Saturday, October 2, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I did try to take pictures to illustrate my points. Most of them turned out like this:
Not very helpful. Sorry.
Laughing Orca Ranch asked why Fiddle's behavior backslid so rapidly when Jim's daughter Lisa started handling her.
Let me clarify a point: Lisa never actually handled Fiddle. I would never in a million years hand the leadrope of my gigantic, pushy mare to an inexperienced handler.
Lisa merely interacted with Fiddle, mostly when I wasn't looking, and inadvertently chose some inappropriate ways to do so.
LISA THINKS: Fiddle is so pretty. I want to pet her, even though Aarene and Dad and Willy told me not to touch her. So I will pet her very quickly, when nobody is watching. I will stick out my hand and touch her really fast over the fence and then pull back my hand and it will be okay.
FIDDLE THINKS: Here comes that girl, watching out of the corners of her eyes for predators. I should be alert for predators too.
Now what is she doing? She is sticking out her hand really fast! Is she poking me? Is she hitting me? I wasn't doing anything wrong! I need to tell her not to poke me! I will raise up my foot to tell her not to poke me when I wasn't doing anything wrong!
She is not paying attention to my foot raised up. I will kick my foot out so she will pay attention. Hey! She didn't make the "bad buzzer noise" and crowd into my space. She let me raise up my foot at her! I must outrank this girl! If I outrank this girl, maybe I outrank other people! I must test this, to see which other people I outrank.
LISA THINKS: Fiddle is so pretty. Hana lets me kiss her on the nose because Hana is so pretty. I want to kiss Fiddle too, but I must do it quickly.
FIDDLE THINKS: That girl is coming close to me again. She is walking very fast and jerky. Does she want to fight with me? Maybe she wants to outrank me. I thought I outranked her?
Now she is biting at me! I must bite back at her! Hey, look: I can bite at her and she will jerk back and run away. I do outrank her. I must try biting at other people. If they make the bad buzzer noise or crowd my space, I will know they outrank me, but if they don't do that I will be able to bite them. I will have to try biting all new people. Maybe I can find other people to boss around.
When I got Fiddle, more than three years ago, she was a biter and a kicker because some people in her past allowed her to do it. Probably some people insisted that she keep her mouth and feet to herself, but some people didn't insist, and that's important: Fiddle learned that she could physically "outrank" some people, and so she tested her dangerous behavior on everybody to find out what they would (or wouldn't) do about it.
The solution was to only allow people around my horse who could be trusted not to allow the bad behavior. We knew she would "test" new people, and so we selected people who knew how to insist that she behave. If she stood quietly, with her head off to one side, she would be praised or at least left alone. If she crowded anybody at any time, the people we had allowed near her knew to crowd her backwards and make her work to keep out of the human's space because we wanted her to know that all humans outrank all horses.
For more than a year, I was able to keep timid humans away, and her behavior improved dramatically. When we moved her away from the boarding barn (where handling could be a little haphazard) and brought her home (where Jim and I were the only handlers), it improved even more.
There were setbacks: at Renegade Rendezvous every year, one of the ham radio operators was just like Lisa. He just didn't understand that Fiddle didn't want him near her, and he kept trying to pet her with those quick, jerky motions. She would respond by pinning her ears, snapping her teeth, and shooting her feet around until I could finally successfully shoo the guy away and then make my horse work in circles to bring her back into control.
That brings up the second part of Laughing Orca Ranch's question: what do you do to enforce submission?
This varies with each horse. I was originally taught that you needed to holler and whomp on a horse with a crop to get them to submit. Eventually I learned that hollering and whomping is appropriate for some horses in some circumstances, but it's not for everyone. Mugwump has a great article about respect HERE.
Many of the techniques that I use with Fiddle to reinforce submission and remind her of her place in the herd are things I learned when training dogs. I used to train a lot of rescue dogs, many of whom had weird, neurotic behaviors. I would start every dog with a few basic commands--things that they could do even when they were very scared, nervous, or angry. "Sit" is a good dog trick, because it's hard for a dog to misbehave when he's sitting.
But you don't want to teach a horse to "sit" (at least, not for this purpose!). So I started with an easy one: "Look away." This is easy to teach through a stall door with a window, or over a fence. You've got a cookie. The horse knows you have a cookie. The horse wants the cookie. The horse reaches over to you with lips outstretched to grab the cookie, and you fwap the lip with your finger and say "look away." The horse pulls back because that lip thwap was a surprise, and when the head is pointing away from you, you say "good!" and hand over the cookie.
Do it again: Pull out another cookie. Horse reaches towards it, a little more carefully this time. You say "look away" and fwap the lip (sometimes you just raise your hand as if you're going to fwap it--horses learn this trick really fast!) and the horse's head moves away fast. "GOOD!" you say, and hand over the cookie.
Pull out another cookie. Horse wants the cookie but is wary. You say "look away." When the horse moves that head even slightly away from you, hand over the cookie and say "GOOD!" If the head comes forward before you say "good", then fwap. When it turns away, "GOOD!" and hand over the cookie.
Do this a lot. Several times a day is good.
Fiddle doesn't get her meals until her feet are holding still (no pawing, no banging doors) and her head is turned away. If I'm feeding in the field, she must walk beside or in back of me as I carry the bucket to the place in the field where I will drop it. If she trots ahead of me or wrings her neck or paws the ground, I stop in my tracks instead of proceeding forward to the feed bin. If she's in front, she's trying to boss me. I am the leader, and she will follow my instructions--and she doesn't get fed until she behaves, even if I'm going to be late for work!
She has learned to say "hurry up" to me by bending her head waaaaaay around to the far side. Fine. A horse who is standing still and looking away isn't doing anything naughty or dangerous.
Next, I taught carrot stretches. These are useful as stretches, but also as reinforcers of submission, because the horse is doing what you ask.
I can cue Fiddle to bend that big head around to almost any part of her body, just by touching it. If I've got a cookie, she will put her nose on the place I touched...and then, when I say "good!" she will bring her head back to the "look away" position so she can have the cookie. She can stretch her head almost all the way to the back of her butt, if there's a cookie involved.
Tricks are handy in new and stressful situations. If she's whacked out by stuff in her environment, I can pull out a cookie (or even just scratch her neck in the especially itchy spot) and she will offer to do a trick in order to get the cookie or more scratching. She will focus, not on the cookie, but rather on what I am asking her to do, because I don't always ask for the same trick. That gives her something to think about--a task that she knows she can do successfully.
If she's being agressive, my demands are more strenuous. If she's biting or kicking out when I've got her on a leadrope, I make her move backwards (which she hates). If she's loose, I don't have a roundpen, but it's okay: We have a big pasture. I make her move around it. She always wants to come back to me, but until she comes back and stands still with her head averted, I will chase her, hollering and waving her away from me.
If she's in that little corral panel in camp, I'll move her around inside that. She doesn't have to trot, but she does have to move away from me. Even in that little space, she never runs into the water bucket and she never crowds me when I'm moving into her space, because she isn't really scared. She also isn't really a bully, but sometimes she wants proof that humans outrank her. It used to take twenty minutes to convince her. Now it takes about 3 minutes (but I keep her going for 5, because I don't want to have to do it again tomorrow).
UPDATE: Fiddle hasn't interacted with anybody but me since Sunday afternoon, and she is back to being a calm, well-behaved mare. I'll take her out this weekend, and hopefully put her in a group of people and horses so we can push her envelope a bit and reward her when she behaves nicely.
Here are a couple of good articles:
Sunday, September 26, 2010
I got lucky.
Actually, a lot of us got lucky at this ride. The weather behaved
and the scenery on the trail was fabulous!
(Mount Rainier, seen from the Snoey Memorial Trail).
Lisa took pictures while Fiddle vetted in. I had no idea how small I appear to be when I'm standing beside Gigantor. She's so big that her ears don't even fit in the picture! Gigantor in motion.
The trotting lanes are marked with trick-or-treat buckets! That made me laugh.
We went out for a "shakedown" ride on Friday afternoon. We did the 7.5 mile loop that would be the final loop for the 50 milers during the ride. When I got back, I checked the fine print on the map: 7.5 miles, 1100 feet of elevation gain (and loss).
That short loop was hard enough to get Fiddle's mind focussed on the task at hand, but I wouldn't want to do it after climbing (and descending) nearly 3,000 feet twice on prior loops. It's not often I'm happy to ride a short distance instead of a long one, but for this ride, 25 miles was plenty.
Fiddle definitely needed a "focus ride" before the actual event. Her behavior on Friday was just awful--she was snappy, and kept trying to kick people and horses. What?!?!!! She had suddenly backslid into bad behaviors I haven't seen for more than a year???
Jim helped me figure it out:
Lisa knows nothing about horses. She had very little experience with animals prior to coming here 3 weeks ago, and had no experience with anything larger than a lapdog. Despite our warnings (and the language barrier doesn't help), when Fee pinned her ears or picked up a back foot, Lisa thought that the mare needed to be soothed and comforted.
Fiddle is a "give her an inch and she'll take 10 miles" mare.
She pinned her ears at Lisa and Lisa didn't call her on the bad behavior, so Fee figured that maybe the entire social structure had changed and perhaps she had moved up the totem pole. Argh.
Go figure, the social structure hasn't changed. Fiddle still isn't allowed to pin the ears, or shoot those back feet around...but it took 25 miles of active practice to remind her that the rules are still in place. She was much better behaved (and much more relaxed!) by the first vetcheck, but I've gone back to practicing her "submission exercises" several times each day so that she gets the idea reinforced.
Oh, and I think I'll sign Lisa up for some horse-handling and riding lessons with Dory next month. Even if Lisa has no intentions of riding endurance, she is (obviously) going to need some basic instructions and safety stuff!
This bridge is part of the common trail about a mile from camp. The ride managers went out on their trail and spread gravel on all the bridges! That's a ton of work...but it makes a huge difference on wood bridges over the creeks and swamps.
Ride morning was bright and shiny, as only a freshly-washed autumn day in the Upper Swampland can be.As usual, Fiddle and I leapfrogged different groups of riders for the first leg of the ride.
I thought we were near the tail end, actually--and I was glad to be riding my Gigantor, because the Toad could never have done that kind of trail quickly enough. He "lost his brain" if he ever exceeded 7 mph, so on rides when we had to slow down for difficult terrain, it was hard to make up time when the footing was good. Since Fiddle doesn't lose her brain when she speeds up, we could fly along the logging roads and take our time in the mud.
She surely is a joy to ride.
Back in camp, we were happy that our friend Gail did her first ride in 7 years and finished with 10 minutes to spare. She rides all the time, because she manages the Renegade Rendezvous, but it's always hard for her to get away and compete. She was tired at the finish line, so her husband Mike and her horse Destry towed her from the vetcheck back to their rig.
When we got back to our rig, Fiddle was unconcerned by the intruder in her beetpulp pan.
The kids (and dogs) hung out with us toobut they were drinking Mountain Dew. The caffeine got them through several hours of working around camp for us and for the ride managers. Don't you love adults who help make kids tired?