Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tough love

When I got Gwen almost three years ago, she was wilder than a march hare. It took 10 minutes to get a halter on her, and once I did leading her was like flying a kite or trying to reel in a marlin. She'd spook at everything and then try to bolt, constantly, and the only thing on her mind was getting next to her brother at all costs. Because of that, I adapted a certain way of handling her (including clicker training) to help her learn she could be comfortable with me, that she could be safe with me.

The thing is, she's not that horse anymore- but I've been treating her like she is. I've been letting her get away with what seemed to me like little things that added up to something big. Like walking off without my direction and swinging her hindquarters around instead of halting square. It took an outsider looking at the situation to say to me, "you've got a submission problem."

Whoa.

That totally blew my mind.

But she was absolutely right. I have not stepped up expectations with Gwen's progress, I've still been walking on eggshells around her for fear that if I ruffle her feathers she'll blow up like that wild thing she used to be. The thing is, by NOT laying down the line I've been making it more likely that's what she'll do.

It was pointed out to me that since she's a flighty, nervous animal who is incredibly insecure, she needs me to be in charge to feel safe. But because she's a mare, she'll test me. If she steps over the line and I don't step up, she'll get nervous, and then she'll get scared, and then she'll be gone.

Of course laying down the law doesn't mean I have to get nasty or aggressive with her, I just need to correct her when she makes a decision without me. If she takes a step I don't ask for, I need to put her back. If I'm riding and she tries to fixate on something, I need to move her body so she can't. I need to ask her for more, lots more, to keep her busy and to keep her mind from wandering. A Gwen that has her mind on me is not a Gwen that's spooking and bolting across the countryside. That's the Gwen I want.

It's time for me to help my baby girl grow up.

I've been too busy to take any photos of the Quarters lately, so enjoy this dandelion instead.

15 comments:

  1. Learning to be an effective, but calm, confident and soft, leader isn't easy - but you're right, for a horse like her it's important. I face some of the same challenges with Red - he's also very insecure and I have to provide him leadership while staying soft and never getting aggressive . . . it's a challenge!

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  2. I like this plan. I think Gwen will like it in the long run, too. Good for you for realizing what needs to be done.

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  3. Being the responsible, calm, reliable leader is very challenging... for me anyway - but the rewards are totally worth the effort. Good for you!

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  4. I was stuck in that same rut for way too long with Lilly. It took me a long time to learn how to be a good leader for her, and it's actually still a work in progress. I've noticed a big change in Lilly, though, and I bet you'll see a big change in Gwen too.

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  5. Great plan! This is similar to what I am going through with Shy. We (at my barn) thought she was this scared, nervous horse, so we babied her. And she tried to walk all over us. But by being clear and consistent, we are making improvements!

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  6. Good plan with Gwen. I'm sure you'll see an improvement in her very soon.

    I sort of had the same problem with Dusty only in reverse. She's not spooky or wild at all but she's very opinionated and thinks she knows best all the time. It took some effort on my part to show her that if we have a conversation about doing things my way it's really better for her to listen. Not by getting aggressive or nasty but just calmly repeating things until she got the message.

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  7. I TOTALLY understand, it's hard to step up to the new levels and not get stuck on a plateau for lack of testing where you are at. With Laz, it's a mixture of insecure and confidence, isn't that funny?! So I have to gage where he's at to not push him too far, and also not let him get away with his "nah, I dont wanna" It's fun! Those are fun horses to play with :)

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  8. I've the same situation with my mare...If I let too much go by, it becomes a tidal wave!
    But sometimes, when I address the situation of her fear...she revs up , even higher. The more I pressure her with leg or contact with mine...and I must stop altogether. I have no answers for those times, but to remain safe and not allow her to hurt either one of us.

    But the times when she makes decisions, like Gwenny, apart from the human while with the human, I address them now too.

    It'll take just a few times of you staying on course with her, she is very smart.
    KK

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  9. It's hard not to hold them back in time with our bad expectations. I've definitely done it with Beautiful Girl, but in a different way. When she was young she backed up when she was afraid and since then I've been afraid she'll do it when I'm in saddle, even though she has long since changed and become a much more mature and confident horse. It's a slow journey sometimes...and I must say, MUCH easier for an outsider to see than us on the inside.

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  10. Yes. For the past year or so, I've been constantly reevaluating how I handle Dixie and what I expect of her. She used to melt down completely about so many things - fly spray (or any mist at all, even plain water), longe lines, round pens, standing still for anything, on and on. But about a year ago I insisted that she do something - I think it was fly spray - that she normally would've freaked about, and she didn't, and I've been expecting her to be good ever since. It's hard, because my habits are to work around her fears, but they're not really fears anymore. Far harder for me to change my habits than for her to put up with the new stuff.

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  11. Thanks so much for your comments! It means a lot to have your support and read about your similar experiences. I'm the anti-micromanager so this will be hard for me, but I'll do what I have to do- especially if it makes her safer to ride!

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  12. This has been the most difficult horsey concept for me to grasp in my adult horse years. As a kid, I did it naturally. Horses were horses. And my horses were great. When I came back to horses as an adult it was different. I now find I have to be very conscious of the idea of just treating my girl like a horse, and not some delicate special flower (ok, she is still a delicate special flower). But it's paid off. When I got Dee she was very opinionated. Ridiculous things bothered her. And we have managed to get past all of those things. I decided to hold her to higher standards and she surprised me by living up to them. Having this horse is wonderful.

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  13. It is really easy to let little injustices slide until your horse is doing something blatant (like walking into another horse's stall to steal a mouth-full of hay when his owner removes his halter in preparation for bridling!), then they become impossible to ignore! I am sure that she will straighten out very quickly. Like you said, you just didn't realize that you could lay down the law and not freak her out.

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  14. Oh I've done the same thing with Cassie, who came to me with a nasty rearing habit and I was tip toeing around her for a long time, and I still find it very hard to read her, unlike Minnie who was always talking to me, but clicker training is changing our relationship so much for the better and it also had made me realise I have to step up. Good luck! and as I say to myself each day, if it's still a work in progress, at least it is progress!

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  15. I have had to learn to do this with some of my horses that were "rescue" horses. Ive learned the more you tip toe around them the more spooky they become. They relax as soon as you act normal around them. Confident and forward as their leader. \

    Oh and I am REALLY enjoying your blog BTW. I have a lot of those "yay im doing it right!" moments and "huh maybe I need to look into what Im doing and see if its working or is there a better way" moments

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