Monday, August 26, 2013

Good Citizen Training

Do you try to train your horses to be good citizens?  It's been a slow weekend, so I've had some time to really observe my horses and I was shocked to see how rude they are to each other.  Some might say that I am projecting human behaviors onto horses, but that's all I know.  I've still got a lot to learn as far as herd mechanics or the sociology of horses goes, but there are some behaviors I see going on that I can't tolerate.  The horses have learned to stop doing whatever they are doing when I come out on the porch, because it usually means someone is in trouble.  I feel like I am a kindergarten teacher.

I lock the horses in separate stalls when I feed them.  A few hours later I open the stall doors and let them out.  Some are finished eating while others are not, so the jostling usually begins.  Horses begin playing musical chairs with the feed barrels.

It used to be simple.  Lostine was in charge and everyone just moved out of the way for her.  Now the pecking order is more complex.  Lostine is in charge of Gabbrielle and Bombay, but not Rock.  Rock is in charge of Lostine and Bombay, but not Gabbrielle.  Gabbrielle is in charge of Rock and Bombay, but not Lostine.  And Bombay is sometimes in charge of Rock and sometimes not.

They can usually work it out, unless a mare is in heat, and then all the rules change.  Rock finds himself being invited in for some necking instead of being chased away or run from.  The mares that wouldn't let him near them just hours before are suddenly sticking their butts in his face.  All of this is very confusing for him.

After being Rock's best buddy, Gabbrielle fell out of heat and began chasing Rock out of every stall he went into.  Gabbrielle wasn't interested in the food in the barrels, she just seemed to want to push Rock around.  Each time she did so, he'd end up chasing Lostine or Bombay out of a stall, so there was a lot of running around.

I stepped outside and hollered at Gabbrielle to quit and leave Rock alone.  She did, and the rest of the horses were able to finish the hay in peace.  I remember John Lyons saying that all horses want is peace, so when I see one horse not allowing another horse some peace, I feel the need to put a stop to the bullying.

A short time later, after I filled the main water trough, Bombay moseyed over to get a drink.  He barely got two sips in and Lostine chased him off.  She just stood over the water trough guarding it, but she did not drink.  She wasn't thirsty.  She simply did not want to let Bombay drink.

I am aware of waterhole rituals, and how one horse chases another horse away to establish dominance, but I thought that a herd also works together to assure everyone's survival.  The leaders drink first, and then stand guard while everyone else get their drinks moving down the pecking order.  Maybe Lostine wouldn't let Bombay drink yet because Gabbrielle and Rock hadn't had anything to drink before him?  I'm not sure.  All I know is that Bombay was thirsty and it was hot, so I hollered at Lostine to let him drink.  She did.

I'm sure people think I'm crazy for expecting my horses to understand me when I speak human to them, but my experience is that they do understand.  They may not understand most of my words, but they understand my tone of voice and body language and they can apply it to whatever action they were last doing.  They do understand a few words like "share."  Dogs pick up on word commands, so why not horses?

I guess because I was standing up for the boys, Rock decided he had free rein to pick on Lostine and he chased her at a full gallop into a stall and began biting her on the rump while she was cornered.  I ran outside and yelled at him to leave her be, and he did.  When I see behaviors like these, it's hard for me to relax and leave the horses to their own devices, yet they somehow make it through each night without my supervision and without killing each other.

Here Rock has Lostine cornered and he is biting her on the rump.  In the next picture she's busting past him, pushing him to the side and running to me for protection.

I can't wait for a cool enough breeze without rain so that I can ride the horses regularly.  I suspect a lot of their misbehavior stems from being bored.  I view riding horses kind of like trying to keep high energy dogs from tearing up the house by taking them for walks and runs each day.  Once the horses' minds are busy processing their latest training or trail ride, and their bodies are tired, they tend to stop picking on each other.

1 comment:

Katharine Swan said...

I agree with you, boredom probably plays a part in all of this. I know Rondo gets into trouble more with the barn owners when he hasn't been worked as regularly. Last week he tried to take off running with the hose while they were filling the corral's water tank, and did some damage to it.

And yes, I absolutely think they understand a good part of what we say, through a mixture of words they recognize, tone of voice, body language, and probably other cues we don't even know we are sending. Panama went through a phase when he would be listening to my trainer during a lesson, and if she asked me to trot (no matter how she phrased the sentence, mind you -- he was picking up the word and the tone of a command, not a specific sentence heard over and over) he would immediately do so, before I ever had a chance to ask for it myself. So no, I don't think you're crazy -- as domesticated animals, they have evolved to be in tune with their human handlers. It makes perfect sense to me that they would be able to cobble together a pretty good understanding of what we communicate to them.