Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clinic Report: Despooking Success!

Pool Noodle Hell
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Despooking Clinic held by Bill Richey, Director of the National Mounted Police Services. I did not take Ben, but did take my young half-Arab, Finn. Ben would've been so much more fun and enjoyable, but his little partner in crime needed it so much more.

The approach is a very interesting one. The first day begins with a bunch of classroom lecture on the equine eye, vision, and how horses spook. You can pretty much predict when/where/how a horse will spook by where an object is in relation to the horse. That, combined with some body awareness demonstrated by light "liberty" work in a round-pen using the eye-sight principles, you begin to understand when and how your horse sees objects  and how he reacts to them.

From there, we mount up and begin with basic mounted drill maneuvers. Everything is done at a walk, and initially in a single file line, and progresses to a paired line. The idea is to get the rider to start looking ahead and placing the horse where it needs to be, and also to get the horses working together. This was a major win for Finn, who has never been in an arena with more than 1 horse at a time. So he had to learn how to cope with horses in front of and behind him (lots of attempts at kicking others, but as he settled into his job, he forgot all about that), next to him, and coming at him.

Once the horses are settled and "bored" with the drill work, Bill begins to introduce basic obstacles- a pole on the ground, or a piece of plywood. We go over it again and again, until the horses are bored. If one horse balks (mine), the rest of the participants are instructed to move around us and leave us behind. Eventually, after seeing the other horses go, Finn tries it too.

And so it goes, as the horses get "bored" with the new stimuli, Bill introduces bigger and badder stuff. We move from objects below, to objects above (a hanging tarp or carwash), and objects to the side- like pool noodles sticking out. And then we bring in the sensory objects - police car flashing lights, siren, dog barking, fire, and smoke bombs.

Day 1 could be summarized as a giant melt-down. We spent the majority of the clinic rearing, bucking, kicking out, running backwards, sideways.... anything but forward. Finn escalates from being afraid to being a fighter, very, very quickly. And once he thinks he cannot do something, he WILL NOT try, not even the slightest bit. Thank goodness for Bill, who was there to help us break the pattern of behavior.

 Day 2 started out rough, but Finn quickly became engaged in the activity and was perky and forward and wanted to try to go through it. This was a great change. The problem, however, is that he is still resistant to being told what to do. He went through because he wanted to, not because I asked him. But still, a happy willing attitude is a good change and a stepping stone to the elusive submission I seek.

He's by no means "fixed" but I learned some valuable lessons:

#1 I know what the problem is
#2 I can ride through the tantrums
#3 I know what works to break the cycle and help him gain confidence

Some pictures from Day 2:

Finn liked the fire lines the best, I think!!

These pool noodles were THE scariest thing for him to overcome, but he did it!

Walking out of the smoke bomb

 Interested in learning more? Go to:

http://www.mountedpolice.org/  or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mountedpolice

I would definitely attend this clinic again with both of my horses. The clinic is not really about the obstacles at all. It really does a great job of exposing holes and offers a safe and welcoming place to address those gaps. I definitely have my work cut out for me with this little guy, but I think we both left with more confidence in both ourselves and one another.


  1. That sounds like such an awesome opportunity!

  2. Neat clinic! Wish I could go watch something like this

  3. I want to go! Thanks for digging this up for me, and I'm waiting on info! :)