Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What's Up With Rock?

With the various hassles and fiascoes happening in my life lately, I know I've neglected to report on Rock's progress as a new member of the herd.  The majority of the work I have done with him, between fighting "floods" and trying to learn how to fix or replace things faster than they can break, has involved teaching Rock manners.  When he first came here, he appeared to be very calm, stoic and mature, but that turned out to be just his behavior when feeling fear of the unknown.  Once his true personality started coming out, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me.

First off, he could not lead without either dragging behind, leaning on me, or barging ahead.  When I would correct these issues, he'd get impatient with me and bite me on the arm.  I had to let him know that biting, even in the playful sense, is not acceptable or allowed.  It took a lot of corrections before his brain got to the point where he'd think before biting.  It appeared as if he had gotten away with biting people for so long that it was ingrained in him as a reaction and habit.  I wondered if since his first owner was a little girl, her parents sold him because he kept biting her, and they viewed him as being a problem horse, as opposed to biting being a behavior that can be trained out of him.

The biting wasn't just a problem with people, but he kept biting my other horses, and their response was to kick him.  That didn't deter him.  He thought it was all fun and games.  I guess negative attention is better than no attention at all, in his mind.  I had to keep them separated when I couldn't supervise, just to prevent injuries.  They tried chasing him away from the herd like horses do in their natural environment when a young horse is misbehaving.  Being shunned from the herd is one punishment that horses use to correct bad behavior.  So, when he got obnoxious with biting my other horses, I'd grab my long whip and chase him away myself, lunging him in half-circles until he was exhausted.  Then he'd go stand in a corner and leave the other horses alone.

I've also been trying to get him into better physical shape by beefing up his feed and lunging him.  It turns out that he lunges very well.  He's a lot more responsive than when he first came here.  He understands all my cues to change gaits and halt.  He has a significant gear shift between his lope and his gallop.  There's no mistaking which speed he is in.  I learned that I had to be cautious about how I approach him to pet him, though.  Gabbrielle has sufficiently terrorized him, so Rock has become over-reactive to my reaching out with my hand or the whip to stroke him.  Perhaps some previous owner had beat him with their hand or a whip as well.  Who knows?

I just knew that I had to help the horse learn human body language and learn to trust me.  There are times when I correct him and there are times when I pet and praise him.  I'm big on petting the horse with the whip that is also used as a tool to communicate during training, because otherwise the horse will run away every time he sees a lunge whip or carrot stick in someone's hand.  This morning I grabbed the lunge whip and marched down to the arroyo to chase off a pack of coyotes that had worn out their welcome.  When I returned and approached the barn with the whip in my hand, Rock started to run, but then used "the thinking side of his brain" and went back to eating his breakfast.

P.S. has been taking him through the natural horsemanship groundwork when she visits, and my husband has been taking Rock for hand-walks on the trails and lunging him in the round pen.  When I ask how Rock did, the reports are that he's getting better and better each day.  His biting has diminished to an occasional nip in the air, he's more responsive to requests so we know he's breaking through the communication barriers, and he's walking better on the lead.

I gauge his improvement with other horses by his responsiveness to their requests that he move away.  He has good days and bad days.  Sometimes he's a gentleman around my herd.  Other times his impulses kick in and he forgets his manners, which results in a scuffle.  I'm proud of my normally cowardly Bombay for keeping Rock below him in the pecking order.  When Rock is locked up, the pecking order has Lostine at the top, then Gabbrielle, and Bombay at the bottom.  When Rock is loose, the pecking order has Gabbrielle at the top, then Bombay, then Rock, then Lostine, then Gabbrielle, then Bombay, then Rock, then Lostine... It's always easier to work with a herd that has a stopping point at each end of the pecking order, but when you've got a circle like that, feeding time can get tricky.  I've just been locking the horses in their stalls before delivering the hay most meals.

My interpretation is that when Lostine was younger she could keep Gabbrielle and Bombay in line, so their respect for her has become habit.  However, now that she's old and arthritic, she doesn't have it in her to fight a young, silly horse who doesn't respect his elders.  It's easier for her to run from him than it is to constantly be correcting him.  Unfortunately, Rock then thinks he can boss her around.  He also thinks that when she runs from him she is playing a game.  Gabbrielle and Bombay used to protect Lostine, but now at times they just stand around and watch while Rock chases her.  That's when I have to step in.

I actually saw Rock cut Lostine away from the herd like a cutting horse does with a cow, and chase her around.  She tries to get back to her herd, and he blocks her.  So, I have had to work with him on appropriate forms of play.  I let him play with the Jolly Ball with Bombay, who is of equal strength, but Rock is learning that he is not allowed to "play" with Lostine.  She's too old for roughhousing.  Likewise, the herd is teaching him that they will allow him to come close if he is respectful and just stands quietly or lays down nearby.  As soon as he gets rambunctious, he's forced out of the group again.

I know it's got to be stressful for Lostine to suddenly have a young, annoying boy pestering her.  It's kind of like taking a toddler to its grandmother's house and asking her to babysit when she hasn't dealt with babies or kids in years.  Grandma is used to this quiet, easy, sedentary life of retirement and suddenly she finds herself having to run all over her house to keep the kid out of trouble, and protect herself so that the kid doesn't poke her eye out while repeatedly pulling her glasses off her face, or pants her while tugging on her apron.

Though Rock is not totally spook-free, he does spook a lot less than my other three horses.  I suspect that his bravery is a contributing factor in why he hasn't been accepted whole-heartedly into the herd.  Right now he is only accepted when he is behaving well.  If he were a fearful horse, he would have a stronger desire to be a part of a herd where he can be protected.  But instead, he's quite independent and happy to hang out by himself.

He has his fly mask on most of the time, but his facial expressions are hilarious.  He rarely lays his ears back.  They are forward most of the time, and he's got this white blaze that runs down one side of his face, giving him a white muzzle on one side and a bay muzzle on the other.  The pink lips come through with a black outline, making him look like a clown.  So, I have gotten a lot of laughs out of his expressions and antics.

Still no saddle for him.  Each week I call to ask when they will ship it, and each time they say they will ship it today or tomorrow.  I remind them that is what they said last week.  The customer service rep was supposed to call me on Monday to give me the tracking number, and I was supposed to get an email that it has been shipped, but I got nothing.  The manufacturer of Tex Tan saddles must be having assembly line issues.  I decided to order a different saddle that could be shipped right away before the temps get above 110 degrees, but it appears that what I need for Rock's conformation is only made by Tex Tan.  If the saddle doesn't fit when it finally arrives, I don't know what options I will have beyond hiring a saddle maker to make a custom saddle.

In other news, Scrappy dog passed his final surgery follow up with flying colors and is now a free man.  No more cone of shame.  No more stitches.  He will miss his soft food, though.  His biopsy came back negative for cancer.  So, hopefully, his health problems are solved and we can live trouble-free for a while.

You should have seen the look on the receptionist's face when I walked back into the vet's office to ask if she had a plastic bag that I could use to pick up Scrappy's poop.  He took a dump in the planter in front of the office.  She said that's their job.  They clean up poop all the time, so I don't need to worry about it.  I was half expecting someone to jump out of their car with a video camera and start screaming at me for not picking up his poop.  I normally keep plastic bags on hand, but couldn't find any in my purse or the glove compartment.  I didn't want to just walk away and leave it there, but they told me to.  Fortunately, I didn't get harangued by some incensed witness.

As far as the never-ending list of broken items goes, I'm trying to grasp some sense of control by having my husband teach me how to repair things around the house.  Part of why I get so stressed out every time something else breaks is because I personally don't know how to fix it.  I don't want to have to contact a repairman, because he'll just come into my house and break something else, and I'll spend the rest of my life opening doors for repairmen.  It's amazingly empowering to understand the mechanics of things like drip systems and refrigerator filters.

I'll have to break out that old Do-It-Yourself Repairs book and study home maintenance on the Internet.  At least if I'm fixing things with knowledge, I know I'll be fixing them right the first time, instead of losing sleep worrying that someone else might have screwed something up that is going to lead to a bigger, more expensive, more time-consuming problem.  No more curling up into the fetal position because I'm overwhelmed.  I'm taking control.  I may be taking control one problem at a time, and the problems may be exceeding the number of hours in a day, but at least I'm feeling some sense of accomplishment, as opposed to complete hopelessness.


Cindy D. said...

Wow, lots going on there still, but sounds like Rock is going to settle in just fine, once he figures out the rules.

I understand how you feel about knowing how to fix sames. Sometimes even if repairing something is too physically taxing, I like that I know enough (depending on what it is) to watch and see that the person I hired is doing it correctly. But then I also do like doing things myself. I think it is great that you are learning more about home repairs. Empowering is the right word for sure!

Cheryl Ann said...

I'm pretty good at fixing a lot of things, but our son (like my own dad) can fix ANYTHING! My husband? Forget it...sigh...

Reddunappy said...

Yeah, adding a new one to the herd takes awhile to settle.

Which saddle did you order from Tex-Tan? They are one of the better made saddles out there today.
Tex-Tan make a Tex-Flex tree, which I really wish I could afford! The big difference I liked with their flex tree is it is a metal seat pan, not a fiberglass one that flexes.
Anyway, they are supposed to flex with the horses shoulders and provide a much more comfortable fit, and still look like a classic saddle. Can you tell I bought and sold tack for 7 years! LOL LOL

fernvalley01 said...

starting to think that Rock might have been an "only" like Harley, it is a lot more work to raise a single weanling than a few , I am off the hook more or less now that Stryker is baby sitting ,but I did have to get after Harley quite a bit over the winter, as he wasn't really grasping the boundaries thing

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Reddunappy - I picked out the Seminole because its dimensions worked with both what Rock needs and what my husband needs, but they have a lot of saddles I really liked. I didn't know you sold tack for 7 years. I might have to consult you if this saddle doesn't work out and I have to order something different.

Reddunappy said...

Nice choice! I really love the construction of Tex-tan saddles. The flex tree on the "Circle-Y" in fiberglass, eventually that has to wear out.
I hope it works out for your Husband, It should.