Just wanted to share, but would like some advice/critique as well!
Firstly... some hipstergram photos... (and a disclaimer that I'm SO sorry about the novel.. I'm just too excited about my first steps into working with horses :) )
I just started leasing my first horse, Steppe, the "fleabitten gray" Arabian. Steppe is a perfect horse for me, just starting out with horses - I've mentioned in a couple other posts that I FEEL confident around horses, and I generally pick up on behaviors pretty well, but I have close to zero formal training. Steppe is in his 20s, though exact age is unknown as his previous owner surrendered him in a moment of lucidity (dementia). He still has quite a bit of get up and go, and it seems like the only thing age has done for him, is taken out some of the stereotype arab-craziness. He's patient and forgiving, and lets me know I'm doing something wrong in acceptable ways (and generally not his fault, but a response to my lack of clarity when communicating with him). I've not been given permission to ride him alone just yet, as the trainer working with me at the start of the lease wants to be certain I have more control over what I'm asking of the horse, and develop stronger habits. I'm more than happy to practice groundwork on my own, and feel it's important to build a strong foundation.
Steppe's pasture-buddy is Zarah, an appy-percheron cross, that was rescued from the kill pen by the farm I'm leasing from. She was originally used for Premarin studies, and came to them pregnant. Her daughter also lives on the farm and is a gorgeous giant black mare with wonderful manners. Zarah on the other hand is kind of a butthead, and she absolutely is a horse that likes to test boundaries and get up close. She loves attention, but hasn't had much work regarding manners. She does not show obvious signs of aggression, but is most definitely rude.
She is also quite buddy-sour. Because of this, the trainer has asked that when I am out to the farm to work with Steppe, if there is somebody there at the farm with me, to ask if they can assist me in getting Zarah on her lead, bring her and Steppe down to the barn where a couple other horses are generally in paddocks to keep her company, then bring steppe back up to the round pen to work with. If nobody is there to help me, I was informed I should just move him to the other side of the fence from her in the other pasture, so she can see he hasn't gone anywhere, and work with him in the field.
I assumed that this meant I'd be able to easily put a halter on him, lead him from the gate, and just work with him. I did bring both his and her halters/lead ropes in case I ran into somebody working out on the farm and could get them to help me without walking all the way back to the barn. Of course I couldn't find the owner to the car parked back at the barn. The problem came when I actually entered their pasture, and she decided to get up in my space, just as I remembered I also had a couple treats in my pocket I intended to use with Steppe. I had the carrot stick with me, and mimicked how I'd seen others use it on their horses, without touching her, and she only turned her head, but still refused to lift a foot to move. Every time she'd go to take a step forward (with the gate behind me, closed in), I'd hold up a hand/palm out and sort of "pump" at the air in ways I'd seen work with the other horses on the property. It would keep her from stepping closer to me (as lightly tapping her nose would keep her from sniffing my treat pocket), but she still wouldn't back up. This is a farm that focuses quiet heavily on natural horsemanship, but by no means is a goody butterflies and rainbows type. They focus on minimal contact with the most powerful affect, and escalate only when necessary.
I decided to ignore her and get a halter on Steppe, but the second I thought about leading him out, she started controlling him, and stepping between the two of us, refusing to let him by. His behavior tipped me off a bit more to her mental state, and knowing that what I was doing wasn't going to help, I went through the gate alone with hopes to distract her and maybe get him through (without me getting squished in the process).
When this proved to be creating more of a problem I walked back into the pasture after taking off Steppe's halter/rope from over the fence, tossed Zarah's halter/rope on her, and took off at a brisk walk through the field. I remembered reading about somebody on the forum here, who said they would randomly flail their arms around, teaching their horse to keep a safe distance, or risk getting smacked on accident. I flailed my arms, I zig-zagged, I slowed to a crawl, or would stop abruptly and start walking quickly backwards. It didn't take her long to realize she needed to keep her distance and pay attention (Steppe, the whole time, was walking along with us being a good boy, of course).
Once she started paying attention to me a bit better, I decided to offer a treat or pet only when she did a REALLY good job (stopping instantly when I stopped, or staying put when I didn't ask her to come toward me). Treats were not earned for half-assed meanderings forward after I'd stopped, or following me the second I moved when I asked her to stay put. A soft tap on the nose or a request to back up was earned for any attempt at getting to the treats without being offered. It took her just a few minutes to understand what was going on, and to become very responsive. Once she seemed a little less high strung, I decided to practice my newly learned lunging skills with her, to gain a little more respect, and to try working through a couple things I've been stuck up on with Steppe. She happily went into a walk and trot for me in both directions.
I finished and brought her back about 40 feet from the gate, then removed her halter/rope. She wanted to follow me, but every time she'd take a step, I'd correct with a voice command and my hand in the air (I tried to give her rubs occasionally too so hands weren't the 'scary thing'). Once I got to the gate, she started walking quickly up to me, so I swung the lead rope around making a whirring sound to keep her away. She reacted to this 10X better than she had the carrot stick... She stopped instantly, and I took a step toward her, and she took a step back. We went back and forth 2-3 more times, until she decided to leave me alone. From that point forward, she let me do anything I wanted with Steppe, including bring him on the other side of the gate/other pasture. She was still concerned, but not obnoxious about it.
Afterwards, they both got a good rub down to look shiny and new, and she very much enjoyed me getting some of her stuck dirt/sweat from her face and belly. I held onto he rope just in case, but found when things were winding down I didn't really need it!
SOO.. If you've survived this gigantic post, kudos to you, and thank you for your patience! :) It doesn't have much point, other than my need to get all of my excitement out. I do however, in the interest of my own personal safety, and the well being of the horses, want to know what you 'pros' have to say. Should I have done something differently? I understand I'm very much new to this, but in the moment, what I didn't want to happen, was for me to 'give up' and walk away, only to teach her it was OK to act that way with me, and end up with a more difficult situation the next time I came to collect him. I know this will be a regular occurrence, as these two are always in the same field together, and I don't exactly feel like paying for a lease that entails watching two horses in a field, as much as I like them. Should I continue working with her this way, if I have my trainer's approval? Are there other activities I could try with her that would strengthen her trust and respect for me as a leader?
Waving your arms about to teach a horse to stay where it is supposed to, is foolish to me.
It does NOT take that to get a horse to pay attention, nor does it bode well for your horse thinking that you have an ounce of sense.
Nor will any trainer put up with this type of thing, if you ever hope to work in the industry.
Simply walk, keep horse at your side, and keep horse at distance from you.
I started off the way I'd initially started with Steppe - simply stopping, and when he got too close to me, I'd very gently wiggle his rope, and he'd take some steps back, then we'd proceed. This didn't work with Zarah, and she would walk right up until her chest was against my back.
I did not lash out at her, but would flip my arms from my side, as if I were swatting flies off my body (I could see how windmilling about might be interpreted as being a bit unstable, though I'm still not sure a horse would view it this way - I'll chalk it up to ignorance on my part). I basically walked around with her on lead, and pretended she didn't exist - she was expected to pay attention to what I was doing, follow, and keep an acceptable distance.
I have no intention of working in the industry - only wanting this horse to give me distance when I ask for it, and give me space to safely work with the horse I'm actually leasing.
Your advice is "keep your horse at your side, and keep horse at a distance from you". Because I'm still learning, could you give me examples as to how this is accomplished, in ways other than simply "do"? Thanks :)!
Well, I don't think it's a problem to act like a looney sometimes to get a horse's attention. (when no one else is looking!) They do give you a good looking if you start dancing around acting crazy.
As for backing her off with a flapping elbow, I know it's used by some people. if it works, so be it.
Better might be to think of your elbow as more of a "wall" that the horse runs into. Yes, you do flap it, but only when she gets so close that she kind of runs into it. you just move your elbow enough to bop her one on the nose. But, it's her fault, because she ran into your elbow, not that you back into her.
If you have a problem with this mare being pushy and possessive of the gelding, then work with her without interspersing treats. I think it's too confusing, especially if you are trying to change the way she see you (as subordinate or dominant) if you go from moving her off of you, or around you, to then feeding her by hand.
I feed treats, and I am often told I shouldn't . it's a bad habit that I chose to continue. But, if I have a horse at our little herd (9) that is too pushy, no way will I offer even one treat. not even if after pushing on me, I have successfully moved him off. His reward is that I stop moving him.
When the horse "pushes on you", if you are very soft in your attempts to move her off, and she keeps coming in closer, then her level of "push" is much higher than your level of push back. you need to up your level of push back, and don't be too long about it. you asked her politely, and she ignored. Do you want to ask politely all day, while she just gets pushier? If she ignores polite, you get a LOT firmer, and relatively quickly. If she acts surprised or indignant, too bad. there is no need to then go and pet her and tell her it's alright, or feel apologetic. Just continue on.
I have used this way of backing off a horse that is following me too closely;
I put the bundled extra lead rope and halter (like if I have an extra one in my hand) on my backside, where a "tail" would be, if I were a horse. Then swish it back and forth briskly, and move backward toward the horse that is creeping too close, just like an angry mare that is saying, "hey! back off buddy!" it works very well.
Thanks, tiny! I'll leave the treats out for the time being (or reserved only for Steppe when away from Zarah).
I thought I was being 'firm' in my request to her at first, but learned I must not have been, since she kind of just looked at me like I was an idiot (before leading her around the field). She doesn't spook easily, is very bold, and kind of has a 'Yeah.. So? What are you going to do about it?' attitude that had me stuck at first (I can barely wiggle my hand or carrot stick, and Steppe will back up, or move to the side). Swinging the lead rope got her attention though, and unless there is something wrong with this that I'm not aware of, I'm not sure what else I can get her to do to keep her from walking quickly/deliberately straight up to me when she's uninvited. I'm not fond of playing 'chicken' with a horse.
Without using something to physically touch her, what are things I can do to get her out of my space? This is a farm where all the horses ride bitless, and the trainer can count on one hand the times it's been necessary to physically swat a horse with her hand to get a response. Most of the horses are extremely sensitive/responsive, and happy to do as they're asked. Every horse walks up and happily places its head in a halter or bridle. Zarah is the exception, and is the only horse that is not regularly ridden, or used for kids summer camps, or on a lease.
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