Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is that Trigger?

Well, the big guy has been really busy for the past few days. I have so much to fill you in on and so many pictures to share!
So he had been behaving like a pretty bad boy. The last post was about busting the fence and my concerns about working with him while he’s eating.

The fence rail he kicked out when I touched him on the shoulder while he was eating. Dude! (And I don't say "Dude" very often, but...) Dude! I'm so thankful I was not on his side of the fence when he reacted!
And he also did THIS when he got into a fight with Forrest during which he gave Forrest a big fat hock!

So for the last 4 days, we've been busy! I worked with him on the food issues, and using a suggestion from Kacy, (thank you so much) I brought a wheelbarrow load of hay and grain into the arena then brought him in with me and we both came upon the food together!

The things I did to work up to that and then taking him to the food, made a huge difference in his eating behavior.

And we did some ground work! This tarp was very scary at first!

You can kind of see how bad his feet still are. We worked on picking up his feet as well. He's making some progress. I'm certain he's never had his hooves trimmed in his life. He has no clue as to how to pick up his hooves. He's like a baby whose never had his hooves handled before.

LOOK...where I'm standing! Woo hoo!!

I'm so excited to be taking a picture from this angle. He's like, "I will allow it this once." What a pill.

Really, I've discovered that he enjoys being fussed over. Initially, I couldn't get close to him with a brush in my hand. He acted like it was a weapon. Isn't that sad! And NUTS! Now he loves it. I'd like to think that when he was a baby, someone pampered him a little bit and the memory of that is returning. (making stuff up in my head again...)

I spent some time brushing him and working on his horribly tangled tail. He seemed to like that. His trust meter is really climbing! I'm so proud of him.

We were doing so well, that I figured we need to take it to the next level and what else could I do than pull out Forrest's draft saddle to see what he thought about that. He can buck!

What's this?
You think you're going to put it where?

The pad is accepted without much fuss.
Now how the heck do I get this heavy thing, clear up there? (His hind leg looks relaxed doesn't it? I wonder... :0)

It wasn't easy, but I got the heavy saddle on his back. I carried it around on my head for awhile, trying to figure it out, then I had to stand on a mounting block to git r' done. Now all I have to do is attach the girth on and cinch up!
Trigger...on steriods!

Here he is, all cinched up! The bucking fest is over. (Sorry no pictures of that, I was busy saving my life.) He just got a little excited. Then I let him hang out and eat hay with the saddle on. He got comfortable with it. Then he became frightened of it when I went to take it off. It fits really well, but taking it off took some imagination to get done safely. For that, once again, I put a fence between us. It's not that he's so much worse than other horses when he gets reactive in situations like this, just so much bigger when he does react. It's like avoiding an earthquake! You can't really!=0) So it's best not to be find yourself in the same region when it happens.

I've been worried about his teeth so last night, our friends from Performance Equine Dentistry stopped in on their way home to give my big buddy a once over. Dick and Kathy Vetter are awesome. They even gave me a deduction as a donation toward Spencer's rehabilitation.

It was getting dark by the time we got started. Spencer was pretty good, but not the easiest patient Dick has done, or the biggest (but we had to work on him outside their clinic trailer) Even after he was sleepy, he was a bit of a giant snapping turtle. We'll work on his behavior with others. So far, he can only handle one human at a time.

I told Dick he deserved an award for getting this guy done. He said, "No, you deserve an award if you can make a good horse out of this guy." Thanks Dick! I will.

I've heard that horses won't purposely hurt people they like. I think it's better to say, horses won't purposely hurt people they trust. I'm getting the feeling that he no longer wants to hurt me. Once we get past that, then we can really go to work on somethings.

It will take time to let him know that all humans can be trusted. He just had some bad luck with a few in the past. I keep saying, he seems like such an unhandled horse, but I know also that he was handled, but over-handled when he was.

He just doesn't trust people and is so accustomed to being bad when he didn't have a studchain on his face and being good when he did because of the amount of pain that could be inflicted on him if he stepped out of line.

That's the horse I met, a few months ago. I've only used a rope halter on him. I was leading him back to the pasture today and it was like leading a tame pony. I flashed back on the enraged bull elephant that I was leading (with 2 leadropes) from the stall to the paddock early on. What a difference!

So this afternoon, I brushed his tail completely out! While he was eating!

Friends who have met Spencer and who know how lazy I can be, and who saw that his tail was one thick mat when I brought him home, threatened to shoot me if I cut if off! Still, I thought about it.

But I didn't. I spent several hours on it and well, it was so worth it...don't you think?

Back out with his friends! What a moose!

Thanks everyone for your support and suggestions! As you can see, I listen to each one and find what works!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Focus on the Good Stuff!

So a few posts ago, I exposed a comment that wasn't very nice. I did that because I wanted that rude person to know that I wasn’t the only one who could see how mean-spirited he/she is. That was a negative thing for me to do. I get one mean comment and put it out there for all to read and comment on.

Why am I not highlighting one of the many gracious, positive, kind-hearted and thoughtful comments? Those are the comments that are way more meaningful and helpful to me.

All the wonderful comments sent to my blog touch me in a special way and I’m so flattered that some of you take the time to tell me how you feel I’m doing with Spencer and my other rescues. So! Here is a posted comment that really made me feel great!

bhm has left a new comment on your post "Fittin' In!":

Poor, sweet little Arab. I’m very happy that you have her. Love your collection of equines. I have a soft spot for donkeys and their cute little faces and fuzzy ears.

Wow, Spencer is really doing well. You’ve done a great training job that most trainers wouldn’t have attempted. Spencer is well on his way to discovering his inner cuddle-pony. I knew it was in there somewhere.

I can’t believe that some idiot sent you that horrible post. You look really cute in your photos with Spencer so I guess they are just jealous. Besides, there are many of us who know what a beautiful spirit you truly are.

That's so uplifting to read! And the best part of that comment was that she too feels there is an "inner cuddle-pony" in Spencer somewhere just waiting to be let out.

I think that very same thing! Even as aggressive as he can be sometimes. I know I just have to find the right way to get to his "inner cuddle-pony"

Horses like Spencer remind us of how we tend to take our wonderfully tame and accepting horses for granted. While they are lose in the field or munching on hay, I can walk behind my other horses without fear of getting sent to the moon. I can run my hand across their bottom and rub and pet them and they are fine with me being so close.

To give you an idea of what Spencer is capable of, I have to share a “long” story of what happened with him just yesterday afternoon.

I’ve mentioned his food aggression in past posts. He will allow me to deliver the food, but then I’d better leave the area, quickly and quietly with no attempts at touching him. I’ve been feeding him with the other horses and spending extra time cuddling with them so he can see that. It sounds silly and maybe it is, but I feel that horses can learn from watching. They pick-up bad habits from each other!

I have so many questions about him. What would cause a horse to become this way? Did humans make him this way? Was he born like this? Or did other horses do this to him? Why does he let Patch eat hay with him, when I’ve seen him kick the tar out of his best mare for trying to share hay with him? It’s confusing and I’m always having to work at reading him, which has been a real learning experience for me. I love it!

Grade school teachers might complain about the difficult kids in their class, but those are the kids they gain the most teaching experience from, don't you think?

We learn the most from the difficult horses too. Pearl was a wonderful teacher for me. I learned so much from her, as frustrating as those lessons were.

So yesterday, I decided to work with Spencer on this very dangerous behavior of his. He was in the paddock just inside the board fence. The fence-rails are hefty 2x6’s and are fastened to the posts with 3.5” lag bolts. [Not nails. Bolts! My hubby has skills...and fence building is one of them;0]

I put grain in to a tub and pushed it to him under the bottom rail of the fence. He started eating. I knelt down and chatted with him and reached through the fence to give him a scratch on the shoulder. The second he felt my hand on his shoulder, he kicked out with his hind leg so hard that he split the fence rail like it was made of balsa wood, and one of the lag bolts shot out and landed on the ground next to me along with several splinters of wood.


(If right here, you’re wondering if he has vision problems. No, I don’t think so, but I’ve thought of that as well.)

Yes, I may have surprised him a little. I agree, his reaction was way over the top and smarter people than me would likely see that reaction and go get their gun and be done with him.

But let me explain. I did this in a controlled manner. I was aware of his probable reaction and kept myself safe. I actually wanted him to react, because horses, like humans, learn from mistakes. I’m aware of what he’s capable of, still the power of that kick surprised me a little bit.

In the past, the human response to this behavior would likely have been to try hitting him as punishment. Which, in my opinion, would only convince a challenging horse like him that humans can’t be trusted and next time he should try to be more accurate with his aim.

I was impressed with his powerful leg and rather than get excited or chase him or raise a hand to him, I simply pulled the tub of grain back under the fence and looked at him. And he looked at me. I'm sure, in wonder of my reaction. No fuss, no yelling or jumping, or running at him with a whip.

Just oops! That little outburst just cost you something you really like.

For one, I think whacking that board as hard as he did, might have hurt a little bit. I hope so anyways...:0)

For another, the response to his behavior was immediate. The food disappeared. That’s way more effective and immediate than trying to wallop him. A tactic that isn't fast enough to make a point, if I could even reach him. And that’s what he’s accustomed to - the lame and absurd responses of humans to his temper tantrums.

Now if I was an alpha mre and could nail him in his ass with both hind-cannons or attack him with a vicious hide-ripping bite...he would learn to respect me. The problem with that is he’d also be fearful of me. So that won’t serve my purposes either. (Besides, putting him with with vicious horses in an attempt to humble him has been tried and well, I can't see that it helped him much, just left a bunch of scars on his handsome body.)

Horses know we are weak compared to them, and horses that have been beaten quickly figure out that we are nothing, when we approach without a weapon in our hands. Spencer knows this too, and yes, he sometimes challenges me when I attempt to approach him unarmed.

Back to yesterday. After losing the food, he allowed me to reach over the fence and scratch and rub him. I didn’t punish him at all. I got a brush out and brushed him. (I touched him.)

Then I gave him his grain back. While he ate, I continued rubbing, scratching and brushing him. He was okay with me doing that. I acheived acceptance in one session, from the opposite side of the fence.

Because he’s so dangerous at times, much of my initial handling has been with a fence between us. With each lesson in acceptance, I come to his side of the fence. It’s just safer that way.

So yes! It’s happening. I don’t believe he needs to be put down. With every new learning experience, he seems to figure things out very fast, especially when I approach him with kindness rather than cruelty.

He gets kindness…and he doesn’t forget. If I thought there was no hope for him changing to a safe horse, I wouldn’t put a life or limb in jeopardy. I would (will) put him down. I want to someday, be able to get close to his bottom, while he's lose and eating, without the worry of getting kicked.

Because, I too, just know the inner-cuddle pony is there. I’m willing to bet my fences on it!:0)

Thank you again for all your encouraging words. Spencer and I just love you for it!


What I learned: When you expect a horse to "connect the dots" there can only be one or two.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fittin' In!

Just hanging with mah posse...

That's Pearl's mug. Seira Pearl is an 11 year old Polish Arab. She was rescued from an Arab breeder (gone broke) and not able to feed, or get water to it seemed, an entire herd of Arabs. She was 18 months old when I picked her up. Starved to bone and belly, and so scared out of her mind that if she heard herself fart, she'd be hanging from the barn rafters shaking like a leaf in the wind. I've tried to rehome her, but her scary past (and her propensity to choke) keeps her from fitting in anywhere else. So I've decided she will be our Pearl for the rest of her days.

Classy, a former founder case, is Spencer's new gal pal. And Harley, the mini appy likes to hang with the big guy too. Of course, Mini-mule Trudy makes sure no one messes with her man. Patch in the background on the left. He's a 12 year old retired reiner with arthritis in most his joints. And finally, Sweet Peach (my feed lot rescue) in the back.

With Minnie Mouse, and donkeys Boomer and Annie, that's my Equine Menagerie! Well, part of the group anyways:0) They all have stories of their own that I hope to share with you along with Spencer's journey.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Turned Out!

Last weekend I completed the last Hoof Trimming Clinic of the year and during that time, I had turned Little Jake in with Spencer. I was really surprised at how well they got along. Jake is a 3 year quarab who weighs in about 750 pounds, soak and wet, and he took charge! That was kind of weird, but nice. Spencer liked having a buddy in with him again.

This is Missy, my most patient teaching horse with her Azteca filly, Neenah. (Neenah was kind of an accident. Her story can be found on the Rainier Hoof Recovery Center blog.) My three students at this clinic are David, Leonard and Cora. All three did very well and I know will do a good job of trimming their own horses from here on out.

Then, on Monday, I just felt it was time.

Spencer was so good with Jake, that I figured he could get along okay with the others even the mares.

So I opened the gate and turned both he and Jake in with Pearl, Classy and Peaches, (all mares) and Forrest, and Patch and the minis. (Missy and baby Neenah and brother Danny were in a separate field, just in case. )

This picture was taken at just before the sun went down and so is kind of dark, but if you look closely you can see Spencer out with his herd.

That is Classy (Appy mare and founder rehab) in the foreground, Spencer, Forrest, Pearl (gray Arab mare) and Patch (QH ex-reinier with arthritis issues.) Peaches is in there somewhere too.

Most my horses are rescues of one sort or another and so this is their last home. The Rainier Hoof Recovery Center is mainly a santuary for horses with chronic lameness issues and we have started the process for becoming a non-profit organization. Very exciting!

So here is he! Former unhandled stallion, left in a field, alone, for 2 years to fend for himself. A few ah-hm, trainers were hired to try to catch him, but he out-smarted or buffaloed each one.

He's only been a gelding since August 5th, and he's eating politely next to a mare and in with several mares. How cool is that!

When I first turned them out together, there was lots of bellowing and striking and posturing. Spencer truely sounds like a bull-elephant when he calls out to other horses. Probably because he's been alone so much of his life, he's learned to make his voice carry. (I should record him and make that the ringtone on my cell phone. No more excuses for not hearing it.)

Or maybe he's just naturally loud. He's the size of an elephant afterall. I know he poops like one.

In this video, watch Harley, the appy mini, trying to posture and be important out there in the thick of it all. What the little guy lacks in size, he makes up for in moxy! He was a little stud for about ten years and was rescued from a really bad situation himself some years ago. He didn't conform very well, so he hangs out with us now!

That's Harley's girlfriend, Trudy, the mini mule. She's never far from her man! It's so interesting to me how, when you have this many horses, who "pair bonds" with whom. Usually one gelding to one mare, and usually of similar color.

Patch isn't very brave in situations like this. He's hiding behind me in the trees. But now he and Spencer are good friends. Spencer is a very gregarious horse really for one that was kept alone most of his young life. Interesting, huh.