Monday through Thursday was spent retreating from the mounting process. Instead I worked on saddling (making sure no fear of association was built there) some more ground driving as well as the big ball. Also during this time I was doing a lot of head scratching and consulting with some of the other trainers that are also preparing for this competition. I had several different suggestions on how to go forward from here, one was increasing the pressure of my round penning sessions. I liked that suggestion because Raven likes to play that edge of showing me dominant stallion behavior when he is confident, and flighty behavior when he is fearful. So increasing the pressure when he is confident would definitely earn me more respect with him which always helps, but I don't think that it would help with his fearful flightiness about mounting. Another suggestion was laying him down like in the "Horse Whisperer". This I could see this as a good possibility to solve our biggest struggle of people above him. This would create a safe way for him to cope with people above him and a safe way for me! (its really hard to be thrown from a horse when he is already on the ground!) Last but not least (and my personal favorite) is the blow up doll option! lets throw something up there that looks like a human and let him get used to it...great idea! One thing that everyone has said to me about my situation is that you are not being extreme if its the only option to keep you safe, and safety is one of my biggest things. One of the things that I pride myself on is my track record of no bucking on my first rides for the last eight years. It has baffled me that it has taken over 90 days to get Raven to this point of acceptance with me.
Friday through Sunday: I decided to first try the laying down approach, this will build trust in our relationship. A measure of a horses trust can be seen by whether or not they will let you approach while they are laying down. Most un-trusting horses will get up as you approach...really un-confident horses won't even lay down in the presence of a human. Raven to this point would occasionally roll within my sight, but I have never caught him sun soaking in the morning after a cold night. When a horse lays down is when they are most vulnerable - they can neither fight nor flee- therefore if you put them in this position and don't take advantage of it in a negative way (like killing them) it proves to them that you are not what they thought you were. I have taught many confident horses how to lay down on a cue to prove their acceptance, but I have never had to use this to gain a horses acceptance and confidence. Another first I have had to use with Raven.
I worked on laying him down over three sessions. I would go through my normal routine of saddling, doing ground work, playing with obstacles, and round penning. I then reminded Raven about how I had taught him to yield to rope pressure on his legs. Once that was done I put my rope around one of his front legs, lifted it off the ground and wrapped the end of the rope around the saddle. All of this he was familiar with because this is how I taught him not to struggle when I handle his feet. But then i added a twist. With one leg tied up in this position, I started in on my mounting desensitizing. This time when he would have his melt down it was a little tougher. I welcomed his motivation to move his feet, and encouraged him to keep it up. He would hop around on three legs until his adrenaline had run out and he started to grow roots. I would then play with the mounting dance again. His forward outbursts became fewer and fewer as he became more fatigued and was making the mental shift of thinking about comfort instead of survival! As he started to tire I changed the game to asking him to lean back. At first the idea of him getting lower to the ground was met with his instinctual struggle to survive. He would lurch himself forward, many times taking me with him. (Wheeee!) It was kind of interesting watching him go through the process, he would lean back giving to the pressure then he would get to a point where the mental switch would occur and his mind would tell him to survive. Each time he would give a little more. By the end of the first session Raven gave to the pressure enough to bow and I called it a day. I like to let him process after an intense session.
I went back at it the next day, this time I used the other leg...I like to keep things even steven. The routine was the same as the day before and just like the day before Raven was still wanting to bolt when I would put my leg in the saddle and start to rise above him. If he wanted to move I would make him move until he grew roots again. It didn't take long for him to remember the routine from the day before and I was able to get him to bow. It took a little more effort and muscle power to to hold him in the bowing position until he laid his hind end down. Once that happened I knew I only had a moment to lay myself on his head and neck which will keep him down. The first time I was not fast enough but the second time I was on him! Both of us totally exhausted I laid there on him petting, panting, and rubbing him all over none of which he expected. I could feel the wave of relief that came over him as he realized I was not going to hurt him. Wait a second this is sounding like a schmaltzy romance, maybe I should take the panting out.
( A side note here of information that saved my other geldings life. If you sit or put full weight on a horses head while they are laying on their side they can not get up. My gelding did a front flip over a barbed wire fence trying to jump it. I happened to be on the scene at the time and as I saw him sprawled out on the ground, legs tangled in barbed wire, I thought fast and hopped on his head to immobilize him while others hurried to free his legs. Once they were free I got off his head to allow him to get up unencumbered. It saved his soundness as well as his life! By the way the effect is not the same on mules and donkeys...not sure why)
I always look for changes the next day to see if what I have done in the previous sessions had a positive or negative effect on our relationship. It was to my surprise Monday when I came out to the barn after lunch to fine Raven sprawled out sunning himself. Even more surprising was how close he let me get before he lazily got to his feet to greet me. I took this picture from my Camera phone.