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.


cilla said...

fabulous pat, just fabulous! what savvy you have!
spencer is one lucky boy! i wonder if he knows it yet.....maybe just a little.

Anonymous said...

What a great update!!!! Yay Spencer!!! See all he needed was to find some one that was willing to spend the time he needs with him and not expect him to do a 180 in a month. It takes as long as it takes sometimes. Who ever said put him down is insane or has little to no patience.
Beautiful pic too!

allhorsestuff said...

Hi sweetie!
Thanks for visiting me on Allhorsestuff!
My mare is doing okay...will write on your mailbox more on that~

The horsey language I will never forget, that I picked up in Natural horsemanship, is what they care about: Comfort-Food-Safety...not ness in that order!
I think your Spencer can learn that comfort(can be your touch) and food go together!
I would try some games with your halter on + training stick.
Happen upon, by design, some food with him. Just remain with him as he enjoys it, move away again, in games when he is finished.
My stable owner has an off the track mare that was severly abused while eating. She only found out how badly so, by almost dying at the feet of this mare after she gave her hay out in the field the first time. I told her the "Food For Founder" Blogspot story of the water trough episode...because she ended the same with her in it= upsidedown= after the horse had come at her and pushed her into it..fortuanatley-NO WATER!
That mare has greatly improoved these days; though has a constant vigilence towards us and eating though.
So if it did occur that he had some issues with the food associated with pain...just beware, they have an accute memory with is not personal, just there.
Seeya soon, Kacy

bhm said...

Thank you for your kind words. It made my day.

I’ve said this before, but I think Spencer doesn’t have basic handling training. I think he’s reacting to you like you’re another horse and has never learned that you’re not a horse but a human and that there are different rules of communication which apply to humans. This would explain his food aggression towards you as it is typical horse on horse behavior. With Patch they both bit and kicked each other until they’ve worked their boundaries out and now they feel comfortable together. With the other horses that he shows food aggression towards, he hasn’t worked it out with them yet. He most likely will work it out with them but there maybe one horse that he never relaxes with.

It’s hard to judge the best way to react to his kicking and biting. I think you will discover the best approach as you work with him. I’m not sure whether he would interpret a physical response from you as abuse. Most likely he would interpret it as another horse establishing boundaries. I think your idea of working with a fence between you and Spencer would be a good way of beginning to establish boundaries. Certainly, you could begin to correct his biting over the fence. Most likely he will react like another horse kicking him where it happens and then a second later he’s over it.

Another technique that you might try is to make him back up while you are feeding him. Only allow him to approach the food once you are about to leave. This approach will most likely end his idea that you are another horse who he is competing with for food. You could try this once you have worked with him for awhile.

You are right about using your instincts to tell you the best way to work with him. Certainly, it is essential to keep you safe.

Best wishes,

Pat said...

Hey Kacy! Thanks. That's excellent advice from both you and Sarah. I sure appreciate your help and the time you take to offer it. I can't tell you how much!:0)

You know, I used that technique of happening upon food with my lazy horses as a motivator! And it works! Didn't think about using it on Mr. Spence, but you know that I will now!

And Sarah, you are so right about his possible complete lack of handling in some part of his lifetime. For instance the past 2 years. He was not touched one time, as I've posted.

But (I was told) that he was an orphan foal and was bottle fed. A back-yard pet! Which we all know can sometimes lead to agressive horses.

I was also told he was half Belgian and half T-walker. I wonder if the mare was the walker and she died giving birth to a goliath!

As the story goes, he got so big, so fast that he just took over in most situations so the lady who was raising him, had to get rid of him.

Then before he was a yearling, this young social retard, was sent to a farm and put in with a bunch of other horses who knocked him around pretty badly. (What this guy has been through!)

The owner at that time, tried ot cure his food issues, by using those old "proven training techniques" like offering him treats from his hand and when Spencer reached to accept it, he would get hit in the head. Nice.

That would explain why he would turn his head away whenever I offered him a carrot, when I firt got him. Until I got some history on him, (if it's accurate) I thought maybe he had never been offered carrots, but I tossed one on the ground and he went for it.

It was after that, just before he turned 2, that the folks with the breeding farm took him in and were going to breed him, but they had some issues with controlling him so they used a stud chain and never took his halter off. It was their vet who suggested putting him down.

At 6 years, was when they put the ad on Craigs list and he was caught and put in with another stallion (with pregnant mares and got the holly crap kicked and bit out of him. I didn't see him right after that, but judging from the scars, he must have been a bloody mess.

Then I came into the picture shortly after that and I took him home and had him gelded as soon as I could. Since then, he's really been mellowing out pretty fast, but being around food is when he's the most dangerous. And sometimes if I approach him while he's loose in the field with other horses. Then he gets really big and comes at me. I don't back off then. I get big back and move toward him until he backs up, then I leave. Because if he got serious, he could really mess me up:0)

It's too bad he wasn't gelded when he was young.

So I feel like I am starting with an completely unhandled, very large horse with anger management and fear issues.

And one more puzzle is his relationship with Patch. What you said sound very logical and if I didn't know Patch, I would have guessed that too, but Patch is a pussy cat, he will walk away from any horse (even the minis) when it comes to food. But Spencer and Patch seemed to hit if off as gentle friends. I never saw any kind of confrontation with him. I think Spencer just realized that Patch is not a threat to him, so visa-versa.

Now with Forrest, my other big guy, those two have kicked the crap out of each other a few times now. Forrest has a hock that hugely swollen. I have those two separated for awhile. Forrst was gelding at 3 months, interestingly.

Horse behavior! It can be so odd.

Thanks again guys! That the history on him as I know it. I welcome ALL suggestions in this case.


Mustang Heritage said...

animals that been starved hoard food to a very dangerous level. and since Mr. Spencer hasn't had postivie handling. you see his reaction to things to the nost top Notch.
We had a mustang gelding like that he hoard food to the point it was beyond dangerous. i pulled things out of my hat and the oly cure i ever found (and i battled with this for months) was the "old" route of alpha mare. I went out with my buggy whip (which i never used on him, just made the nosie) and chased him off. this went on for 3 days until he realized that 1. the hay was mine if i wanted it so. 2. if he behaved with me there NOTHING happen.
in time built up to touching when eating. but first i wanted to build on as long as i cam ein and stood next to him or whatever he behaved. :-)
good luck your doing great!!

Mustang Heritage said...

"So I feel like I am starting with an completely unhandled, very large horse with anger management and fear issues."
Oh man, i know that feeling. same gelding i posted aboyut earlier. He was 8. His gentling never finsihed and any thing had ot be on his terms. His terms was when he got tired of you he charge. you move wrong he charged, in the past he was rope to see what would happen. Caught and gelded at 3, he looked like a mini draft at 14.2 hands. it took me 8 months to finally...finally get him to trust and relax around me and then he became a cuddle monkey. he was a fav. of mine. he was dangerous at any stop for a while and in time he realized and with the small steps i did, i was a good person.
but some times it takes many tiny steps to get the finished results :-)
abused animals sometimes will pick on "normal" animals, i watche it unfold twice. it sad and makes you upset that no one took the time to actually "learn" the right way and put the animal through Hell just because of a lack of knowledge..or ignorence..I chice the latter in most cases i hear or have seen :-(

bhm said...

Mustang Heritage said...I went out with my buggy whip (which i never used on him, just made the nosie) and chased him off. this went on for 3 days until he realized that 1. the hay was mine if i wanted it so. 2. if he behaved with me there NOTHING happen.
Your right about this. As long as establishing boundaries falls with normal horse behavior then the horse will not experience the correction as abuse and begin to learn from the experience. Normal horse behavior is using a whip to simulate biting or kicking.

allhorsestuff said...

YOU have won an award!!!
Please go to Allhorsestuff blog
to view.
It is about 5 posts down..(sorry I started it awhile ago when Stacey bestowed me...and the date does make for the order published!)
You are the best!

Pat said...

I agree. They are all about boundaries and respect. However, there are so many types of horse relationships that are normal. I think the key is to read the horse you're dealing with and determine what will work for that horse at that time. There isn't any one or two answers for all horses at all times.

When I go in with food, he has always stood back to let me deliver it. Someone has already established that with him. His issue is while he's eating it, he kicks out if anyone or any horse gets near him. That's what I'm trying to help him overcome.

I gave him some grain yesterday in the same manner as before. Under the fence. (He and I can be together on the same side of the fence - not haltered - and I can scratch him and trust him, this is just about food.)

I reached out and touched him, petted and scratched while he ate and he accepted me this time. (I guess he knows the grain goes away trick.)

Then I took my stick and rubbed him with that and tossed the rope around on him, but when I stroked his hind legs with it, he kicked out. I popped him on the rump for kicking out and he left his grain for a minute and came back and I rubbed him around on the hinds again, and he didn't kick out.

When I see him with Patch. A horse that he's never been confrontational with and a horse who can share a pile of hay (not grain) with and he'll even walk away from that pile and leave it to Patch. That's also normal for horses. That's a different kind of respect. Herdmates, on the same level in the pecking order.

There is also pair-bonding that horses do where they protect one another and keep other horses from hurting their mate. I've seen that frequently in my herd. It's awesome. We too can build that relationship with them and I have with most my horses.

What I work toward is getting the respect and partnership, in the field with no strings attached. I figure, if I can get it safe there, I can get it anywhere:0)

Hannah said...

"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."

Very, very true. I learned this from one horse, where hitting him meant about 5 steps backwards in his training. Keep up the good work!

Pat said...

Thank you so much for the award! I so appreciate it! But I don't know how to go get it or how to add it to my blog. I'm such a technotard!


Finny said...

YEA - A Spencer update :-)

Fantastic job with your "being touched while eating" session ! I bet your heart jumped when he kicked out and hit the fence ! So glad to hear that it sounds like he was smart enough to put 2 and 2 together when you removed the food. I look forward to one day seeing pictures of you brushing him, while he is eating :-)

Amy Jo said...

i think you are wonderful for working with and helping Spencer. You KNOW these animals are not robots, they are not mechanical things. All horses are not the same. This guy has been abused and he has to protect himself. Why the hell should he trust you (yet)? Bc you havent beat the shit out of him yet, or starved him yet, or locked him in dark stall for months on end, yet? he doesnt know you are not going to do that. Everything could change tomorrow. Why do these horse 'trainers' or so called horse people want to brutalize these animals? or just send them to slaughter. if they had a difficult child, or an autistic child, would they just beat the shit out of them? i am so filled with rage at people that resort to brutality with animals so EASILY. So I think you are just fabulous in trying to make him better, trying to get through to him. and i thank you for that.

allhorsestuff said...

Oh ooops,
I jsut read the part that you did not know how to get the award or do that..I just landed another fun thing on you...
It has to do with books you read and such..come on over if youwish to see.