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Posted by vwkoch, in horse handling thoughts 27 August 2012 · 1,237 views

Horse trainers talk a lot about respect. It’s certainly true that your horse needs to respect you. What the trainers never mention, though, is that respect is not a one-way street. If you want respect, you must give respect. If you do not show respect for your horse, then your relationship is one of domination rather than partnership, and your horse will only obey you out of fear, not out of respect.

My horse is allowed to do many things that most trainers say should never be done. For example, she’s generally allowed to graze if I’m sitting on her doing nothing but talking to someone. She’s allowed to graze for three reasons: She asks permission first; I have no reason to deny such permission; and I respect her desire to graze when the grass is right under her nose and we’re just standing there doing nothing.

She asks permission by bumping the bit. When she does, I loosen the reins to let her graze. If, for some reason, I don’t want her to graze, I don’t loosen the reins, and she defers to my decision. It is her deference to my decision that shows she respects me. I don’t define respect as prohibiting her from even ASKING to graze. That kind of relationship is simply a dictatorship, in my opinion. The horse doesn’t respect the person --- it just respects the punishment it knows will come if it disobeys the rules. In MY book, “respect” simply means that the horse will defer to my decision if we disagree.

Consider some excerpts from what one trainer wrote about respect:

“Thing is, you canNOT emulate everything a horse will get scared of so you have to get the respect so they know you'll take care of them.”

He’s right that you cannot habituate your horse to every scary thing it might possibly encounter on a ride, but it’s not respect a horse needs to have but trust, and it’s not likely to trust you if you try to gain respect by punishing it for trying to initiate any behaviors on its own. It’s trust that makes horses believe you’ll take care of them. Respect makes them believe that you CAN take care of them, but you earn that respect by actually taking care of them, not by forcing them to obey arbitrary rules. That kind of respect is respect for punishment, and if they fear something scary more than they fear punishment, you’re going to lose control when they get scared.

“But if a horse did get into your space, … bump him with the lead rope while he's wearin' his halter. Make him step backward.”

This one is a perfect (and common) example of enforcing an arbitrary rule. My horse is welcome in my space almost any time she wants to approach me. She’s welcome because, when I ask her to move back, she will. I don’t have to “bump” her with the lead rope. I just say “back” or use finger pressure to move her away. She shows her respect for me by moving whenever I ask, so I respect HER desire for contact almost every time she wants it. I’m GLAD she likes me enough to want to be close. I don’t need or want to dominate her by punishing her whenever she seeks such closeness.

“Once you ask the horse to step back, bring him back forward again. This …is a secret that gets missed a lot. Don't end with discipline. End with a positive. Why? Because horses remember the last thing you did.”

This advice is very good, but it’s even better to avoid discipline altogether. Horses remember EVERYTHING you do; otherwise, “bumping” them back wouldn’t teach them anything. If you avoid discipline, they’ll have fewer bad things to remember. If there’s no reason to “bump” your horse, why “bump” him? Let him stay in your space if it’s not causing any problems, and if it is, just ASK him to move. If he doesn’t move when you ask, THEN “bump” him, and if you DO have to “bump” him, then don’t end with the “bump.” End with a positive, as the trainer recommends.

“…in the real world (out there riding on the trail), horses go into self-preservation. …if the horse feels threatened, …unless they understand you're there to take care of them, you might as well be invisible. They need to know you're there to keep them safe and maybe that'll be done through a One-Rein Stop.”

I don’t like the one-rein stop because, if it’s done incorrectly, it’s dangerous. I’ve seen people almost pull their horses over by doing an incorrect one-rein stop. However, even if it’s done correctly, it’s NOT going to tell a horse you’re there to keep it safe. What it tells the horse is that it needs to defer to your judgment, and when it does so, it learns through experience that it’s SAFE to defer to your judgment. It learns it can trust you, and as I said above, it’s not likely to trust you if you try to gain respect by punishing it for trying to initiate any behaviors on its own.

Scientific studies have shown that the more control an animal has, the better its welfare is. Conversely, then, the more control we take away, the worse an animal’s welfare is. I want my horse to have the best possible welfare, so I give her as much control as I can. If I want her to respect me, I think it’s only fair that I also respect her, so I respect her wishes unless I have some good reason not to do so. In return, I expect her to defer to my wishes whenever we disagree --- and she does. I don’t need to punish her for disobeying arbitrary rules, so that she respects only my ability to punish her. I want her to respect me as somebody who can make her life better, so that I am a leader, not a dictator. That kind of relationship requires MUTUAL respect.

As one of my friends says, there needs to be a mutual understanding of and respect for each other's needs, assets, and liabilities. The animal needs to defer to the human when necessary, but the human need not always insist on "leading the charge." In some circumstances, based on knowledge of the animal's better perceptual abilities, the human may just as well trust the animal as the best one to handle a particular situation. For example, when a human becomes lost on a trail ride, the horse may be able to get the pair safely back home. However, if the horse has been made afraid to take any action of its own, the human may not be able to benefit from the horse’s better abilities.

So, if you want your horse to respect you, I suggest that you earn that respect, at least in part, by offering MUTUAL respect to your horse. Be willing to respect your horse’s wishes, as you want it to respect yours. You don’t earn PERSONAL respect by being a dictator --- you only earn respect for your enforcement abilities. You don’t need to dictate your horse’s every action and enforce rules that are entirely arbitrary. Enforce rules only when it’s necessary, and give your horse some control over its actions. All you really need is for your horse to be willing to defer to you when needed. If, in turn, you’re willing to respect your horse’s desires, you will improve both your relationship and its welfare. I guarantee that it’s much more fun (and interesting) to have an equine friend and partner than an equine slave. Try it!

Moving Tori

Posted by vwkoch, in horse stories 13 August 2012 · 366 views

My poor horse has been psychologically traumatized by having to do a lot of moving around recently. For the last ten years, she’d been in one stall in one stable. Then, she had to move out of that stall temporarily because the roof of her side of the barn was being repaired (see http://forums.horsecity.com/index.php?app=blog&blogid=80&showentry=2101). Shortly after she moved back, a new trainer brought a lot of horses to the stable, and my horse was moved to a different stall without anyone notifying me. When I complained about such treatment, I was kicked out of the stable (see http://forums.horsecity.com/index.php?app=blog&blogid=80&showentry=2093). So, recently, we made a permanent move to another stable. All this moving has definitely caused problems for poor Tori, who absolutely does NOT like change. I knew that moving to a new stable would upset my horse, but I didn’t know how bad things would actually get.

I moved her on a Saturday and spent most of the day with her to try to help her to relax and accept her new home. She wasn’t about to accept the change, though. Her new stall has a run, and she spent the entire time I was there (when I wasn’t distracting her) trying to push over the pipe fence of the run so she could get free and go home on her own. I was hoping I could get her to relax before I had to leave, but it was not to be. Things are never that easy with my Chicken Little horse.

On Sunday, she’d graduated to pacing the fence, which was the reaction I’d expected of her. She wasn’t eating very well, because of all the pacing, but she seemed ever so slightly more relaxed than when I had left her on Saturday. She was also a little drawn up, so I don’t think she was drinking enough, but I did see her drink, and she wasn’t dehydrated, in spite of the heat. All in all, I was satisfied with how things were going, considering her overly anxious personality.

On Monday, she wasn’t pacing when I got to her stall, but she was sweaty, so I figured she’d probably been pacing and had quit when she heard me coming. She still wasn’t eating or drinking as well as I’d like, but she would eat while I was there, so it seemed that it was her anxiety, rather than her stomach, that was affecting her eating. The fact that she’d quit pacing when she heard me coming was an improvement, so all in all, I was satisfied with her progress. She seemed to be adapting, in her own slow, anxious way.

Also, on Monday, she got her feet trimmed for the first time in over 14 weeks. My farrier had canceled three appointments in a row, so I had fired him, then had to find a new one. Her feet were not terribly bad, but it was a relief (to me more than her) to get them trimmed finally.

After her trimming, I turned her loose to graze while I got my checkbook for the farrier, but instead of grazing, she walked off, returned to the barn, and ate hay in the aisle till someone tied her up, thinking she was an escapee (which she kinda was). The fact that she returned to the barn, instead of heading off to find her old barn, was a step in the right direction, though. Clearly, we were making progress in adapting to the new circumstances.

On Tuesday, the main problem was that she was VERY tender-footed. I decided to ride her indoors, because it was a good sand arena with no rocks, and we mostly walked, with just a little jogging. As the week progressed, so did Tori, seeming to become less anxious, eating and drinking better, and becoming less tender-footed, but still being sweaty when I arrived each day, so she was probably still pacing. She was not completely settled into her new home, but she was definitely improving. Eleven days after the move, though, we had a serious setback.

The stall I had chosen for Tori was an end stall with an empty stall next door. Unlike most horses, Tori seems to be somewhat asocial --- pretty much totally uninterested in other horses. When other horses approach her, she lays her ears back, and if THEY won’t leave, SHE does. So, I thought she’d do best in an end stall with only one neighbor to deal with, and I was glad that the neighboring stall was empty when we moved in, so she could adjust to her new circumstances without also having to deal with a new neighbor. The next stall over was occupied, so she could socialize at a distance if she wanted, but she didn’t really show any interest in her closest neighbor.

However, when I came out on Tuesday, the 11th day at her new home, an evacuation horse (from the Colorado wild fires) had been moved into the empty stall, and Tori had bonded to her with Super Glue. She would not leave her run, because if she did, she might lose sight of her neighbor. As soon as I got her out of the stall into the aisle, she started whinnying like a lost soul, and she continued to do so the whole time I had her out of the stall. When I put her up again, she immediately went out into the run, ignoring the food in her stall. At the time, I wasn’t too worried. I expected her to settle down after awhile and come back in to eat, but the next day, she was still insistent on staying in the run, and she’d only eaten about a third of her food. She was also VERY sweaty, so she had evidently gone back to pacing a lot. At that point, I decided it was time to start her on Ulcergard, because her increased anxiety was likely to give her an ulcer, if it hadn’t already.

Thursday, the evacuation horse was gone, and Tori no longer refused to leave her run, but other than that small improvement, things were pretty much the same --- or worse. She was still whinnying a lot, and she’d still only eaten about a third of her food. She was again very sweaty, so the pacing was still bad, and she was slightly lame on her right front foot (in addition to still being tender-footed on all four feet).

Friday, she was whinnying less, but she had still only eaten about a third of her food. She was now lame on her right rear, and so tender-footed all around that I was afraid she’d foundered. I was leery of giving anything for the pain, though, because her lack of appetite strongly suggested she had an ulcer, which would be exacerbated by any painkillers. She would eat while I was there, but she wouldn’t eat everything I gave her, and she wasn’t eating much while I wasn’t there.

Saturday, I called the vet school and got a prescription painkiller that was the least likely to cause ulcer problems. By then, I had the Ulcergard I’d ordered, which would also help protect her stomach. So, Saturday, I started her on Ulcergard and Equioxx. I got her to eat pretty normally while I was with her, so I left her with hopes that all these problems would finally begin turning around for us.

On Sunday, she’d eaten all her food and was much less lame, but of course, I didn’t know how much of the improvement was genuine and how much was just due to the medications. She did seem to be settling down again, though, from the increased anxiety levels due to her brief infatuation with the evacuated mare. However, we were still worse off than we’d been when I’d first moved her out there.

On Monday, the field team from the vet school came out to take radiographs of her feet, and I was relieved to see that she had none of the problems of laminitic horses. The vet suggested Ace to calm her down and stop the pacing, but I declined, because I think she’d already stopped pacing. She was no longer sweaty when I came out to get her --- and I didn’t want to add a third medication to her chemical brew unless she really needed it.

Wednesday was the 4th of July, and I spent most of the day with her. I gave her the last dose of Equioxx and decided to see how she did without it before getting any more. She was still eating well and seemed much more relaxed.

Friday, we had a real rainstorm, and I discovered my horse was too dumb to come in out of the rain. When I got to the stable, she was standing, soaked and shivering, in her run in the midst of the downpour because she was too scared to come into her stall through the water that was cascading over the doorway from the gutterless roof. Once I got her inside, I walked her around the indoor arena to help her warm up, and she was shying and jigging and generally acting pretty feisty. The Equioxx would have been wearing off by then, so even though her feistiness was due to nerves, I took it as a good sign and decided not to put her back on pain meds. She was still eating well, too, but I gave her another three weeks of Ulcergard, just to be on the safe side. By the time we finished the Ulcergard, she seemed to be pretty well settled, and she's done fine without it. Hopefully, the worst is now over, and she'll just keep on improving.

At this point, I know Tori’s convinced I’m abusing her, but I’ve tried to make the move as easy on her as possible. I’ve tried to make the new stable routine as similar as possible to the old one. The main routine at the old one was what happened after I rode. I would leave her in her “grooming station” while I cleaned the stall, then I would turn her loose to go back to her stall, and when I opened the stall door, she would back in, earning her final treat. [There's a video of her backing into her stall at the old stable. It's available on You Tube if you just search on Tori (Horse) Backing Into Stall.]

At the old stable, I would leave her untied in her grooming station, but I won’t do so in the new stable till she’s much more settled. However, we do HAVE a grooming station; i.e., I tie her in the same place every day after I ride. I don’t need to spend much time cleaning the stall, because the new stable has stall mats, so I just sweep any stray manure into the pile Tori makes at the end of the run, where the stable folks clean it up on a daily basis. After I groom her, I walk with her to her stall, where she backs in on her own. For the first week or so, I didn’t ask her to back in, because she was too unhappy over being moved, but when she seemed to settle down a little, I started asking her to back, and she was willing enough to do so. Even when we had the setback with the evacuation mare, she kept backing into the stall when I asked. At some point, I think I’ll probably trust her enough to leave her untied in the grooming station and turn her loose to go home on her own, but it’s going to be awhile. She seems to be STARTING to accept her new circumstances, but we still have a long way to go before she’s as comfortable as she was in her home of ten years.

At least, at the new stable, I’ve been promised that her stall IS her stall, and she’ll get to stay there --- failing any emergencies. Emergencies I can handle, although I doubt Tori will know the difference. As far as my opinionated horse is concerned, she should NEVER be moved from her stall, even when I’m assuring her it’s okay.

I guess, after ten years in the same stall, she’s entitled to be upset over a move to a new stable, but I wish she didn’t get SO upset so easily. I’m hoping all these moves won’t give her PTSD. I know she’s convinced she’s being abused, even though I’ve done my best to make it all as easy on her as possible.

Being anxious is a part of her personality, though. She just can’t help it! After 16 years, I’ve learned to live with it, even though I sometimes find her overreactions to be both silly and frustrating. I have to keep reminding myself that she’s much better now than she was when I first got her.

After 16 years of bonding, though, it doesn’t really matter HOW frustrating she can be. It’s way too late for me, now. She may be silly, but she’s family. I’m afraid I’m hopelessly in love.

August 2012


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