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Tension in the horse while working in halter
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Redmare
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Joined: Wed Mar 26th, 2014
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 Posted: Sun Feb 8th, 2015 06:08 am
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So I have spent the last couple of months essentially "messing" with my horse. I have been trying to determine where the core of her issues lie. And it seems I have determined that I am the core of her un-OKness. I have accepted that, I have really been her only handler and I know that it is because I did not know how to address/help her through her anxiety.

She is OK in the stall. I can enter the stall, leave her "loose", pick up her feet, curry her, etc., and she stays OK. But as soon as I put the halter on, her eyes change. She gets a crinkle in her nostril. She will sometimes flap her lower lip. If I bring her out of the stall, she maintains some low level of tension. I can ask her to do any number of things, including untrack, back, step sideways, pivot on the haunces, send off in a circle, stop/untrack/face, send her the other direction, and she will do them, but she maintains a low level of tension with the same physical notes above. I am continuously working to see how "small" I can get, to use only as much pressure as I have to to get a response.

If I were to ask her to halt, or untrack and face me, and then approach her to pet her, I can see her get tense. She will often turn her head to look away from me as I approach. When I see this, I stop moving towards her and wait for her to look at me again. I will only reach out to pet her if she stays looking at me, but often as soon as I make physical contact she looks away again, or I see her lip flap.

I have two questions regarding just working in halter:

1. I am trying to determine what I need to do in the first moments I put her halter on and decide to lead her forward? I see that this is where the tension starts. I searched the forum and found an old forum post called "Backing Bonnie", in which both yourself and the poster described the approach-and-retreat technique with a horse who shows tension when approaching them. There was also a description of walking a half circle (staying at the same distance) towards the horses hip/buttocks, causing the horse to untrack and come towards the poster OR at least turn her head and neck and look at the person. The poster described that after a few half circles, the mare was no longer tense about being approached, and so the person approached her. This sounds like a useful tool for me, but if my mare tenses as soon as the halter is put on, I feel as though this is too far past the initial point of tension to be effective.

2. What does it mean when a horse licks and chews, but does so with a sort of open mouth? I looked for the answer to this in the Birdie Book, but couldn't find it. The best way I can describe it is it's as if she has just been given a sticky, gummy sort of treat, or perhaps a paste wormer, and so she opens and closes her mouth to dislodge/move whatever she has in her mouth around. I have seen this on occasion, but I don't know what it means.

DrDeb
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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
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 Posted: Tue Feb 10th, 2015 11:23 am
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Redmare -- Once upon a time, not too long after I had been introduced to this approach to horsemanship -- meaning the approach where we seriously consider what impact we ourselves are having on the horse, instead of the other way around -- I was out in a feedlot with Ray Hunt. The feedlot was full of horses owned by him, and I was to be privileged on that day to ride one of them.

So Ray pointed out the horse he wanted me to catch. I had my halter in hand and the job was to go in there and get the particular horse and put the halter on it, and then lead it out of the group and so on out of the pen. Note that these were all broke horses, we're not talking about wild ones here; every horse in the bunch was well accustomed to being handled and caught.

But, being unsure of myself and also somewhat acutely conscious that Ray was standing right there watching me, I went to step in there toward the horse I wanted to catch, and first thing you know the horse turned away from me and kind of squished in between two others. So I abruptly stopped still, waiting for the horses to shift around some and give me another chance.

Which they pretty shortly did, and my horse came out from between the other two and when I saw that I advanced again, only to have the horse once again turn away and start walking slowly away from me. Again, I stopped abruptly -- almost mechanically.

From behind me I heard Ray snort.

A good sign that he thought I needed to make some kind of change.

Upon which I realized that it was my own uncertainty, nervousness, and "mechanicalness" that was causing the horse to keep turning away.

So I said, "aww, shucks," took a deep breath, squared up my shoulders, lifted my chest, carried the halter and lead rope a little bit higher, and walked right in there to the horse, who stood stock-still and waited for me....you might almost have said, with a twinkle in his eye. Well, Ray had a twinkle in his eye, too -- a lot of times he didn't have to say much to me but he conveyed the instructions anyway, which in this case was, "OK Deb, you can relax and quit farting around -- just act like the horse is already caught."

"Farting around" means "living in your head." It means "making up difficulties where there aren't any." It means "splitting the hairs on a flea's ass."

So I'm suggesting the same thing to you here. Your mare isn't doing anything wrong, and neither are you; no more than I was in the above story, nor that horse either. But you do need to up your confidence level and quit being so critical of yourself and so picky toward your horse.

It doesn't really matter if she doesn't want you reaching up around her head, so long as you act like it really doesn't matter. In other words, if you can put the halter on and her avoidance doesn't escalate or get worse, you're ahead of the game, very similar to the situation where the horse is ear-shy. She doesn't have to love you, or what you're trying to do, in order to cooperate. The confident handler whose moves are smooth GIVES the horse confidence instead of taking the horse's confidence away by jerking to a stop all the time. If you see her get tense, just put a hand on her neck and wait a beat or two .... see if she doesn't lose the tension pretty soon. If she turns her head away after you get the halter on, gently pull it back, and then pet her when/if she turns it towards you on her own. But stop demanding that she love you, or that she enjoy your workouts/sessions. That will come in time, but that part is not up to you.

Remember that it does not matter at all -- not even a little teeny bit -- what her previous experiences have been. If you get thinking about that, you'll be reacting to those THEORIES AND IDEAS instead of to the reality, and you'll be living out of your head, which will prevent you from being there as much as the horse needs you to be there in order to give it confidence.

As to the licking and chewing, how old is the horse? She might be letting out butterflies; but if she's getting up past around 18, she might have a loose tooth. -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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Joined: Wed Mar 26th, 2014
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 Posted: Fri Feb 13th, 2015 07:15 am
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Dr. Deb, thank you. This mare is coming 8, so it sounds like letting out butterflies is the more likely scenario.

I will continue to do my best and stop making something of nothing. I will admit, it is far harder, as you said to me in a previous thread, to change past habits, even if I am acutely aware of them. Perhaps I am TOO aware of them. Nonetheless, I will continue to do my best, and in the mean time, sincerely hope you are able to make it out to New England, so I may attend!


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