In which I learn something, and (with the help of friends) I can teach something

We went to the Buck Brannaman clinic last weekend, and we learned a lot of stuff. 

Monica took copious notes and excellent photos -- for her full report, go visit her blog post HERE.

Of course, I was extremely interested in Buck's advice for the lady with the kickin' horse.  That's the one really bad habit of Fiddle's that I haven't managed to break yet.

I hasten to remind readers that Fee came with buckets of bad habits.  Some were related to inconsistent handling (on the track??) some related to her hormonal disorders, and some purely native to her, an opinionated and not extremely brave mare.  She used to bite, kick, and swing her body around like a weapon to people, dogs, and other horses.  She used to pin her ears and run at folks.  She used to strike out with her front feet, intent on smashing whatever--and whomever--she could reach.  A lot of people wondered why I didn't just send her to the canners.  It was a fair question, really.

But it's been almost seven years now, and most of that stuff is gone.

We've now applied years of consistent handling, removed the source of the hormone problems, and worked hard on her confidence issues.

Still, the last--but not least--on her list of rottennesses is an inclination to try to kick the crud out of other horses when "they get too close" in the arena or on the trail.  Her definition of "too close" is variable, and that makes it dangerous.

But Buck gave some good advice for dealing with it.

"Offer the horse a good deal first," he said. (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

 "The good deal is, that if the horse just goes on and does the job without flipping an ear or slowing down to lift up that foot, he can just keep on gettin' on.  But if he doesn't take the good deal, promptly, he gets the bad deal.  And the bad deal is that you take that spur, and you do your best to punch a hole in his lung with it, gun him and gun him hard to move out.  That's the bad deal, and he won't like it.

"He'll try it again, to see if he can still get the good deal without earning it.  But if he tries to kick again, you're going to be ready and you're gonna nail him again.

"Pretty soon, he's going to start thinking that maybe the good deal sounds like something he should try."

Asleep in the sun at the trailhead, no idea that she's about to be offered a deal.
Heh, heh, heh.

Fee is in her "safe spot" with her head at Horus' shoulder.
She can't kick him here, and she doesn't want to.
I handed Duana the camera, and Dean and I talked through what I was going to try.  Dean decided that he was either really brave, or really dumb, but either way, he was up for the challenge.

When I asked Fiddle to pass Horus (whom she hates), she pinned her ears, slashed her tail, and tried to slow down so she could kick at him.  Her famous "deadly aim" has been less sincere lately, but her legs are five miles long, so we were taking no chances.

As soon as I felt her begin to bunch up, I nailed her with the spurs and shouted "Go, go, go!"

"Wait--what?  I don't want to canter!  I hate to canter!"
The consequences of bad behavior is not just the spur jab, it's also my insistence that she gallop away from the group.  Fiddle and I are incompetent at the canter/gallop, and she hates other words: it's the perfect punishment.

After some repetitions, she started to take the "good deal."

We aren't 100% yet.  She has practiced bad behavior for eleven years, and I don't expect to erase that in a two-hour ride.  But we made more progress-- and did more cantering -- in the first hour of our ride than we've done in the last year.

If she was spectacularly bad (actually kicking out), she had to gallop a half mile or more.

If she was mildly bad (ears in the folded back and wicked position, but back and hindquarters "unhumped"), I only pushed her up a hundred yards or so before we slowed down to let the others catch up.

If she stayed relaxed, we just kept trotting forward at an easy pace.

Hana did an excellent job of being the four-legged tripod!

Then, it was time to let her relax and think about it.  

So we went up to the monument to admire the view.  

Clear skies, but a chilly wind coming off of Puget Sound

And then, we came home.

Soon enough, we'll try it again.

It's not easy.  But this mare is worth it.

And that is a good thing.


  1. You have perfect timing in that video!! Ok, that's it--Benny's getting the good deal offer from now on--heh heh heh....

  2. Thank you SO much for posting this!!

  3. It works.. but if you have horses as smart as my little Arab X, you need to be careful. My daughter's mare (why is it so often mares?) does what Fiddle does but daughter (aged 9) isn't fast enough or assertive enough to get after her. So I decided to ride up behind her, and when she humped/pinned her ears, it was ME who cracked her on the rump (like Buck, as described over at HorseBytes). Daughter's job was to then keep her moving and pull her up down the track. After two goes at that MY horse, nomarlly terrified of daughter's mare, realised I was in charge of discipline... next time we rode up behind her, he bit her on the ass! Guess he figured he wuold get away with it since we were all about training the mare.. Course, he was wrong.

  4. I find that half of the solution to any training problem with any animal is finding out what motivates the animal. Sounds like you've found something with Fiddle! Honeslty, I think that's the fun part of training - finding what motivates the creature that doesn't speak English and then coming to an agreement of how you give them what they want in exchange for something you want....Tess wants food and freedom and the ability to stop and stare at things and use her nose. In exchange for those things, she will do all sorts of things *I* want. Farley would like to have as much control over gait and pace as I'll give her on the trail - ie she wants to do her job without a lot of interference. So, sometimes the "bad deal" for a naughty behavior is going faster, and sometimes it's going slower - but the point is that exactly like your post states - it's a "bad deal" compared to the "good deal" of letting her just coast along with micromanaging :).

  5. @ Anna - that's hilarious!!!!!!!!


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