Wednesday, July 20, 2011

first you gotta get their attention

My horse is awesome...more in a minute. 
But first, it is 100 degrees here.  How is it in your part of the oven?

Ok, horses.  This will probably read like a therapy session or a 12 step program, but I am going to drag you through it anyway. 
Nina has been improving under saddle, but the ground manners have been getting worse and worse.
So if you had to guess who's fault this is, who would you pick?  Ok - just to get it over with.  The human is 99% at fault and the horse 1% and I only give her the 1% because she is a tough TB and likes to win any fight. 
When I got Nina the ground manners were awful and since they involved kicking and biting I was pretty harsh and willing to do my share of kicking and biting.  So the manners improved and as she got to know me most of the tension went away and she just generally behaved herself.
Lately she has been pushy, refusing to stand still, trying to rip away when turned out.  She throws her head up in the air and threatens to walk over top of me.  She never touches me but she is about 19 hands tall and pushy.  I first tried just ignoring a lot of this and trying to manipulate her into what I wanted.  I think the pushiness is a bid for a fight and I was trying to avoid that - and the adrenaline rush that goes with it.  That worked for a short time, I think it puzzled her, but after a short time it just made her brave.
Yesterday she would not stand still while I was saddling her, eventually pulling back and then trying to run around me in circles.  I dragged her to a round pen and lunged her a bit, knowing full well that this was not the fix but just wanting to get rid of the energy, get her tacked up and get on. 
Then the rain started and I put her up and went home, in good time because a wild electrical storm started up. 
Anyway, I spent yesterday evening thinking about this latest problem and just really discouraged.  You could have bought her for 25 cents.  I was just fed up with the constant pattern of picking fights.  I also realized that I had let this escalate by trying to get past the bad behavior and ride instead of dealing with it.
So today I decided to deal with the ground manners and if I didn't get to ride, oh well.
I put a stud chain on her, under her chin.  I started tacking her up and she was ok for a few minutes, then pulled back.  So we backed and backed and backed.  Then we walked to the round pen and when she got pushy we backed some more - the length of the barn.  Several times.  I think people thought I was nuts because I was not going to fight with her, so I made her back and at the same time I told her she was a good girl and back and back and good girl - all in the most friendly and enthusiastic way possible.  She knows people well enough to recognize that an angry voice is a fight, so no fighting, good girl! back.
We went in the round pen and practiced some more, back out.  EVERY false step, every time her eyes left me, every time the head went up and the tension started - we backed.  She really didn't know what to make of it.  She was pissed but I was patting her on the neck and being SO nice that it didn't fire up her fight mechanism.  The eyes never got hard, the adrenaline didn't start. 
After she stood quietly all over the place and I fiddled with the saddle until I was even bored I took her into the round pen to trot around a little.  She ran off a little energy at a nice canter, no craziness.  Then she came directly into the center to me, stopped and backed up.  I sent her around and she made less than a lap, turned in, stopped and backed up. 
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  This mare who will fight at the drop of a hat and has resisted every step of her retraining was showing me the new trick she learned today.  Her eye was soft, she had an alert expression and she wanted me to tell her how smart she was.  Awesome.  Not what I was asking for but awesome anyway. 
Then she gave me a great obedient ride.  AND I felt like I was having fun for the first time since I got run over last spring.  I have been really working at riding her but not enjoying it, every misstep threw me off balance, every ear prick made me suck back.  I like a hot TB, I like them wanting to go forward and looking alert and happy working.  I have been faking it with her, trying to encourage her but feeling very stiff and not comfortable myself.  Today I was having fun, ears pricked, surging forward - great!  enjoying the energy instead of avoiding it. 
She was so perfect (and it was 100 degrees) so it was a short ride, but I felt like it was a break through for both of us.  Are her issues fixed?  Nope, but I think this will work and for the first time in a long time I am enjoying working with her.


  1. I watched a trainer load a horse that no one else could load -- multiple attempts, multiple days, multiple trailers, hours at a time -- just by doing what you did. back, back, back. The horse got so tired of backing, he willing loaded. Good job with your mare. So glad you had a happy ride.

  2. Awesome!! So happy for you!! And for Nina showing off her new trick for praise. Wow! It is so wonderful to hear you and Nina were just plan having some fun times. Sounds silly--but it brought a tear to my eye. Once you two get in sync with your positive energy I think there's no stopping you! :):)

  3. Now that is exciting... good luck with her.. gotta luf a mare!

    Suzanne (for some reason google is not allowing me to sign into your blog even though I am logged in)

  4. It's really great that you are starting to enjoy her. It no fun to be tense and anticapatory all the time. Breath, relax, ride on!

  5. Hooray!! I like how well you know your mare and not to escalate, so you were able to exactly tailor the solution to her needs. You get a big, shiny gold star for that.

  6. I think holding your horse's attention is so important- to the point that I would say it is the absolute first thing you have to have when you are doing anything with a horse, whether it is leading them, mounting, riding, the whole lot.


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