Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Step Forward - Two Steps Back

I was beginning to see improvements in Gabbrielle's lead line behavior this week. When I brought her out of her stall in the morning, she wouldn't budge until I clucked my tongue. She was conscious of not pulling the lead rope tight, and waited patiently while I closed doors and gates behind us. She walked a comfortable distance beside me instead of either running to the end of the rope or crowding me. When I said whoa or stopped my feet, she immediately stopped and did not take any more steps. It was like we were playing that old children's game of "Red Light / Green Light," and she'd hold still as a statue.

Then we had a windy day. I first walked her on the lead rope around her pen thinking there wouldn't be any problems, because she'd been standing in that pen all day. However, once I walked her past some weeds blowing in the wind, she snorted and nearly jumped on top of me. I gave her rope a yank and said no in a firm tone.

When she gets like that and jumps into me, my defense mechanism is to put out my fist so that she gets punched in the shoulder when she hits me. I want her to be more afraid of coming into contact with me than in whatever is spooking her. I am careful not to block her with my fingers spread, because that is how she's broken two of my fingers in the past. She has also knocked me flat on my rear, tweaking my neck and back, by jumping into me while looking in the opposite direction.

Ideally, I should carry a riding crop and smack her shoulder with it when she spooks sideways into my space. Believe me, this 800 pound horse is more likely to injure me than I am to hurt her. The riding crop merely stings and gets her attention back on me. It is imperative that she stay out of my space. Otherwise, I may end in a hospital or a coffin and then I won't be around to feed her. No one wants to see a horse starve and go homeless, do they? I mean, I know nobody gives a damn about me getting killed, so just think of the fist and the crop as insurance that my horse will always have someone around to feed her. (Taking tongue out of cheek now.)

So, the next time I walked her past those moving weeds, she ran past and out in front of me. I yanked the rope again and said no. The third and fourth times she pulled on the rope and tried to drag me past the weeds. I stopped and worked on getting her to give to the rope by pulling her head to each side, releasing the rope and petting her each time she put some slack in it. Only then when I walked her past the weeds did she relax, because she understood that I was asking for a loose lead line.

I walked her out of her pen and down the RV lane toward the front of the house. As we were passing the haystack, the wind was whipping the tarp around and she jumped into me, knocking me off to the side, and then ran past me. I yanked the rope, said no, and then walked her past the tarp in the other direction. She tried to sneak behind me, which I won't let the horses do. If they are directly behind me and spook, they'll trample me. I corrected her and brought her back onto my right side and said the "walk" command as we walked past. I had to pull hard on the rope to keep her walking.

We did this back and forth with no improvement, so I grabbed some peppermints. I put a peppermint in the flat of my hand and lured her right underneath that flapping piece of tarp, and then fed it to her. She spooked in place multiple times, but stayed with me because she wanted more peppermints. The tarp was flapping quite violently, but she stayed with me.

I then left her under the tarp with a wheelbarrow full of hay to see how long she would stay if I wasn't there. I think she made it for about 30-seconds and then bolted. Guess where she ran? Right into me. She was like a big dog trying to jump into my lap. I waved my arms and made shushing noises to get her out of my space, and then hooked up her lead rope and led her past the tarp one more time. She maintained a loose lead, though she did have her neck arched and was snorting. I then took her back to her pen for her to eat her lunch and decided to save the off-the-property walk for another day... preferably one without wind. Ugh. Whatever happened to the good old days when Gabbrielle feared nothing?


fernvalley01 said...

Lovely when they trust you ,not so lovely when they get in your lap! Sounds like you are getting through slowly, sometimes I swear the young ones are out looking for something to spook at. One thought though ,this is something I think we are all guilty of at some time ,are you anticipating the spookat any time? if we do the subtlechange in body language can set them off. Just a thought I know I have done it.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Honestly, I expected everything to go great, because she had been doing so well. I especially had no reason to think she would spook at the weeds in her pen. She'd been standing in it all day. She has also walked past that tarp without spooking dozens of times. I wasn't expecting those spooks. I'm not taking the blame for this one. Ha ha.

Katharine Swan said...

I didn't do it on purpose, but I inadvertently taught Panama to relax when I laugh, because he realizes it means everything is okay. So now if he spooks at something, I've learned just to laugh it off, and he calms down. In this situation I would have gone and stood in those weeds with him on the lead, jumping up and down and laughing at him when he spooked. Once he figures out I'm trying to spook him he forgets all about it being scary, and then just stands there and watches me act like a moron. ;o)

Not saying that's what you should do with Gabbrielle, because she may not have that association with laughter, but I think it's a funny example of how they learn and respond to certain cues.

On a more serious note, though, I've noticed with Panama that things are much scarier when he feels restrained in some fashion. It might not spook him in the pasture, but if he is tied up or on a lead it's hella scary. I think it's because he knows he is unable to get safely away if something terrible does happen.

dp said...

When horses get stupid spooky on me I make the work their asses off. Backing, yielding, circling...whatever. Just to send the message that they are going to have to work hard if they don't want to stop and think before reacting. I will make them work right next to whatever spooked them, pushing them closer and closer all the time. I'll use whatever I can find handy as a favourite is a chuck-it. I find they get their brains on pretty quick.

Leah Fry said...

My trainer always says there's nothing we can do to them as bad as what they do to each other. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do to stay safe. When Poco needs a refresher course, I carry a crop or a stick (arm extension). I keep it pointed back at his chest, or across his chest to keep him out of my space. Just when you think they know something, you'll get these regressions.

Abe Lincoln said...

Does she possibly have an eye problem? I would think it is something wrong with them.

Andrea said...

Ahhh...the joys of colts. I hate that inbetween broke and spooky faze they all go through. but it sounds like you are doing a great job. You are definatly patient.

Lulu said...

I like what you did with the pepermints. You let her choose to face her fear by giving her incentive.

Isn't it funny how they will seem OK with a situation until we arrive? I've got a filly that is the same way. All is well until I'm there, and then she thinks she needs rescued!

Jenn said...

Even the most laid back bomb-proof ones are a bit spooky this time of year. It's spring fever and they think the world is out to get them.

Carrying a whip is a very good idea with a young'un, especially one who wants to be in your pocket!

I always carry a whip when I'm out working my big goof ball. I use a buggy whip which is about the length of a dressage whip with a long lash on it and it's thicker that a dressage whip. When he starts moving into my space I can just flick it behind me at his hip and he scoots right over. If he's crowding me with his shoulder I can use the butt of the whip to poke him back over.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Darn wind! I won't even ride my mare in the wind as I know it carries all sorts of odd scents, maybe even some of predators from far away. We live near Natl. Forest and Wilderness areas, which of course have bear and mountain lion. gah!

Interesting how Gabbrielle is changing into a typical horse now, after all that fearless baby-hood. Frustrating, too.

I'm shocked you're still able to walk or move without pain after having to endure all those 'horse contact' situations. Oww!
It's like playing horse football!

You be careful, ok? You gotta do what you gotta do to stay safe.