Saturday, January 19, 2013

Taking Things For Granted, and Listening to the Horse

Sometimes I wonder about how easily I take things for granted with my horses.  I think, sometimes, if things haven't been difficult or challenging first, it's easy just to assume things.  All three of my horses stand still for mounting, and stop and stand as needed for as long as I need, and ground tie.  All three horses are great for hoof picking, the farrier and the vet, and take worming paste and medicines as needed by mouth.  All three lead well and move out of my space easily, even when worried (although Red will sneak up and grab a nip if given the opportunity - eyes in the back of my head are a plus). None of this happens by chance, or without intention.  Dawn used to be terrible for mounting - she'd move off once one foot was in the saddle - but she stands now, even when she's ready to blow - this presents its own set of issues as I need to read her mood from something else.  Pie came to me standing for mounting - his default condition is to stand still - but Red took some time to get there.

Red, when I got him, didn't lead, didn't load and would push through pressure on the bit or halter.  You couldn't handle his feet - he would kick and strike - and he was very difficult for both the farrier and the vet, and a nervous wreck most of the time.  If you were leading him in a situation that worried him, he would bolt, spook and run right over you. Now, even when he's worried, he's able to listen and wait, and his ground manners are very good.  It took a lot of time and work to get to where we are today, and I should never take things for granted - he's come so far due to his willingness to trust and learn.

All three horses are a delight to handle on a daily basis, and reliable in almost all (I won't say all for any horse) situations.  Dawn I still won't take on the trail - she's got a short fuse and explosive reactions as well as extreme acrobatics - but there's a lot we can do without that to expand our horizons.  Pie is more and more reliable in lots of situations - even if he snorts and looks, he's bidable and willing to try.  Red has huge heart and try, and although he hasn't been on the trail yet with me, I think he'll be pretty darn good when we get there - he's one of those horses that will go through fire for you if he trusts you, I think.

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And sometimes I wonder why I'm slow to listen to my horses.

Pie probably had Lyme even before he had EPM, and I was slow to pick up that his soreness, reluctance to move and crabbiness weren't his personality or a training issue to be solved, they were a disease that could be treated.  I wonder how many sore, unhappy horses are in similar circumstances due to muscle issues, unsoundness, dental problems or poor saddle fit, with people who won't listen to them.

Red, in the year and a half or so we've been together, has been trying to tell me that he needs to canter to warm up.  He has always walked out well for warm up, but as soon as you ask for trot, he fusses and sometimes balks.  This makes no sense, as he is a very forward and energetic horse.  I finally figured out that, due to some underlying hock arthritis, he feels more comfortable cantering before he trots - it helps him stretch out and warm up before trot, which is more difficult for him.  Now, when I ask for canter, he just floats into it and after a while, is happy as can be to trot and do as many transitions as I'd like - how easy that is and how slow I was to listen to him and do what he needed instead of what I thought was "required".

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It's amazing what our horses put up with - I expect they think we're pretty slow on the uptake . . .


  1. The important thing is that we do try to listen. We may be slow to get the message but we try. I feel badly for horses who are in pain and have owners who don't try to listen, who push the horse and call them disobedient. Of course, they can be naughty at times but its important to know your horse so you know what is mood and what is pain. You listen to your horses and you listen well.

  2. Never take those beautiful "nothings" -standing still for vet, farrier, mounting, worming, respecting your space, leading, loading, and handling - for granted!! Having my own 3 year old made this all too clear to me.

    In the two months since I brought Armani home, I've made a fair bit of progress, but it's hard when the horse has an acute issue one month in(abscess in jaw region) that causes him pain when you do what you need to do to help him (hot compresses). Despite this, he has gained trust in me that is obvious (and I find it amazing, given everything else).

    Aside from all that, I'd love to hear details on *how* you acheive such willingness. I do think a lot of it is trust, consistency, reinforcement, and discipline and although I have good results I'm sure everyone could learn some tips from someone like you if you went beyond just the overall improvements to what you did to bring about the change. I'm not trying to be demanding, just curious!!!

    Sometimes I feel I'm slow on the uptake, too. When you realize what they've been trying to tell you, it's a huge "duh" moment because horses know we are slow and try to make their cues obvious, right?? ;-) It generally *is* obvious, once we connect the dots. Then again, I've had hopeful "answers" that would explain everything I was seeing, not prove to be the actual answer at all (through testing, obv).

    I am begining to think Armani might be like Red in his preference to canter before serious trot work. He isn't stiff in the trot when I first pick it up but he is still quite an insecure 3, coming 4-yo and tends to trot short when he's worried. Canter seems to allow him to relax some without seeming to be hard on his young limbs, and then he's happier to work on trot. Of cours, I've been hampered figuring all this out since he's had an abscess in his jaw area (not strangles or anything like that) for weeks now.

    All that to say, you give me hope. Your progress with your horses makes me realize that I will get there too, with my young guy.

    1. You will get there, if you just keep working on it, slowly and in small pieces, day by day. I would never have believed that Red would come so far as he's done, and how wonderfully he's doing compared to where we started. He's a very trusting and willing partner now, instead of a nervous wreck.

      Canter can be very relaxing for some horses - I think it's the rhythm in part.

      I'll try to think about a way I can describe how we make progress, particularly on things that may be hard - like ground manners and simple things like hoof handling. I think if a horse needs help - like medications when they're sick - even though that may be unpleasant or even painful, they seem to know when we're trying to help them, and that builds trust.

  3. My horses have taught me how to listen over the years. Now, Tucker simply expects that I will indulge his every whim. All he has to do is express his negative feelings about something and I will cater to his wishes to fix whatever he perceives as wrong. *lol*

    Actually, I have tried to tune into my horses's bodies and have learned that most bad behavior, under saddle, or on the ground can often have a physical cause--if proper handling and training just don't work as a first options to fix it.

  4. Hi Kate, slow on the uptake,me? I am still waiting for the light to come on in my head! I think when all is said and done, horses are animals. They dont understand us, we dont understand them. Its a compromise of failings. Well at least thats how I see it. If we do click, then thats a major plus! Trouble is we are not all listening. I often think what we believe is a progress, in fact is the horse saying," Ok, I`ll do it, but your wrong!" So really, we dont know at all. But on the plus side, horses have a tendency to know us better than we know ourselves.


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