What is it about fences?

Midas is a foxhunter. Though, he hasn’t gone much in the past 4 years. The hunt he typically goes out with isn’t really a break-neck crazy crew. They jump teeny logs at a run through the woods, sure, but if they come up to anything remotely serious they stop and going over one at a time in a pretty orderly fashion.

Midas is fully capable of jumping big fences from a trot.

But when we first started popping him over tiny jumps he charged them. Like, itsy bitsy x rails and he would launch at them from several strides away and hurl himself over, often bucking on the other side. I noticed that he often bucked after hopping logs, too.

It could just be exuberance.

We spent two summers casually sneaking in work over small jumps, endeavoring to teach Midas that jumps are casual affairs. No charging necessary or desired. Last year the fruits of that labor really started to show, we could randomly and casually take a little bounce that was set up in a corner of the ring. Midas would ride up like a gentleman, own the bounce in style, and canter out slowly. He was happy, we were happy.


Well, then we upped the anti–maybe too much?–with that little jumper show. We schooled pretty hard for it in the few days beforehand, and then had a very exciting little show. In which Midas owned the trotted x rails with only a little nervous rushing, and then we had a disaster on the 2′ fences, and then we came back and jumped individual fences quietly, but didn’t even remotely mess with doing a course.

Now, in the midst of prep for the show my trainer asked me to pick up canter with the intent to canter jump. Midas did something he hasn’t done at home with me–ever–and gave a genuine buck and took off. He didn’t get far, I stopped him, and then we had a nice obedient canter depart and left cantering fences for a different day.

By the end of the lesson he was being a serious champ about trotting whatever combination I asked of him. Even some with tricky steering.

So, at the show, he kind of ducked and crow hopped after almost every 2′ fence. Except fence 4, which according to the trainer there was an inviting fence–and fence 5, which was the first of a simple line that had three canter strides between 5 and 6. Well, shame on me, I didn’t sit up enough for those canter strides, got jumped out of the tack on 6 and this time fell off when he did his duck and crow hop routine.

Then we had digging out to do in the warm up, and it didn’t occur to me until too late today that Midas hasn’t jumped a combination since then. I’ve been traveling, we’ve had visitors, and I felt like I had a bit of sweeping up to do to remind him of all the things that haven’t changed.

The Ham was riding Midas today–the Ham is 17, and has been riding with me for 6 years, much of that time on Midas. He went to pop over the teeny tiny x rail in and out. Shouldn’t have been a big deal. Two months ago I don’t think it would have been a big deal. Might be wrong, but…

The ride, up until the moment he pointed Midas at the combination, had been exceptionally quiet and easy going. But Midas launched himself at the first x rail and then lurched sideways–running out from the second fence and making for the gate.

The Ham rode the run-out fine, but the saddle slipped onto Midas’s side and the poor Ham was dumped roughly on his back.

Midas stopped a few feet away and stood like a statue. He didn’t move a muscle and starred at the Ham as the poor guy struggled to catch the wind that had been knocked out of him. Once the Ham was on his feet again I went to Midas, who continued to stand so still that I was afraid he was hurt. I checked him over. Nothing that I could see.

I fixed the saddle, tightened the girth, led him to the mounting block and got on. He felt sound but hesitant. Like he expected something bad to happen. We did some transitions up and down, he wasn’t wound up, but rather hesitant and almost nervous.

We went to grassy area with the teensy x rails and walked around them. He was nervous again–now Midas’s nerves do not mean skittishness and shying generally, Midas nerves mean head up and charging. We walked over the tiny jumps, threw in some trot transitions. Each time he would seize up and get tense, and I’d have him walk again. I had the Ham put the tiny x rails down to poles and we walked and trotted over those both ways, then he put one up to an x rail and we walked and trotted that a couple times.

Midas would start to tense, then listen when I soothed him. He trotted the solitary x rail reasonably, even if he needed to be ridden up to the base as if it were a big scary jump.

Then the Ham got back on, good man, and basically started the whole procedure over again from scratch. They didn’t get to popping over the one jump, but they started from a more nervous place and ended relaxed. Mostly relaxed, anyway.

So what is it?

I’ve noticed that when there is a fall, Midas gets freaky about what he was doing when the fall happened. Never mind that he’s usually a contributing factor to the fall, but he gets squirrely about doing that thing again.

It’s like his thought process is “Nope, last time I jumped two in a row someone fell off and it was scary and I got in trouble so I am NOT jumping two in a row.” or “Last time I cantered a jump it didn’t go well, not happening.”

Susu, our trainer, with whom we only get to ride a few times a year, says that he doesn’t have any tools in his toolbox to deal with jumping. He’s got athletic ability, and has relied on that to survive.

This would explain the charging.

I know that I don’t have a lot of experience cantering fences (neither does the Ham). I was never stellar at seeing distances, and only cantered courses a handful of times in my high school days (yay for the constraints of a 20 x 40 dirt arena in the north). There just hasn’t been opportunity since. I know that I don’t necessarily ride him as strongly as he might want or need when there are two fences in a row. So there is that.

This would explain the abashed behavior when people fall off. He always seems so surprised when he loses a rider.

If Monty Roberts is right about the wiring of horses, I need to approach this the same way I would approach a person who had something scary happen. Keeping at it in as low pressure of a fashion with as much support as he needs to not panic and figure out that he can, in fact, handle it.




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