Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Excuse Me?

There has been some killer input on these posts. I'm going to weave some of these thoughts into where I'm heading with this.

First off, I had someone ask me if it was possible that Neil was stung by a bee. It made me pause, and the Boss and I went over her pretty good yesterday. No dice. BUT, she was beaten up pretty severely by the herd she runs with, the week before our train wreck.
We knew she was still muscle sore when we worked her that day. So it's possible that something hurt on Neil.
Here's where we get to my core belief on my relationships with horses.
I don't care why she did it.
If she was sore, she had other ways to tell us, that wouldn't involve turning my boss into a lawn dart.

I have spent a huge part of my life learning to read my horses so that I can tell if something is wrong. I can feel an off stride, a sore back, a hurting tooth. I care intensely about their well being. I work to give them the big four. Always.
I am not 100% on picking up their problems. I get caught up in my own program sometimes, and miss things that my horse might be just screaming about. It doesn't matter.
I can't help my horse if I'm worried about being catapulted into space.
My number one rule is, and always will be, My horses cannot hurt me.
There is absolutely no excuse, ever, for my horse to forget I'm on their back, on the end of their lead rope, or standing where they can hurt me.

I teach them where they can stand, how close they can come to me, how they can behave under saddle.
I am extremely consistent with my horses. They can rely on me to reward good behavior, crash down on rudeness, and for the most part, to be kind and tolerant.
I am patient. Watching me train is like watching paint dry. Or alfalfa grow during a drought. Or a crock pot make dinner.
I will take as long as a horse needs for every step we take in the training process.
I am proud of my track record with fearful horses.
I will kick any horse's ass if they are going to hurt me.

When I begin to train a horse the first thing I clear up is how I expect it to lead. Which is by following behind me, with plenty of slack in the lead rope.
Fluffy can't go past my shoulder.
Fluffy can't pull on the lead rope.
Fluffy can't touch me.
Pretty simple, huh?
You wouldn't believe how much trouble most of the little Fluffies get in that first few days.
I stick to my three step system in all of these matters.
1.I give the cue I would like Fluffy to respond to.
2. I give a stronger cue, the only warning they get.
3. I make it happen.
I do mean make it happen, by the way. I don't mean repeating the warning cue over and over, or starting over. I mean I get big, swing ropes, swat butts, get out a crop.....Whatever it takes to get Fluffy where I want her.
The instant Fluffy complies, I immediately relax, immediately assume Fluffy will be perfect forever and ever, amen, and continue on my merry way.
I rarely talk to them.
Horses are pretty nonverbal in their communication.
I try to be also.
You will never hear me say, "Fluffy, back. Aw, c'mon, back. Fluffy, back. Back. BACK! BACK!
Dammit Fluffy, I said BACK!"
If I am on the ground, I ask for my back by stepping into Fluffy's space, and putting my hand on her chest. That's step one.
Then I place my hand on her nose, push it toward her neck, and poke her in the chest with my other hand. That's her warning cue.
Then I grab her pretty hard by the nose, SHOVE her back, and kick her front hooves to unlock those sticky, stinking front legs. (Warning, careful how hard you kick, and only the hoof, not the legs) I make it happen. That's step three.

That's just an example. I don't believe you can create a gentle horse unless Fluffy knows there is a consequence to noncompliance.
I don't care what your method is. I don't care if the consequence is more work, or a slap on the butt. There does need to be a consequence that your horse understands.
Witholding your love, or carrots, isn't going to cut it.
Fluffy will just stomp over your love, and you, to get the carrot.
The Big K told me once, "The only gentle horse is the one you haven't made mad yet."
If Fluffy doesn't know that getting mad at you will get her in a deep pile of crap, then you are going to be the one dealing with the pile.
To my mind the equation I'm searching for is this
Clear, fair treatment, (including discipline) = Respect= Safety.
I worry about respect foremost. Interestingly enough, most of the horses I train always give me a friendly greeting when I see them again. Even years later. So we've become friends in spite of it all, or maybe because of it.
I hadn't gone through my ground stuff with Neil. I figured she was started, and would be OK. I assumed we would cover it as we worked her. Oops.
Now that she has our attention, I have been making sure Neil gets the concept of consequence. It hasn't been pretty. But the boss has had two successful rides on her.
I'm not sure that Neil completely gets it, but we sure have her thinking about it.
What I'm getting at is, I think it is vital to modify a horse's responses to outside stimulus to leave me feeling safe enough to read those responses. Am I making sense or am I babbling?
Now I'm late for my appointment with the warmblood stud colt......Sheesh. Later


  1. Thank you so much for reminding me of something I've known for years but continually seem to forget, especially with my newest horse, who is very "cute". He's great when I treat him as you describe (which is my basic way of doing things also--I think we come from the same school). As soon as I get seduced by his cuteness and treat him, even for a moment, like the little toy he looks like, he tries to push me around. He never gets very far with this, as I instantly return to the I'm-in-charge stance, but you would think I'd eventually get the point and quit relapsing into pet-the-cute-horsie mode. Thanks for the reminder. And especially for the point that the horse actually likes you better when you stay in I'm-in-charge mode. I know that's true and I experience it daily, and still I forget.

  2. Makes perfect sense to me.
    We don't go out and spend time with these animals in the most hellish weather to get trod upon by a thousand-pound critter.

    I've seen the consequences of a horse who was never taught who was boss, it wasn't pretty.
    I think about him now and then and wonder if his owner still has him.

  3. I am with you on I don't care why she did it. There are ways to work around that, and ways for the horse to tell me that don't involve pitching me off. That's disrespect, plain and simple.

    My methods to keep the horse off of me are slightly different in application (I'll resort to a stud chain to apply the first BACK. OFF. leading lessons) but similar in theory.

    If a horse doesn't respect you on the lead rope, in the stall, on the crossties--it won't respect you under saddle. Period.

  4. "Witholding your love, or carrots, isn't going to cut it."

    I need a stick for every time a person says something stupid like "if you don't load into the trailer you don't get treats" or "he wouldn't hurt me, he loves me". Those people need a big whack with the reality stick. Putting a horses nose in the corner like a child don't make them into obedient horses. Hell I don't know how many times I see people letting their horses rub their sweaty heads on them because "they love me" (head rubbing is a big NO-NO with me, I hate just seeing a horse rubbing on another person because that says to me the horse has who pushes who issues)

    Isn't there a trainer that says (maybe it's john loyns?) "No horse is worth breaking your baby finger over"

  5. I've had my mare since she was 4 months old. 8 years later, we know each other quite well. I know her, she knows me. She knows what my boundaries are, and I know hers as well. We have a great working relationship.

    I show her and I love doing showmanship classes. She knows when that chain is under her chin, that I mean business. She listens intently to what I'm asking and watches my every move. She's learned this over the years. As soon as that chain comes off, she relaxes. She knows when it's time to get down to business and she knows when we can just relax and have a good time.

    This is why I give trainers such credit. They don't have an endless amount of time to work with a horse, and if a client expects the horse to do 'such and such' by the end of 3 months, you've really got to work quickly. Most times, you don't know a thing about that horse being brought to you, so not only do you need to train that horse, you have to also gain that horse's respect.

    Climbing on top of a horse you know nothing about is risky. Making assumptions based on what you've heard about the horse is dangerous as well.

    I've had to work very hard with my horse to get us where we are today. It has taken many, many years and trainers don't have that luxury.

  6. I was at a clinic with cleave wells who said he often spends the first week teaching a horse in for training how to lead properly. Even thouse horses whos owners have said they are broke. If hes not to big to do it why do other people not insitst horses respect them on the ground

  7. Love your post today! Bang on, in my opinion. I demand that my horses lead well and that when my feet stop, theirs had better too! When I take them from the paddock to the stall or anywhere I will stop a few times along the way and make sure that they are always paying attention to where I am and watching me for their next move. It is their responsibility to maintain the distance I had set when I walked off. I like to ask my horse to maintain different distances from me (but always behind me on a slack lead) so that I can set them 10 feet back or three depending on where I need them. I find that they pay better attention to you in the saddle when they have learned to always watch you on the ground.

    Also, I totally agree with you on how extremely important it is that you are always fair and consistent. Horses seem to have a very clear understanding and are excellent judges of what is fair, too strong or not strong enough when it comes to enforcement issues. The secret is finding the right balance and being consistent. I find that is easier said than done...I hate when I find myself letting a horse push and push on some matter until they cross the line and they I blow up. It doesnt make sense to them and is just WRONG but I am so guilty of it. They needed a small correction or enforcement when they asked the question of you the first time (are you boss?) In the herd you will never see a horse higher in the pecking order push around a lower horse until the lower horse blows up and attacks the higher horse. Horses figure out their order right away and tend to accept their position. A trainer once told me that the very minute you meet a horse they will try to determine their status with you. When a horse meets you they will try to walk into your space or push their nose at you. Dont let them. I will not let a horse walk up to more than lets say five feet of me, even my good old gelding.

    I totally agree with Mugs. Dont let Fluffy touch you. You touch him. It is amazing how a horse will want to be with you and follow you when you wont let them touch you or walk up into your space. Keep it up Mugs.

  8. I think your process for teaching respect is a good one, and is very similar to what I do with my filly. She is expected to stay out of my space and lead or stand with no fussing or mouthiness whatsoever. I am working toward the expectation that she will lead, turn, and back up easily with me on either side.

    Can you elaborate on why you like your horse to lead behind you with a lot of slack? I've actually had a couple of accidents (probably my own fault) leading or holding a horse that way. About 10 years ago I was leading my TB yearling (a quiet, slow horse who liked to grow roots most of the time) when something spooked him. Because I had too much slack in the lead rope he bolted forward and kicked me right in the chest before taking off for a merry gallop around the stable. Ouch.

    I like for my filly to lead with her throatlatch right beside me and slight slack in the lead so that if she spooks and plunges forward or pulls back, I don't get run over or whiplashed in the process. So far she's attempted nothing even remotely bad, but I am generally cautious.

  9. The common thread that I am seeing with topics covered over the last few days is mental presence and awareness in the handler. In order for communication to happen the handler must be completely mentally present, this is also true for reading a horse. For you Muggs this is second nature at this point, you spend your days honing your abilities to read and communicate with horses, whether or not that is your primary intent. I am not suggesting that everyone who works with horses as much as you do would necessary be developing a high level of communication abilities, I think that the results will be very much shaped by the intent of the person during the training process.

    I would imagine that over time you can produce a horse that will develop skills and a level of responsibility that will transfer over to another handler, if that new handler is able to "listen" to some level. You wrote a blog a while back about a mare that came to you checked out, and you were able to get her to become mentally present with you, but then you watched her check out with her owner during what the horse considered to be overly rough grooming. I am willing to bet that you might have "heard" some distress messages from this mare that dumped your boss had you been the one riding her. You did say that your boss got tired of you dinking around with the mare if I remember right. What appeared as dinking to her was likely actually you laying a foundation of communication and trust with this mare, perhaps when your boss started riding her, and pushed her a bit past her comfort zone, she also may have lacked the sensitivity to hear distress signals coming from the mare.

    I can tell you that I am coming away from reading these recent blogs with a very strong sense that staying mentally present, and keeping communication open between human and horse, is paramount.

    I am also 100% on board that when the horse gets pushy, the going gets tough for a moment or two. I have had great success with my personality plus two hear old gelding with that approach when necessary. He can go from cocky sassy guy to polite, relaxed and responsive in no time flat when I am swift and clear about ground rules.

    And I can also say that the more mentally present I stay with him, the less likely he is to get silly/stupid in the first place.

    One more thing... I also think that many horses will respond to a genuine attempt by a person to be present, fair, and communicative, even if the person's handling and reading skills are sub par by comparison to others. I have seen horses recognize and respond to such handling, and I can't help but give them credit for their often superior skills for reading a situation.

    I LOVE this blog!

  10. I can't tell you how much these lesson type entries are helping me. You communicate the information so well. Thank you very much for writing. (write a book already though, I'm dying to read it.)

  11. It's funny to read about all these things after a day at the farm, and realise that I have complete double standards. I wonder how many others who post on horse forums follow their own advice? I found myself nodding my head along to the original post, and sydney's comment about never letting your horse rub his head on you. then realised that a couple of hours ago I was being rubbed raw by a sweaty shetland stallion. If it had been a bigger horse with a bridle on, you bet your ass he would've been smacked in the jaw.
    Just a thought

  12. Apologies for the butterfly comment, I've just read though a bunch of posts.

    My personal thing is respect - on both sides.

    Yes, they need to respect the fact that I am the dominant one in this equation, to pay attention to me, and not get in my space, face or even damn well move unless I say so.

    However, I being a squishy little human, need to respect the fact that they are big, flighty animals, who are heavier and stronger than I will ever be, with severely limited reasoning capacities.

    Therefore, part of that respect is to pay attention, to not put myself in bad positions, or ones where they might accidentally hurt me. To not forget that they are prone to sudden spooks. To not confuse them by abdicating my responsibilities as leader. To not let their unthinking reactions put me in a situation where I stop thinking.

    You said: What I'm getting at is, I think it is vital to modify a horse's responses to outside stimulus to leave me feeling safe enough to read those responses. Am I making sense or am I babbling?

    Hell, yeah you're making sense. I find a lot of this blog interesting because you force me to examine what I do myself and some of the things I've learned over the years and could really have done with hearing when I was younger.
    In my younger years, I really could have done with understanding that better, though unless you have a good teacher, it something you have to learn, usually painfully, which I of course did.

    For instance, teaching a horse to give to pressure e.g halter when tied, being led.
    That's a huge modification - horses are naturally inter-pressure animals, so to give to pressure instead of going into, is a huge big deal.

    I think a lot of people really don't get that ground work is key to a successful horse. I don't even contemplate getting on a horse these days till I can do anything I want with it on the ground, without resistance.
    If the horse doesn't completely respect you in a familiar area, how big are your chances of getting it to listen to you when you put it in an unfamiliar area, like oh, having something moving above it?

    You were talking about feel the other day which is one of those things that kinda divides the equine community - can you learn / teach it?
    Feel, in my definition, is paying attention to your perceptions, and then applying the correct action. Nothing mystical and not necessarily innate. I do believe there really are some people who have "natural feel" and are instinctively more responsive to smaller signals than others. A physical / mental gift, like being a natural footballer - we can all kick a ball, but we can't all be premier league.

    I'm not one of those naturally talented people, at least not in the saddle. However, because I've worked hard at it, I can get a tune out of most horses that I ride and get them going sweetly enough. I'm better on the ground, and probably always will be.

    I grew up with the assumption that you couldn't which is prevalent in my experience. However, during my riding / teaching career I've come to believe that actually, yes you can.
    What you can do with a student who doesn't have natural feel but is trying, is put them in a situation where the sensation / action required is produced, and then repeat it, until the student can recognise / reproduce it themself. Then you work on introducing the required reaction the same way. Same with ground work. If the student doesn't have the natural horsesense to understand bodylanguage etc, then you teach them the signals and work with them, pointing them out in a safe environment over and over and over, until reading them becomes reflex.
    That's the key though - being able to reproduce what you need to without thinking about it.
    Of course - this is a very slow process and needs a skilled teacher, and a very committed pupil.

    More and more, I'm seeing kids who need this kind of basic groundwork. They haven't grown up with animals, quite often they haven't socialized with other kids enough when they're small, and they really do not have a clue about body language or boundaries. They are starting from a massive disadvantage and I reckon it's kids like this that lead to people saying you can't teach feel. You can, but the student has to want to learn, and be capable of listening.

    On the topic of NH and what pisses me off about it - apart from all of the equipment and money grubbing.

    A skilled horse person, faced with a horse doing something they shouldn't exactly do, or something that's not quite what was asked for, will automatically assess, decide whether to accept what's been given, ask again, correct or reprimand. Quite often there's not even conscious thought there. Action, assessment, reaction all happens so fast that an observer might not even catch it. Even to the level of: horse is about to do x, handler rider does y and x never materialises to be corrected at all.

    Someone who doesn't have that level of experience may not even realise they haven't gotten what they wanted.

    And that's the problem with a lot of NH for me - people who don't have that level of animal / people savvy think that it's a "short cut" or so they are led to believe, to that level of instinctive response. It tries to boil horse actions / interactions down to simple language, e.g. ears back = bad. Moving away = horse thinks you're boss. And so on. Truth is, it's not that simple.

    By the by, have you read a book by Temple Grandin called Animals in Translation? I read it a while back and found it enormously interesting. Part of her theories about human / animal interaction is that we just don't pay enough attention, are possibly in some ways incapable of paying enough attention. I know from my own experience that until I was nearly in my twenties I was very much hampered in my riding by not being able to "switch off" and really focus on the horse.

    Also on the topic of being incapable - Has anyone else come across someone they just couldn't teach?
    I have met a very few people, where no matter what I did, they still couldn't ever put things together. They could recite back at you the signs of an aggressive horse, and points of bodylanguage, but put them in front of a herd and they couldn't pick out the boss mare if you paid them. In the saddle, they were always a step off the beat and if they were ever on the beat, it was by accident, because no matter how often you tried to get them to memorise the feeling when it was right, it just didn't stick and when it happened next time, they no more recognised it then than they did the last time. And it wasn't an intellectual limitation.
    Until I read that Grandin book I believed it was me, not them, that I'd failed them as a teacher... I do wonder now if some people just aren't wired up in a way that lets them ride.

  13. Love the lessons, but I need some more pics as well ...... (please)

  14. The instant Fluffy complies, I immediately relax, immediately assume Fluffy will be perfect forever and ever, amen, and continue on my merry way.

    This is so important but it's also SO difficult! I had it in mind as I was riding today and experimented with it with very interesting results.

    We're working on maintaining a correct bend through a circle. My horse has ZERO idea how to hold his body together and wants to drop his shoulder or invert his bend at certain parts of the circle (maybe you've encountered this with your greenies... with my horse the two spots are in exactly the opposite side of the circle - so he drops at the top of the hill to the right and the bottom of the hill to the left. Any idea why that might be?? It's interesting.)

    Anyway, I've done the circles there before so I know where his weak spots are. It's such a fine balance between being ready to correct him IMMEDIATELY while still not correcting him before he makes the mistake (that is, trusting that he'll be perfect). I've learned from experience that if I anticipate he will drop out of the circle - he will - but if I expect him to maintain bend, he will. So I don't want to inadvertantly program him to mess up -- but at the same time, I need to correct him INSTANTLY in order to get the message across.

    It was really challenging, mentally, for me to do it. I think I got it by the end, but it wasn't easy (the best things never are!). I had to reconcile two completely different plans of actions and STILL allow my horse to choose to obey or disobey.

    Have you ever heard of Schrodinger's cat? It's a thought experiment which says there is a cat in the box - either alive or dead. The only way to know whether the cat is alive or dead is to open the box and look. He posited that until you open the box the cat is EQUALLY alive AND dead. Both realities are equally true.

    This does have a point! The way I reconciled my need to correct with my need to trust was to set up a Schrodinger's cat situation with my horse. I set up two entirely true outcomes - I would correct AND I would leave him alone - but whichever outcome I chose would depend on his actions. If he chose to duck his shoulder out, the cat was dead; I would correct him. If he chose to keep going with the correct bend, the cat was alive; I would leave him alone.

    It was a HUGE b.f.o. (blinding flash of the obvious) for me - and entirely related to the idea you presented in your original blog. And the best news was that it *worked*!!

    So don't think that you're the only one who mulls over questions and ideas from this blog... I spent the better part of the afternoon over this idea myself! Thanks for the inspiration!!


  15. loneplainsam - re your last comment - my old trainer used to call that "riding the horse you have under you".

    I'd say as much as 95% of what happens with horses happens because we intentionally / unintentionally set it up that way.

  16. I have always been an ask, tell, make type of person. (I guess I am this way to an extent with people as well.) And have noticed over the years with my mare that I very rarely need to even get to the tell stage, and if I do, it's even more rare that I need to continue to step 3 and make her do something. It's like counting to 3 with a toddler...if I get to 2, you're in bigger trouble than you were when I started counting...and there is absolutely no 2 and a half, 2 and three-quarters...it is strictly 1...2...3. On that third request, you will be *made* to work harder than you needed to in the first place. So, you might as well shut up and do it when I ask nicely. lol.

    I wish more barn staff could be taught this...although I suppose it raises some issues with different types of owners, as the ones who baby their horses would have a hissy fit. I suppose, too, that overall size of a facility would decrease ability to do anything other than the basic turnout, feed, muck stalls, etc. and perhaps it's not fair to ask them to stick up for themselves when a horse is being a jerk. They just want to get the job done, right? It would be safer if they'd stick up for themselves, though, that's for sure.

    But, I have always been fairly open with my barn managers, in that, if my mare does something wrong, i.e. is pushy and in your space when leading or, tries to bolt when you go to turn her out, instead of standing there until she's undressed...then *please* correct her, even if it's a quick tug on the lead. Correct her. If you don't, you let her think it's ok to do that to you. When in fact, it's completely unacceptable. Obviously since I'm paying you, I can't be there every second of the day to correct her for you.

    And what she *knows* is wrong when I'm there, she *ought* to remember is wrong with any human.

    Part of this, no doubt, is lack of time on my part to really continue to drill the basics that she learned way back when as a greenie. But I do miss the days of boarding with my trainer, who had no qualms of reminding her that she "must behave with any human" rule. The other part, is selective memory, I think. :)

  17. This is a good topic...as you may or may not know, I am fostering a 6 year old, newly gelded, mini who has *no* manners at all. I do give treats by hand, but after today - the vet who chiroed him gave him a treat, and BB saw another and lunged for it and almost bit the vet - he is a treat-on-the-ground-only horse. However, all this leads to who is boss...he's always been boss in his previous home(s?), and I can't accept that with him. I am learning to be more assertive because of him to make him safe. (My mare and I have worked out 98% of this already). Yes he only weighs a whopping 400 lbs, but he could hurt someone (kids come to mind right away) and it's my job to make him safe. So I just ordered a rope halter (I love them) and we are going to have some good ground lessons ahead (at least I don't have to ride him as he is quite the bucker on the lungeline!) He's actually a perfect guy for me to learn to rehab with - and I bet once he loses all his excess fat (he is very overweight) he's going to be a handful...a big reason to get basics now!

  18. I'd say as much as 95% of what happens with horses happens because we intentionally / unintentionally set it up that way.

    I agree completely.

    If you'll endulge me, mugs, that just reminded me of one more thing I did today that seemed to work well.

    As we were working on bend, I started verbally saying the parts of his body that were sticking into the shoulder. I know he couldn't understand me, but it was really helpful for ME because it put my focus on those spots before I physically did anything. I've noticed that sometimes intention is stronger and more forceful than physical strength.

    At first I was doing a LOT of talking. "Hip" "Shoulder" "Ribs" "Shoulder" "Ribs" "Hip" Et cetera. But as my consentration got stronger and my feel got better, I started talking a lot less! By the end, it was just the occasional call!

    And what was interesting is that I started only having to SAY the word before Cloud moved it back into position. He still couldn't understand what I was saying, but he could read my intention and my focus and knew that if he moved over now, I wouldn't touch him with my leg/spur.

    It's moments like that which remind me that horses can feel a fly land on them - and that if they're not responding to us it's not because they can't hear what we're saying - they're just choosing not to respond. Very interesting!

  19. Amen on the ground work/leading stuff.

    Big R wanted to make the point to me about the difference between a reason and an excuse. He usually makes his point with a story (or two, or three, he's a talker.) The one that comes to mind is the story of the draft horse that was stung by a wasp while out on a drive outside. There were two people in the cart, both of them saw the wasp land and saw it sting. As you can imagine the horse bolted.

    This horse had every reason in the world to bolt. I dont think anyone would argue otherwise; but he still had to be punished, and severely at that. Once he started running that horse wasn't allowed to stop running. He ran, pulling two people in a very heavy cart for many miles. I was a little taken aback by that story and big R said to me "he had a reason, but thats no excuse." He needed to learn that bolting was never ever going to be a viable option for solving his problems.

    That being said, I think knowing the reason a horse did something is still valuable. (If it werent important you and boss wouldn't have bothered to look for evidence of a sting.) It can inform where you focus your training energy in the future. The problem is when people conflate the reason with an excuse or a free pass.

    By way of a bad behavior showcase, a la fugly, a recently overheard quote from an otherwise (mostly) reasonable horsewoman to her dressage mount:

    "Its ok sweetie, I know you didnt mean to bite me, you were just looking for a carrot"

    Go figure.

  20. Yeah- to the people that think "I love this horse and he loves me, he'd never do that" I throw out the quote from Dr Heird, chair of the equine department at CSU:
    "The biggest mistake in horse training is applying human characteristics to horses".

    I've been guilty of it, a lot of people have, but I go back and correct myself.

    That's my issue with the NH "horsenalities" BS. Introvert/extrovert/exorcist/exhibitionist/Hannibal Lecter are terms for describing humans, and don't work for a herd-bound, grass-munching quadruped.

    I thought about the "excusez moi" post a lot while working with Jas today, and noticed she took to crowding me at the tie rail, so we worked on that. There's no reason for her to not keep her arse out of my space.

  21. You have such great advice, and explain your reasoning so well. Thank you :-)

  22. Ok, I have a question/confession. Its about the head rubbing thing.

    My two mares both want to rub their heads on me. If they actually get to my body they get a smack but usually I reach out my hand and they rub on my hand. I keep telling myself thats probably the moral equivilent of rubbing on my body, since they're the once moving their head and applying pressure. I should probably stop doing that right?

    I think I just need a little confirmation and a little bit of peer pressure. Its an old weakness of mine. One you think would have stopped after a horse managed to pull my shirt up around my shoulders rubbing on me. Or the time I didn't get the bridle off fast enough and got a pretty wicked scratch on my abdomen from a metal piece on the bridle. (I already dont let the geldings to it, I'm just sexist that way)

  23. Your hand is still part of your body isn't it? I would hope so. What is the difference between your hand, made out of bone, muscle, skin and the rest of your body made of bone, muscle and skin? Sure more places are more sensitive but they are still a part of you.

    My friend got hung by her bra, and everyone within her shouting distance was hooting with laughter. The horse had a full cheek without the keepers and said itchy disrespectful horse rubbed and caught the strap right on the front, rubbed up, picked her up and then pulled her sideways. She had a pretty nasty bruise the next day on her boob.

    As far as itching posts go. If the horse is really that itchy I have old push brooms on the side of the barn for them to alleviate their itches on when they are away from me.
    I think every horse should have a scratching post, not one made of human either ;). I want to get ahold of the old tube brooms from the street sweepers. My friend had one for her horses and she cemented a pole and stuck it over it. Her horses would walk up, lean on it and walk around it in circles. Funny.

  24. Something else I wanted to say about leading is lead rope length. As a rule to myself and my students you always have a length from the tip of your fingers to your elbow from the snap to where your hand is holding the rope. People who lead horses right at the halter are in danger of dislocation or the other day what happened to my bosses husband. The cause was totally innocent but he always leads the horses practically at the snap. The BIG gelding he was leading swung around in the opposite direction to bite a fly, pulled the tiny human handler with him and then unintentionally stomped his foot. His toes were all black and blue the next day.

  25. Sydney you're absolutely right. I had been pretending that maybe I was the one scratching their head, but its not true. The girls are going to be surprised on saturday. They'll get over it.

    Great story about the bit-bra incident.

  26. I could not agree with you more. As far as leading my horse goes it's kinda like on the movie Dirty Dancing. There is MY dance space and there is THEIR dance space. I am the leader, If I step in the horses' space it should move away move away. The horse should not have to be told everytime. There should come a time when the horse can read my body language just as I try to do his. I'm having a few issues of this sort with my mare that is leased out. The leese does not demand respect and now the mare knows she can get away with whatever she wants. She tried the whole "oh, I think I'l graze instead of being led to the wash rack" thing with me this past weekend. Oh No, that does not fly. I reminded her she cannot run over me, or do as she please as long as I am in presence. Sorry, that got kinda long and drawn out. just an example.

  27. Re: head scratching -

    1) I have noticed that if my leadership points are really high and my horse really respects me, he doesn't even TRY to rub on me.

    2) I think that head rubbing/scratching is a dominance game to see who can move whom. He who moves the other is the most dominant. So, if I allow him to do it, I put myself in a position where he CAN NOT move me at all - whether that means sitting down, holding a gate, whatever. I let him scratch himself but I will not move my feet and then when he's done I back him up 5-10'. I've found that doing that really seems to make a difference and it keeps me as the leader, while still letting him scratch.

    But it's fascinating hearing all these different replies!

  28. I agree with you 100%. I think we should look for pain every time we see serious misbehavior BUT on the other hand, even if there IS pain, bucking is never acceptable.

    >>I need a stick for every time a person says something stupid like "if you don't load into the trailer you don't get treats" or "he wouldn't hurt me, he loves me". Those people need a big whack with the reality stick.<<

    Oh AMEN! That makes me INSANE! The horse can't reason that out.

    I've always permitted a lot of behavior that tends to horrify others - everything from the horses scratching their heads on me to mutual grooming, where they turn around and scratch my back as I scratch theirs. I have never had it escalate or had it lead to a lack of respect at other times. The only explanation I can give is that they know where the line is, and I am probably enforcing it without even being aware of it. One thing I do know that I do is I never "give" to a horse. With the exception of a panicking horse who is pulling back when tied, I don't ever let them push me out of their space by a behavior. I come AT a horse who is nipping, AT a horse who is kicking. I never really paid much mind to that fact but reading all of this has made me aware of it.

    The panicking horse, hell yeah, I'm getting out of there before I get sat on. LOL!

  29. Fugly,

    I'm so glad you said that! I've been reading these comments and thinking ...but, but... I let them rub on me (but as you say, not push and move me), and my old horse mutually grooms me - never using teeth, always nose. Am I a bad mother? :D

    Despite me, neither of them are pushy buttheads. As a matter of fact, the barn girls where I board are constantly telling me they're among the best behaved and the least trouble of any horses there.

    I've also told the girls that if either of them *were* to misbehave in any way, that they have my permission to do what needs to be done (short of abuse) to correct the issue.

    I've seen another horse there drag a girl halfway across the turnout because she didn't get the leadline off him fast enough; I told her that if either of mine EVER behaved that way she should bring them in and tie them to a wall for a good long time.

    She said she didn't think that would ever be an issue. So mine do have some manners.

    Still, I was thinking as I read through these comments, I must be screwing things up somehow... but I'm consistent in what I don't allow, and they seem to understand the difference.

    I don't ever let them get pushy about treats - the younger horse - the food-a-holic - is made to step back a few steps (and THEN when I say "do you want a carrot?", and he nods his head, I don't get the head across my face and he accepts it - with manners); the older one just isn't pushy at all. He gives the gentlest nose rub for a "kiss for carrots" and then patiently waits for it to appear under his nose. They both move away from me when told to, no big deal. They don't move into my space or try to run out an open door.

    We have our understanding, and it appears to be clear to them that it extends to all humans.

    Maybe I just lucked out.

  30. A horse touching you (rubbing, grooming etc) always should be initiated and oked by the handler FIRST. Meaning you make the first move. For instance my mare Indigo. A big suck, she loves to lick people I have no clue why. Maybe it's her way of grooming.
    I never let her reach out and lick me, I always extend myself to her first that way it's me saying "ok, you can groom now" not her going up to me randomly and being all "hey!" *LIIIIIICCCKK*.

    Wile I kind of got the whole using a human as a rubbing post started I do have this to say. I am against the horse using you but I am not against scratching an itchy head so long as the horse does not shove on me or attempt to scratch. It has to be me to initiate the scritches. I have one of those gelly scrubbers and Indigo loves her head scratched after a ride with it. She tilts her head to the side I am rubbing with it but never actually attempts to rub or push against me but her lip goes all cute and twitchy. Shes never, ever tried to scratch on me.

    Treats and hand feeding are another thing. I never hand feed a horse unless they have done something for me in favor. Each one of my horses knows a trick. Indigo can turn her head left and right, smile and do a spanish walk. My pony touches targets and my old mare bows. Begging isn't allowed. I find once they know tricks they will go through a whole routine to see if they can break you down with their smart cuteness.
    Doing stretches are also a good way to deliver treats and help a horse warm up.

  31. jenny- oh thank God I'm not the only person that was thinking of Dirty Dancing.

    Re: head itch- my mule has never, ever done it. I start the scratching and she lets me know if it feels good by rolling her eyes back and drooping her lips.
    A long while back I got smashed on a tie rack by a horse rubbing their head on me HARD, so that was the end of it.

    They can damn well find something else to rub their head on.

    Now, we'll see how well I'm respected when I have to get Jasmine in the trailer tomorrow. Haha!

  32. Okay, so I have a question:

    There are LOTS of flies here in MN in summer. I noticed my horse when I'm picking his back feet, will now lightly drape his tail over me while I'm back there. Is he just being nice? They usually buddy up and do that to each other.

    Also, if he gets too head rubby I have my helmet and I rub the heck out of him with my head (and clumsily clonk him with the helmet in the head like he would to me for good measure. If his head itches and he makes like he wants to rub it on me, I will scratch it for him if he stands still. He may not scratch it himself on me.

  33. Eh, head rubbing. There's truth to both povs.

    I admit, if the horse is sweaty and itchy, after I've taken the bride off and put a head collar on, I'll let them rub against my hands, held away from my body.

    However, they are not under any circumstances allowed to rub on me without my express permission, and particularly not with tack on, and I'm strict about that rule and have no qualms backing it up with an elbow if necessary.

    *reads comments again*

    amarygma, your last sentence says it all "If his head itches and he makes like he wants to rub it on me, I will scratch it for him if he stands still. He may not scratch it himself on me." You choose, not him. Exactly the same with me.
    Re the tail draping... I dunno, I'd be more likely to think maybe his dock is itchy and he's trying to call it your attention?

  34. Tail draping: scratch his butt, it's probably itchy and if it's as dry your way as it is here chances are hes got dry tail skin. Hes probably trying to say "while your back there you mind giving me a butt scritch"
    It's funny the way horses tell us things sometimes.

  35. Thanks for confirming what I am doing is right. So many people get on my case because when they see me correcting a horse in this way, because it isn't the soft and quiet NH stuff. Although I use roundpen work and subtleness often, I also learned early on from my trainer that as soon as a horse is out of line and trying to misbehave or create a danger, that gettting strict and pushing the result through is the way to correct the behaviour. All this fluffy stuff just gets you knocked around and doesn't create respect.

    A new colt we bought over a year ago was very spoiled, leading him out of the box to the pasture he started taking my husband for a ride, running forward and kicking him to try and get away from the lead line (he wasn't all that halter trained). He got my husband a couple of times leading him out, and once a guy who holds feet for our ferrier and this colt fought all the way out to pasture, him hanging on his head and the horse trying to go skyward. That was it.

    I got mean, really mean, I never beat him, but nothing from our bodies would influence the colt, so the lunging whip became my best friend. When I came to the box he wouldn't let me halter him, I would crack that whip until he stood properly with his butt away from me and parallel to the box.

    I would go in and halter him, one deviation from position and the whip came flying in the air, sometimes he would do a round in the box and come back to position, I would relax, rub the whip on him, sacking it out. Halter him.

    I used a really long lunging rope from America, with a popper on one end, and a clip hooked to the other to lead him. I took him out of the box and when he bolted to do the kick thing, I lunged him using the long lunging whip, around and around, he would try to take off and I would leverage his head in, pulling him to a stop. Then we learned switching direction and I would drive him forward from me into the direction of the pasture, he would then get lunged on the pasture to learn that even there he was not yet free until I said so.

    After he had kicked up his heels out there and was ready to come into the box, I would use the same line and whip, and taught him to walk behind me about 3-4 feet back, any attempt to come up to me, he was driven back with the whip cracking. We would walk three steps and I would say WHOAH and raise the whip, lower it and say COME, walk three steps and say WOAH and raise the whip, he would stop each time, and then I would say COME and he would move forward with me, always well behind (so he wouldn't jump me). I used the whip as an extension of my body, holding it straight out behind me so he couldn't advance.

    I also used a shorter dressage crop to teach him backing by tapping on his brest or legs. Sometimes hard.

    Of course if he did something right and was calm, he got rewarded, almost overly so, loads of praise and rubs on his forhead. He learned head down and giving to pressure, and not one inch of backtalk or stepping out of line.

    He's now a good boy, he went to the fair with us for a breed demonstration and did great. He presented himself well and very mannered, and enjoyed himself and we enjoyed him also. He hasn't ever tried to do the forward rush and kick out again. Although I am ever aware of it, and will be on guard for a very long time of any behaviour that even suggests revolt. He is happy, and we are happy, but getting there looked terrible, people were shocked, at the same time, the holder for the ferrier or my husband could have been hurt badly fighting with this stallion the way he was acting. My husband was really upset with me, because he'd never seen me handle a horse like this and didn't want to see the colt treated this way, my voice raised and me "mean" to the colt. Well, I figured a boss mare can also be mean. And, my husband now is greatful and was pretty much in awe of the change around. Had it not been so extreme I may have never learned that sometimes you have to be very strict in order to be safe.

    I learned a lot with this colt, the colts raised with us never had this kind of attitude, I cannot say if it was just his personality or if it was how he was raised, I don't even care, he's a great colt conformationally and has turned out fine, so I have no beef with the breeder at all. Still, I learned to be a megamonster from voice and from behaviour to cure dangerous situations and the result turned out well.

    All this Parelli and NH stuff and futzing around in the roundpen to get respect, and then the people actually still having fear of their horses, I started to see that it isn't ALWAYS peaches and cream and you need to really know your horse too. In the old days, back in the 70s we didn't treat horses like some kind of breakable doll that has to be handled with kid-gloves. We rode them, sometimes hard, long and far. They did fine and enjoyed the rides (I have pictures of the horsse I rode and they were great horses). This gets back to the point of how horses were trained in the past vs. today, and how they are so different.

    I've been told that the Indian used to tie a ornery horse to a tree and bring it a flake of grass and some water once or twice a day. The horse would become dependent on the human, actually slowly grateful. Although, today everyone screams animal abuse, and all the horses should run in a herd at home and be together like a wild herd, they then wonder why the horse is popping them all over the place with their head. It doesn't mean you cannot keep them in open stall situations, but at least at one point in their training they have to have been taught manners and how to work with the human and for longer than a couple of days.

  36. OK, Mugs, you might not be “in” to getting awards, but I am giving it to you anyway. :)


  37. THANK YOU for this post. I needed the reminder and appreciate your candor. As a relative neophyte, I need to hear it often. I sometimes look into those big Appy eyes and forget just what I'm dealing with.

  38. I have to say I too let Starlette groom me...lips only, she knows it. But do not let BillyBob at all...I think part of it is the horse. I invite her to do it (or she asks, and I chose). Same with itchy face after a ride. I worked hard to get her to relax and show some personality..it was pretty much beaten out of her and now she is quite a hoot. Her favorite thing is when both my husband and I go to the pasture, each take a side, and we do a dual massage at the same time!!

  39. Mugs! I think you need to do a short post soon now for two reasons. 1) With all this talk now we need some reassurance you're still alive and healthy. 2) The comments on this post are getting really long. Just a little post saying something to the effect of "talk amongst yourselves, I'm fine I'll be back." If there is news or some pictures, so much the better. ;)