Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Come About

When I was young, I was very fortunate to be able to attend a summer day camp in which my two favorite activities were horseback riding and sailing.  This was back in the 1970's when people were not sue-happy and did not feel like they had to weigh out the risk of every little action they took.  The camp counselor drove twelve to fifteen of us kids in a van to a beach every other day, picked a base camp, and let us kids take off in all directions on our own as long as we met back at base camp by a certain time.  People just weren't worried about children being abducted back then, and we all had our swimming, CPR, and first aid lessons.  We had very little adult supervision, and the freedom was wonderful.

Even with sailing, I was given a little sabot, and my best friend and I sailed out together for hours without anyone telling us what to do.  We raced other boats and purposefully tipped ours over, because it was so much fun to climb onto the centerboard and rock it to try to tip the sailboat back upright.  When my friend bored of sailing, I took the boat out by myself and soaked in the silence of the lake.  I never wanted to leave.

I remember "come about" as one of the sailing terms I learned.  We had to yell it when we turned the boat around, so that others would duck their heads while the boom swung low overhead.

I recently experienced a "come about" with my gelding Rock.  He's been developing a lot of frustrating, bad habits over the past couple of months.  Because I own four horses, it's easy to just stop working with one when he or she becomes difficult, and start working with another, but I try to stay cognizant of the fact that bad behavior just means that the horse needs more of my attention.  Plus, sometimes if I leave a horse alone after it's been giving me trouble, I reward it.  However, if I'm so flustered that I don't know what to do to fix the problem, sometimes I can do more damage throwing darts in the dark.

One bad behavior was him rushing back to the barn.  Another bad behavior was him refusing to leave the barn in the first place.  Another bad behavior was him kicking out at me when I lunged him.  Another bad behavior was him banging the gates.  Another bad behavior was him trying to crush me.  He used to be such fun to hug, because I could wrap my arms around his big chest and squeeze, and he'd gently squeeze me back, or lay his head on my shoulder, or just stand still.  Then he began using his head and neck like a nutcracker and practically crushed my clavicle when I hugged him on a couple of occasions.  Then he started throwing his head around and banging it against my head an spine.  Needless to say, I stopped hugging him.

Then I got that stethoscope and tried listening to his lungs, and he kept trying to bite me.  I was baffled by his extreme personality change.  He used to be such a sweet, easygoing horse, but now I couldn't have any interaction with him without him being obnoxious.  Then I heard the sand in his gut and began treating him with psyllium.  He's been on it a couple of weeks now, and his mood seems to be improving.

However, he was still being rude by banging the gates while I was trying to work.  He demands that I feed him the second I walk into the barn, but sometimes I need to clean up manure first, and I like to move some D.G. around before the sun sets.  Rock gets impatient and bangs the metal gate against the metal railing to tell me to feed him now.  I decided that I needed to address the problem, especially since I now know that the neighbors and their guests are very aware of what is going on in my back yard, and that they hear everything.  The banging had to be bothering them too.

I decided to start out with minimal requests for him to stop the behavior and increase the intensity until it becomes a command with a consequence.  I said NO, and he stopped, only to start again as soon as I returned to my work.  I then said NO and chased him to the other side of the stall, only to have him start again as soon as I turned my back.  I said NO and chased him all the way out of the barn, which worked for a longer period of time, but he did eventually return to his stall to bang the gate.  Then I said NO, threw a tool at him, chased him out of the barn, and continued throwing stuff at him until he ran all he way to the other side of the paddock.  That did the trick.

I figured I would have to start over the next day, but he actually has not banged the gate since then.  He even has started up some helpful behaviors like standing in the far corner of his stall so that I can close the gate without having to ask him to move.  I'm realizing that he knows exactly what I want, and he is perfectly capable of delivering it, but he can't do it unless:

A)  He feels well.
B)  He knows there will be a quick and strong consequence if he does not cooperate.

Since his behavior seems to be making a full come about, I took a chance on hugging him, and he gently hugged me back.  Hopefully, my old Rock will stay around longer this time, because it's good to have him back.


Linda said...

What sweet success. I have the same issue with owning many horses--and not giving the squeaky wheel enough grease at times. Never turns out good. It appears you found the right way to communicate what was expected of Rock and it has brought back his tender side.

lytha said...

Where did you grow up? What lake was it? curious!

TeresaA said...

Hmm I wonder if he's having some gut issues- like ulcers? that can really change a horse's behaviour.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

lytha - I don't know. They took us around to different lakes in Cali.