Monday, April 4, 2011

Pie Says "Aaaaah . . ." and Drifter Takes Advantage

Pie had a good chiropractic treatment this afternoon.  He's been working hard on relaxing his top line and engaging his core and was sore in a number of places - his neck, as well as certain areas in his hindquarters and back.  Our chiropractor worked on him for almost an hour, and he was really enjoying it - moving his body so she would work on the areas that needed it, and reacting with yawns, chewing, head shaking and once a full-body shake.  This was only his second chiro treatment ever - he was a bit skeptical the first time but this time he was clearly very happy about it.  For the next two days we're going to only do relaxed walk and trot work on a loose rein before we go back to our harder work.

Then, since it was extremely windy and chilly and not a very good day to ride, I went off to see a movie (Source Code, which was pretty good).  When I got out of the movie about 5 p.m., I had a message on my phone from our p.m. barn lady - she was unable to get Drifter into his stall, back in his paddock or into the arena - he was refusing to lead - and was stuck hand grazing him behind the barn.  I told her I'd be there about 10 minutes.  It turns out that she was leading him in from his paddock - that was fine - and led him into his stall - she was ahead of him - when he stopped halfway in and then pulled back, and she couldn't get him to move.  She was concerned that he didn't want to go in the stall because of the bad thunderstorms we'd had last night when he was in there.  I wasn't so sure about that - he'd made it clear when his former owner was loading him into our trailer that pulling back to avoid going forward was a well-established behavior for him.

When I got there, I greeted him and took the lead from her - I wasn't mad at him even though it was a behavior we need to change - he had just done what he'd been trained to do by his prior handlers.  He went into the barn just fine for me but didn't want to go into the stall.  When a horse pulls back on the lead, I don't keep on pulling - that does nothing but create a brace and guess who's always going to win in that tug of war.  I also don't focus on punishing the unwanted behavior (pulling back) but rather on getting the horse to choose the wanted behavior (walking forward willingly - into a stall or a trailer, it's really the same thing) by always keeping the feet moving and never pulling against the horse.  Before we went to work, I verified that he wasn't afraid of the stall - he backed in easily and just stood there.  He was just taking advantage of our p.m. barn lady and refusing to lead because he'd learned that it was an effective way of saying no and getting to do what he wanted.

What I try to do with this sort of problem is keep the horse moving in some way while not participating in a brace - if the horse puts any pressure on the lead I immediately move to backing, circling the horse in a small circle around me using by swinging the lead, or having someone behind the horse do something to stimulate the horse to move the feet - swinging the lead, for example, although sometimes a noisemaker - plastic bag - or gravel gently pinged at the horse's hindquarters - will do the trick for a more resistant horse.  The objective is not to scare, punish or force the horse to move forwards but to keep the feet moving - the secondary cue is removed the instant the feet are moving.  Once the feet are moving, the horse gets a reward for moving the feet in the direction you're asking - praise and a walk-around.  This process doesn't have to be very big at all, it can be pretty quiet - there's not any running in circles or big things happening.  Timing is important - whatever secondary cue you're using - circling or using a swung lead - needs to start the instant the horse puts any pressure on the lead and stop the instant the horse starts moving its feet again.   If the feet are moving, they can be directed.

We started with my leading up to the stall door, and halting and praising him for leading to that point.  Then I asked for a step forward - if there was even the slightest resistance, I said "now" and our barn lady swung her lead from probably 6 feet behind him - the instant he started moving his feet, I said "stop" and she stopped swinging the lead.  I kept his head towards the stall door - I didn't care where his body went - he could swing it from side to side if he wanted - as long as his feet kept moving.  We did this for each step, and pretty soon he chose to walk into the stall.  I stopped in there and praised him - he didn't try to run out - but we weren't done yet.  I repeated this with us leading from the other direction.  Each time I had her move a bit farther away, and we kept doing it from both directions.  Finally she was standing a good ways off and not having to swing the lead anymore.

Then I worked on sending him into the stall, rather than leading him in.  If there was any resistance when I asked him to step forwards, I had him move in a small circle around me and asked again.  Pretty soon he was "loading" into the stall very easily.  We went into and out of the stall some more times - by this point he said "I'm bored and want to eat my hay now" and at one point didn't want to leave the stall!  I made sure we got a couple of good repetitions in each direction, both leading in and sending in, and then we stopped - I praised him greatly and fed him a number of treats.

The next couple of days I'll lead him in to make sure there are no issues, and then I'll do a coaching session with our barn lady to help her with her timing and make sure that others besides me can lead him.

Drifter may act like a baby - "I can do what I want when I want" - but he's a smart baby and will take advantage if given the chance since he's been trained to expect to get what he wants when he acts like this.  I suspect this will get ironed out pretty quickly - we made good progress today - and the work we did today will end up being very helpful for our trailer loading work that's coming up later this month.


  1. Sensible! And it works! Drifter will figure all this out very soon.

    Glad Pie enjoyed his appointment!

  2. I call this making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard- thanks to Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. I use this technique for horses that don't want to load in the trailer, and a lot of other things too. It requires us to be thinking horsemen and not reactive horsemen.

  3. I'd say Drifter was definitely picking his spots and taking advantage of the p.m. lady. Smart little buggers aren't they.

    Pie sounds like he loved his treatment. Who wouldn't like a nice massage and adjustment. I know I wouldn't turn one down.

  4. Good stuff. That's really similar to the way I trailer load - I use a carriage whip or longe line to tap the horse's hocks anytime she's standing still. It's more Chinese Water Torture than anything else. If she's actively thinking about loading, or putting a foot in, or even backing out, then no pressure. The last two trips we've made, Dixie's loaded with no whip necessary, which makes me very happy. :)

  5. Thanks for this post. I have periodic problems with all three horses entering the barn. Our barn has how ceilings upon entry and I think it is like a trailer or cave to them. I will use your method - I love it - keep the feet moving without undo bracing or punishment. Thanks Kate!

    Glad Pie enjoyed his massage!

  6. Those quarter horses are pretty smart, unfortunately they sometimes use those brains for "evil." I agree that this won't be an issue with Drifter for long, maybe not even again. Then he'll think of something else to try ;)

  7. Good stuff and I agree with the previous comments. This is the procedure Betty and I use when needed - which is not very often because of past uses of this technique.


  8. Absolutely the same principle Kenny Harlow uses for trailer loading. As he says,"It's not s question of not loading, it's a question of not leading."

    When he is done with the lesson, as you were with Drifter and the stall, the horse will walk into the trailer by himself. End of loading problems.

    Nice work.

  9. I love how there are so many ways to gently and effectively get a horse to do the right thing. Your way is so sensible and kind to the animal while showing him his antics are not going to work. Hah! I am still waiting for you to announce you are publishing your book on horse training. I will be at your book tour when you come through Massachusetts!

  10. What I liked the most about this post with Drifter is that you chose to use his resistance as a teaching moment and to take your time until he understood. Most people will just find a way to force the horse into the stall because they have to or want to do other things. But, of course, the problem will come back and usually at a more inopportune time.

    Wonderful lesson with him and seems like it was really low stress!

    Pie must have loved his chiro visit...I wish we had someone who came to our mountains. I know that many of my herd would benefit.

    Glad you got some time with the horses despite the wind!

  11. Hoo boy, Drifter. You are so not in Kansas anymore.


    Thanks for the great description. I do roughly the same thing, but have learned not to make it a big deal, to just do it.

  12. Great description of what you do. Panama used to pull back quite a bit when going somewhere he didn't like, but has pretty much stopped doing it entirely in the last year. My trainer taught me to back him and circle him, more or less like you explained. I do give him a beat or two to decide to get moving on his own again, though, if he stops and refuses initially (without pulling back).


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