Saturday, February 21, 2009

Miss Lostine: The Teaching Machine

Once again I have learned some valuable lessons from my mare, Lostine. Every spring we have to go through this dance of re-establishing our pecking order. She thinks she's the alpha mare, and I have to convince her otherwise. Why does this only happen in the spring? Because she's had plenty of downtime during the wet weather of winter to pump herself up and push the other horses around without having anyone pushing her around. Then once the weather warms up, I come out to the barn, slap a saddle on her, and start telling her what to do. She doesn't like that.

So I was lunging her and trying to get her to stop at whoa, and she refused. So, I had to keep turning her in a tighter and tighter space until she had nowhere to go and had to stop. However, she didn't like being cornered and tried to plant a couple of hind hooves in my face. I'm always very aware of how close I am to the horses, so I never get within striking distance, but her attempt at kicking me was enough to start a pretty big power struggle. I wasn't exactly angry, but I wasn't going to just ignore that either.

I kept pushing her this way and that, controlling her turns and speed until she decided to respect the whoa command. There was a lot of snorting and ear pinning before she got to that point, and I would liken her demeanor to that of an angry hornet. I'm sure the neighbors must have thought I was crazy to mount her after all that ruckus in the round pen. An airplane pilot got so interested in what I was doing with my horse, that he veered off course and flew really low directly over our heads. Fortunately, he had a fairly quiet plane. I looked up and saw the words "U.S. Army" on the bottom of the wing and I waved hello.

I spent the majority of our ride working on whoa and the one-rein stop. You've got to check those brakes before doing anything else when you haven't worked your horse in a while. I probably should have practiced an emergency dismount too, but considering that I need a step stool to mount a 14.2-hand horse, I didn't feel like practicing throwing myself off her over and over. The entire time I could tell that Lostine had the intention to throw me. She kept trying to get a running start into a buck, and each time I shut her down. I made it clear that we were only doing walking, halting, backing up, and turning maneuvers today.

Anyway, the big lesson Lostine taught me today is that once you start challenging a stubborn horse to the point where she's worked up and ready to kill you, you have to make nice-nice to get that control back. So, every time she followed a command I stroked her neck and praised her. After consistently doing that enough times, she let out a huge sigh and relaxed, realizing that we were no longer in a fight.

I also desensitized her some more to the horn bags by ripping open the Velcro seals and zipping and unzipping the zippers. She was fine with it all. Then I dismounted and took her for a hand-walk along the road. Here's where the other lesson came in...

IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO DESENSITIZE YOUR HORSE IN THE ROUND PEN AT HOME. YOU HAVE TO THEN GET THE HORSE OUT OF ITS COMFORT ZONE AND DESENSITIZE IT THERE ALSO.

Lostine kept spooking, running forward and then turning around to look behind her. We've never had this problem before, so I had to figure out what was different. Usually, I walk her up and down the road without any tack on. I had to deduce that she was hearing the sound of the horn bag rustling and the new saddle squeaking on her back, and she thought something was behind her. It doesn't matter that she heard those exact same sounds in the round pen. Now that we were in a scary place away from the herd, those noises suddenly sounded threatening to her.

So, I just kept walking her and letting her turn to look behind her. Then I'd wiggle her saddle and the horn bags so that she could re-connect those sounds to them. Eventually, she caught on and was able to walk calmly. One neighbor was working on his motorcycle engine as we passed his house, and that didn't bother her. It always seems to be the little things that unhinge the older, more experienced horses. Until the next lesson...

18 comments:

Horseypants said...

I totally agree about making nice after a fight. Arabians are so emotional that way. :) Mine is a gelding though, so he doesn't get quite so bossy. You handled this really well.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Hah! Ain't that the truth, NM!! Look at my almost 16 yr old mare. She basically spooked at snow. It's not like she's never seen snow before. geez. Silly horses.

Lostine is looking particularly lovely these days. She glides through winter beautifully, doesn't she.
Are you have warmer temps now? I bet you're getting the itch to hit the trails soon, or at least the park arena.

~Lisa

Vaquerogirl said...

Yep, and isn't it always 'challenge time' just when you are counting on having a quick ride? It seems like it sometimes. Then three hours later, after you've made your point, comes the sigh and the complience...
Good job!

sue said...

and I so agree that "what is worked on at home" must be done in the outside world... at least that is what I am learning driving the drafts.... I was told that "you never can ground drive enough, because what happens there, happens in the shafts..." lessons have proved that one right. sounds, like all in all, you had a very productive day, and that Miss Lostine will remember this when the topic comes up again.. NOT that she won't questions you, but she will know that "her Mom is serious"......

dp said...

Mares!

Reddunappy said...

Ahhh! Lostine sounds a lot like my older mare Mickey, who is 20 now, she is feeling the same onery way right now and kicking the barn down (sigh)and she is stalled next to her best buddy! I dont know if the mares just get more hormonal this time of year or what, I agree with the left alone to run the show all winter, Mickey even challanges me in the stall sometimes silly girl.

Katharine Swan said...

It's times like this when I'm SO glad I have a gelding...

Not that he doesn't have issues about being ridden again after a while. He definitely does. He just doesn't try to kill me for it. :o)

And oh, I totally agree with practicing stuff away from home. It might be just a saddle at home, but down the road it's a horse-eating ninja with an invisibility cloak!

Cheryl Ann said...

I love your "lessons" and I'm takin' notes! As a newbie, I have to learn all this stuff!

Sydney said...

I have one of those older horses that get unhinged at stupid things.

With the round pen/riding in an arena or paddock. I suppose it would be much like seeing a lion at a zoo vs one in the wild. Those bars are there to protect you in the zoo (or paddock/round pen) and in the wild theres nothing to do but run cause it's gonna eatchoo and theres nothing to protect you but your own two feet and hands.

Andrea said...

You are so right on here!! I can't believe that Lostine acts like that!! She is an old vetren!! LOL!!

But you were right. Fix the arguement. When riding, I have always told people to fix the problem and then act like it never happened. Move on. You are right to let her rest and praise her.

I love your stories of horse training!!

KD said...

I really like that first picture of Lostine. She is so expressive. Good on you for letting her know that you are still boss mare.

Sydney said...

Thanks for following me on my blog <3

ranchette said...

Glad you took the time to put bossy miss back in her place. The big world outside the arena is a whole new ballgame for all these lessons, isn't it. The pony is still convinced that mailboxes are going to kill him. The big horse is ok with mailboxes but believes suspicious looking rocks are sentient, can move and will any moment jump up and attack him.

Jenn said...

I've seen some comments about "mares!" and what a pain they can be. I love mares, I've always owned mares and while yes, they can be ornery and stubborn, geldings have their own little quirks.

My 5yo TB gelding was an absolute JERK Sunday. All he wanted to do was play, play, play and that playing involved not listening to me at all, doing airs above the ground on the end of the lunge line, bucking, farting, snorting and rearing and generally behaving like an insolent child. It was not a fun session at all.

I lowered my expectations about 40 notches for that session (with a mare I have never had to lower expectations, I just had to ask differently) and it ended well.

Lostine will be right on track again in no time. I think they all feel young and defiant in the spring.

Katharine Swan said...

LOL, Jenn. I know some people who really love mares, others who really love geldings, and very few people who really love both. I definitely think that mares can be much moodier, but I also worship the ground my gelding walks on, which probably makes me somewhat biased. ;o)

Katharine Swan said...

Oh, and Ranchette -- mailboxes EAT horses, didn't you know that?

Manhole covers and cracks in the asphalt can also open up and swallow a horse whole, or at least that's what Panama thinks.

I think it's very interesting that it's all the manmade things that scare him. We saw a snake on a trail ride one day and he actually tried to follow it. But an inanimate manhole cover he has to give a 5-foot berth.

dp said...

I meant "Mares!" in the best possible way. I love them.

Kristen said...

Wow your mare sounds so much like Beauty, my crazy girl. I admire you for how great you are doing, hopefully come late spring I will get some quality time with my girl!