Sunday, September 30, 2012

Horse Walks

I've been taking the horses for walks when the temperatures are bearable, leading them a little further out of their comfort zone each time.  They have very clear lines on where their comfort zones begin and end.  Once outside the zone, the head goes up, the tail arches, the breathing and heartbeat speed up, the legs become lead-filled, and the snorts begin.  The worst part is that they stop listening to me.  The last thing I want is to be invisible to an 800-pound animal when I am standing between it and its comfort zone.  So, I'm very careful and try not to push the horses too far.  I want their walks to be enjoyable for them.

Each day they become more willing to come to the halter and let me lead them out.  Sometimes we take purposeful walks around "the track", an area still clear of weeds and rocks, other times we meander and I let them sniff the ground, getting to know all the sights, scents and sounds.  Yesterday we meandered.  I normally take one of the more mature horses out first to clear the path since they can handle surprises like other animals jumping out of bushes better than Gabbrielle can.

But on this day Gabbrielle was eager to take her walk first, so I broke the routine and took her out to clear the path.  We came across a zebra-tailed lizard that wags its striped tail back and forth when it holds still.  The tail resembled a snake and I had to get a closer look.  I was bent over watching it and Gabbrielle was looking over my shoulder when a loud commotion came from behind us.  Gabbrielle jumped and pulled back on the lead rope.  I whirled around to get her under control, and looked over to see what the heck was going on.

Lostine had Bombay cornered in a stall and was kicking the bleep out of him.  I have never seen her act that aggressively toward another horse.  Usually, she just gives a horse the stink-eye or pushes him around with her neck snaked out.  I thought she was going to seriously injure Bombay, so I started yelling at her to quit, but she wouldn't listen.  Bombay was being kicked against the barn railing, which was causing the entire metal roof to shake and bang around.

I was scared for him, and he looked terrified, so I started running at Lostine, pulling Gabbrielle behind me, which was not a good idea.  Gabbrielle gets excited very easily and could take off like a race horse, run past me and rip the lead rope right out on my hand.  Fortunately, seeing the two of us running at her distracted Lostine long enough for Bombay to get away.  He galloped out of the barn and across the paddock.  I had to put Gabbrielle back in the barn, because now she was running circles around me.

I was so angry with Lostine that I grabbed the long whip and chased her around, giving her no mercy.  If she can kick like that with her arthritis, then she can run on rocky ground.  She was tripping and gimping and limping all over the place until she stopped and licked her lips and I released her.  Then I took Bombay for a walk to make sure he was still moving okay.  He seemed to appreciate me standing up for him, but quite honestly, he makes it hard to stand up for him because he never learns his lesson and just continues to invade the mares' space.  He's like the pesky brother who teases his sisters until they beat him up.

I did eventually take Lostine for a walk too.  Once I got her out of sight from the other horses, she became a nervous wreck.  When I led her back, she visibly dropped her head and relaxed.  I walked her on this plateau we have in our back yard that has a retaining wall on each side.  She was doing fine until we got too close to the neighbor's place and someone was rustling around behind the wall on their patio.  Then she went on alert again and looked like she was about to bolt.  I was worried that she might not realize that there was a three-foot drop on the edge of the plateau and take off in that direction, so I quickly led her off the plateau the safe way.

I'm really looking forward to the day we can take long walks around the neighborhood and out on the trails without these fearful behaviors or pulling on the lead rope.  However, I can totally understand why the horses are so afraid to leave the protection of the herd.  There's a lot of weird stuff that goes on in our backyard at night, and until we get that flood light working, I'll never really know what's going on out there.


Dreaming said...

Your pictures are beautiful.
How strange to see that behavior... it really makes you wonder what started it all!

Cut-N-Jump said...

The biggest thing that will move you and your horses forward is confidence. When you are confident in your skills at handling the horses, they will begin to respect you as their leader. If stuff happens around you that doesn't rattle you, they will learn to acknowledge it with a minor or non reaction. When you take charge and lead, they will submit, relax and follow. Riding will be much the same. Imagine how you want things to go and do it, expecting it to go just as you imagined.

The kicking- it is nornal herd behavior. Am I a fan of it? Not really. But if Bombay is like you said, an annoying brother who pushes and pushes until the mares 'push back' and kick the snot out of him? Well until he learns, he will keep at it and keep getting the snot kicked out of him until he does. He knows the boundaries and the punishment to be handed down for crossing the line. He may have appreciated you sticking up for him, but you won't always be there to run to his aid and rescue him.

The only other option you have is to separate the horses, turning the mares out together or Bombay on his own, for his own safety. Maybe a week or so of 'solitary confinement' may make him more appreciative of the herd and its dynamics. It certainly wouldn't hurt him.

fernvalley01 said...

What she said, Cnj's advice is spot on!
But beyond that what a stunning veiw you have those pictures are truly lovely

lytha said...

your mountains are pink! what a gorgeous view. your life is so foreign to me. i cannot imgagine constantly encountering strange life forms out there, so bold. i wonder if i'd have less or more fear of spiders if i was constantly finding them.

we have animals out there that make strange noises at night and i have no idea what they are. i can be sure they are not dangerous though, at least. in winter the variety of tracks in snow is always shocking to me. but still, there's no comparison to what you describe at your new home.

i'm trying to think of how i'd handle your situation with your herd, and i would do the same thing: just keep taking walks. also i'd probably have my long lead on the horse, 9 feet, and maybe even a rope halter to get their attention (i do not have a rope halter, but when i get a new horse someday i might).

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow! Gorgeous photos! You have beautiful views from your house.


Linda said...

I think hand walking is very wise, and everyone I know who has done it had great results building confidence in their horses--and themselves in their horses. I always wonder what's going on out there at night, too. There was a cougar sighting a couple of weeks ago, so you just never know what the herd sees and smells. Last night I heard Red whinnying like a banshee and I couldn't see him, so I drove out to the barn and walked the pasture to look for them...of course, they were just grazing.

achieve1dream said...

Wow that last picture is sooooo beautiful!!!

Poor Bombay! I'm glad he's okay!

Keep up with the walks because I'm sure it will help their confidence. Once they know the area they shouldn't be so nervous. :)