Horseback-Riding Challenges: The Nervous Horse

Horseback-Riding Challenges: The Nervous Horse

In this excerpt from his book, author Tom Moates describes his horse’s tendency for a major meltdown and how he coaxes the gelding back to sanity.
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“Jubal” (Tigers TJ), bless his heart, along with his good qualities has some very deeply engrained worries. But in a setting where the big sorrel Quarter Horse gelding can readily keep his mind and body in the same place at the same time - centered right there with me - he is the horse everybody wants. At those moments, he is incredibly handsome, brave, compassionate, a conformational dream, noble, slow to spook, fairly happy to go with the flow of what a person presents, simply saddled, easily ridden and a big ol’ teddy bear of a horse. You really can’t help but fall completely in love with Jubal the Wonder Horse!

The strong magnetic attraction people experience for Jubal is just one of the many wonders that indeed make him the Wonder Horse. Another of his wonders is how that list of great attributes goes right out the window in the blink of an eye when his mind leaves his body and he becomes a worried wreck. I’ve covered quite a few of his challenging characteristics over the course of my past few books.

The “safe places” that allow Jubal’s mind and feet to find themselves in the same spot at the same time (and thus provide for him to be relaxed and responsive), I thought, were anywhere that Jubal is with his bestest buddy, “Festus” (Cody Is A Bar Fly). But recently I discovered this is not always the case.

Just the other day, I rode Jubal and ponied Festus up our farm road and over to a neighbor’s place. Jubal remained calm and mentally together at a longer distance from home than usual. It was very encouraging. As we went along, I was working on some things that clinician Harry Whitney had shown me (which I’ll get to here in a minute) and that were making all the difference. Also, I figured having Festus alongside us really would seal the deal toward keeping Jubal calm and with me mentally for a lengthy ride.

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We crested a hill about a quarter mile beyond where our farm road meets the county road, and that’s when I felt it. Jubal stiffened, trembled a bit and tried to hurry forward. Even with his bestest bud tracking along right beside us close enough that I could reach over and stroke his face, it was evident that we had crossed the invisible line. Jubal was in the throes of an all-out worry episode.

Drat! Again I remained unsuccessful at keeping the Wonder Horse mentally with me on a ride. This time, I was keeping extremely close track of his thoughts, too. At least I thought so, anyway. Before I knew it, his mind had bounced out of his head, was over the fence and across the pasture to the horizon. The funny thing was that Festus, on the other hand, was hanging out right beside us, slack in his lead line, just as calm as could be - and he’s usually the real worrier!

Jubal was having a pretty major meltdown, but within a few minutes of riding (and without dismounting and doing some groundwork, which has been my fallback position so many times at this stage), I coaxed the handsome devil back from the brink of insanity while remaining in the saddle with the best results ever. I used what might accurately be described as a rein-switch/search. My newly discovered help from Harry for Jubal had come during a Bible/horsemanship clinic in Floyd, Virginia.

Jubal’s behavior during the clinic provides a great example of how the Wonder Horse can be at first fabulous and then, in another circumstance, deeply disturbed. On the one hoof, there was Ashley Durbin’s situation, for which Jubal was perfect. Ashley recently had undergone some very serious back surgery. Her recovery was going quite well, and she wanted to get on a horse again. She’d ridden with Harry in the Floyd clinics for a couple of years and attended Harry’s clinics in Tennessee.

Trusting Harry, she wanted to have his help to increase her confidence and maximize the likelihood that her first few post-surgery rides would be safe.

Ashley lives in Louisiana. At that point, it wasn’t going to be possible for her to trailer a horse from home. We were happy to lend her a horse for the clinic, and Jubal was the obvious choice. He’d be the calm, cool, collected gentleman to work with her in the round pen and then take care of her for those initial rides. Unsurprisingly, he proved to be all that, and her first few rides went flawlessly.

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Ashley’s travel obligations dictated that she leave the clinic a day before we wrapped up. I’d ridden “Niji” the first three days that week and Festus the fourth day. We riders decided to have two group rides the final day, which (theoretically) gave me the chance to ride two horses, one before lunch and one after. I saddled up Jubal for the morning session, figuring I’d ride one of the others in the afternoon. Little did I know, especially after watching things go so well between Ashley and the Wonder Horse all week, that I’d be riding the old boy in both sessions that day, working mainly on his unbridled unsettledness.

That morning, even though Festus was mostly in sight across a fence and only a little ways from Jubal, my Wonder Horse’s worry switch flipped. He was all apanic in the outdoor arena. Four other horses and riders and a pack of people watching in the arena did nothing to distract his worry. All he wanted was to get his body over to where his mind was (with Festus).

Instead of having a lighthearted ride, playing around with half-halts as I had envisioned doing, I had the perfect opportunity to work on helping Jubal get settled during one of his fairly frantic episodes with Harry’s coaching. It turned out to be just what I needed to get some long-term tools for helping Jubal with this ongoing issue.

In “Passing It On: A Continuing Journey Into Honest Horsemanship,” the fifth title in the series, author Tom Moates reveals more of his epic adventures along the trail toward better horsemanship. Tom is a frequent contributor to  America’s Horse  and  The American Quarter Horse Journal.  For more on his books, visit