Keep Calm and Love Your Horse

26Feb13

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My horse, Summit can be a handful. I think it’s in his nature. His middle name is “Mischief”. During the past two months of owning him, he has put me through all of his bag of tricks. By remaining calm and having his best interest at heart, I’ve been able to deal with it all. I’ve had to learn when he’s afraid and when he’s just trying to dominate me. I’ve had to be consistent, stay even in my temperament (with no anger), and present him with a little higher energy than he presents me with. I have my own bag of tricks now.

I could not have done this without the help of my trainer, Jessica who was trained in Parelli Natural Horsemanship. After using this method, I am convinced that it’s the best way for me to train my horse.

In the first week of owning Summit, I fell off while riding him because it was dinnertime and the gate was open. He ran off toward the barn. I couldn’t get him to stop and fell off so hard that I couldn’t remember falling. I consider myself pretty lucky that I wasn’t hurt bad and Eric was there. It did hurt my confidence though.

Summit has also reared up in front of me, bit at me from behind, head butted me, charged me and bit at me while putting on his halter. These are all scary things if you do not know how to handle them. I have learned that he is just testing me and by standing up to him and being one step ahead of him, it cannot continue.

I love Jessica’s little sayings which helps make it easier to correct him; 1) “Let me help you with that.” 2) “Don’t come over here with that look on your face.” You want to rear up? Let me help you with that (going toward him with a little higher energy). You want to bite me? Go over there. Respect my space and don’t crowd me or I’ll drive you away. He wants to be near me. If I drive him away, it’s not long before he’s creeping back and asking to be closer. I just won’t let him into my space until he is respectful. The goal is to make undesirable actions hard and desirable actions easy. Summit says, “Hmm. If I just do what I’m asked, then you’ll leave me alone.” and I say, “Great idea.”

Tell tale signs of a snotty horse:

  1. Snorting (like a pig)
  2. Stomping, rearing, bucking
  3. Head held high
  4. Tail held high
  5. Licks like a lizard
  6. Ears back
  7. Nose wrinkled, nostrils elongated

Signs of a calm horse:

  1. Soft long snorting/relaxed breathing
  2. Walking normal
  3. Head down
  4. Tail down
  5. Licks and chews (he’s thinking)
  6. Ears forward
  7. Nose straight, nostrils round

The best tools I use are:

  1. Toothpick – I’ve had to resort to the toothpick because of the biting, but haven’t had to use it lately. When putting on the halter, he would bite me. If he lunged toward me while I had the toothpick, he would prick his own self. He stopped doing that once he realized it would hurt.
  2. Parelli Carrot Stick (a stick which is an extension of my hand) – The Parelli carrot stick is a stick with a rope on one end. It can be used to signal, drive or play the friendly game. It is not used to harm or punish. It’s an extension of my hand.
  3. Lunge Line – The lunge line is a long lead rope which allows me to give my horse room to run in a circle or to take commands from further away.
  4. Hand – I use my hand by making a motion toward his head or butt when he ‘s getting too close or when he’s not where I need him to be. He responds well to hand signals. I can also use it to point in the direction I want him to go in. I also use it to say, “Stop.” Sometimes, I use my hand to apply pressure when I need him to move.

For safety sake, I always have a buddy with me whenever I deal with the horses. Remember, safety first!

Jessica and I play the Parelli Seven Games with Summit and are still working with him. The Seven Games is a series of games that builds confidence and trust. We’ve made tremendous strides in the past 2 months. In all Seven Games, each game works off a suggestion and is done in four phases. You ask with the slightest suggestion. If he doesn’t do that, then you go to the next phase which goes up in intensity. If he makes a motion toward the suggestion, you stop and ask again starting at phase 1. The goal is to ask only using phase 1.

We’ve also worked on desensitizing Summit with a hair trimmer, spray bottle, an overhead fan, and slapping the ground with a Parelli carrot stick. The goal is to “bomb proof” him not to react when hearing or seeing anything startling.

Before coming to me, Summit did not know how to back up or stand to be tied. He can now back up into his stall and washroom (watch his video using the link). We are taking backing up to the next level by pulling back on his lead (almost like when you’re on him, but from the ground). He’s also been learning lateral flexion or also called bending (go in a circle), which is an exercise that can save a rider’s life when a horse is running out of control. If you ask the horse to bend by pulling out on the reign and drawing him toward his withers, then he can’t run forward if asked to go in a circle. We are also working on tying him to the stall. We do this using a travel trailer bungee and a hay string (for safety, it’ll break off if too much pressure is applied). He is doing much better with this.

I cannot stress how important ground work is as a precursor to riding. If a horse does not respect you on the ground, he will not respect you under saddle.

It is our observation that Summit lacks confidence and balance. He runs whenever he’s pointed downhill. He also doesn’t know how to be affectionate or receive affection. We assume it’s been all business with him. He is particularly snotty when it comes to putting on his halter. Since we don’t know his history, we can only deal with each issue one at a time and start to gain his trust.

We are starting to ride Summit in the arena and we are making progress. I will post another article in a couple of months and let you know how we’re doing.

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6 Responses to “Keep Calm and Love Your Horse”

  1. 1 Sandra Pyle

    Wow, this is a little scary! Hope this goes well for you. It sounds like you have a great trainer to work with you and Summit. The best of luck to you.,:)

  2. 2 Mom

    Summit still looks weary skinny. What does the Vet have to say about his health and diet. Looks like he could use a couple of pounds of oats each day.

    • He has actually gained weight. He has put on about 100 pounds. You’ll see when you come here. That photo makes him look thin.

  3. 4 Mom

    If the cowboys had to do all this they would still be in Dodge. D

  4. 6 Georgia Paquette

    VERY interesting. Lots of work to do it right.


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