dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, July 23, 2012

so who's in charge here anyway?

I've been away for the past few days with Irish. Tonight rather than ride I decided to work with Steele on leading manners. Now he's been doing really well with this. I took him up to the ring and Irish decided that his wee world was ending and he had to call and call. This, understandably, got him a bit tense. But he needs to work and listen despite a silly orange horse telling him to come back. As always, I wore gloves and carried a dressage whip. the purpose of the whip is to tap him gently behind if he pulls back or doesn't move ahead when I do. I walk and say 'walk on'. He doesn't move with me- tap-tap-tap until he walks forward. I rarely have to use it.

The task was pretty simple- walk, whoa, stay out of my personal space. It started pretty well. He was responding. Whenever he became distracted I asked him to do something so that his attention was on me. The trouble started when we walked by the 'in gate' and I was between him and the exit. He started to crowd me. I told him to go over and he had wee tantrum and pushed harder into me. I moved him over more strongly. At which point he reared up and got front leg over the lead line. So picture this- I am in the arena (which is not fenced at this point) holding a 800 pound tantrumming baby with a rope between his front legs. I knew that I may have to let go but I didn't want to go there first because he would run back to the barn and my problem would be bigger. I don't choose to battle with horses but when I'm in that situation I know it's important to win. So I hung on the rope - moving with him to give enough slack so he wouldn't feel trapped but not so much that he could build up a head of steam. After 20 feet he stopped. I walked softly up to him- rescued him and then we went back to work (yes, my heart was pounding a bit but working with preschoolers teaches you to hide your feelings). I realized that I had ignored the subtle messages of him encroaching in my space which is why it escalated. So we spent the next 20 minutes walking back and forth by the ingate. As soon as he moved into me I made him move away- keeping his hind legs moving so he couldn't rear up. I could see him thinking on this and in the end he was walking softly beside me- being respectful. I then walked him out. Stopped and walked him back in. I could see him processing this but he decided to behave. A few times in and out and we headed back to the barn. On the way back we stopped a few times as well.

I then put him in the cross ties and gave him a good groom. which for him is the ultimate reward. Another issue that's been growing is that he doesn't want his face touched so I've been working on desensitizing him to this. This went well and I was praising him when he nipped me! Now horses bite for all sorts of reasons- fear/defense, frustration, dominance, pain, play. I believe that this was either play or dominance. But the reality is that it doesn't matter. Biting is a non-negotiable. I prefer the method in which you react immediately and quite strongly to let the horse know that he's made a big mistake. So immediately I got after him backing him out of my space quite strongly and speaking firmly. Then I stopped and acted normally. That's the hard part. It's so easy to take it personally - the 'my horse hates me' mentality. The truth is if he nips I don't care if he hates me. When my children were young I was okay when they 'hated' me for being 'mean'. So I went back to doing what I was doing. When he nipped at me again I repeated my actions. And then returned to normal. After that he was a model citizen. I even placed my arm near his mouth and he just ignored it. good boy.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I was thinking getting a baby but since I made the commitment I will keep at it.

just in case you think I was being mean :)

When I went in tonight to give him his night hay he nickered so I guess he doesn't hate me.


  1. OUCH!!!! Yeah Chrome went through a stage where he did not want his face touched and he nipped too. I think it was the suckiest (I know not a real word) part of having a baby, but we did get through it. Chrome's nipping was play motivated so the easiest way for me to deal with it was to just leave and ignore him. He hated that!! Eventually when his hormones kicked in (he wasn't gelded until he was two due to my husband getting injured and losing his job we couldn't afford it) he started nipping again (or acting like he wanted to). When he would act like he wanted to nip I would grab his lip and pinch it. That's what eventually worked for me and it didn't make him headshy at all because I can still play with his lips whenever I want. In fact just yesterday I had my hand all in his mouth, playing with his tongue and lips and he was cool about it. It is hard not to take it personally, but please try not too. Babies just can't help themselves. They have no idea it's wrong until we teach them. I do think pinching his lips worked better than making him back up and griping at him. It was almost like the attention (even though it was negative attention) just reinforced it.

    As for the face sensitivity I think a part of Chrome's problem was his teeth because he had a problem with the hay we were feeding. Once we changed the hay and his mouth healed he still had that negative association with having his face touched. I just used clicker training and was very patient. I started on his neck where he liked to be scratched and just get rubbing until eventually I could touch his whole face (took more than one session). I'm going to have to do a refresher session soon because he's getting the sweet itch on his face and ears so he doesn't want me touching them again. Poor baby. That's one reason I love the clicker training though. :)

    Hang in there! Some days it feels like you have the devil on a lead rope and that he will never grow up, but he will I promise. Then you'll look back and remember the fun times and wish he was little again (like I am right now). :D

    1. thanks for the support. :) some days I need it.


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