When training progress has stalled
I’ve posted before about the young, very green mare I’m working with as a project pony. My initial troubles surrounded her disrespect of myself and whips. It was suggested to me to really get after her whenever she kicked out at the whip. I did this and got great results for the first few times I employed it. We now have another issue and I’m starting to get discouraged.
Her groundwork has been slowly getting better. She will send/change both directions, stop, yield her haunches, and backup (somewhat straight) both online and at liberty. I feel like I have to go to my whip more often than not – not to beat her, but to use it as an escalation of energy to get her to move or increase her pace. Most days she responds to the raising or light tapping of the whip by doing what I’m asking of her with little argument. Lately this has changed…
The past couple of times I’ve worked with her (usually several days a week) she has become increasingly balky and disagreeable. If I ask her to do something simple – like go out onto a circle – she’ll ignore my basic request and become grumpy when I raise my whip. She pins her ears, flares her nostrils and does one of four things:
- Turns her focus to the whip and tries to snatch or bite it
- Paws at the ground and refuses to move
- Backs up
- Kicks/rears at the whip
She has grabbed the whip from my hands, so now whenever she makes a grab for it, I put it in her mouth like a bit and this usually snaps her right out of her “attack.” I’m not sure what to do about the pawing. I usually keep asking her to move with the same or higher level of energy unless it’s a new situation that she needs to check out – like stepping over a tarp. Most of the time she’ll just throw it into reverse instead of going forward, to which I counter by making her back up until I’m ready to stop her. Her rearing and kicking (often accompanied by a charge in my direction) earns her a sharp snap with the whip and a loud no.
I hope no one gets the impression that I’m beating this mare and she’s protecting herself by turning aggressive. I always ask (point & voice) and tell (raise the whip from my side) her to do something before resorting to popping her, and even then it’s only at the intensity that get her to at least try to do what I’m asking. She’s not a reactive sort by any means, meaning she doesn’t just move for sake of moving if she doesn’t understand (or want to do) what I’m asking her. She’s quite content to plant her feet, drop her head, and doze while I get to the point of tapping her on the butt with my whip just to get her to take a step forward. Sometimes the only way to get a reaction out of her is to move the whip tapping down to her hocks, but this usually results in a kick and her attention going off of me and onto the whip.
I feel like I’m at a stalemate with her. For the last 3 months I've been trying to get her to walk onto a trailer and cross water. My main focus has been the trailer and we have made some progress. When I first started, she wouldn’t even put her hoof on the ramp (she’s not afraid, she just doesn’t want to get on), and now I can at least get her front feet off the ramp and into the trailer itself. She’ll get to that point, plant her feet, put her head down and start to doze just like with the groundwork. If I ask for more (again, I point and verbally ask her to step, raise my whip, and if needed, tap her on the butt) she either kicks or throws it into reverse and stomps down the ramp. I’ve tried the “get one hoof on, back her out several times. Get two hooves on; back her out several times…” method and she’ll just refuse to get on the ramp at all after a repetitions. She will load for corn, but I don’t want this to be the sole method for getting her on.
She’s incredibly smart and strong willed, which is why I enjoy working with her so much. For as frustrating as she can be, it’s great to see the expression on her face when she discovers she can do something new. I can get her to put her front hooves on almost anything now, and she’ll stretch right up and look around with ears forward like “look what I can do!” My ultimate goal is to train her for hiking, driving and light riding (she’s only 11.2 hands and I don’t want to stress her back with my 110 pounds). I want to move on in her training, but I know if we can’t conquer the basics, any further training will just result in my frustration and her learning more bad habits.
Sorry this is so long and meandering -- I have a lot on my mind about my little pony.