Friday, March 7, 2014

Where's the Respect?

Because my schedule has been busy and the puppy has monopolized most of my time, the horses haven't been getting much attention lately.  I began seeing signs that I was losing their respect and just becoming the lady who comes out every now and then to feed them.  Last night was the final straw.  Lostine kicked out with her hind legs in my direction when I was cleaning her stall.

She wasn't kicking at me, but protesting in general because Rock had reached over the railing and nipped her on the neck.  A few nights ago, she tried kicking Rock through the railings for nipping her, and she just ended up kicking the railings and feeling the sting herself.  She delivered punishment to the wrong horse.  I was glad she wised up and kicked the air instead of the railing, but still, all of my horses know better than to kick when I am in a stall with them.  So, I chased her out of the stall and would not let her back in until I was done cleaning, and boy did she want to get back into her stall bad.  I think she was afraid I might put hay in her feed barrel and Rock might get to it before her.  So, I just kept pushing her back and sending her off until she started licking and chewing, and I was done cleaning.

Then I walked over to pet Bombay and he bit me.  He hasn't bitten me in years.  It was his way of saying, "Stop cleaning stalls and feed me now!"

So, today I put all the horses through their paces in the round pen just to see where their heads are at.  Lostine kept trying to bargain with me.  I'll do half of what you ask, but I'm still going to do what I want to do.  She has the habit of anticipating what I'm going to ask and doing it before I ask, which I used to think was cool, but now I hate it.  I'm not sure how much of that behavior is her being "psychic" with her super horse senses, and how much is just that my routine is so predictable.

I told myself that my goal was to get her feet moving in the direction I ask as responsively as possible without me being overly aggressive or demanding.  I wasn't going to worry about speed -- just direction.  But then she started galloping out of control like a fool and I had to slow her down to avoid her getting injured.  Still, that was in line with my goal, because slowing her down involved turning her in the other direction each time she sped up.  Soon she was licking and chewing, but in a false way.  She was just doing it because she wanted the lesson to end.

I decided that I simply wanted her to make two laps around the pen at a walk to cool down without stopping, without speeding up, and without turning.  It felt like it took forever to get that out of her.  She'd get to that point, but then do something new that was disrespectful or demonstrating that she was a bad listener or suggesting that she simply wanted to call the shots.  I had to keep correcting her, so I changed the goal to be that I wanted her to walk two laps around the pen without me having to crack the whip to correct her.  She finally did that, and I swapped her out with Bombay.

Bombay's problem was an old one.  He has a tendency to change directions by running straight toward me in the middle of the pen.  Back when I didn't have a good grasp of groundwork and the reasons for doing it, I'd step to the side and let him pass me because I trusted him not to kick out at me.  However, I now know that it is important to keep the horse out of kicking range even if he isn't a kicker, and for me not to move my feet and give up my space to him.  So, we worked on turning him at the railing to go in the other direction.  No more cutting across the pen.  He picked up on it pretty fast.

After that I watched his inside ear to make sure he kept it on me at all times, and as soon as he'd flick it away to see what the campers were doing, I'd make him change directions.  Again, he caught on quick and I couldn't get him to take his ear off me after that, so I switch him out with Rock.

Rock had a lot of problems.  The first was dragging his nose along the ground as he trotted.  I know it's good for Quarter Horses to keep the neck long and head low, but he was so busy sniffing the ground that he wasn't paying any attention to me, so I cracked the whip to get him to raise his head up.  At first when I cracked the whip, he threw his head between his front legs and kicked out with his hinds legs, and then went faster.  He soon realized that I wasn't asking him to go faster, but to just stop sniffing the ground and carry his head at a level that told me he was on task.

Then I focused on his inside ear and did the same thing with making him change directions each time he took that ear off me.  He too figured out pretty quick that listening was not optional.  He's not good about turning toward me when I ask for the turn, but I know a lot of people prefer to turn the horse toward the railing to slow it down when it turns, and I don't know what his history is, so I'm accepting it both ways at the moment.  Rock doesn't really need to be slowed down, and I'd rather have his head pointed at me than his butt, but there were bigger problems to focus on.

Once I could get him to go a few laps without sniffing the ground, without kicking out, without speeding up, and without flicking his ear away, I put him on the lead line and worked on other things.  I had him walk toward me while I backed up, and asked him to stop his feet when I stop mine, so that he won't bump into me.  I also worked on backing him.  When we first got him, we couldn't get him to back up during groundwork at all.  Now he consistently backs up, but not very fast.  When I put the pressure on to go faster, I could see that he didn't trust me and was worried about what was behind him.  Still, he's way better than he used to be.  He may not back up fast, but he backs up every time I ask.

We ended on a good note.  Gabbrielle is the only horse who always shows me respect and is easy to maneuver from the ground.  She even volunteers to do stuff, so each time I showed up at the barn to get another horse, she was right there waiting for me at the gate and trying to stick her nose in the halter.  But she really doesn't need any work.  Her head is in the perfect place, so I don't want to mess with it.  P.S. always does groundwork with her before and after trail rides, and that really makes a difference.  I tend to just walk the horse around to slowly tighten the cinch, and then mount up and head out to the trails.  When we get back home, I'm usually thirsty and tired and thinking of all the other things I've got to do, so I just untack, groom, and put the horse away.  I'm convinced that is partly why the other three horses that I ride are not as respectful and responsive as Gabbrielle.

My new horse trainer said that the best way to prevent horses from being slow to move out and fast to come home is to make them do something -- anything -- even if it is just tying them up for a couple of hours after returning home from a trail ride, so that they don't always anticipate getting released and fed.  It's pretty obvious if you think about it, but I never thought much about it until now.  I'm usually just so focused on my own schedule and how tired I am.  And right now I am especially anxious to get to the dogs before they soil the carpet again.

My farrier is au natural.  If he had it his way, all horses would be barefoot, bit-free, have free choice hay, receive daily, non-coercive groundwork, not be vaccinated or wormed unless necessary, and not be pressed so hard to compete that they develop injuries.  I love listening to his arguments, because he has so much proof to back up what he believes in.  I don't think I've ever met a person more passionate about the welfare of horses.  I always have a lot of food for thought after one of his visits.

I don't want to make any radical changes, but I am slowly moving in the direction of greater degrees of natural horsemanship.  All of my horses have been barefoot a while, one is bit-free, and I don't push them to compete.  The other things will come if I get positive results with the small steps I make in that direction.  Right now, I'm working on earning the horses' respect back.  It looks like it's working.


Sam said...

Good luck! When you have multiple horses together they tend to feed off of each other. I tend to keep Maggie separate because she is the boss mare and grouchy. Right now we have a pony guest in her pen and she is in with the big mares. Her focus is on keeping her "herd" in control instead of me like she usually is. The other two mares are now focused on what Maggie may do. If I take her back out, they all relax and I'm in charge again. LOL - I find it kind of interesting.

Cindy D. said...

I wonder if making the trail ride the reward would have any effect on them. I mean as in, working them on a lot of mentally taxing maneuvers in the arena first and then asking them to simple cool out on the trails. I do that with Trax sometimes, not because he is unruly on trails but just because we both get bored with walking in circles but he still needs cooled out.