Thursday, November 12, 2009

Honest Vs. Dishonest Spooks

I'm beginning to believe that there is such a thing as a dishonest spook. No, a dishonest spook is not a lying, cheating ghost, but more like a premeditated reaction of fear on the part of a horse who hopes to get out of being ridden by scaring her rider. If you've ever seen a rider dismount after her horse spooks, you'll notice that the horse gets spookier and spookier each time the rider mounts. It is because dismounting a horse is a reward or release, and whatever the last behavior was that the horse did before the dismount is the behavior that the horse will repeat next time she's looking for a release.

Have you ever seen a girl at a scary movie use a scary scene as an excuse to scream and grab hold of her date? You know that most scary movies now-a-days are too lame to truly scare someone. The girl just wants to be held by her boyfriend. Well, I'm convinced that horses sometimes pretend to be scared in order to scare their riders off their backs.

This past Sunday I saddled up Lostine and spent a lot of time lunging her in the round pen, trying to teach her to turn toward me instead of away from me. She was being a stubborn bugger and kept flicking her butt in my face, which is disrespectful. Each time she did that, I said "no" and turned her back the other way.

Obviously, I was lunging her without a line. If I had a line connected to her halter I could easily pull her head toward me. But she knows better. If she did turn to the inside while changing direction, I removed the pressure and let her trot for a while without asking for another turn. As I was turning her again and again, trying to get a consistent turn to the inside, my nosy neighbors drove up. They came home several hours early. Just my luck.

The woman went in the house right away, but the man opened the driver's side door, turned to face me, hung his legs out, and watched me turning Lostine this way and that, altering between saying "no" and "good". Lostine was clearly distracted by this man's unwanted attention, so I looked at him to try to put the pressure on him to go into his house and mind his own business. He quickly looked down and pretended as if he was studying his door frame.

I was actually satisfied with that response from my neighbor, because he usually stares right back at me like a predator about to eat his prey. Looking away was a sign of respect. (Yes, I'm starting to view my interactions with humans the same way as I look at my interactions with horses.)

I know this man has really bad back pain. He often can't get up from a sitting position even if he tries, so I decided to give him a break and just ignore his presence. Refocusing my attention on Lostine, I discovered that she would turn to the inside toward me if I took two steps back away from her while stepping in front of her head. The only reason why she was spinning away from me was because I was stepping toward her, which she interpreted as a challenge. That perception resulted in her turning her rear toward me to protect herself if need be. She's sensitive to anyone picking a fight with her, so I have to make it clear that I am only asking for her cooperation and not threatening her.

Once we got the problem resolved, I rode her. After about 15 minutes of feeling like I was on stage, the woman came out of the house to get her husband out of the car, and the both went into the house, leaving me in peace. I know I never really have privacy when they are home, because they watch me through their window, but that's better than having them buzzing around outside distracting my horse.

I rode Lostine outside the round pen around the paddock, working on steering her here and there around trail obstacles. As soon as we approached my neighbors' garbage pile, Lostine's head popped up, her ears went forward, and her walk became hesitant. I could just tell that she was PLANNING on spooking. I was determined to not let it happen, so I tapped her rear with the riding crop and said, "No!"

She instantly knew what I was referring to. She dropped her head, walked past the garbage calmly, and got back to work. I circled her past the garbage pile three times in each direction for good measure. What I found to be interesting was that she did not interpret the tap of my riding crop as meaning that I wanted her to go faster, which is what it usually means. She knew that I was using the riding crop to indicate that I was calling her bluff.

Horses are smart. Like Clinton Anderson says, "Horses cheat us in small increments until we've got a big problem."


fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like a goods session , and good that Lostine sent you a signal and you caught it and were able to correct it in time. I too wonder if they are just trying to "catch us napping" when they spook

manker said...

i totally believe theres a distinct difference between an honest/dishonest spook... especially if it's an issue .. (gate whatever) that they've been thru tons of times...
Ive also witnessed the Clinton Andersen comment you made at the end... and thought.. "hmm where'd that one come from".. .


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

So did you smack her patootie when she gave you butt, like Clinton Anderson showed us?
Good for you paying attention when Lostine was planning on spooking. At least she gave you some warning. I still can't figure out if or when Baby Doll was preparing to spook before I fell off of her. There really was no warning. And in fact after I finished desensitizing her to the snow covered wagon wheel, she seemed calm and relaxed...and then boom! She just exploded sideways several times. Totally was not expecting that! gah!

I'm starting to think that your neighbors just like to watch you to either nitpick your techniques or to learn something....sort of like being at a clinic.

Me thinks you oughta create a flyer to place on their front door with information on your clinic dates...along with the price you charge for tickets.
Maybe you can start marketing a $40.00 handy stick and spend 20 minutes advertising it to your neighbors.

Either they'll end up bored and leave you alone, or they buy it. Either way, you win! :)


Paint Girl said...

I like how you could tell that Lostine was going to spook and you gave her a smack.
I will carry a crop with me sometimes and have used it on Brandy when she pulls "stupid" stuff. The stuff that I know she is pulling just to be a butt. I also know when she is really spooked or terrified of something, I can feel her heart beat really fast, and feel her quiver underneath me. That is how I know she is really terrified, and when I don't use the crop.
Sounds like you are doing great with Lostine!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Honest and dishonest spooking? Absolutely!!

Loved that you figured out what you needed to do with Lostine to get the response you were looking for! That is great progress. You know the old saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" applies to working with horses to the Tee. Every horse is a little different and you have to make things make sense to that horse.

LOL-Using horse training techniques on people...been doing that for years and it's amazing how well it works.

Breathe said...

I do think horses test our resolve. They are incredibly good at it because they can read our emotions better than we can in many cases.

When you are serious, really all the way through serious, they know it.

And suddenly the world of scary things is no big deal. And the less you put up with the less scary the world becomes.

I do think you have to be prepared to build their confidence in you as well, though. If you spook when they do, it knocks down their confidence that you will keep them safe...

Katharine Swan said...

NM, Panama "gave me butt" (as Lisa put it) the other day when I was trying to get him to run in the arena on turnout, and he didn't want to. I had his lead rope in my hand, so I threw it right at his butt! He got moving so fast, I had to laugh!

As for honest versus dishonest spooks, I agree that there is a difference. I'm not sure they always have a goal in mind -- I think sometimes they have an overabundance of energy and need an outlet for it and spooking seems to be the thing, or they are irritable about working. While I don't think there is usually anything vicious about it, I do think that when a horse's nerves are wound too tightly for whatever reason, you get some "dishonest" spooks thrown in.

Leah Fry said...

I know exactly what you mean. And all I need do is barely touch him on the butt and say, 'uh-uh.' Funny how they can be thick as a brick about some things and totally get the subtle differences in other things.

Kate said...

Here's another way to think about it - what if, instead of being "dishonest" or "cheating", the repeated spook, or the pre-spook you got when you were riding, were the horse saying: "I'm a little bit nervous about this, and you better give me some help or direction right about now, or I'm out of here". For me, that's an occasion for giving the horse some leadership and direction, and engaging their attention, not punishing the horse for asking a question. You can probably tell that I'm not a big fan of Clinton Anderson and his interpretations of equine behavior - in my opinion he often treats horses like adversaries, which is a very human, not horse, way to think - it's a type of anthromorphizing of the horse.