Archive for category: Correcting Bad Behavior
If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training. This is an old military saying that echoes in my ears when it rains from my time on active duty (Army). It was very applicable to this week’s training. It seemed every time I tacked up Phil and started some warm up ground work the sky would just open up. Phil and I schooled in the down pours on several occasions. Holding up to my end of the bargain Phil and I used this opportunity to review basic lessons and try new ones such as w-t-c through puddles. It only took a reinforcing leg to encourage Phil to navigate through the puddle. If I wasn’t on top of my game he side passed or jumped the puddle.
Now, playing devil’s advocate, I could have easily untacked Phil when it started to rain and put him up. However, I would have taught Phil that when it rains he is going in his stall. As you can see I would create a huge training issue in the future. If riding in the pouring rain isn’t your cup of tea and you’ve made the trip to the barn already, then I would suggest tacking up (to give sense of work) and work on previous lessons that can be done safely in the barn aisle (head down cue, haltering, backing, leading etc.). This would also be a great opportunity to teach a trick such as bowing or shaking. Use your imagination and be creative.
Gymkhana Under the Stars. We showed at night under the lights. This was a new experience for Phil. He handled the new situation like a professional. We did show in pole bending, cloverleaf barrels, key hole, and arena race at walk-trot. Phil and I also tried our skills with the egg and spoon race. Phil brought home a few ribbons, but his future career is not that of a gaming horse; he is too slow.
Lessons for Phil at gymkhana. Phil had to bend and really listen to my cues in these games. He also was the model of good behavior for the geared up, excitable gaming horses that charged at full speed down the alley way. While the other horses were wild eyed and full of nervous energy, Phil was not the least bit interested in wasting his energy acting so ridiculous. I was very proud of him.
Whipper In Training. Fly whisk and Hunting Whip. Phil was introduced to a fly whisk and a hunting whip this week. Humorous note: The hunting whip was actually home décor turned training aid. The things we do for our horses. During the summer I ride with a fly whisk and experience has taught me that you don’t just grab the whisk and start shooing flies out on the trail on a horse that hasn’t had a formal acquaintance with the whisk. Not much bothers Phil, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All of my homework building trust and establishing a relationship with Phil has allowed easy introduction of new objects. If I am not concerned then Phil isn’t concerned. After our trail ride, when Phil was cooling out, I brought out a hunting whip. I desensitized the air and cracked the whip just like I do with any new object until Phil was unconcerned. When I felt Phil was relaxed I mounted and asked for softness. When Phil was soft I swung the whip on each side and above his head. If Phil felt like he had to move his feet that was ok, he was just going to move his feet under my direction. It didn’t take Phil long to figure out that moving his feet was just too much work and it was easier to just stand still. I cracked the whip in using rhythmic timing (the best I could) until Phil cocked a back leg and relaxed. As soon as he relaxed I stopped and released. Now, are the Aiken Hounds going to hire me as a whipper in, probably not, but it was great exposure for Phil when we do hunt with our friends this fall.
Fox Hunting. If you love to trail ride, jump, and enjoy the company of other horse crazy folks, but don’t want to compete, then Fox Hunting just may be your kind of recreation. The first time I was introduced to hunting, I had the preconceived idea that hunting was a glorified trail ride. Well, I was in for a huge surprise when I learned that there is a whole sub culture to fox hunting to include their own Bible; The Hunt Bible. To avoid any faux pas on your part, I’m going to suggest reading Riding To Hounds In America, An Introduction For Foxhunters, written by William P. Wadsworth, MFH. It is an oldie, but goodie filled with humorous illustrations. For those of you hunting with inexperienced horses, please tie a GREEN ribbon into your horse’s tail to alert other riders that your horse is a “newbie.”
Training isn’t glamorous. I was thinking to myself as Phil and I were working on more bending, flexion, and softness that I don’t want folks to envision Phil and I cantering off into the sunset learning lead changes. No, in fact, I hardly do any of the fun, exciting stuff. I rarely canter at this stage of learning. The time I do spend in the saddle I walk and trot. I would probably put an audience to sleep. For example, I spend a lot of time bending into the round pen panel and away from the panel. Phil has to almost hug my inside leg with in these tight circles. I have found that if you put a lot of time into your walk and trot everything else seems to fall into place.
Do I finally have Phil’s respect? The answer is NO. I feel Phil has about 70% respect for me as a human. In some situations I mean more to him than other times. A good example is when I was cooling Phil out on the trail and I rode by the broodmare pastures. The mares came running up to see Phil and I knew what was going to happen before it happened because I was listening to Phil. Long before the mares appeared, Phil’s head was high, back hollow, and his body stiff. He wasn’t even giving me a thought. Just as the mares came thundering to the fence I emergency dismounted and as quick as I could get the reins over Phil’s head I backed him down the trail with a purpose (I was running, he was backing). I was trying to get his brain to switch from instinct to thinking by giving him a purposeful task. Once he softened (he was thinking now) I brought him back to the barn. To avoid creating a barn sour issue I backed him (notice I did not lead him, I backed him) to the round pen and put his feet into motion (going back to the barn doesn’t always mean it’s quitting time). Once I had “two eyes” on me. I put the rope halter on him and untacked. I wanted to make sure the last experience Phil had on the trail was one of relaxation, not excitement over greeting the mares. I purposefully went by the broodmare pastures and gave Phil a good tug every time he put an ear on the mares or tried to tip his nose in their direction. He was still distracted, so I put his feet in motion and let him choose to side pass or back in a hurry down the trail until we were out of view of the mares. Away from the mares we had a relaxing walk and returned home for bath.
Note that I did not reward Phil by dismounting. I put him to work ASAP. I also did not reward him when we returned to the barn. I did reward him when he was quiet on the trail and this was his last experience before going back to his stall.
Phil wasn’t excited by the mares because they were mares (not a stallion behavior), he was just excited because the mares were excited (somebody new was visiting and my mares are very nosy). If I had Phil’s respect 100% I would have been able to redirect Phil and ride past without much fuss. The herd still has a strong influence on Phil. I still have to work hard to prove my worth to Phil. It is easy to be fooled into believing the hard work is done because Phil has become so easy to work around. This is the most difficult part of the journey…..time invested into a relationship.
Rearing under saddle is an unpleasant reaction. In its extreme form, flipping over, this action can be life threatening. Understand, it is a reaction.
Before we start with a cure, let’s start with a cause. If the person trying to cure the issue is the cause of the issue, we need to take away the problem before addressing the symptom.
Every time I’ve been asked to assist with solving a rearing problem, it has always been a rider problem, and a horse symptom. Tie downs and popping between the ears does not address the problem, but rather the symptom. If the problem continues, the tie down and popping increases the frustration which makes the symptom worse. It does not matter if the rearing is at mud holes, roads, barrels, on the track roping, or wherever….
Someday maybe I’ll see a second reason, but so far it is always too much bit, and too much pull by the rider causing the horse irritation over the unfairness, to the point of frustration. Over the years I’ve become numb to riders telling me “I wasn’t in the horse’s mouth”. When we humans panic, or are stressed, we don’t know what we do. So if you struggle, get a horsy friend to give you some feedback. The quality of the feedback will be directly related to what you’re the horsy friend knows. It won’t increase with what the friend thinks they know. Pick carefully.
Almost every time, with few exceptions, within a few minutes of riding with soft hands, and dumping the harsh bit, the rearing was no longer an issue. Harsh bit is defined by the mouth of the beholder. My opinion…. Is that rearing up is the horse frustrated with what it perceives as abuse. Let’s not confuse rearing with flipping over. Another opinion here…. My observations make me believe flipping over is when a horse is so frustrated by the abuse it feels no recourse but to come over backwards. Sometimes the rider causes the flip by unbalancing the horse with his weight and pull on the reins. For example a one rein stop used incorrectly can cause a horse to flip. Read more
Week of June 8th-June 14th – Is your horse loving on you or is he dominating you?
At the show last weekend I witnessed a horse rubbing his head on his handler. I over heard the handler comment that her horse was “loving” on her. This is an all too common scenario. When I first met Phil I saw him rub his head on his owner; this was a very calculated move on Phil’s behalf to dominate his owner. I would like to discuss this rude, dominating, obnoxious behavior. A horse rubbing his head on you is telling you he’s in control. He is not only in your space, but he views you as he would a fence post or tree, not a leader. Think about it. You will absolutely never see the subordinate herd members rub their heads on the Alpha mare.You may occasionally see a subordinate rubbing his head on a lower ranking member. Clearly, this behavior is not to be tolerated. Phil has never attempted to rub his head on me, but I work every day to remain the Alpha.
Another common occurrence I see is a horse bumping his handler with his shoulder when he is led or moving a hip towards his handler during grooming. I have yet to see any handler correct their horse for this threatening behavior. If a horse can feel a fly land on them, they sure know they have bumped into you. It is these little infractions that build up over time into big problems. Many times people say “I don’t know what happened, he just one day charged and reared at me when I brought him his food”.
No, what happened is all the infractions went unnoticed and uncorrected until the horse felt he was now in control. This is how horses get labeled as “bad” or “dangerous” horses and end up passing from owner to owner or worse get sent to auction.
In reality, the behavior was never the horse’s fault; it was the uneducated owner or handler that is to blame. This is why I am so passionate about passing on the knowledge.
A good example is Phil. He had aggressive behavior that stemmed from his lack of confidence, like the bully at school. He was mislabeled because he was misunderstood.
A minor set back.
Phil appears to have a sole bruise on his left hoof. This probably is from some of the rough terrain we rode through on our group trail ride. He shows all the classic signs. I have started to pack his hoof twice a day. Through my many years of observations many owners stop working with their horse when he is recuperating or worse let their horse get away with more “pet behaviors” than ever because they feel sorry for their horse. I am emphatic and sympathetic to Phil’s soreness; I don’t believe our learning has to stop. In fact, I tacked up Phil today, led him to the round pen, and mounted, even with his wrapped hoof. I am not heavy enough to cause any discomfort to Phil. I asked for lateral flexion. This exercise we can work on standing in the shade. Phil ignored my requests and even closed his eyes in a lazy way. I asked him to disengage his hindquarters; this caused him some hoof discomfort and he woke up. I spent 30 minutes flexing. Phil only half heartedly flexed, but I was tenacious and kept up my requests. The bar has been raised, so I expect Phil to give me his face, neck and shoulder at this point. Phil finally worked through his lazy mental block and as soon as he was soft as melted butter in my hands, I jumped down and loosened the girth.
I walk Phil to and from the barn twice daily without a halter. Phil goes into a stall during the heat of the day. Phil and I feel comfortable enough with each other that I can climb up on his back while he is in his stall.
The farrier was out on Saturday. It was apparent that Phil has typical TB dropped soles. This is just a generic description of a soft sole that grows faster than the hoof wall. I opted to go ahead and put some light front shoes on Phil since I have been hauling him where the terrain isn’t always sand. Phil jogged out sound after shoeing.
We are back in business!
The ground work is reinforced every day whether it is actual moving Phil’s feet in the round pen or by simply leading him from pasture to barn. I try to be creative and my have him serpentine or walk backwards while going from barn to pasture.
In the arena I have been focusing on softening and lateral flexion at walk and trot. Phil and I have been bending around the barrels, trees and every single corner in the arena. Tuesday Phil did have a mini meltdown and wanted to drift to the gate. I held him steady and just kept riding. When Phil became ugly I shouted a firm” NO” and kept the outside leg pressure on until he figured out his own release. As long as I had control of his nose and feet he could not rear, buck, or bolt. He did briefly think about rearing and I kept him to task. Contrary to popular belief if your horse is giving you a warning (they always do) instead of stopping their motion, push them into the motion by switching directions every two-three steps, ask for a roll back, drive them into a tight circle, etc . Remember stopping their feet is a reward. By stopping them you are allowing them to collect and thus have more power to buck, rear, bolt, etc. Instead, get control of their nose using the built in foundation of lateral flexion, keep the head up, and disengage the hindquarters. A horse cannot buck if his hindend is disengaged. A horse cannot rear if his feet are in motion. A horse cannot bolt if you control his nose. These are just basic theories of physics. I let Phil work through his mini tantrum while continuing to bend around the barrels until he softened in my hands. I released the reins and let him rest. After the meltdown, Phil was a soft, relaxed horse and I even had to check him with halt halts every once in a while. His work ethic was renewed.