How to establish leadership with difficult horse
I'm having some trouble with a horse here, she's a 6yo thoroughbred mare, was once trained to race but never raced, then more or less abandoned, her next owner meant to train her but never had time, so she's been left to her own devices as paddock mate to a youngster for 2 years before we got her.
Thats how she likes it. She is very independant. She is very headstrong.
She was supposed to have been trained by someone who was 'kind to his horses', but she does show signs of having had some rough handling.
When we viewed her, she was pretty much fine, slightly stubborn, a very little headshy, but no biggy, we picked up all her feet, led her round, did a little backing, all went pretty well really.
After we got her however, things changed a bit. She had very bad thrush/rot in her feet ... we set about fixing that up first, as it was deep and cripplingly painful. Of course she didn't want us picking up and cleaning those sore feet, and her lack of handling showed, she'd jump around a bit.
The first real problem arose when we packed copper sulphate in to fix the thrush ... it stung apparently ... we used borax the next time but she didn't want to trust us with her feet after that, it was a very bad note to start on.
Each time we were doing some groundwork with her to get her to soften and relax before going for the feet, leading, backing up, very basic, she hadn't ever been backed so that was all new.
By the time we'd got the thrush fixed up, she was becoming difficult.
She'd never liked to back, but she was resisting it more not less, and has no respect. She doesn't like people, seems to expect bad treatment from the near side, and will kick out if touched on the near flank.
When we back her, she will resist, refuse, hype up, head high, push past to the left, actively try to get you back into her kick zone on the near side, drag around in a circle, etc. We then turn her to disengage the hind quarters (and not so incidentally keep them away from us), face onto her, and do it again.
After a couple of repeats she will then give in and back nicely a few steps, we stop, pressure off, praise, repeat.
As she is pushing in close into our personal space, and trying to get us in a position where she can kick, we're changing simple backing into the whole back up get out of my space respect routine, and are making some progress there, but little, and she's not buying it, she tries to push past us all the time, and never gives as much space as I'd like.
How to establish some leadership and respect here? All my research only comes up with back up establish personal space, which I think is the right thing to do, but how to make it more effective?
She won't respond to waggling/snaking the leadrope, she hypes up with rhythmic tapping with stick on her chest, we're currently holding hand in front of her face and spinning the end of the rope to back her, but it only really works in close quarters ... I'd like to see her backed to a respect distance of 6 feet but she's only giving half that.
Maybe I should try waving a stick with plastic bag on the end to back her further?
Has anyone got any ideas? I really don't want to give up on this horse, but at this stage I'm struggling to make any real progress.
She's got no major problems we can't deal with if only we can get a start, but as yet we simply haven't had a chance to get in the position to make progress. She's big, solid, pushy, independant, headstrong, and knows it. She's scared too. She loves moving our feet around ... we always manage to move hers right back, but its an even battle right now and thats a situation we shouldn't even be in.
control the food , control the water. He who controls that is boss.
At feed time try this. carry a crop when you feed , put feed in bowl then watch horse. You may have to do this from behind a fence for safety, depending on where your horse is in behavior. But basicaly dont call horse, dotn talk to horse, dont acknowledge horse, put food in bowl and turn your back to horse and play with the food, that horse gets within 3 feet of you quickly turn, yell and smack it hard in the chest, then calmly turn back to the food. play a bit more. maybe repeat till horse figures it out. Then just walk away.
Watch how a lead mare acts in the field in the winter when you put out hay. You'll see the same thing. You must establish leadership. food can be a quick way to the brain. Remember a horse is not a dog. dogs parents bring a puppy food back to the den. when you give food to a dog his brain thinks you are really cool and he apreciates it. When you give food to a horse, he thinks your a punk and he just took it. I dont let my horses eat until I am done eating.
I like Joe's idea.
Also, as this is the NH section, I hope it's okay to bring up Parelli's "Friendly Game." It's the first game, and I really like it.
The interesting thing is, it's not really so friendly at first. To make any good use of it, you need to have something in hand that your horse DOESN'T like, and will back off from. The plastic sounds fine. With the approach and retreat, and a LOT of patience, you can gain a connection, if not wholehearted trust, from your horse. She will build her tolerance of discomfort, and start watching you more carefully, while she *hopes* you'll retreat.
My trainer starts with this desensitizing; then moves into driving away; this can get exhausting, as he pushes my horse around; so when he goes back to the de-sensitizing ("Friendly") it becomes a time for the opportunity of rest.
Anyway, I'd try that, not asking for backing yet, just re-establishing yourself as a leader. There's no need for praise, actually. You're trying to open a line of communication, and at this point, I don't think "praise" comes into it.
Main thing: stay safe! It could be you need a professional trainer, who is experienced in more extreme behavior.
The horse's experience of humans has been confused/negative, the painful hoof problems only adding to negative association with them.
Please bear this in mind, because to undo all of that & cause her to look upon humans as reliable leaders will take time & patience.
Friendly game needed in huge doses. Feel of the horse, go with the horse's idea (safely), so that the horse will feel back to you, THEN start shaping the horse. That's how the mare does it with the foal.
Joe's feeding strategy is awesome!
Another way to establish leadership is to move her feet at liberty in a round pen. Easy energy, not scaring her, just a slap of a rope on your thigh to move her. Then you do lots of friendly game, petting her all over, with her still at liberty, so that she can leave you if she wants. That way, it proves whether she perceives you as a friendly leader.
Well I believe we're making progress! We've had a couple of good sessions in the last couple of days, she keeps her distance quite nicely over food right from first go, in fact she's now actually respecting my space rather well, she hasn't tried to run me over or get me back to where she can kick at all lately. She's also now doing well with leading respectfully, she finally agreed to back off and not crowd me (just all at once it was fine one day), and now follows me around like a lamb, stops when I stop, all very good.
She still tests me out of course, tries out everything when I first go to meet her, but once we go through all the moves again she settles right down.
We're also doing well with the friendly game, haven't used the plastic bag yet, I think a little too much for her right now, but we've touched all over with the rope, and a stick with a short length of cord, and after the initial fright, she's now pretty comfortable with it all, we can rub them all over, spin the rope around her, swing it against her side, legs, over her back, everything, pretty happy, show all the signs of going to sleep in fact. Can even swing it against her near flank without a reaction now, which is impressive as that spot is a push button for kicks, she's very shy of being touched there, but not the other side. We're also able to stroke right down her front legs, and are making a false arm for the back ones (they kick and I like my face not flattened if at all possible!)
Next plan is to play the freindly game with the plastic bag and the false arm, do some work at liberty ... and actually take the halter off for it, as the putting on of a halter is a sticking point for her, but not so major that I'm not sure we can achieve it. I'm sort of expecting her to refuse a few times, but with some work and lots of touching she'll accept it ok, or thats the plan.We're also going to do some more touching down the legs, and hopefully get to oil her front hooves ... one has a split I don't like, I'm ultimately trying to get to file a notch across it just in case it wants to run further ... but I think she's still a ways off doing that.
Its a bit hard to take the time it takes when there are feet in danger! Although no longer sore, we still have some thrush, have a split coming that could turn nasty any day, and badly need a trim ... but of course if we head for her feet too quick, she goes straight back to complete distrust ...
I love Joe's strategy. I use that same idea with dogs - any dog that lives in my house will allow me to take food right out of his mouth because from the start I always controlled the food. I didn't even realize I was doing it with the horses, but looking back when I had a pushy mare, I did the same thing Joe explained and it worked. I did it over the hay in the field too. If I was a man, I think I would have peed on it! LOL
As for the feet, maybe you could get a calming supplement before working with her feet? I have no experience with them, but maybe someone else could chime in to see if they would be suitable in small amounts for daily hoof care. After a while, maybe she would settle down on her own, especially as her feet get better.
When you begin the plastic back work start walking with her on the lead and with the bag tied to the hard tip of the whip (hold the lash) holding it out in front of you. This way she is following it. Just keep walking and start moving the bag a bit, up and down and graduate it to straight up and down. As long as she's following it she will be less reactive. Do it until she is blasse about it. Now, stand facing the horse, at the end of her lead and hold the whip off to your side and raise it to shoulder height and down graduating to straight up. Change sides. She is getting used to seeing it higher than her eyes. Then move to the side of her head and again to your side same action moving it parallel to her body then back behind your's. The reason plastic bags are used is we see them almost everywhere and if airborne we don't want the horse losing it. Do all your initial work without the bag touching her, even swinging it high over her back. When she is good with this only then start rubbing her withers with it and gradually work along her back. She may kick at it if you go down her legs, if so just move it to her hip and repeat. She's not sure it won't hamstring her. She may also react if you put it in her blind area under her jaw between her chest and knees.
I don't know if I am repeating things that have already been said, but the most important thing to understand about horses is how they interact with one another. Think about what a mare would do to her foal if it was being disrespectful, the mare would calmly, but firmly reprimand the behavior then continue doing whatever she was doing. Horses need to make mistakes in order to learn, the more mistakes they make, the more opportunities we have to correct them, the more they will learn. I have to say I do have a lot of good things to say about join up. It is difficult, but if done correctly and safely is a great thing to help gain respect from your horse. Also some simple move away from pressure exercises can help. I try to avoid using whips unless I feel like I am in danger, I'll use a lead rope to reprimand and move the horse away from me. I also don't really like using lead ropes with a chain when first starting exercises, I use a chain to perfect or if I can't get a horse to respect the regular lead enough. I have never really used a plastic bag because my goal is usually to keep the horse as calm as possible. And plastic bags tend to have the opposite effect. Pick up her feet a lot without picking or treating them, pick up her feet then rub her and make it a good experience. The feet are a battle, but it takes time and patience for them to learn that you're not trying to hurt then or cut their feet off or something :) I know I'm not too specific, just good for thought :)
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Joe- Darn you. Busted my dreams, I thought I invented that feed thing! Oh well, I guess what they say-there is nothing new under the sun. I second what he said. It works. But I do like to give my mare a warning signal before turning around and gving her a smack, so now she backs right off at the warning. Whatever works for you I suppose.
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