September 16th, 2010 The Mannerisms of NO Manners

Honking geese. Barking dogs. Bleating Sheep. Quacking ducks and squealing pigs. Clucking chickens. Mooing cows. Horses whinny. That’s the sounds of our morning. Everyday when we go out to complete the morning chores or aftgernoon chores, the geese, ducks, dogs, pigs, horses, sheep, cows, and chickens all start their melody of sounds.
Everyday I’m in amazement. They are so perfect.
Even with the introduction of the new swiss blue ducks this week and the couple of days they spent trying to figure out where they fit in the animal menagerie we’ve created the animals always end up in the same place. Harmony.
People are the only animals I know that can’t regularly attain that.
Even tasmanian devils achieve harmony.
This past week my manners radar was pricked countless times.
Trimming one 7 year old gelding I listened while his owner dispaired that while she bought him knowing that he has some ‘people’ issues that after three years she feels he should be over that by now.
“He tried to kick me this morning!” she said. “I went around him to pick up the brush to groom him and he swung toward me like he was going to kick me.”
She was obviously distraught. But then….so was her horse.
When I pulled into the driveway I noticed that this owner was lunging her horse in small circles and transitioning him every 1/2 revolution.
As he spun in to her to change directions rapidly he would lay his ears back, a clear warning in his language that he didn’t like what was being demanded of him. Not one bit.
In horse herds, horses never move each other in abrubpt, countless circles. They also don’t demand repetitive changes of directions.
This horse, trimming his hooves, had strained shins. He was tender to the touch and blanched backward several times before we were done.
Horses moved in small circles often have tender cannon bones. The equivalent of a marathon runner’s shin splint injury.
Manners would predicate to a horse that when in pain stay away from said ‘horse’ that makes you move in rapid circles. Yet people are told that this makes horses ‘reasonable’, ‘well trained’ and ‘well behaved’.
I think this makes horses know that in the matter of manners….we (humans) have none.
In our herd we have three horses in for training that are re-learning that it is possible for humans to have manners.
Two mustang mares are coming along nicely. One is easily caught in our 200 acre pasture. The other one willb e caught but she likes to lead you to the area where she has decided she should be caught.
Fair enough.
She’s teaching a human that cooperation leads to a positive result.
I get a kick out of that.
So many times hard to catch horses do just that. They walk away and people think they are trying to be hard to catch. Some are. Some, if you follow, will lead you all around the herd, through the herd, and then outside of the herd to ‘teach’ you what place you are in their herd.
Be respectful and wa-la! The horse let’s you approach. Or leads you to the safe area where they are comfortable interacting.
I’ve seen this dozens of times. Most often with lead alpha mares.
In the world of horses, manners are everything. Manners predict the safety of the herd. Poor manners equal risk. So poorly mannered horses are disciplined to help keep the herd safe and orderly.
Enter humans. We push ourselves on these beautiful creatures and demand that our will be satisfied.
Sometimes that’s necessary but in well adjusted situations, you can merely think about the request and an animal will already begin to respond to comply. It’s an amazing phenomenon!
This morning I needed to put Aemelie’s mask on. She was basking in the morning sun with the rest of the herd.
I was in the house. She was in the pasture.
I thought toward Aemelie:
“Please come up to the barn gate. I need to put your mask on.”
I went to the window and incredulously watched as she turned away from the herd, headed up the hill and stood to rest at the gate! She waited while I put my shoes on and made my way out to the pasture. I had to walk around the barn to get her mask but she stayed put, waiting for me to come back.
This isn’t the first time she’s done this.
She’s brought the whole herd in when I’ve mentally conveyed my desires to her.
She helped one of our boarders push away a pushy horse one day after he had yelled, “Aemelie, please help me!”.
These are all displays of respect. Harmony.
So often people we work with ask, “how can we achieve harmony?”
By recognizing the mannerisms of ‘no manners’.
More on that later….it’s a great subject and definitely warrants more text than I have time to write at the moment.

September 13th, 2010 Less is More

A daily theme has appeared. Less is more.
Today a client hauled her arabian gelding down to the trailhead where I was finishing a ride with a different client. She has a horrible time loading this gelding. My other client is trying out her new horse. A horse we’ve just finished training for her.
The theme ‘Less is More’ was evident in both interactions.
The young gelding being ridden by my second client has spent less than 20 minutes in a round.
That’s most people’s response.
These days we are conditioned to spend hours and hours drilling the horse on yields, backing, flexing, etc.
This young gelding has less than 7 rides on him and he’s already neck reining. And I have only put 4 of those rides on this boy. The young girl that is his new owner has put the other three on him.
That’s from start – when we picked him up he wasn’t crazy about being haltered and he was damn hard to catch.
Fast forward three months and twenty minutes of round pen work and a lot of time letting him grow up in our motley horse herd crew, several saddlings and a couple of walks and yep…you guessed it. Kirk and I hauled him to the trailhead and after walking him for a bit I stepped up on him and away we went. By the end of the ride he was walking and trotting and leg yielding. He would whoa, back up and had a real good direct rein on him. All with no stress. Oh, and he’s really easy to catch now on 200 acres.
Horses shut down when confined by walls. Kick them up to trot and you will ALWAYS have to kick them up to a trot.
They are smart enough to know that walls are confining.
Ever wonder why when you ride a horse in a round pen or an arena that the horse is defensive? Unresponsive? Resistant?
I never get that response starting horses by letting their mind move their feet.
Point their eyes toward a horizon and I guarantee they will head for it.
The little horse we’ve just finished training is “the lightest, funnest horse” our client has ever owned. He’s that way because he doesn’t have to be defensive. He’s never learned how.
The lady with the hard to load arabian definitely had lots of issues.
She’s tried the “if they don’t load, work the crap out of them then point them toward the trailer.”
Working her little gelding (he’s about 750 lbs of pure push me and I will run over you) I could see the problem right away.
Tied to the side of her trailer was the ‘bait’ horse. The horse she used to get him into the trailer in the first place.
The gelding wasn’t afraid of the trailer. He just simply didn’t want to load.
He swung his hips first left, then right, and refused to line straight up to the trailer. When he would he would plant his front hooves and refuse to put them in the trailer.
Push him and he would swing all the way around the trailer and yank the person holding him with him.
His was a dominance game.
A stallion like character he clearly viewed loading in the trailer as a direct order to abandon his duties as a lead horse of his herd and his swinging around the trailer was but his way of maintaining ownership of the mare and manipulating the handler to letting his stay with her.
I pushed him enough to trigger his ‘I’m going kick the crap out of you” and then took action.
Along the way some well meaning samaritans stopped to give me some advice on loading him.
“When I have trouble loading my horse I just work him outside the trailer until he wants to load.” said one well meaning individual.
I smiled and said, “your horse hard to catch?”
He didn’t say anything. He just rode away.
“That doesn’t work.” said my client. I know because he’s worn me out multiple times. It doesn’t work.”
My point exactly.
Horses worked in circles are hard to catch. They associate the work with the fact that you’ve just turned into a pushy butthead. Fair enough.
This gelding was holding his ground.
He’d been run in circles. Round penned. Given up on and disciplined and he still believed he didn’t need to get in that trailer.
With a 14 rope, surcincle and halter, I solved the problem using my ‘Less is More’ theory.
I walked him up to the trailer and he started pulling back.
I let him pull back to where he was comfortable which was conveniently 8 to 10 feet from the trailer.
Using my equipment I laid him down.
It was all very anti-climatic.
He laid down like I knew he would and I waited for him to yield his head, then I let him up and told him he was a good boy.
I walked him back up to the trailer and asked him to load. He took a few minutes and then with some encouragement he jumped right in.
Multiple times.
His owner loaded him three times by herself, pointing him to where she wanted him to go.
Not only did he load by himself but he went right to his stall and stood quietly and waited for her to come and clip his trailer tie to his halter.
Each time we unloaded him we would take him to see his favorite mare.
We loaded and unloaded her a few times too to reward him for his bravery and cooperation.
People tell me all of the time that “they” could never ever do this ‘Less is More” technique with a horse.
They are conditioned to interact with their horse under guidelines of fear.
Round pen your horse to take the fresh off them.
Round pen your horse to get them to lick and chew and respect you as their master.
Work the crap out of them if they don’t comply.
Horses are sensitive creatures. They learn so quickly.
I wish humans were the same.