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Bunnylady

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What a difference a week makes!

A week ago, when I started looking after this horse, feeding her was a near nightmare. First, I had her jumping around, trying to join me in the feedroom and help herself. Then, I had to walk across the yard, with this tapdancing juggernaut all around me, while I snapped and snarled at her to try to save my own skin. The whole situation struck me as totally NUTS!
So I decided to put her in her stall at feeding time. The problem with that, she did not want me to catch her, and DID NOT want to go in that stall. She would approach close enough to smell my hands, my shoulders, but one move toward that halter and she ran away. She didn't just run away, she ran in circles around me, responding to my every move as though I was round-penning her. I could stop her, but every time I approached her, she turned away and left at a trot or canter. One time, she kept this up for at least a half-hour before I finally got her to allow me to touch her. I saw her squeal and strike at the QH mare on the other side of a board fence, apparently just for being near her.

New person, new routine; some nervousness makes sense, but this was a bit extreme. Clearly some other scenario was playing itself out in her mind, one that I can only guess at. I decided my best course of action was to refuse to play the role that I was evidently expected to play. I let her approach me, and just tried to touch her on the neck or face, but not touch her halter. If she left, I let her go. If she ran when I approached her, I turned and walked away from her! Not at all what she was expecting, she went HUH???!

Now, I'm still deliberately not catching her. I put her hay in her stall, she will follow me in, and let me close the door without reacting. She is very excited to see her feeder, but at least that excitement is contained in the stall, where it's no threat to me. When she gets done eating what's in the feeder, she goes to work on the hay, and I open the door. She may or may not leave the stall at that point; if she does, it's at a walk. I have been putting some hay next to the board fence, and she now calmly eats hay with the QH munching away on the other side. If I am on the other side of the fence, she'll let me reach across and pet her on the neck and face, she seems to have no real problem with being touched. If I'm on the same side of the fence, she often won't let me make contact, but she moves off at a walk. All in all, she's a much calmer, much happier horse.

OK, this is what I think is going on: I suspect some owner in the past kept her stalled, and maybe the only excercise she got was when they brought her out and chased her around in a round pen. That would explain her aversion to the stall, and her automatic response to being approached. I was told she didn't get along with other horses, which seems to mean "poorly socialized," rather than truly antisocial.

I will further speculate that this theoretical owner was almost as green as I am when it comes to training horses. I have no experience with round-penning, the horse was giving ME a lesson. I've read enough about it to know the theory, and what the "buttons" are. The one thing I couldn't seem to find was the "off" button. If my memory serves, she should have been turning toward me, yet every time she turned, it was away. An experienced trainer would have taught her better. A previous owner probably saw that as disrespect, hence the "how dare you" take on her personality.

I'm told that the whole idea of free lounging/round penning is that you are using the horse's own language of posture and gesture to control it. I'm fairly fluent in body language; I can stroll through a flock of feeding poultry, or scatter them with a single stare. For the life of me, I could not get this horse to face me. Is it possible that I was "speaking horse" better that she was (see "poorly socialized," above)?

The horse's owner will be back on Tuesday. I've already talked to her a bit about what I have seen and done. I'm going to ask her to watch me while I feed, so she can see how we interact and hopefully, build on it. She is pleased to hear that this horse isn't the nut she took her for. Not surprisingly, we stop acting bonkers, and so does she!
 

Marsha Cassada

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I had a horse that would never face me. I tried all the things I was told to try and it only made it worse. So I stopped trying, followed my instinct, and just concentrated on trust. I think it was Bonnie who told me that not facing me was like a child saying if he didn't make eye contact he was invisible and the adult couldn't see him. Hence, he would not turn to face me. My horse was dominant and not social. But before I could teach him to respect me, I had to teach him to trust me.

I think these kinds of horses need lots of time. If she belongs to a "horse trader', that may not be a luxury she will get. And most owners won't bother--too many really nicely tempered horses out there.

But I learned alot from my boy.

by the way, I don't think mine was ever "abused". I think he was born that way.
 

Bunnylady

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I did get this girl to face me, once. After that unintended (and slightly horrifying) lesson in lounging had gone on for about 30 minutes, I got her to stop near the fence. As I approached her one more time, she turned to face me. I stopped, about 6 - 8 feet from her, and took a step backward. Then I took another. I said "come, on," making it sound as welcoming as I could. She shifted her feet a little, looked around, then turned away and walked into the "poopy corner" near the pasture. Lady, the QH, was standing on the other side of the fence. This poor horse stretched her head over the fence in a gesture that looked like "Lady, HELP ME!" As I approached her shoulder, she shifted her weight as if to leave, I extended a hand toward her back end and said softly, "no, don't do that." When I put my hand on her shoulder, she twitched, but stood still as I petted her a little and then took her by the halter and led her away.

BTW, give my friend a little credit. The QH is a rescue, bought purely out of pity for the horse.

And now, a new wrinkle. When I went to feed this evening, there was a new "guest horse" in the pasture. An absolutely enormous Paint/Warmblood gelding, 17 hands if he's an inch, asserting his dominance all over the place! He belongs to someone else, but she's away for a bit, so here's a whole new dynamic to adjust to!

On the plus side, guess who's looking to me for reassurance? It gave me a chance to get my hands al-l-l-l over her!
 

Reijel's Mom

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In reading your post, I'm not sure when you were taking the pressure totally off this mare? Like if she even flicked an ear back at you as a sign that she knew you were there, did you take the pressure off to reward her to let her know that was what was wanted?

I would start round pen training this mare from point zero. But it doesn't sound like you'll be with her much longer?
 

Bunnylady

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That was the weird thing about this - she was acutely aware of me the whole time. Thirty feet away from her, if I raised my arm, she'd reverse! I wasn't "shouting" at her, this yard has several corners, if I had been too "loud," I could have run her right through the fence. Most of the time, my hands were at my sides, and I was just moving fast enough to keep up with her, following, not chasing. When I could get her to stop (most of the time, near a corner) I'd wait a few seconds, then walk toward her with my shoulders relaxed and my attitude as casual as I can make it. I didn't go straight at her (remember, I had that big Welsh butt staring at me - I'm not stupid!) but instead, curved around so I would be approaching her shoulder, from as near a 90 degree angle as I could make it. She seemed to interpret this as "driving," and moved off, usually at a trot. Most of the time, she wasn't within 20 feet of any structure at all, running in a circle with me and the other horses acting as gravity points drawing her back in. At one point, the other horses decided that I wasn't really feeding horses now, and went off to graze. Shortly after that, she stuck to the pasture fence, running back and forth repeatedly. I stopped moving entirely, standing 20 feet or so back, arms akimbo, head tipped to one side ( even from the back, any person would have read "what in the heck are you doing??!") while she ran the fence line. Finally I picked her off in mid-pass with a wave of my hand, and she started circling again. She wasn't panicked, but everything I did seemed to be pressure to her. It began to seem like the only way to release pressure was to break contact, because as long as I was looking at her, I was "leaning on her."
 

Reijel's Mom

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It sounds to me like you were intent on approaching her - and she knew that. THAT was the pressure - it doesn't sound like that pressure was released. Again, an actual round pen would probably really help in this situation, it's too bad this wasn't your horse so you could keep working with her
!
 

Bunnylady

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I keep switching back and forth, between thinking she's merely defensive, and believing she really was dissing me. After I fed the horses this morning, I sat down on the back steps, in the shade, to just watch. I saw that gargantuan Paint swaggering near the fence, saying (I suppose) "I'm big, I'm bad, and I'm Boss!" I also saw this little gal flash her heels at him and squeal, which looked rather like "up yours, Bozo!" Several times she came over to where I was. I petted her nose each time, and after a minute, she left. The last time, I got up, and she declined to be petted any more. I was leaving anyway, but I saw her move into the shady spot, and remembered I had seen her there on previous occaisions. Just in case she might think she had just pushed me out of "her" spot, I turned around and very deliberately approached her again. Sure enough, she eased out of the shade. We both knew perfectly well what I was doing!

Gee, it gets tough being a horse! I'm way too green for this girl, and I doubt my friend can be that subtle!
 

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