Horsey Therapist

Friday, November 09, 2007

Routines and more

Someone wrote about their routine with their new horse, wondering about why the horse runs away unless she lures the horse with feed.

I asked, "Are you ever inclined to do something spontaneous, lively, and fun... with your horse?"

Novelty is an interesting concept. I know I can tend to be repetitious and predictable, and for sure that has value. If I never did the same thing around the horses, they would be on edge every time I showed up. I don't want them totally dull to my presence, nor do I want them on edge.

There is some flexible and changing middle ground. I'd like my horses to overall trust that I'm going to help them out if needed, but not to assume that they know all the time what specifically I'm going to do. Although I imagine from their point of view I'm pretty darned predictable.

This same person said sometimes she used grain to catch the horse but she knew that was a no-no.

My response:

I hope that as time goes on, you will feel more and more comfortable deciding for yourself what you want or don't want to do. There are really NO "no no"s with horses. What works is what works. Sure, you can get some great ideas from us other folks, but in truth, you have a unique relationship with your horse, and what works for you two is what works for you two, not what works for me or someone else. Well, of course there are some things that work for all of us, but not everything and certainly not all the time.

She went on to say she'd read an article that said she should make her horse run away when the horse showed signs of running away, so the horse would think running away was her idea and not the horse's.

My response:

Actually just the opposite is what seems to work for me -- set it up so she thinks that coming to you is HER idea. I'd leave the running away from you out of it. It might mean approaching her with great caution for awhile, sensing when she's thinking about leaving, before she leaves, and then backing off a bit (taking a few steps backwards, looking away, for example) and seeing if she can stay there and not act on her thought to leave.

I have a horse I love a lot, but her former owner used to make her move away when in fact he wanted to catch her. So she thinks when I show up, she should start moving away from me. At times when I've been really clear that I want her to stand and let me approach or that I want her to come toward me, well, she's fine with that except for some residual confusion about what people want -- you want me to run away, right? No? Are you sure you don't want me to run away?

This woman also shared her frustration when she goes to get a bucket of feed in order to catch her horse. My thoughts about that:

That frustration can get in the way of enjoying your time together! Then it gets complicated with her memory of how it feels to be near you... Have you noticed how horses will hang out with those who are most mellow? They like to feel good! So if a horse or a human is being pesty, annoying, uptight, etc., they ain't gonna want to hang there!

The writer went on to share her worries about getting into a dangerous situation being out among the larger herd where her horse lives. My response:

What a great opportunity to develop your clarity about what you want and from what horse. The horses are capable of understanding that you want that bay to stand there and those two chestnuts to back off a few steps and that grey to stand there while you walk through them on your way to your mare... Maybe not today but consider the possibility -- wouldn't it be fun to be that clear and have that much presence around the horses that they paid attention with interest and respect, not out of fear or disregard?

Then she spoke about how the mare is bad -- she raises her head when asked to canter or gallop. My response:

There are some simple exercises that you could do at the walk, and when it's really clear she understands and responds easily, then try them at a trot, and when it's good there, then try at the canter. Something like ride on a loose rein at the walk and pick up the left rein and gently ask for a left circle, and look/feel for her to give to that rein and that might look like her head lowers a bit, her body curves in the direction you've asked, her breathing gets fuller and calmer, she might sigh or lick and chew or gently blow air... Then ask with the other rein, nice and easy, and wait for her to respond with calmness and relaxation.

This will set the foundation for her to understand that when you pick up in that certain way with one rein, she can start a little bend/arc/circle and relax...

The writer told us that the previous owners rode this mare with a tie down and she has scars on her face from it. My comments:

Poor mare. I'm glad to hear you are trying to communicate through the reins in a way that doesn't require you to constrict and hurt her. It's her mind you want to influence! and if you keep that in mind (no pun intended), you'll find her starting to look for meaning when you ask for this or that. It may take longer with her because she's already confirmed in her expectations of people, but she can change, I assure you that.

She then described this mare as a cat on a hot tin roof, ready to blast off at the slightest request. Reportedly she hates to walk slow, prefers to do a very prancy walk. My response:

I'm not convinced any horse really PREFERS being wound up like that. You will come to be a very special person to her if you develop ways to help her relax around you. Some of this is easiest learned with a horsemanship coach/instructor right there, and any time you hire someone, be sure to interview them, get recommendations from folks you know and trust, watch the person train or ride or teach so that you know ahead of time you are comfortable entrusting YOUR learning process and your HORSE's learning process in that person's hands.

This writer ended by telling us she wants to help her become the horse she can be. This horse is eager to please and does most anything asked, with the exception of the issues mentioned above. My response:

Your good intentions are clear. Sometimes we humans have to spend time struggling to get something, to understand it better and become more effective with what we do. That struggle itself adds value to the answers we find. Remember that our horses go through the same process -- needing time and our patience to figure things out. She may be struggling a lot mentally as you seem to offer her something very different from what she came to expect from people. I wish you the best.

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