Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Manners Matter

I moved my horses a few weeks ago.

Madonna, Odin, and my friend Kathy's mare, Rosie are living together in a safe pen with plenty of room to play wild mustang if they want.

I received a compliment about them that kept running deeper the longer I sat on it. At the end of the first week I was visiting with the barn manager.

"I have to tell you," she said, "those are the most well mannered horses I've ever worked around."

"Well thanks," I said. "considering Odin bit a chunk out of that gelding his first day."

She shrugged. "It was his first day,the gelding's owner should have known better than to shove her horse's face at him."

I knew I liked her.

"You're just throwing hay, how much trouble can they get in?"

"When I come to the gate, they stand clear and don't crowd me," she said. "I can swing the gate open, push the wheel barrow in and not worry about one pushing past. If I need to move one, I just raise my hand and they move off. I mean, your horses are pretty rowdy, but while I'm in here, they don't fight or anything. I haven't had a single butt turned towards me, not one. I love your horses."

I thanked her again and we went about our business. Her compliment has been percolating since then. My horses aren't angels, believe me. Madonna has been known to run barn help out of her stall or pen. Odin will completely dismember anything made from panels if he feels they're in his way. Rosie is the queen of the mean face. All three of them will paw and whinny if they feel they've been tied too long.

I'm tickled to death to hear they're being well behaved, it secures out position in the new place. They have not lived in as open a situation as this one before, so it isn't specific behaviors they've been taught. The basic training I put on every horse I either own or was paid to train has paid off.

It's not just about getting a feel good pat on the back, it's knowing, if circumstances change and take them from my care, I have given them a better chance for a good life. They have different talents, are at different levels of training, and have wildly different temperaments, but they share one thing in common, they are respectful and safe to handle.

I have some rules I instill and maintain from the first day I start with a horse. Most of them are about personal space--mine, not theirs.

My horses can't step closer than, oh, three or four feet to me. If I want to be closer, I'm the one who steps to them.
When I approach towards, next to, or past their hindquarters, I expect them to take one step away from me. Always. Forever.
They can't lean their shoulders towards me.
My horses may not step into me. Ever. This includes spooking. I'll let them spook and get behind me, but they better not bang into me.
They never, ever crowd a gate. This fits under the respecting three feet of Janet's personal space rule.
They don't fight when I'm in their space.
They lead where I tell them to.
They don't kick, bite or make ugly faces at people.
They stand tied.
They behave for the vet and the farrier.

These are my basics.

I try to respect them too. Personally, I feel like if I acknowledge their likes and dislikes, they trust me more and work harder to comply.

Madonna doesn't like her ears touched. So, I don't. Don't get me wrong. If I need to doctor them, I do. She drops her head for a bridle and is fine with having her ear folded into a one ear. If I need her ear, I get her ear. But I leave her be. I don't try to touch them without reason. I don't clip them.

Odin is as sweet and snugly as a gelding can be. If he knows you. Unfamiliar hands reaching for his face send him spinning away. I let him be wary. I warn people off when they want to pet him. He'll let them ride him, but he doesn't want them up in his grill.

Even though I let them have their quirks, I can still trust them to be non-threatening and quiet around people.

Which leads me to my next point.

My horses are broke.

They are as safe to ride as they are to handle. I have to stick a caveat in here. They are safe to ride if you have the skills needed to ride them.

 Rosie is the most tolerant. A green rider doesn't faze her. She'll pack anybody around an arena, but she won't give up any cool moves until her rider knows how to get them.

Odin is almost as laid back. He's still young enough to need support from his rider periodically, and could become frightened without it. But it doesn't take much to get him rode. He's going to be as awesome as Rosie as the years go by.

Madonna is a snorty, high wired, bug-eyed, hot mess. It's easy for someone who doesn't ride cow horse to frighten her. I've never seen anyone who rode her step down without a big grin though. She's cool.

Each horse is well trained for a market that's always looking.

I feel I owe each and every horse I work with at least that much.

As far as I'm concerned, the greatest disservice possible to a horse is to not educate them. I know way too many 7-year-old geldings that still aren't started. They'll eat carrots and rip hay out of your hands, but you can't ride them around an arena.

When I think about my animals welfare, I always consider what will happen to them if something happens to me. So far, I've been able to make arrangements for all of them. It hasn't been any trouble either, because they come with the best possible safety net I can offer them. They're broke.


Crysta Turnage said...

Amen, amen, AMEN!!!

Sharon Burdeshaw said...

:) The twin to your dog post.

Anonymous said...

When I was younger, I never thought that way. But then, I thought if I could get a saddle on a horse I could ride it. Now I have the same thoughts, if something should happen to me I want to make sure my gelding will be loved and appreciated.

Stacey said...

I am always amused and grateful when someone says something offhand that ends up resonating deeply with me, especially if they are pointing out something I thought was quite unremarkable about my way of thinking.

I am glad to hear that the new digs are working out for your horses.

herdswoman said...

Preach on, Reverend Janet, preach it!

I heard an AMEN!

Can I get a hallelujah??!

Amy in Ohio, and currently, the choir loft

mugwump said...

Rock on Amy.

cdncowgirl said...

This is *exactly* what my best friend and I were chatting about after our ride the other day.
We both honour their individuality, we both go with "Let them have their own personality and quirks" but it HAS to coincide with being broke and safe to handle.
No matter how much someone may think this horse/dog/cat/whatever will be mine forever, that isn't always so. Life happens and sometimes it's just not feasible.

Michelle L said...

Well said Mugs. Way too many horses at the Auction yard with nothing to help them stay out of the Kill pen but the Grace of God.

If it is a colt/stallion geld it. Give them an education. If you can't start them then pay some one who can. Be fair. Be consistent. Give them a fighting chance if something bad goes down and they can't be with you any more.

But then I agree with Amy. You're preaching to the choir.

Pishkeen said...

I realized this morning that the horses at my barn (including my own) don't have the best manners at feeding time. Normally we free feed roundbales in the winter, and I can walk up to any horse and pull them off the roundbale without attitude from them. This morning however, we are waiting on hay delivery, so I took some squares to one of the paddocks to tide them over. There was a squealing kicking fuss as they all tried to get the hay at the same time, mostly directed at each other, but too close to me for my liking. I'm taking a big stick with me next time!

Heather said...

I'm happy to join the choir on this one. Before we buy/breed/whatever a horse to our farm, we always ask - are will willing and able to do right by this horse? My goal has always been that, if something happens to me, there should a fistfight amongst my friends and acquaintances over who GETS to take which horse. I want my horses to be so good that even the broken old ones are worth fighting over. I dunno if I've accomplished that, but I know that, with the exception of my yearling, every horse on our farm is broke, handle-able, either nice to look at or at least great to ride,and pleasant to be around. Even the yearling is very very halter broke and easy to handle. So, I take that as a mission accomplished. Now, hopefully, my plan will never need to be activated. I'd hate to see my friends beating the crap out of each other.... :-)

Heidi the Hick said...

A buddy of mine has tried to give me his gelding. I won't take him. I've been tempted to, because he's pleasant and good looking and papered. But he's 18 or 19 now and not technically broke. He's got decent manners and you can saddle him and sort of ride but he's very green. I'm still putting training on the horses I've got. Mine are broke enough to teach beginners how to ride, and I don't consider them solidly well trained… because I did the training and I may not have always known what I was doing. But they've got the basics. I don't think that's really enough, but they don't need to know more until I get off my butt and actually take them somewhere off the farm.

They are the kind of horses I would buy. I do that, ask myself "Would I buy this horse?" If there is any reason why I wouldn't theoretically buy my own horse, I know I need to work on something!

But not right now… we're taking the winter off and all they need to do is be polite to the person who's throwing the hay at them. And they are, so we're good.

(I think I'll print out your list of requirements and hang it in the tack room!)

Heidi the Hick said...

Also - I'm glad you could soak up the compliment on your nice horses. You've earned it.

Tracy Beavers said...

Manners are so important! Sometimes it's easy to let my horse get away with things, but in the end it's really best to set boundaries.

Shadow Rider said...

Love, love this! I have rehabbed a lot of horses. First thing I do is put basic manners on them. Do that, and I can find a good home for them, no matter what their training level or talent is.

2 Punk Dogs said...

People at the barn thought I was "too strict"& "wasting time" because I trained my mare to stand still while being groomed, saddled & while being mounted. Not sure why they thought hopping on one foot while their horses scooted away when mounting was acceptable. The stuff they would put up with was ridiculous!
When I needed to find a new home for my mare, everyone who came to see her commented on her good manners. It definitely made it easier to find her a great home.

Now I get people commenting on how strict I am with our 2 dogs, since they need to sit & wait before going out the door, walk well on a loose leash & not eat the cats. Yeah, they're allowed on the couch, but only when invited up and if they stay on their side. :)

Scamp said...

I love getting compliments about my horses manners - and I believe anyone who boards has an obligation to put some manners on their horse.

Their having manners means they get treated a bit better, get some perks the others may not, and in a place with limited turnout, will get turned out when the weather is threatening but not yet bad, because the barn help knows they'll be able to bring them in in a hurry without getting run over, reared up on, or trampled.

But my geriatric (may he rest in peace) and my current "old" gelding (the grey) were easy to put manners on from the start - if I told them to respect my space, they did. I figured it was just the quarter horse way - pretty laid back and good-natured.

But... my newish red horse is an enigma I haven't been able to crack yet: he's kind enough, but mouthy and busy and drives me to distraction when he's just standing. Being reprimanded either vocally or with a snap of the rein or leadline, he reacts with his head in the air, gives me the hairy eyeball, then 5 seconds later is back to doing whatever earned him the reprimand in the first place.

Under saddle he can be a bit fresh at first, but settles down. It's a good thing, because while he makes me think about sending him down the road working from the ground, riding him makes me forget I even had that thought.

Anyway... I'll figure it out.

Helen said...

Off topic for this post, but an interesting article on the dog stuff.

Anonymous said...

If any of your arrangements for your horses needs to change, please put me on the alternate list. I come with vet references, farrier references, my character reference is the former equestrian coach for Bowling Green State University...and she's your doppelganger who lives in a parallel universe when it comes to how to train and where to draw the ethical line for what she won't do to win. Amy in Ohio

emma said...

great post!! i've had vague thoughts along these lines before in relation to some of the horses around me - but your post really summed up the words quite nicely!

Anonymous said...

Lurker here - apologies for misuse of comments, but I don't have any of the required accounts to comment at Blog of Becky. Could someone please point her to ?

The sole capture predates her most recent template, but it at least has the sidebar links.

And ON topic - one other thing I'm in favor of is every horse leading with a hand on cheek or mane (or just on command). Not necessarily as the default method of getting from place A to place B, but as needed/in case of emergency, or e.g., to bring a horse over for someone else in pasture.

Becky Bean said...

Anonymous (and Kristin, for telling me about the comment) -

You sexy, sexy, sexy thing, you. THANK YOU!!!!

Also - I originally made people sign in because I picked up this super creepy, very mean troll who was spamming me with hateful messages.... it's been about 2+ years since she's sent anything, so I'll look into making it open-commenting.

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