From the Trainer’s Perspective: Feedback after session working with an insecure horse
I know many students wonder “what it is like” when I work with a horse; this week I had a nine year old mustang that I worked with a few times and thought it would be a good example to share with you of an “alternative” perspective, my thought process, things that I asked of the horse and evaluation.
Most people I find are surprised that I do way less than the “normal” hour of cardiac inducing workout (for both horse and rider) when working with a horse. For me, the horse’s brain is the priority. The horse in this case was brought in from the wild a few years back, had been a stud until late in life (had a history of trying to dominate the mares) , and had a lot of excessive “movement”- pacing, weaving, etc. when tied, in his stall, waiting for feed due to his insecurity and worry.
When his current owner got him he was uncatchable- even in a small stall. He has issues with the farrier, other horses (if mares are in season), etc. No aggressive behavior towards people at all- but a LOT of excessive movement- constantly.
His current owner brought him here to the property when I re-opened it in the fall, and has been a bit shocked at the change in her horse’s personality in the past two months; just from the “energy” of a mellow facility, horses that get turned out with a laid back herd (including mares) most of the day, large stalls (single bar 24x40), and grass hay. I actually saw him lay down and enjoy the morning sun for the first time a week ago.
The following is my feedback to the owner as she was unable to watch the last two sessions I worked with her horse… Enjoy!
On Sunday even though we had sheep move past the property in the morning (which got him a bit concerned) he seemed more focused and participative. He was more relaxed about being saddled at the trailer, though we had to work on standing balanced- as oppose to all four legs in four different directions. I reviewed with him in the halter on looking to his left and right without moving the rest of his body or creating a brace, being able to “relax” into quietly moving forward, sideways or backwards from light pressure directing him through use of the lead rope. I ask him to focus on looking “around” his circle as he walked it- as oppose to careening his neck and head towards the outside of the circle. We focused on his transitions from walk to trot on the lead rope without dramatic movement (falling in on the circle with his shoulders or leaking out of the circle with his hindquarters.) Being able to “think forward” when I bumped the stirrup at his sides (similar to where my lower leg would be if I were sitting on him.) Then I worked him loose. He seemed a bit patternized and his brain was all of the place, so we worked on slowing down his gaits and getting his brain to think about what his body was doing. My saddle has leather ties at the rear and they gently smack him on the rump as he moves- he was a bit shocked at the “goosing” he was getting. He really wanted to think everywhere BUT where he was moving, or he just wanted to stop and come in to the center of the pen. So we worked with me increasing and decreasing my energy until he was able to offer a fluid walk, trot, and canter with quiet upward and downward transitions. He breathed, blew, relaxed, etc. so we called it a day. Untacking I dangled the lead rope on my arm, as oppose to tying him, and he was really relaxed and just stood nicely by the door of the trailer. I also noticed that night bringing him in from the pasture, he really wanted to “address me” instead of just trying to sneak into his stall.
Today even though he was turned out with all the other horses he came at a brisk walk over to be caught and dove his head into the halter. Again we focused on “thinking” while being tacked and not just swinging his body brainlessly around. We reviewed his “lightness” on the lead rope and then I turned him loose. Transitions were better, so we worked longer staying within a gait (he was distracted by the fruit pickers in the orange groves next door and wanted to resort to “fleeing” mode if he stayed within a gait too long). He couldn’t fathom that he couldn’t just creep in on me, stop, or reverse directions at his own whim. Then he started to realize I was “going with him” with my energy and movement in the pen and started to relax. Still a bit bothered by the leather straps flapping, but way better. So I got up on the mounting block and he sidled right up so that I was in line with the saddle, but if I waited longer than 20 seconds, he had to move. So we played with me “hanging out” on the block; touching him (really bothered by my hands running along his neck, touching towards his ears, lifting my hand above the saddle horn,) and then just standing, then leaning on him along his shoulder/saddle/rump, and finally just standing, etc. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t just going to get on. He breathed. Then breathed some more. Then he finally relaxed. Then finally let down and stretched his neck out, cocked a foot and chilled out. Then we ended the session. At the end I untacked him again, while he wasn’t tied, and let him loose to graze on the parking side of the property and he just stood there staring at me not really wanted to leave for the grass!
So the goal should be about first slowing his brain down, then engaging it so that his movement can slow and have some thought as oppose to his natural “reacting” all the time. The nice part is he can very quickly let go of his worry, concern and fear. BUT he needs to be clear on the standard asked of him; otherwise he checks out mentally and then physically starts getting busy.