Monday, April 5, 2010

Getting Back the Connection

Dawn can be a challenging horse to work with. She has a very strong connection to my younger daughter, who was recently home from college for two weeks on spring break. Now that my daughter has gone back to school, I'm having some trouble reestablishing my connection with Dawn, so that there are two halves to the conversation and not just me talking at her. Dawn is one of those horses who expresses her emotions with her body, and if she becomes over-excited or reacts to something, some of those bodily expressions can be challenging for her human partner to deal with. But she's also very intelligent, and has always had a good work ethic. For an overview of the work I'm trying to do with her, see my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . . The Horse Has Already Left". Really, all I'm trying to do is establish a firm connection with Dawn so that she is able to maintain a conversation even when she's worried or excited. This is obviously easier said than done.

We did some good work last year, and then took a break for winter. And now we're trying to get started again. The connection isn't there again yet - Dawn is perfectly capable of "looking through" her human partner even while she's paying some attention to what is being asked. The more direct and intense locking together of the two minds and bodies, horse and human, in furtherance of a common task, isn't there. I do think it's possible for us to get there, although I don't know how long the road will be - it'll be as long as it is.

Today was one of those days where the lack of connection was apparent at times, although we kept working and made some forward progress even after some difficulties. I groomed her in the parking lot, ground-tied. We work a lot on patience, and exercises designed to improve her ability to be patient and not always moving, investigating or reacting. She's doing pretty well on her ground-tying, although I had to remind her a few times not to sniff the ground but just stand there. Then we went up to do a little lunging on the field behind the barn. We worked on her walk/trot/halt transitions - she's doing pretty good on those with voice commands.

When we reversed to go to the right, she was pushing her nose to the outside, which meant she was doing more looking out than focussing on me - she has more trouble going to the right and often does this. And there was a lot going on - horses coming in from the pastures, kids riding by on bikes, Charisma in the arena, some prairie burns nearby - we could see the flames from one - and a family working in the vegetable garden. She's also in heat, so even with the improvement due to the Mare Magic, she's still more distractible then. All of sudden, there was just too much and she overloaded - there'd been a tail flagging a moment before which was a warning sign - I got a couple of circles of squeal/bolt/lots of bucks and galloping. I brought her down to the halt - she was snorting and very high and pretty oblivious to my presence. I led her down towards the barn to chill a bit - she was thinking about bolting right over me and I had to firmly correct her and remind her to hold it together, which she did. When we got close to the barn, and she calmed down enough to work, we did some "crazy walking" to refocus her mind a bit, and then did some brief walk/halt work on the lunge to reestablish that we were working. Dawn isn't one of those horses you want to run around, either in a round pen or on the lunge, when she's excited - she doesn't work down and loves to run and just ends up mindlessly running, which isn't at all what I want from her. So slow and calm work is the better choice for her.

Then we went and stood around for a while in the parking lot so she could calmly observe all the commotion. She was able to do this well, and we ended on that. I asked her to do a moment of "shoulder rest" - she does this with my daughter for long periods of time by her own choice - she rests her chin on your shoulder and relaxes her neck and almost falls asleep - but she only wanted to to it for a moment. I also held her face a couple of times for a few moments in a "head hug" where I wrap my arm around her face and hold her head against my body - some horses find this calming. She still wasn't really connecting to me, but that connection is going to take some time to reestablish. It wasn't a bad day's work, all in all. (Oh, and Maisie and I got in a brief, pleasant trail ride, too.)

14 comments:

  1. I'm very interested in this work, since I have trouble holding Poco's attention. Keep it coming.

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  2. I so enjoy reading your post about Dawn. She sounds like she is Kinsey's twin. It it so hard to establish that connection with Kin right now.I hope you are able to find that connection with Dawn.

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  3. Getting and keeping the attention of a horse like Dawn can be tring , but it seems you are on the right track, keep doing the good work you do ,and one day you will see her seeking your feedback

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  4. Very interesting - she reminds me of Dixie. Well, except that she enjoys touching/being touched. When Dixie flips out she does that thousand-yard stare, and like Dawn, she doesn't "work down."

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  5. All in all it actually sounds like an excellent day to me given the time off. I've had a couple of horses that you could not work down either, I don't think they had a bottom. The last thing you wanted to do was let them start running as it was all over at that point.

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  6. Interesting stuff - keep the info coming!

    I think so many people (myself included on occasion) just ignore that their horse isn't "there" and sort of try to force things - whether with a crop, or anger, or more lungeing/riding harder, etc.

    Good for you for taking the time with Dawn...

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  7. I love those head hugs, too.

    I feel I have a pretty good connection with my mare, but somedays we go thru what you are describing. Hang in there!

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  8. It's a nice that you got to have a trail ride with Maisie. I'm sure Dawn will come around again, like you said it will take time. But however long it takes at least you know you're on the right track with her, she did some good listening today.

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  9. It's so frustrating after having made such progress to take a step back over winter. It's been frustrating here with the weather not always great to work in but I'm sure you and Dawn will be back where you were very soon. It's a great lesson in patience this horse thing but you have that in abundance.

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  10. Dawn sounds like a very complex mare. It's interesting how you are working with that to reestablish your relationship with her. It is difficult to keep a horse's attention, especially a mare's attention when there is a lot going on. They are so watchful of everything in their environment, but us, their handlers. It's a challenge.

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  11. Enjoyed reading about your work with Dawn. My daughter does the head hug thing with her pony, and it works well to get him back in focus.

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  12. Tucker does not "work down" either. Could be the Thoroughbred syndrome at work again. Either way, calm and cool is always the way to go. Glad it seems to work with Dawn. She is a complicated lady, that's for sure.

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  13. Substitute My mare's name in for Dawn..the same they are!
    Thanks for reminding me of the Head Hug..
    it sounds so neat with you two..like to see a pic of that one. I put my palm under my mares lip and lift her chin up..sometimes she puts all weight upon me till I give, and sometimes she says 20 seconds is enough.
    Good work, as always and nice that you had a ride!
    KK

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  14. I think Dawn is very similar to Laz. The 'looking thru you' at times and the mindless running that just doesn't help nor burn 'energy' but the slow, calm work that does help, is so him too. I enjoy reading what you do, so I can mimick it with Laz. Thanks for the free lessons! :)

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