Monday, April 27, 2009

Back to square one

I'm still sore. My sternum is still hurting when I inhale deeply and my arms still have that "pulled muscle" ache. Advil and I have become very close friends these last few days. But I'm up, around and taking another approach with the beast.

I've been treating him very well. I've always been generous with treats and snuggles. However, I decided that I need to step up my dominance factor with him. Not by being abusive, but in a "Boss Mare" kind of way. No more goodies without working for them, and he's going to have to work to win me over, not the other way around.

Little things need to be addressed from the ground, like when grooming, he likes to move his butt into you on his right side until you are very close to the wall. Not to mush you into the wall, but almost to see if he can just put himself there because he wants to. Usually I give a half hearted push and say, "Over" and after a second he'll move away from the pressure a step and give me room. Last night when he did it, it was a firmer command of, "Over" and a strong pressure against his side with my hand until he was on the other side of the aisle and I had all the room and he was against the wall. Then I kindly said, "Good boy" and continued my brushing like nothing happened.

He's very aware that the goodies have all but ceased and I can see he's puzzled. He's looking for rewards that I'm not offering without getting something from him first. And the reward he gets is a scratching on his forehead or a rub of the muzzle. No food goodies.

I was going to lunge him yesterday at mid-day, and it was a HOT day. I figured I'd use the heat to my advantage for 15 minutes on the lunge but then decided why broil myself at the same time? I went with husband and the kids to the beach instead and enjoyed watching my boys dig and play in the sand and collect shells.

I went to the barn at 7:00PM when it was cooler and more comfortable. My intent now is to give him variety in the routine and keep him guessing so he's going to have to trust me as I present him with different scenarios. I need him to rely on me, and not be so concerned what the other horses are doing at any given time. I took him out to the polo arena to work on the lunge. It's the first time he's been out there in the evening by himself. If he was going to be a jerk, I was ready for it. I've seen horses lose it out there when they know all the other horses are in their stalls for the night.

He was saddled and bridled. I had the lunge line clipped to the bit on the outside and over his poll through the inside ring of the bit. No side reins as I'm not sure he's used to them. All I wanted was for him to walk and trot a little like a gentleman and if he had any issues with the tack, to buck it out so I could get a feel if something was wrong with the fit. And he was a subdued little baby. No fireworks, no bucking. He tried to bulge through the turn as he circled by the gate but I waggled the lunge whip and asked him to "walk on" and he kept going. We did 15 minutes of walking and trotting in both directions and I was surprised, he didn't even whinny for any of the horses in the barn during the whole time.

As we walked back to the barn, instead of taking him the usual way, right through the front of the barn, I walked him around the barn and went in the side door, a place he's never gone before. He was a little nervous about it but I kept up a soft voiced urging and firmly led him around the front of the barn and into the side door, through the side barn aisle and back to his spot on crossties in front of his stall. I could sense his relief when he realized where I led him to. And I rewarded him with a forehead rub for trusting me and following me into the barn through this strange new place.

I'm learning he's a horse who is very safe with his routines and if you vary things, it might bring out his less than compliant side. Typical toddler, if his routine is changed, he has a meltdown. That's why I'm going to keep up small changes to get him to rely on my judgement and trust my guidance. Back to square one as it were until I can get back in the tack and lots of lunging under saddle.

When I untacked him, groomed him again and picked his hooves, I walked him into the stall and closed the door behind me. He had his face up to the bars of the stall, waiting. Waiting for a treat, or a kind word. He got nothing. I ignored him and went to putting my tack away. Each time I returned from the locker room to collect more tack (I am hurting too much to carry it all in one trip) I walked by and he was still standing there, watching me. When I finished putting my stuff away, I went to check on my friend's horse's water further down the aisle in the barn. I walked past Rugby and he was still standing there by the door, waiting. A soon as I was out of view but he could hear my footsteps, I heard this behind me,


It was Rugby. By now I'm guessing he figured he was not number one on my list. I finished checking on my friend's horse, then called her on the cel phone. The whole time I was chatting with her on the phone I heard an occasional whinny from him. When I finished I walked back to his stall. He watched me the whole way and when I stopped and looked at him he pawed his hoof against the door and banged on it. I sharply said, "NO" and opened the door slowly. He put his nose forward at me and I again said, "No, back up!" He went to paw again and I stomped my foot and butted his chest with my shoulder and said, "No, back UP!". He took a step back in surprise and stood there looking at me. Then I turned slightly away and waited without looking at him. In a second, he slowly walked up and put his nose in my hand. I rubbed his nose and walked out, closing the door behind me.

He decided to give up after that. He went to eating his hay and figured I was done with him. That's when I took the 3 horse cookies I had with me, reached quietly through the bars and placed them softly in his feed bucket. He didn't notice at first what I did but was surprised to find them when he raised his head up from eating to look at me when I closed the lights and said, "Good night, Rugby".

Big baby. And a very smart one, too. He's a bit more clever than he looks.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like he may have become attached to his routine - it's good that you made small adjustments (successfully) - every time you do this and he realizes he's still OK, he'll gain confidence in you. I'm a big believer that how we interact with the horse on the ground - in the stall, leading, grooming, tacking, etc., plays itself out in how the horse is when we ride. I do feed treats, but intermittently - most of the time I don't. Good luck on your quest!

Once Upon an Equine said...

Oh goodness! I'm just catching up. So sorry to hear about the hard fall. Yes, good thing wore a helmet. I injured my sternum in a car accident once and it was an odd pain & took a long time to heal. Hope you heal quickly. Sounds like your plan of drawing firmer boundaries with Rugby is a good idea. Like you said, he's a toddler and needs to know to pay attention to you and not Sparky.

Stephanie said...

Sorry about your fall... but it sounds you are making sweet lemonade from sour lemons! Sometimes these things are a blessing in diguise. Now you and Rugby can really work together, as you have planned, on trust and space and ground work and make your relationship that much stronger!

I'm grounded from an injury for a while and that is what I am doing as well.I look forward to reading about your progress and changes you are making in his routine! I realized that I get into such a habit of always doing the same routine, and need to change it up to keep both Fawkes and I fresh.

Hindsight is always 20/20! Hope you heal fast and get back in the saddle with renewed self confidence in both you and him soon!!

Jean said...

Good job. Rugby needs a leader and you are the one for the job.

I agree that proper ground work and handling can really help with under saddle issues.

I can also recommend ground driving as a way of establishing and developing control for riding. It might be another way of training him to the aids while you are healing and to help establish some discipline without risking anymore incidents under saddle.

Feel better soon. Those aches and pains are so frustrating. *sigh*

English Rider said...

I try to apply the same principles to husband-training. It's not easy.

WarPony said...

I gave you an award on my blog. You aren't obligated to DO anything, just wanted to let you know!

Hope you are healed up and feeling better soon. That is one thing about some of these drafty cross types... they can be block heads at times. Sounds like you are handling it well. Make him earn his place in your herd.