Friday, March 7, 2008

Hands-Free Leading III

Related links:
Hands-Free Leading I
Hands-Free Leading II

While my two older horses walk right into their stalls willingly as soon as I open the doors, my 3-year-old filly Gabbrielle has had a tendency to run around outside like a chicken with its head cut off, rather than choosing to go into her stall. I don't put hay in the stalls before opening the doors, because I want the horses to cooperate with my requests, even when there isn't something in it for them.

I could get Gabbrielle to walk beside me without a lead rope after lunging her in the round pen, however the only technique that worked in the past to get her into her stall without a lead rope was to herd her in. I had grand plans to spend a lot of time working with her on hands-free leading once all that slippery ice melted, but it turns out that I didn't have to do much at all.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, once I herded my nosy neighbor out from behind my barn for good, Gabbrielle started going into her stall as soon as I opened the door just like the other horses. All I have to do is open the door, get some eye contact from her, point, and in she goes.

I had one incident recently where all three horses balked at going into their stalls. They raised their heads high and I said, "What?" while looking around for the perceived threat. Right then my neighbor stepped out from behind some vehicles on her property. The horses were very aware of her presence, though I didn't have a clue that she was in the vicinity. I glanced at her and said to the horses, "Don't worry about it. Let's go!"

My neighbor walked off in the opposite direction, giving the horses their space. They then walked into their stalls. It is amazing how one little change in the environment can affect a horse's behavior. Things that you think won't affect them, do, and things that you think will affect them, don't. I had one of those dryer sheets fall out from the leg of my pants one morning. I had to lead a horse right over it, and thought I should probably pick it up so that the horse wouldn't freak, since a breeze was causing it to flap and roll around on the ground. Then again, I want the horses to understand that everything isn't a threat, so I left the dryer sheet on the ground. I lead Lostine toward it, waiting for the snorting to begin, but much to my surprise, she stepped right on it and kept going without a care.

It would be awesome if someday my horses would get to a point where I can ride them in a parade with sirens blaring, kids darting out from the sidewalks into the street, balloons popping, garbage flying everywhere, and the horses would take it all in stride. A trail guide recently told me that it is all about exposure. The more you can expose a horse to as much as possible, the better it will behave in strange environments. I think that since I've met my hands-free leading goal, I will now work on helping my horses to relax when something different in their environment puts them on alert. Maybe I will call the next series on our progress "Fear-Free Following".


Rising Rainbow said...

Yes, the more you can expose them to the better off they'll be.

Twinville said...

I enjoyed reading about your experiences in training your horses not to be spooked by things.
They seem very trusting of you.

This reminded me of something that happened tonight, actually.
I decided to use a large 'tarp-like' IKEA bag to carry a couple flakes of hay from the barn to the pasture.

When I dumped the hay out and wrinkled the bag to fold it back up, my Baby Doll, looked concerned, but she didn't lose it.

Later I recounted what happened and was grateful that she wasn't upset about the bag, because I realized that many horses are fearful of plastic bags and take a long time to get over that fear.

BarnGoddess said...

"A trail guide recently told me that it is all about exposure. The more you can expose a horse to as much as possible, the better it will behave in strange environments"

This is VERY true.

The more a horse is exposed, the more used to it the horse gets.

Good job on the hands free leading! I worked forever to teach Scooter to ground tie about 20 years ago, it was THE one lesson I am VERY happy with :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I do want to make a note here that has been mentioned on other blog sites: Though I do write a lot about spooking, Arabian horses do not spook any more than other breeds. My horses spook because I haven't had the privilege to spend time traveling with them and introducing them to new things. Since I work full-time, I usually spend just the weekends working with my horses on my property.