OK, first, I've been working on this with my trainer, but she's off for a few days, and the situation just evolved, and I don't really know what to make of it. I'm sure she'll have something useful to say when she comes back, but in the meantime...my horse has a big, bold personality. And he's pushy. He's an 18 yo warmblood, retired GP show jumper. Very smart, bossy, wants to dominate all the other geldings but will submit with poor grace to the mares. He's been on winter rest since early Dec because it's been icy. His behavior has been going slowly but steadily downhill all winter. He's mouthy, going to nippy. He hangs back in the cross-ties. He is inattentive while lunging. He actually stopped trotting to roll around in the snow, yes, while on the lunge line. He's up-to-date on farrier, dentist, vet, and I've had the chiro out too.
I know that ALL of this is a problem. I haven't been comfortable getting aggressive about corrections because we've either been on ice or in the cross-ties. Verbal reprimands and low-key discouragement has proven ineffective. Now the ground is thawed and it's getting close to time to ride, and I wanted to sort this out before I got up on his back.
I started with the mouthy nippy stuff, and sent him away from me with a flick of the lead rope every time he got mouthy with me or my clothes, and did this until he stood quietly with me at his head for a couple of minutes. He hasn't tried to put his mouth on me at all since we did this, a month ago. Then I dealt with the cross-ties by flicking him behind the shoulder with the lead rope to move him forward, and did this every single time he shifted his weight back or moved his feet, and did it until he stayed stock still exactly where I put him. Then I dealt with the lunging as soon as the round pen came back into commission, and I lunged him and cracked the whip in the air and called his name sharply every time it was clear that is attention was wandering, and did this until he stopped messing around with the other horses, etc. and minded. So far, so good. All three of the behaviors that had been bothering me had been...discontinued.
So then we got a new one: Refusing The Halter. Because I've read a zillion posts here about this kind of thing, I expect someone is thinking "be sure you're not always haltering him up for work" or something very similar. Horse has been out of work since Dec. Haltering has meant he's going into the barn to get groomed, do a few stretches and get a carrot stretch and sometimes a massage. The halter doesn't hurt - once it's on, his behavior improves dramatically. And I don't usually just launch up to him and press him into the halter right away. I greet him before I go into the paddock, give him a scratch, and then the halter.
And he still halters up just fine for the barn staff. It's just me he doesn't want to stand for. The first time, I got up close, went to give him a scratch, and he turned his butt toward me. A horse that points its butt at me is asking for a good sharp flick of the lead rope, so that's what he got. At which point he went away, as intended, and I kept the pressure on him by waving the rope or sending it out as needed, and then stopped to give him a chance to settle down. He'd stop, but he wouldn't approach, and when I approached him, he'd head off again. After maybe 30 or 40 minutes of this, he went in the halter, so I took him into the barn, picked out his feet, did some basic groundwork in the round pen, and then took him back to the turnout. Next day, same darned thing. Only this time he didn't face away from me, he sidled away from me, and things started up. The trainer was around then, and suggested I walk away from him to see if he'd follow. When he didn't she said send him out again. Eventually, he did, he haltered, I took him in for some grooming and a stretch, etc.
He doesn't get sent away until he's started to move away on his own. I haven't lost my temper or patience near him over this...I just don't go into the paddock unless I have time to finish the job properly. Every single time he's refused the halter, I've stuck with it until he halters up. He's not pinning his ears, he's not flashing the whites of his eyes, he's not kicking or rearing, and - as I said - once the halter is on, he's leading and behaving properly. When I send him away, at first he moves at a good clip, breaking into a canter, letting out a small buck well away from me, basically acting like I'm lunging him to get some of the excess energy out. Eventually, he'll start dropping his head pretty low and looking at me while he's moving...but even then, if I stop and he stops, and I approach, he moves out again. If I stop and face him and point at his hindquarters, he'll yield them immediately just as he would if I were working him on the halter and lead rope in the round pen. But "Ho" and "Stand" don't get any results at all.
This morning I stopped by on my way to something else, and let myself into the paddock. He just stood there quietly, not shifting his weight or anything, but when I went to give him a scratch, he sidled away again. I didn't even have the halter with me. I responded by turning my back and walking across the paddock and sitting down on a stump, looking off past him. After about 15 seconds, he followed me right over there and stopped about an arms' length away. I put my hand out. It smelled like other horses. He snorted. I sat there. He stood there. I put my hand out, he snorted, I sat there, he stood there. Then I stood up, slowly, and turned around to come over to his neck for a pat. And he calmly backed away from me, still keeping an arms' length distance.
This is new. Used to be, he'd back if I had him on the lead rope and gave it a VERY aggressive jiggle, in which case, he'd back up a little. Now he's backing up several steps with no lead rope. I don't know if he thinks this is something I want him to do? What I really want is for him to stand still while I put the halter on, and to do it without trying to eat my coat, nip my shins, continue eating his hay, or running around like an idiot.
I don't understand why he sidles off but then follows me around, and I don't understand why he behaves quite correctly after the halter is on. I also don't know what to do to move the situation to a point where he's standing quietly to halter without playing a bunch of games first. My trainer said he is probably going through a phase, and that if I am very consistent and do not let him off the hook for haltering, eventually he will just drop it. But she hasn't seen this following-around then backing-up thing either. That's the part of this that isn't making sense to me.
Grateful for any insights from more seasoned horse owners who have successfully navigated this kind of phase before...