Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mud, Lily Stands and Maisie Spins

It was almost 60F today, and we had plenty of the mud I said I was hoping for (back when it was so cold).  So, since we had mud, we had what goes with mud - very muddy horses.  Here's a picture gallery - all the horses looked about like this.

Here's Blackjack:

And Dawn:
Lily pre-clean up:
As I had planned (see yesterday's post), while I cleaned her up I worked with Lily on standing ground-tied, as an exercise in self-calming.  This also allowed me to work on some other undesirable behaviors at the same time - she's been prone to threaten to bite and kick when I'm grooming her, particularly on her right neck and shoulder - she has a big area of scar tissue on the right side of her neck that our chiropractor found that gives her some trouble - and her hindquarters.  I'm not interested in getting in a fight with her or thumping on her - with a very dominant horse that's not always such a good idea - and I think there are better ways to solve the problem.

What I did was very simple.  I brought her in, and asked her to stand ground-tied in the parking lot while I groomed her.  Every time she moved, or made any sort of attempt to threaten with her teeth, I calmly, but by bringing my energy up, asked her to move around me in a small circle until she offered to stop - that's the trick in this - you have to notice when the horse is offering to stop.  I would then drop the lead and go on with my grooming.  Lily's very smart - actually most horses are.  Within minutes, she decided she would rather stand calmly than fidget or try to bite, since that was less work than circling.  Here she is after I completed grooming one side (yes I know she's still dirty):

I'm expecting some of this ability to self-calm to carry over to other things with Lily.  Now, with a horse that's never ground-tied before, this process will take longer - probably several sessions with incremental progress.  Lily has done ground-tying before, so this was really a refresher for her.

Then I rode Maisie.  It was very windy and Maisie was very forward.  We moved well as we went away from the stable.  Just as we were turning the corner around the pastures, a couple of hundred yards from the barn, Maisie became very alarmed at something she saw in the distance - she froze and looked.  This is sometimes a prelude to spinning away from the scary object and bolting, so I sat deep, relaxed my legs and keep my chin up.  I asked her to move forward, and sure enough, after a step or two, she spun and tried to bolt.  I simply sat quietly in the middle of the horse, let one rein go loose by putting my hand down on the neck, kept my legs relaxed and brought the other hand back to my knee - not hard, but enough to give her no option but to circle if she moved her feet.  So we spun in the circle for a moment until she decided to stop - this is important - I don't pull back nor do I ask her to stop - she stops on her own.  Then I headed her down a trail that would take us back to the barn by an oblique route.  Every few steps, she would start to bolt, and we would (quietly on my part) do the circle thing again, either in one direction or the other.  We slowly came back to the barn, circling most of the way, with stops and a few steps of walk in between.  By the end, she was still very nervous, but walking on a loose rein, holding herself together.

It didn't make any sense to take her back to confront the monster (I never saw what it was), since she would have just had a melt down and would have lost confidence in me if I had forced her.  So, instead, to give her some work she could do successfully, we walked up and back in several directions, to and from the barn, gradually increasing our distance but never to the point that she became so worried that she wanted to bolt.  At the end, we stood on a loose rein by the arena for about 5 minutes and watched Charisma being groomed - Maisie stood calmly and didn't move a muscle.  I was pleased with where we ended up, considering where we started.


  1. Sounds like an eventful and prosperous day with both horses! Nice to end the sessions so quietly. A trainer once told me two important things to keep in mind. #1 You must not get hurt #2 Your horse must not get hurt. It could have been very intimidating for you....good job!
    Thanks for sharing. Don't you just love the mud baths? LOL!

  2. All my horses look as muddy and dirty as yours. Love the mud.
    Sounds like those two horses had a good lesson in listening and came out on the good side.

  3. Noted your Mark Rashid comment below. My handling trainer is Kenny Harlow, a former student of John Lyons. So many of the principles are the same.

    I will be facing the mud this weekend when my Boys go out "naked." Till then I'll hold it off with light sheets tomorrow as we are supposed to have some showers.

  4. Jean - I read John Lyons' Perfect Horse magazine and find many of his ideas helpful. He and Mark Rashid have many of the same perspectives on our responsibilitys to the horse.


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