Groundwork with Harley
Harley is a sweet horse. But now that we've kind of let our guards down and are getting to know each other better, he does things that I don't quite understand. Tonight I went to the barn with the intention of just bonding with him and doing some groundwork. No riding, and my daughter, who usually rides Harley, was not with me. Last night I'd ridden him and he didn't do very well at ground tying (I did a few minutes of groundwork before getting on him) so tonight my goal was just to work on that, nothing else. I'd also noticed that he was acting nippy last night and was getting a bit girth sour. He also tries to evade the bridle so tonight, I figured I'd just keep a halter on him, nothing else. To be fair to him, we're trying out saddles and are having a really hard time finding one that fits him so I wanted to see what he'd be like without all the tack on.
I started by just standing outside his stall. He was eating, but came over, stuck his head out and rested his muzzle against my forehead - this is sort of our greeting to each other. I just stayed there for a couple of minutes, letting him decide if he'd rather eat or be with me. He stayed with me.
So I got him out, groomed him and walked him around the arena in his halter several times in both directions. He was interested in the open arena door (a large garage sized door that I chose not to shut just to see if I could get him to ground tie despite the fact that he could easily just run out into the pasture). But after a couple of times around, he just relaxed and didn't speed up or slow down as much. My goal was just to have him walk alongside me, respecting my space and my pace. Overall, it went well, but occasionally, he would turn in and nip at my coat sleeve. I pushed him away. At no point did I feed him any treats.
Then I stopped him in the middle of the arena, holding the lunge line, and told him to whoa, giving him a hand signal. He stood still as I backed away a few steps so I went in and praised him by scratching his forehead. He seems to like that, and relaxes his eyes and sometimes chews so I do think he understands it as praise. I then dropped the lunge line, told him whoa and walked all the way to one side, all the way to the other, still no movement. More praise, then I walked all the way around him, praised him, walked a wider circle, easy peasy! I praised him again, then told him whoa and walked all the way to the arena wall! He watched me but didn't move an inch. I did it on the other side. Perfection. I'm thinking wow, this is working great. What I was prepared to work on for half an hour was over in five minutes. So I decided to walk him around some more. Did figure 8's, changed directions. He got more and more nippy. He would sometimes lag behind me and put his chin on my shoulder. I view this as herding and do not accept it. When he does it, I pull him forward and to the side. At one point, he was so relaxed, he stopped twice in his tracks and I couldn't figure out why, then he dropped, rolled on one side, then the other, taking his time. He stood up and shook really good. I allowed it, and after it was over, walked up to him and gave him a good scratch, then we walked on.
I guess I am just a bit confused as to why the nipping behavior keeps occurring. To be fair, I probably overdid it with treats initially. Tonight I did not hand-feed any treats and have not done so in a couple of weeks or so. After we were done, I put him in his stall and put treats in his feeder. I think the BO's are quite generous with their treats too though. Should I get them to stop? Is he just testing me to see what he can get away with? Every time he moved his head too close to me or lipped my coat sleeve I poked him with my finger (and sharp fingernail). But he kept at it. Like he was just annoyed at me for some reason.
I know some of you will say that I am overthinking, but I'm trying to create a positive relationship on which to build trust. He is boarded so I don't feed him but I do see him almost every day. I get that he has to respect me. What would you do in the face of increasing nipping behavior?