But she never says “no” or “I can’t” and that is just wonderful.
Last summer we started going back out on the trail. At first only with Pia’s paddock partner, now even with a group. It will be a while until she is truly relaxed, but the past years have shown me that anything is possible.
Thank you, Babette, for your support. Your course is fantastic for self-learning and the clinics are a great enhancement. We’ll be back, we have goals! How about travers at the canter? Or flying changes?
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