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.)


ezra_pandora said...

Do you think that Spencer was more tentative about you with the lead rope or the person with the camera? I know in todays picture he seems ok, so it probably was the lead rope. I think you are doing a great thing for the big guy. Slow, steady and consistant is definitely the way to go. Your case is harder than most because of his size. That's enough to make anyone jump at some movements! Good for you and I hope you prevail.

fssunnysd said...

I love the hand-feeding reasoning. I'm a clicker-person, and I hand feed all the time. But I can walk out into the pasture wearing my nail apron (great for treats in one pocket, clicker, brush, whatever in the other) full of grain, and after the initial greetings are done with, I can handle each and every horse - nine of them - without any of them mugging, nipping, or being otherwise food-obnoxious. They associate the click with the treat, and they, in general, ignore the grain in the pocket.

(Although I will say, the sound of the clicker is greeted with lots of interest! LOL)

But basically, the clicker is great for saying, "Yes! you did it right!" And for horses like Spencer (or unhandled weanlings that need to be caught & haltered, etc.), I've used it successfully with a release of pressure as a reward rather than food. It's just all about baby steps and not rushing.

Love the image of "skiing" down the barn aisles. I've done some of that myself on muddy days! :)

cilla said...

dear pat,

i was so pleased you accepted my unsolicited input. i figured they were posed photos and were not indicative of your every day handling of spencer. isnt it hard to think of everything all at once!? especially in the face of such adversity. my heart goes out to you butiam sure if you take the tike it takes both you and spencer will get there.
its obvious you and i speak the same language and perhaps you know a lot of P words too?
the thing i picked up on from your latest post was that consistency is the key thing here at the moment. consistently keeping the pressure off. its not about the pictures, they will have to wait. its about spencer and how he feels about you ALL the time.
what if you were to slip that string/lead rope on him and then immediately take it off? perhaps it would blow his mind. what if thats all you did until he really started thinking and not just reacting?
if i were in your shoes i would find an endless supply of carrots/apples, treats of any kind lol! they will be worth their weight in gold.
p.s. i think i am secretly in love with spencer! he is gorgeous lol!

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

I'm with you about hand feeding. The only horses I do not handfeed are those that are already nippy. A normal horse - even a stallion - does not BECOME nippy from hand feeding unless you over-do it. I typically feed treats at the end of the day or after the ride, so my horses aren't looking for them every second.

Pat said...

Yep, hand-feeding needs to be controlled that's for sure. I don't like being mugged by my horses everytime they come into contact with me. I think that's rude behavior.

And I think it's important that we DON'T use treats as a bribe, but as a reward, or a motivational tool.

I don't like to see poeple holding a carrot out to a horse to get it to come into the trailer with them. (Not to say I haven't tried that in a rushed situation, however it rarely works as we all know.)

I'd prefer to see the handler send the horse into the trailer, then offer the reward when the horse is standing quietly inside. Or leave it in the feed bag to a reward for loading.

Stuff like that:0)

bhm said...

You are correct about the stud chain and the hand feeding. Trooper, unfortunately learned at a young age the difference between the chain on and the chain off. If he had been properly handled as a foal then none of this would have happened. I drives me crazy when people don’t bother to train drafts until they are big and can push the handler around When it’s off he’s drags the handler although, after years of keeping the chain on, he is now handling well with it off.

I feel, because I’m in a barn with ninety horses and many people, that this is an instance where it’s important to keep the chain on for safety reasons. Although this is the only time that I have felt that it is important to use a chain I never yank on it. The chain is always passive and the horse decides how much pressure he is willing to put on the chain. The horse should never know that the chain is there until the horse puts pressure on the chain.

I agree with you about hand feeding. If the horse is trained properly he shouldn’t nip or mug. I always train horses to respond to vocal commands so if I walk into a stall with a carrot he knows that it’s not ok to loose his mind and that he has to back up when I ask. I will further your point on hand feeding by saying that it is important that a horse learn hand feeding as it will teach them how to behave around humans when food is involved. They have to remain patient, quiet and under the handlers control always. Feeding by hand is good way to teach a horse these lessons so that they behave themselves when feeding hay.