Horsing in the Rain

18 02 2009

It is no fun for either horse or human to work in the rain. But sometimes it has to be done.

ladyhawkeNot the best picture, but its wet here!

I took Ladyhawke out today. She is a pretty polite girl. I let her buck and play in the round pen for a bit so she could get some energy out. When she was done, she came to me in the center of the pen. I asked her to walk with me. She walked right along with me. When I asked for an inside turn (turn toward me), she moved herself around me to remain right at my side. “Good girl.” When I asked for an outside turn (turn away from me), she faltered a little bit. Instead of yielding away from me, she stopped moving forward and lifted her head, likely reacting to the pressure I was putting on her left shoulder and neck. Not physical pressure. I was merely walking into her neck. Because these were new requests, I decided to let her have that one. I continued on and turned in front of her. She then made an inside turn and joined me at my side.

No technically, this is not correct. What she should have done was when I began to turn into her, she should have yielded the space and stepped away from me while staying at my side. Instead she reacted to my pressure by halting and saying, “Not cool with that.” She was taking the dominant role and telling me no. As I said above, these were new requests, she was doing pretty well, so I let it slide. After doing a few more turns, I put her halter on, and we exited the round pen. Behind the main house there is a creek and a flat grassy area. I wanted to see if Ladyhawke trusted me or if she would resist being taken out of sight of the other horses.

We walked down the short path to the flat grassy area. Ladyhawke’s breathing quickened, and she became very twitchy. I thought, “Oh boy.” By the time we got to the bottom of the hill to the grassy area, she had completely forgotten I existed. Every sound she heard could be the boogie man coming for her! She bolted forward a couple of times and swinging her whole body all around. After about 5 minutes, I’d seen enough. I walked her back up to the round pen to work more on her confidence and trust. Leading a horse to a new placeis a good way to evaluate how well they are actually listening to you. Its one thing to be in a place they feel secure in and have them behave. There is no real threat and if the horse is a kind horse, she may comply with your requests because its in her nature. But once put into a situation where she may feel threatened or insecure, you can quickly determine how much the horse trusts you. Ladyhawke clearly did not trust me yet.

Once back in the round pen, I thought I’d change subjects and work on respect. I brought some food into the pen, put it down, and asked Ladyhawke over. She came over and plowed into the food. After a couple of minutes, I walked away from her. I circled around behind her to see if she was paying attention. She was not…..

Now was the time for the “Taking Space” ritual of Carolyn Resnick‘s. In the “Taking Space” ritual, the point is to surprise the horse and run them off the food. In horse herds, only the lead horse would do this. In horse society, one horse may establish dominance over another by surprising him. Back to Ladyhawke. Since she was not paying attention, I was able to surprise her and run her off the food. She was shocked and went to the other side of the pen and looked at me. Over the next few minutes, she walked over a couple of time and I shoo-ed her away. The point is for her to give up on getting the food. Once she does that, she can have it. It helps to establish that I control her food, just like her mother would have done.

So here’s where it gets cool. Ladyhawke did give up. She settled in over at the other end of the round pen. At that point, I said “Good girl!!!!” I walked a bit away from the food and invited her to me. She wasn’t real sure, but she came to me. I told her what a great girl she was and I led her over to the food. She looked at me and I directed her down to the food. What a good girl. After several minutes, I went to leave Ladyhawke. I wanted to get behind her again to see if she was watching. I circled around behind. At this point, she moved her butt in order to keep me in her sights. Good girl! That is what she is supposed to do. Horses in a herd keep an eye on the lead horse. If they don’t they get surprised.

I went back over to Ladyhawke. I groomed her a bit and then went to leave again. This time she came with me! She voluntarily left the food to come with me. I’m not sure if I inadvertently asked her to come with me or not. I was so pleased! I told her what an angel she was then led her back to the food. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I again walked away from her. She picked up her head and followed! I was beyond pleased. She chose to leave the food to come be with me. So sweet.

Ok. Now I wanted to readdress the trust issues she had with walking down the path to the creek. We walked back and forth in front of her paddock each time going further towards the path. I kept her attention on me by asking her to stop, back up, and turn. By keeping her busy, she didn’t have much time to freak out. We got about halfway to the path without her getting worried. I thought that was a great ending to a great, but wet day.