Friday, April 11, 2008


I have two horses to talk about today. An update on Old Reliable and an interesting thing that just happened at work.

First , I think I have Old Reliable figured out. She has been working nicely, coming back to the easy riding horse I remember, and starting to enjoy her work. She seems happy to have her nose pointing in front of her again, instead of to the sky.

She is making regular, friendly eye contact with me and is keeping an eye on where I am at all times, instead of vice versa, so I'm happy. I've pretty much quit worrying about it.

I did want to find out why we had this Aspergers thing going on though. I have a saying that I repeat more than my clients probably want to hear. "I'm sure there's a reason, but there's never an excuse. " I fix problems first, and then try to figure out why. It tends to piss off the clients, but the horses get it, so I don't care.

Anyway, Old Reliable's owner came out to ride her so I could run through what I'd been working on. We were at the tie rail grooming and saddling our horses. I watched said client grab a metal curry and go to raking that thing back and forth (yes against the hair) so hard it would have drawn blood on you or me. Old reliable was shrinking and jumping away, and yet Client continued to cheerfully follow her and whack away at her with that curry.

"What the hell are you doing?" I said, maybe just a tad forcefully.

"Can't you see that hurts?"

"I always groom that way." replied Client. She had a truly puzzled look on her face.

"Well stop it. " I said.

Then I shut up, because there were other people around, and I hate to embarrass anybody, especially myself. Which on occasion I manage to do.

When she went to saddle Old Reliable I noticed the mare was looking off into the horizon. She was gone. Zippo. Zilch. Mentally over the rainbow.

The first day I got her out and wanted to do a little ground work. I wanted to remind her who I was, and get a feel for where she was at. The first thing I saw was that the mare wouldn't look at me. Ever. Not a glance. She would raise her head over the top of my head and look to the north and south of me. Or look past my shoulder. Imagine her covering her ears and drowning me out by singing "LA LA LA LA".

She was pretty compliant, put her feet where I asked her to, responded pretty well in general. All without ever acknowledging me. Hmmmm.
When I went to tie her she blew right past me to get to the other horses at the rail. She gave me a good shove with her shoulder to do it. As I went fix her she accepted the correction with no problem, led to the rail, got tied, and as I walked off she swung her butt around and whacked into me. So we had a little practice session on moving her hips away from me when she was tied. Once again she accepted the correction without issue.

Through all this she never looked at me. There was no real malice in her behavior. If I was in her mind at all she would have stayed out of my way. Since I was invisible to her she didn't notice she was walking all over me.

So while I have been tuning on this mare I have also been working on getting her attention. I didn't realize how much eye contact I actually make with my horses until I got this mare. I have been working on this little by little. I have to, because like I said, I don't have a lot of time.

When I get her out of her stall, I wait at the door and stare at her until she looks me in the eye. All she has to do is glance at me. If she does, I look away to release the pressure.

Before I take her halter off for turn out I wait until she looks me in the eye.

Before I saddle her, before I get on, etc. Look me in the eye. You get the picture.
I repeat, I immediately quit staring at her if she looks back. I totally get the predator/prey relationship.
She has started to seek my eye first. I hold it a little longer as she feels more comfortable.
I swear I saw a twinkle in that eye the last time I worked her. I'll keep you up om Old Reliable's progress, and if I figure out her deal. Speaking of which, I've got to get to it. Later.

My job is to explain all this to Client without alienating her. You have to understand, this is the rare horse owner that gets professional training for her horses when she feels she needs it. She feeds them well, takes care of their feet and veterinary needs. She keeps them FOREVER.

She loves them. And since I am a bad tempered thing I have to be careful when I talk to her about this. This situation will be continued....

So here's my second horse story. I'll call her Skitterbones. She is kept in a group of three mares, all four year old cow horse prospects, and is absolute bottom of the totem pole. She is an extremely athletic horse with absolutely no confidence.

When I feed, there are two pastures full of anywhere between eight to ten horses, all ranging between weanlings to broodmares. I have pretty strict expectations of these horses when I feed. Remember they're way bigger than me, and not inclined to pay attention to where I am, unless of course I remind them.

As I tote their hay to the feeders I expect them, and I pretty much can count on them at this point, to stand by their feeders and wait for me.

When I finished feeding the first pasture, I was carrying hay to the second pasture which held the three cow horses. I opened the gate, set down my hay, and turned to close the gate. Now for whatever reason, when I set down my hay the three mares decided that meant it was time for a free for all. All three, including Skittlebones jumped the hay.

Don't misunderstand me, I might EXPECT them to stay by their feeders, but my gifts as a trainer are a continual work in progress.

The ensuing commotion ended up with me standing over the hay, the mares back at their feeders, and nobody the worse for wear. I fed the two dominant mares first, and bent over to pick up Skittlebones hay.

As I was picking up her hay I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, Skittlebones in full assault mode.. Her head was down, her ears pinned, and her feet were striking the ground. She looked like a horse going after a dog. But she was coming at me.

"Hey!!!" I straightened up in a hurry, dropped the hay and threw up my arms.

As soon as I yelled Skittlebones stopped short. She threw up her head, shot me a horrified look and spun off. I chased her around for awhile and made her wait for about ten minutes before I gave back her hay.

What the hell happened? I would love some insight on this one. These are well fed, well mannered horses. Skittlebones knows her job, knows she'll eat, and knows me. I've never had the Who's the Boss War with her that I've had with other horses. She has always known I'm the one in charge.

Lesson learned? Never ever think you don't need to pay attention. To stay safe you have to stay smart.

I think both of these situations tie in strongly to the predator/prey relationship I maintain between me and the horses. Tomorrow I'll share my thoughts on that...Later

1 comment:

  1. Old post I know...but this reminds me of a situation with my old mare a couple years ago. I was riding the pony (who old mare loved to pick on) in the pasture, when old mare decided she would chase pony into a corner and try to double barrel her. When I jumped off and laid into her she had the most horrified/embarrassed look, I swear she didn't realize it was a person riding the pony. Maybe this was something like that - you didn't look human while bent over? (Don't read too much into that.)