Morning feeding: Phil’s energy was a bit pushy. Although he did not come into my space his posture was very “pushy.” His head was high, his eye was hard. The Alpha mare would not tolerate this disrespectful posture and would “put Phil back into his place” in the herd hierarchy. This is typical young colt behavior, but must be corrected. I waved Phil off and put his feet in action. I drove him around 2 times and he softened. His demeanor was submissive. I asked him to come into my 16ft circle and rubbed his head. He followed me to the food dish. You see there isn’t a “quick fix” with horses. You have to be on top of your game at all times especially during the time you are establishing the “pecking order” between you and your horse. Training is not glamorous. It is tiring work, takes so much time and patience. You have to celebrate the little victories.
Herd punishment: The worst punishment the Alpha mare could administer is to isolate the belligerent one from the protection of the herd. Out in the open the horse is very vulnerable to predators. This is the concept behind sending Phil far away from my space is that I want to make my message clear “if you are in my space you are going to get sent far away from me.” At this point, I am Phil’s herd.
This morning I took Phil out to see the fertilizer being spread on our new Costal Bermuda pastures. The truck is loud, it clanks and creaks. It throws fertilizer in all directions. This sounds like the perfect recipe for a teaching lesson. Phil was only somewhat fascinated by the truck. Great, one more thing I can cross off the desensitizing list! A thanks to the racetrack environment!
Phil and I went out exploring in the woods. My kids have a secret fort deep in the woods. Phil and I went to check out the fort. We traveled down a steep ravine, through a small creek, up the ravine and through thick brush. Phil had to really keep track of his feet. When Phil started to inch his way into the leader position, I waved him back. I was the navigator. There were several huge tree trunks that I asked Phil to step over. I did not let him jump. The purpose was that I was going to tell his feet where, when, and how fast to go over the log. If you can control the feet, you have control of the mind. Moving the feet with a direct, soft feel will be used under saddle.
I introduced Phil to the electric clippers. I was prepared to start to desensitize him, however Phil was unconcerned about the clippers. Ahhh, one more item that can be checked off the training list. Using the head down cue, I clipped Phil’s bridle path in one clean sweep with the clippers. I also trimmed the outside of Phil’s ears mostly to find any areas that may concern Phil. I don’t trim muzzles, inside of ears, or fetlocks unless we are attending an “A” or “AA” rated show. Horses need the hair in these areas to fend off flies, burs, insects, etc. The hair on the muzzle and eyes serve as “feelers” for the horse since they don’t have sight below their muzzle.
Trailer Loading: If you remember my first meeting with Phil his trailer manners did not impress me one bit. I have spent the past 13 days building on the little pieces that cement the training/learning foundation. Today was an assessment to see how we have been doing on the basics. To set us up for success I did use the 38 foot stock trailer. This trailer is 7’6” tall and 8’ wide. Though this trailer is awful to pull with its length and width, it is awesome to teach trailer loading. I waited for my husband to come home, so I had someone to help me if I needed some “gas” on the other end to get Phil moving.
As I approached the trailer I could feel a little tension on the lead as Phil raised his head. I immediately backed him in a hurry; he was about to switch into instinct mode and balk. I returned to the trailer and I felt tension again, so this time I had to raise the level of intensity to make an impression on Phil. I backed Phil so fast down our driveway I was running like the ground was opening up to swallow me. Phil and I returned to the trailer and he walked right up the ramp like a complete gentleman. I repeated this many, many times until I could walk with two fingertips on the lead. Ok, we were making progress walking up the ramp, now for backing into the standing stall. In the back of our trailer there are 3 standing stalls. These are tricky to back into.
Using the head down cue and the backing cue I asked Phil to back step by step. Each step was rewarded with a complete release of the rope. He was even rewarded for thinking about backing and rocking back even if he didn’t move a foot. If he wanted to look behind him that was fine as long as his focus was still on me. Phil tried really hard and not once was he ugly. He had every opportunity to bite, kick, or push me; my persistent work is paying off. He has enough respect for me now that biting, kicking, or pushing are not options.