A horse with space issues
Hi everybody! I'm a newbie here, and I'm delightfully impressed by all the wonderful advice that's given out! I would love to have some helpful thoughts regarding a situation I've never run up against in a few years of working with horses with "people" problems:
I've just started working with a beautiful Thoroughbred/Quarter cross coming 3 year old filly. She had been worked with before, and her most recent history involves a trainer getting on while a helper held the filly on the ground. Apparently, things didn't go according to plan--the filly ran over the handler and dumped the rider, and hasn't been seriously trained since. The trainer is really nice and is allowing me to work with the filly since I've had some success in working with these kinds of horses, but this horse is pretty different from the others and I'm a little lost! I've reached fearful horses, excitable horses, and overly aggressive (stallions and proud-cuts) horses, but this filly is in its own category. She is not fearful of humans, but she'll behave aggressively when even slight pressure is put on her (e.g., a swinging rope, a feather-tap from a dressage whip asking her to move forward) and will strike out. I've gotten her to the point where she realizes that her heels aren't allowed near me, but the irritation is still there. What I'm most concerned about, however, are her "space" issues: she is wonderfully friendly and likes to be near humans, but that desire turns dangerous whenever you put any pressure on her. She becomes intent on running you over, and unlike all the other horses I've worked with, where only a strong, square stance and a flick of the rope was needed to tell them to back off, she completely ignores these signals. All my training in the past has been built off of the foundation that my space is my own, and the respect that gradually developed when I became the mover of the horses' feet. I suddenly find myself at a loss for both! Any suggestions?
I do not have a round pen available, nor the typical rope halter/12 foot lead that help so much. I am doing this for a friend and am limited by her equipment and facilities.
I believe that this really great filly has, in her mind, "won" every perceived "battle" that concerns space and dominance. She's so de-sensitized to small phases of asks and so dominant that big asks are like a physical challenge to her, and she's determined to "win" them too. I'm playing around with the idea of using a "flag" of some sort that she's unfamiliar with, like strips of canvas or a plastic bag, that might inspire her respect and (way more importantly, since she just seems bored) her interest in a way that ropes and taps don't. Please, your thoughts and suggestions would be greatly appreciated! And please no rude comments--I'm only trying to help a friend have an easier time with her awesome filly.
Hmmm.. thats a fun one! LOL..
Well, I have had those issues crop up in the past as well. It seems to happen alot more often when the horse starts "coming of mind", or in other words, realizing that they are bigger and stronger and have not had the benefit of ground rules being established.
My take on this, and it will defer from others, is that you may want to step it up a little, and then back down on cues once she gets the concept. Your idea of the flag or plastic bag.. Most definately! I have dealt with some that will absolutely resist moving their feet, build up and pop off when the pressure gets to be too much for them to handle. With a bag on the end of the whip, most horses respond to it, regardless of dominance in their behaviors. Once you start getting her to respond and "move out" from the pressure and respect space and drive attention, and you continue to work on it where it begins to take minimal pressure at all to get her to move, then you can come back down off of using the bag, and go back to softer cues. Make sure to keep that 45 degree angle off of the head so when she lances forward, you are not squished! LOL!
You will have to invest in a lunge line or equal type tool. Due to not having a round pen, or a small working arena, its an important tool that you will use more often then not through out the rest of your equine connection. It's fairly cheap ($15-30). I recommend a cotton one over leather or nylon. Working with troubled horses who do not know how to respond to cues, a lunge line is ideal. You will need one working with this horse in specific that you do not want to be in her space when she starts training and is resistant at first. Too close, too dangerous. Any other receptive horse, it wouldnt be as much of an issue, but the ones that have an issue with being told what to do tend to need a little more space to act up and rebel without hurting you.
There are other smaller things to work on the ground with her when it comes to giving into pressure that will help and relate to moving her feet out later. Head pressure, such as giving, dropping and moving to lead, are some things she needs to be up on when it comes time to moving feet out later, and then for saddle work even later on. These are all forms of pressure and she will learn that there is release when she gives into the pressure. work as much as you can with these small things, including hip disengaging on lead, and reacting to it appropriately.. if you can do it safely, or the horse responds safely. If this is a seriouselty troubled horse, I would save disengaging for later, once the lead issues are down pat.
I find that with these kind of horses your demeanor is so important. You need to be able to instantly change from demanding & aggressive to soft & rewarding. Nothing can linger. Any feelings of frustration, confusion, giving up, etc. cannot be presented towards this horse.
You will have to get tough and stand your ground. DO NOT move your feet, but MAKE her move her feet. Don't be afraid to increase the pressure as needed, and I would even increase the pressure in quicker increments than what you would normally do. She has to know that she needs to listen to you or things will continue to be bad for her. Make sure you accept even the slightest bit of try from her. And then immediately reward her for it. She won't give you what you are used to getting, but she did give you something so let her know that she did the right thing. Horses like this need a lot of rewarding, then right away move back into work. Don't dwell on anything - the reward or the discipline. A quick 10-15 seconds of "good girl" with a scratch on her withers is enough for it to click in her mind that she did right.
Thank you both so much! These were excellent ideas. I'm going to get to work on these right away, and I'll post back with any progress. I really appreciate your time and advice!
She sounds exactly like my warmblood. Or how he used to be anyway. When I got him he was labeled a biter and a kicker, would charge at you, strike bite and rear when given shots and was said to be dangerous, vicious and unpredictable. He was going to be put down soon because no one could handle him. He is a very dominant horse with people and if you don't know what you're doing, you could get in a situation that not in your best interest. That hasn't happened to me, because I knew what to do going into this, but I can see the potential for things to get dicey with someone who doesn't know as much. This issue with this filly needs to be addressed NOW before she gets any bigger. I delt with this issue with my warmblood only 10 months ago and he's 16.2hh.
It's so sad that people force horses to go to this place because of their ignorance. Horses aren't born with this nature, they are forced to it by people's bad handling. But it's so rewarding when you can help the horse take down those defensive walls and earn that horse's trust and respect.
This is going to be a challenge for you, that's for darn sure. But you sound very motivated to help her so I applaud you for that.
I'm not sure if you are familiar with Parelli but that's what I do with my warmblood. It's made a world of difference, as I knew it would. I would highly recommend you look into that. But here are the key things I worked on A LOT with my warmblood to establish my space and to get him to respect me more.
First of all I wanted to teach him to stay away from me. First and foremost! So I had my rope halter and a 22 ft. line on him (because 1, he's a big horse, and 2 because I wanted him WAY out away from me). I started teaching him one of the Games Parelli teaches, called the Yo-Yo game. I got that to where he would back away from me with a pretty light asking. Then, still using the idea behind this game, I would walk away from him while he followed, stop, turn and back him up immediately. This is a safety drill. Could I get him away from me in a hurry? How long did it take him to tune in and be a little more sure of where I stood?
Then I worked on getting him to move away from me with steady pressure. Could I get him to back up/yield to my hands? It is SO important with these horses that you ALWAYS start fair. Rub them first, then start asking them to move with pressure like a feather. Here are the phases I go through- press the hair, then the skin, then the muscle, then the bone. I do this VERY slowly so the horse can link each phase together. You must remember to reward the very slightest try, otherwise you could make these horses want to fight you. These horses are not afraid of people, they will fight if they feel threatened or challenged, so that's why you can't bully a horse like this. Because if you try to, they will win. Hands down. You should never bully a horse anyway.
Always remember to start off as softly as possible. She might be desensitized to it now, but if you work with her enough she will become sensitive to the lightness again. But you have to offer it to her in a way that she will respect and trust and not feel challenged by. Basically I did, and am still doing, Parelli with my warmblood, so that's where my success with him has come from. It's hard to really explain over the computer, especially with these kinds of horses because they require your complete, undivided attention and you have to read them constantly. It's a very delicate balance when it comes to getting our point across....too little and the horse won't feel our leadership and take advantage, too much and the horse will fight. How can you get her to respect and trust you in a way that is palitable for her? Will she look at you and offer you the world or will she look at you and want to be somewhere else? I think this little filly will change you if you go about this right. My warmblood has changed me and the way I look at things now, he keeps me honest with my emotions and is not afraid to tell me if I screw up. So good luck with her! This is a wonderful opportunity for you to learn A LOT so try to enjoy every second of what she will teach you.
7 games!!! thats all Im gonna say!
Thanks for the advice, I'm sorry I couldn't get back to you guys--ran out of money and subsequently my Internet access! You're right Spirithorse: this little filly did change me. She is extremely intelligent; with time, the lunge whip became unnecessary and she responded to looks or the point of a finger. Her space issues are long gone--one look and she backs off. After three weeks of getting back to the basics of respect and trust, I mounted her for the first time since her blow-up the year before. We trotted around like all the bad handling and dissapointing starts were in her past; definitely a rewarding experience. Unfortunately, her owner has since moved so I'm really missing my little firecracker filly right now. As of yet, her owner hasn't ridden her, but she's an excellent rider (much better than me) who can get the best out of this filly once they trust each other. Thankfully, she updates me on Facebok, so I'm really excited to see what they'll do together!
Again, thank you for all the supportive comments and terrific advice :)
Lots of ground work! Work in the round pen on lunging, you need to assert yourself as the boss and that she must move for you not the other way around. In the round pen you can teach her to only walk to you when cued and to step away when cued.
I have a horse that sounds a lot like yours. At first he was dangerous so I would just chase him away from his food at meal time just like the other horses do to each other. After he started realizing that I might be incharge I decided to do some on line work. He had a huge problem with collapsing his shoulder on me and walking past me. So we did work on moving the shoulder and not walking out of it (just walking away when I change my intentions). Once he finally got the picture of yielding his forequarters (after quite a few smart taps might I say) he became a lot easier to manage and is a lot less invasive of my space.
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