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.)
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