Wednesday, August 27, 2008

People say the nicest things!

I’ve been receiving so many kind and supportive comments lately and I just want to say how much I appreciate all the votes of confidence and kudos! You make me feel so much better about taking on this "enormous" project when I have so many other projects at hand.

This comment is one from Cilla.

Hey pat,Well done on taking on such a gorgeous creature. I hope it works out for you both. I read your blog with great interest and bless you for doing this. May I politely suggest that you turn your body away from Spencer so your belly button isn’t facing him, and therefore putting pressure on him. Try standing sideways a little with your eyes away and softly focused and see if he puts his ears forward.
Thank you so much Cilla. That shows you know a thing or two about horse language and I sure appreciate the advice. We forget how important the little things are sometimes.

Any advice for dealing with a huge, unhandled former stallion, spoiled-rotten, (super-sensitive) over-handled elephant of a horse is welcome!

I just wanted to explain those pictures in my last post a bit better.

Turning your body away to relieve pressure on the horse is something I'm actually aware of and practice when I’m training. Just facing horses sometimes can be too much pressure as is illustrated in those pictures on the last post.

The pictures, however, weren't actually taken to illustrate me trying to connect with him. A friend had told me that I should get a picture with Spencer for my blog avatar. So with my daughter's help, I wanted to see if we could quickly snap a shot with me and him in the same frame.

I picked up a rope on my way into the paddock. For protection as much as anything, and thinking I might have to get it on him to get in the same frame with him.

Then we tossed some hay and I was going to see if I could get close enough for a picture without actually getting a lead rope on him. I have to go about that kind of slowly. He didn’t want to let me get close and she just started snapping pictures.

In looking at the pictures later, I thought, they wouldn’t work for my avatar, but those shots of his body language sure were interesting. So I decided to use them in my blog.

I know that “training” happens whenever you are near your horse. Not just when you decide to do some “training.” But if I had been trying to connect with him, I would have turned away or even backed away from him when he’s is displaying those kinds of signals at that time.

Here is what he looks like when I walk in without a lead rope in my hand. He’s a really sharp horse.

I did put a lead rope on him yesterday, by using my carrot stick. I thought this was kind of interesting too.

It appears that "human touch" has rarely been a pleasant experience for this guy, so for now, in order to safely touch him, I use my carrot stick. He’s very fearful of anything that resembles a stick or whip, so I've only used my carrot stick to scratch him. I scratch his neck and rump and all the good itchy spot with it.

He will not allow touching unless he’s on-line and that’s barely tolerated unless he wants to be scratched. At liberty, to safely scratch him, I stay on the other side of the fence. And I’m always on the look out for that mouth!

You cannot just reach up and attach the lead rope to the halter, (and I can't wait to get that halter off, but for now, it’s a permanent fixture. I’ll explain that later.)

So in order to attach the lead rope to the halter without a big ruckus, I first begin scratching him with the stick. If he seems concerned about it initially, I turn away and scratch one of the other horses, they stand there enjoying it and he’s sees that and wants some too. So I come back to him and he's okay with it.

Then I slid the stick into the halter. In his mind, he’s caught. (I believe, that is how a horse who has had a chain used on his head responds. They aren’t going to risk checking to see if they are really caught and once caught, you have a different horse.)

After pulling the savvy string through the halter, he really is caught, sort of. Now I can attach a lead rope!

I may have to do it this way for awhile until he learns to trust me to just put a halter and lead rope on his head. And he will eventually, I have no doubt.

I feel that this horse had been over-handled. What does that mean? Well, if you use a halter with a chain in place of teaching a horse to lead politely, the horse,

1st is difficult to catch. They will do anything to keep that contraption off their head.

2nd, some people who use chain leads have a tendency to over-correct. The horse blinks and bam! Out of fear usually, or just plain meanness, the handler will give the chain a serious yank and the horse is shocked with pain. So the horse is up on adrenaline whenever the halter is on his head, and he is afraid to fart for fear of that horribly painful yank.

3rd, if they just can’t contain themselves (like stallions) when there are other distractions, they know the yank is coming, but they have to work through the inevitable pain, so they get over-stimulated to everything. On lead, they accept that every action is followed by painful jerks on the lead rope.

Jerk, jerk, jerk goes the chain and the horse is higher than a kite. That’s the scenario I often see at shows, etc. But I’m generalizing here. As many will tell you, there is a correct way to use the chain lead and the horses wearing them aren’t all scared. But if I were to say more are mishandled, than are handled correctly, I'd probably be right.

So I’m trying very hard not to be the jerk on the other end of the lead rope and encourage him to start using his brain. I want to teach him to give to pressure and stop worrying about the pain. (That rhymes!)

I took him out of the pasture yesterday, put him in the stall for a few minutes, which really ticked him off. Then I led him (behind Forrest) from the stall back to the paddock.

He was upset during that short walk and it was challenging to get him safely to the destination. He was so worried about getting out of the stall and back with his buddy, Forrest. (It’s a bit like leading an unruly elephant.)

But Forrest was that way when he was young. He’s taken me horse-skiing a few times down the barn isle where I was boarding him temporarily so I’d have use of a covered arena. All the while I’d be yelling, “He’ll give to pressure any minute.” That would get me nothing but laughter! It was actually pretty funny though.

Now I can lead Forrest anywhere with a piece of baling twine around his neck! See! He did learn to give to pressure.

Is that because the baling twine controls him like a halter and chain? No, that’s because I played with him enough that I got to his brain. We humans think we can control 1000 to 2000 pounds of muscle and bone with a chain. We can, not safely and it sometimes take several handlers to move a large stallion from point A to B., and we’ll end up paying for it eventually. I’d rather get control of the brain and be able to lead with a string.

I took these pictures of my two big lugs last night, just before it got dark.

On another note, Spencer is accepting carrots from my hand now!

I know…hand-feeding is bad, bad, bad. We should NEVER hand feed our horses! Right?

Of course, I don’t agree with that. I think of hand-feeding as an important training tool and I want my horses to learn to accept treats from even the tiniest hand correctly and politely.

Avoiding an activity is not teaching. Say that with me: "Avoiding an activity is not teaching!"

If your horse bit you in the rump every time you bent over and asked him to pick up his foot, would you avoid ever asking for his foot again? Heck no! You'd teach him that his behavior wasn't acceptable and fix it.

But what if you did decide to avoid ever picking up his foot again. Then say someone's 5 year old walked up and bent over near his foot and she got bit in the ass. That would be your fault for avoiding the cause of the behavior rather than fixing it.

Forrest (fuzzy mouth, he's chewing, but I love his eye in that picture.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Spencer is a Famous Boy!

Spencer had his 15 minutes of fame recently on another website. One that is popular with some and not so popular with others. So far he has 478 comments. Most have to something to do with him, but many don't. And I really do feel empathy for what was said about his previous owners. They seem like very nice people. (The motives of their friends are questionable however.)

But the blogs owner, Cathy, is just a brave gal who wants to clean up "horse messes" that others leave behind and she hopes to keep new ones from happening in the future.

If you're curious, the site is (See: "I stumbled upon a happy ending last night!" in the August posts.)

That isn't her first post about him. She previously had posted his original Craigs List ad back in May and the comments about how others felt about that, were interesting. Just not what the previous owners had in mind when the posted the ad. I didn't know that post existed until recently. (Okay, I hadn't ever seen that post until the August post.)

Cathy's, main message is that unless you have an outstanding stallion, get him gelded and just because your mare has a uterus, doesn't mean you have to fill it with something. Think about the market. Are horses selling right now? No. Don't breed for the profit alone because there is none and horses are being shipped to slaughter faster than rescuers can keep up with them. I have 16 horses here, most are rescued! We feed them on our own dime and it's gets very diffucult. Yes, I'm the one who chose to take them in, but I couldn't let the alternative happen either.

No slaughter, you say? Yes there is, and a horse being shipped to Canada or Mexico to get to the plants, don't receive the most comfy ride there. Transportation laws or not.

Spencer is one of those messes. And I've got my work cut out for me, but I hope I can get through to him now that he is no longer a stallion. I want to transform him into a safe and predictable horse. He's predictable now, but the problem is he's predictably dangerous.

Yesterday, I was attempting to flick an itchie piece of grass off his belly (well, actually it was sticking out of his sheath and it was driving him nuts.) I wanted to help him, but I didn't want to get my head too close to his bottom parts. When I reached out, I'm sure I seemed to be sneaking and I figured he wouldn't let me get close, but I wanted to at least try to relieve him of that annoyance.

Dang! He swung out with a kick that would have landed me in the hospital or worse, if I hadn't been ready for it and moved.

What message did I end up sending him? "I kick, she moves." Not smart on my part. I should have been ready more ready than I was to let him know kicking is not the answer to his problems. Soon...we are still just getting to know each other. Trust first! Dancing later.

A slower person would not have avoided that very purposeful kick. And to think I received several calls and emails from the previous owner's pesky friend asking when she could come and get him. I know it was just a ploy to get me riled up because these folks were the ones who couldn't catch him for 2 years.

But what did they think they were going to do with him if they got him back? Shoot him? Well, probably. A smarter person than me, would have told them to get their asses over here and load him up! But I'm a glutton for punishment, I tell ya.

These pictures illustrate Spencer's attitude when you approach him with the look of, "I would like to do something with you, Big Boy."
I make sure I give him a lot of advance notice that I'm coming to see him.

Look at his ears!

Those ears are NOT saying, "Well, looky here! Here comes that nice human who feeds me and cares about me."

Those ears are saying, one step closer and you'll find out just what these ugly, neglected hooves are capable of!

Here too, this means, "I notice you. Leave me alone. This is your last warning. I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. "

Forrest is behind me. I can snuggle up to him and have no worries about getting hurt by him. What a difference in animals.

Here he's saying, "I MEAN IT! You are a dead woman and I know you know it. Get the hell out of here...

...unless you have more grain for me."

I remain calm, smiling and relaxed and don't threaten him with further approach.

He lowers his head a bit in response. (Adrenaline isn't fun for them to be up on. Nor for me. Sometimes you must pretend to appear relaxed.)

Even his ears have relaxed a little.

I'm telling him that I have a rope, but I mean no harm. He's getting that message. After this shot, I left the paddock. I rewarded him for giving in a little bit with the release from my presence.

What he's actually saying in horse language includes too much profanity to repeat here. But what I did in that few minutes was huge for him.

I read him, he read me. I rewarded him. I didn't get a rope on him and knock him around for behaving like an ass. This is the beginning of trust.

Novice horse people ask me why I'm not "doing" anything with Spencer. But what most don't understand is that doing, what appears to be, "nothing" for him or with him," in this situation, is way more important than "doing something to" him. "Take the time it takes and it takes less time." PP.

He's skeptical that anything a human wants of him is going to be bad news and painful. I've got to take the time it takes to reverse that logic.

I've seen this in horses before who are either beaten or a stud chain had been used on them in a very inhumane way. Some people have no clue how much that chain hurts a horse's tender face. They have so many nerve receptors in their skin and no fat or muscle under the skin in their face. It's skin to bone. It's a very delicate area.

So many of the horses who are not treated fairly on-line, even if there were born buttheads and seemingly deserve it, will become vengeful at liberty and that is Spencer.

It's a game for him, of "I can get you, before you can get me!" But it's a deadly game, because he figures he's fighting for his life.

He does just fine in a rope halter and lead. I'm not sure why we use chains on most horses anyways when a rope halter offers just as much control, in most cases. But my customers in a few cases have used the halter and chain on horses for a quick fix when a horse is dangerous to work on their feet. I don't mind, being safe in this situation, but like I said, it's a quick fix and not be a training tool in my opinion. Because it's not a tool at all. It's a replacement for horse savvy.

Some of you won't agree with what I'm saying here, but I've been trying so hard to be politically correct lately that if there is one thing I've learned from the fugly blog, we have a right to our opinions and if there is anything I have it's opinions! I think honesty, is going to be more helpful to horses in the long swim than striving not to make any waves.

Some say Spencer should have been put down before he was given away and (he nearly was) and I can't really say one way or another how I feel about that. If he takes me out, I will have a better opinion!

I was advised that for two years, he was untouched. Well, if no one ever gets near a horse like this, he's not dangerous to anyone! But if you try to make a usable horse out of him and he kills you in the process. It's too late to do anything about it.

Now that I know better what he's capable of, maybe the decision to euthanize him is the right one. I was told that he's not a mean horse, it's just that he doesn't trust humans. That's true, but it doesn't matter. If he's capable of seriously hurting someone on purpose, his existance is questionable. And I'm aware of that. I'm not fooling myself there.

I've come to terms with what I'm up against with Spencer and we'll see how it goes with him and me. Stay tuned. I hope the outcome is wonderful!

Optimistically Yours!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Comments about Spencer

Say, guys. thank you so much for the kind words and kudos about what we are trying to do for Spencer.

I'm sure his previous owners did everything they knew to do for him. Apparently he was a rescue case when they took him in as an 18th month old. If they hadn't of done that, he could have gone to auction and then to slaughter due to his behavior issues and his size.

At his last home, he wore a halter in his field normally which apparently made catching and handling him not all that difficult. He was fed well and he received regular hoof care and was fairly cooperative with his feet. That's good news for me!

But then he got the halter off at about the same time he fully matured nearly 2 years ago and he'd been a loose, untouched stallion every since. His owners could not catch him. Farriers could not catch him. Well known trainers were hired, who guaranteed they could catch any horse. But he proved them wrong.

It took a woman on a hot day and a horribly abscessed hoof. If not for her, he would not be here. She caught him just before he was schedule to be euthanized I was told.

He needs his hooves rehabbed and that's where I came in. But the only way I could do anything for him was to geld him first.

I just don't want him hurt anymore than he has been in his life. (Although he better watch out for Trudy, the mini-mule. The parts of him she can reach with her hind feet, she could create a small bruise;0) AND SHE MEANS IT!

One more note. When we first got him home here, I turned him loose in the small field and we could not catch him. Five of us spent about 10 minutes trying. When I realized he wasn't going to let us near him and we knew food was not going to entice him, I lured him into a small paddock with another horse.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you can't catch a horse, don't hire a trainer who can catch anything, guaranteed. Think outside the square pasture and try using a round pen.

Again, I appreciate your views and your kind words of support.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Spencer is now in a Pasture with a Herd...of sorts.

Spencer, trying to make sense of it all.

I sent Spencer out into the larger pasture yesterday. He’s now in with a 3 year old Quarab, Jake, and 5 minis (2 donkeys, 2 mules and 1 horse).

I allowed him some time to snoop around the pasture and loafing shed. That much open space seemed a bit scary for him at first. He clearly wanted back into the familiar field he'd been in for the past few weeks. But he meandered around and got more comfortable in his new area.

Normally, I walk new horses around the fenceline to keep them from running through it in a paniced moment, but he wasn't into allowing me to get a leadrope attached to him that day and I didn't feel like screwing with it. The fence couldn't hurt him anyways. He can just about step over it. (Not to worry, now that his gonads are gone!)

Finally, I locked him in the paddock and brought Forrest, the Clydesdale/WM cross, into the pasture.

Forrest is a love, but he doesn’t take crap off many horses. He’s a good 16 hands, but looks small next to Spencer. They made some noise and postured over the gate and after that quieted down, I opened the gate.

Forrest and Spencer - after introductions. I'd guess he and Spencer weight about the same and Forrest has a much lighter build. (Here come the excuses: Forrest isn't usually that fat. But all my horses are gaining weight (getting obese) on the summer air right now. He looked good about 300 pounds ago.)

That's part of my round pen leaning up against the fence. (another project.)

I didn’t let their introductions go as slowly as I did with Danny, but I figured, it’s time for Spencer to start his education in herd behavior. Not all horses are as good natured as Danny, or as brutal as the stallion he was put in with at the last place. Two extremes.

When he and Forrest were first allowed in together, oddly Forrest ignored Spencer, while Spence sniffed Forrest all over. Nibbling his legs and hooves, like he might with a mare and he was acting very stud-like (if you get my drift).

While all of that was going on, Forrest allowed the once over, then he finally let Spencer know he was straight. (I believe Spencer’s ego is taking a real beating meeting all these mares who have no interest in him whatsoever. He doesn’t get "geldings".)

I tossed a few piles of hay out to them and kicking and screaming lasted about 2 seconds and Forrest’s higher rank was firmly in place.

I will wait awhile before introducing a mare. Although he’s got a gal donkey and gal mule in with him. Trudy, the mini mule, opens a can of whoopass on Spencer every time he gets anywhere near her man, Harley the mini horse. That’s pretty funny to watch and will be the beginning of his education on what mares are capable of.

Spencer is really sweet around Jake too. They were eating out of the same pile of hay this morning!

If you look very closely, you can see Spencer out in the field with his new herdmates in this picture that I took this morning (from our back porch.) It was a misty morning after an impressive thunderstorm.

PS: I just wanted to explain that the old horse trailer that you see out in the field is not normally something I would put in a pasture. (The hitch part is covered to prevent leg fractures.) I bought it for $100 with the intention of painting it for the equine agility field to use for trailer loading training. Not sure how long it will take to get around to that project with the 100's of other projects on our list.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Best Friends.

Spencer is happier than a pig in pooh right now with his new little buddy. Spence is the one in charge. But he's very careful with Danny. He'll move Danny off a pile of hay, but he's is very gentle about it and Danny doesn't argue. It's very sweet. I just love watching them.

Here they are dining together. To get an idea of Spencer's size, Danny is 15.2. No small fry himself. Spencer's sheath is starting to heal real well. So he's feeling better about everything.

How cute is this?

I actually let these two sniff muzzles and other parts and get to know each other through a tall fence for a couple weeks before putting them in together. So they knew each other before this happened.

I just wanted to explain that I knew Danny wasn't a threat to Spencer before I put them in together. And I knew that Spencer was very curious about Danny. I play it as safely as possible when tossing horses into a pasture with other horses.

What I wasn't sure of is just how Spencer would react with another horse actually inside his enclosure. It was a bit risky using my best horse for this, but I know how easy going Danny is and I figured if anything went wrong, I'd be at the gate holding it open for him and ready to slam it on Spencer. After just a few minutes though, I knew this was going to work out well.

My plan is to go through the same routine, one by one, until each gelding has been in with him until I feel confident that he can be part of the herd. I'm also introducing Neenah to the herd one at a time, so I've been doing some serious pasture juggling lately.

The problem I may encounter is that Spencer will treat Danny as a stallion would treat a mare and he'll challenge any other horse who gets near him. So this could be tricky. But we'll get it figured out.

Here, I think he's saying, "Thanks. This really means a lot."

Good boy Spencer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spencer and Danny

Finally, the day has arrived for Spencer to share a pasture with a friend. He didn't know what to think about it at first, but I think he is happy beyond comprehension.

I chose Danny because he's a very neutral horse. He’s my main riding horse and is recovering from an abscess and if Spencer hurts him, I’ll be very upset.

Spencer: Whose this? A mare?

Danny: I'm Danny, Missy's kid and nope, I'm a boy. Get a clue.

Spencer: She sure doesn't seem interested in me?

Danny: This grass is pretty good.

Spencer: Come to Papa you cute little thing.

Danny: Put that thing away Man! The mares are watching.

Pearl: Peaches! Come here! You gotta check this out!

Spencer: Okay, well... mates then. This is going to be awesome!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Good Deal for Spencer

Spencer seems much calmer already! Sometimes.

He's very swollen at the surgery site today, day five.

I hope that goes down soon. Dr. P gave me some bute for him, but I haven't given him any yet as he seems very active without it. So as long as he's not standing around with the appearance of a horse in pain, he'll be okay.

Lots of food. That's a good deal.
This is taken from across the street. You can barely see Spencer in the Play Field, his enclosure for now, across from the horses. My neighbors are awesome about letting our horses graze in their pasture.

This is Spencers surgery site the day after the surgery. I'm not sure what that piece of tissue is hanging down, but it's still there. I hope it's not a permanent thing. Dr. Perkins assures me it isn't and will shrivel up on it's own.

Spencer will not take treats from my hand. He will pick them up off the ground. I'm not sure why, but if I try to offer him a treat from my hand he turns his head away. Who know why, but it could be a training technique that was used on him.

Some people don't believe in handing treats to horses, which is fine. But I believe it's a bonding and training opportunity that we can use to our advantage. But I finally found his weak spot. Apples! He likes apples! We are bonding over apples!

The first few days he was here, he had absolutely no use for me. He didn't want to be bothered or touched by humans. It's possible that no human had ever offered him a good deal.

I want to show him a good deal. First and foremost. I don't have any desire to start "doing" things with him or getting him to bend to my will in any fashion, until he sees me a promising companion. Someone he can trust. And I want to trust him too, which I don't right now.

We cause each other to jump and that's not a good deal.

I just have to be patient. Keep my goals for him in mind and not be sidetracked by what others think I should be doing with him. Then maybe he'll feel like I have something to offer. Even after everything I've put him through, I just might be a "Good Deal."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Spencer meets Dr. Perkins!

Spencer goes to sleep a stallion...

19 hundred pounds vs 99 pounds.

But the one with the most drugs - WINS!

..and wakes up

a gelding.

Watching Dr. P and Jennifer today was like watching a dance. They were so proficient at their jobs. For Spencer, it was the dance of de-nuts.

He's going to be a bit sore in that area for awhile. But when he feels better, guess what? He gets the one wish he's wanted all his life. To be part of a herd.

Spencer is normally distrustful and very tricky to get a halter onto. But this morning when I let him know that big day was coming where he could run and play and graze with other horses, he stopped and made it so easy for me to put his halter on his head. I'm not sure if he realized he was going to have to give up 2 pounds of his impressive-ness to get there, but get there, he will...and soon!

Go Spencer!

Monday, August 4, 2008

What a Stud!

Spencer's surgery is set for tomorrow morning. He will no longer be this amazing stallion, but he will be an amazing gelding who can soon be socializing with other horses as part of a herd.

Domestic stallions are typically the most majestic, muscled, athletes in the entire horse community, yet they are the horses typically confined to the smallest enclosures, alone most of their lives.

They are meant to protect entire herds in the wild and welcome their offspring into the world; yet domestic stallions usually never see even one of their foals.

I would love to play with Spencer, but I don’t want to be continually reprimanding him for what we would term “aggressive behaviors” when actually his conduct is normal for most stallions. Especially a horse of his stature.

So I haven’t spent much time with him actually “doing” anything except feeding him and brushing him and showing him that at some point he and I are going to be good friends and I shouldn’t have to worry about bites or kicks or any other hostile actions.

He did bite Rich in the chest when Rich was giving him scratches out in the field at liberty. It was a matter of the human, not reading the signals the horse was giving. But now I know what he's capable of and I'm not the one inflicted with the injury. Sorry Hon. But....gulp, I know how much that hurt