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Draping Reins?
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Jamsession
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 Posted: Wed Jan 25th, 2012 07:07 pm
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OK, so I did this with my mare today, and I have to say it was a good bit of fun. I  found a much calmer and much more willing and curious horse than I have had before, and in a way that worked very well with what I was getting at. She was certainly uninterested at first: she would run off bucking and playing whenever I began to approach, but after a few minutes she stopped moving, I approached her and began to brush and from that point she barely moved a foot. And when she began to think about leaving, I was able to catch it and do as you said with my hand under her neck, and she stopped.

I will continue to do this with her. We have a covered roundpen on the farm that will suit quite nicely for this.

My next question: what shall I do to continue to build off in this? I would imagine that within a few days of this exercise, she will have come to understand that she is expected to stand still and wait until she is invited by me to move somewhere. Today I did not work with the saddle or bridle (I am in the process of finding her a more suitable bit). Should I perhaps incorporate those next, but not get on? Do I then from start to finish, with the end result being me mounting her, sitting for a minute, patting her and then dismounting?

DarlingLil
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 Posted: Wed Jan 25th, 2012 11:34 pm
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I tried the grooming at liberty exercise last summer in my horses pasture. I used an assortment of rubber currycombs. The one my mare liked best was a yellow one shaped like the sole of a persons foot minus the toes. She did not walk away from it. It was my softest rubber curry. I will try this exercise again to see which brush she likes the best. Her coat is pretty wooly, maybe she will stand stock still for them all. I am in Mi,we haven't had our ground freeze up yet. Only a few days of freezing temps-I've been walking around in mud most of the season so far.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jan 26th, 2012 02:48 am
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Jam, this is not an "exercise". It's not the kind of thing that we do a few times with the objective of fixing up something that we perceive to be wrong or undesirable about the horse, and then quit doing when we think we've got it all patched up.

Instead, it is how we live with the horse -- today, tomorrow, forever.

So you don't have any objective such as you have been thinking of, where it is first we do this today and then we do that tomorrow. Remember? You've given up all ambition to ever go for a ride on this horse. When a person truly does that, then there's no telling what they will actually eventually achieve. UNTIL the person truly does that, they will achieve nearly nothing and get themselves hurt to boot.

The most important parts of your reports are:

(1) You had the sense and the awareness to position yourself so that when the mare "seriously" started to leave, you were well out of kicking range and were not in a position that she might run into you or run over you.

(2) Unlike Darling Lil, you worked with your horse in a safe place to begin with. An arena or roundpen is good. An open field is suicide, because it gives the animal FAR too many temptations in the distance and too much room to move -- THE FENCE IS THE BIT.

(3) You had a good bit of fun and enjoyment with it, and so did your horse, once the animal realized what you wanted, which is to say, you wanted nothing that the animal itself did not also want.

So now what you do is you expand on the grooming session until you can saddle up and girth up. If your mare has a tendency to take off bucking -- which is what you are reporting -- then you will want to be quietly professional about the girthing -- step in there, tell her what you intend to do, and then pull the girth up in one smooth pull to a snugness that will prevent the saddle from turning. If you feel her tense up while you're girthing, then quietly drop the girth and remove the saddle, set it on the ground beside you, and go back to scratching her and/or grooming her while conveying that you expect her to stand still. It is NOT acceptable at any time for her to take off bucking, and so by doing this you are discouraging that reaction. You get her stopped and involved in being groomed before the idea of taking off bucking can take hold of her mind. If you have taught her, by being in the wrong school previously, to do this very thing, now is the time to get that part erased. By our new rules, she can take off bucking anytime she likes, so long as it is when you are not around.

If she tenses up while girthing, after you get the saddle off, then you go get the halter, and ask her to untrack a few times both directions. What this does is give her a very strong inducement to relax and let down. It also reminds her that the one who is controlling her hindquarters, which are both her means of propulsion and her strongest weapons, is to be you not her.

Then go back and get your pad and your saddle and put them on her while you have the halter on her. The lead rope should be over the crook of your left elbow. Put the saddle on quietly, reach quickly but quietly underneath and get the girth, thread it, and smoothly pull it up. If you feel her tense up, then while maintaining the same tension on the girth -- either by holding the latigo or if it is an English rig then by latching one buckle -- then while maintaining it at the same pressure, step in there and ask for one or two untracking steps. Do one or two steps at a time until she'll finally breathe out in a big sigh and loosen up. When she loosens up, you immediately take the saddle off. You are teaching her, by doing this, that when she loosens up the saddle will also loosen up.

Notice how this is the opposite of the person having a determination to go for a ride, rather than not caring whether they ever get to go for a ride.

I have suspected that one of the problems you have, at root, is that this horse is not really broke, so Jam, if you don't feel like you can perform all these things safely, then I want you to just go as far as you have with grooming but no farther, and take the horse and yourself to see Harry or Buck, Joe or Josh or Tom Curtin, who are highly expert in working through this and also with working with owners who are having this particular difficulty. -- Dr. Deb

 

Jamsession
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 Posted: Thu Jan 26th, 2012 05:45 pm
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The only time she takes off running/bucking (which she did not today) is when I first set her loose. Before now, I have allowed her to do so (which was my mistake) to "get some energy out" before I got on her. I started to understand a while ago that this was seriously counterproductive because every time we went in the arena, the roundpen, etc., she assumed it was for her to run and would balk or pull back in anticipation, and her focus was certainly not on me. I have now gotten her to the point where she will at least wait until I let her go, but I do not let her loose anymore with the intention of encouraging her to run. That was my mistake.

Today, she was much quieter. There were some scary ice crunching noises from cars in the parking lot that she did some running around to, but she did not bolt away from me today when I let her loose. Instead, she walked off, head low and nose in the dirt.

I don't think that she would take off bucking while I am grooming or tacking up. Her demeanor the past two days has been what I would consider calm alertness. She looks at things, she may check stuff out, but a hind leg remains cocked and I can tell based on what I have learned from studying the Birdie Book pictures that she is tuned in but taking liberty to survey her surroundings, which she has the absolute right to do. She thinks about leaving occasionally, but it seems to come more from a place of "OK, I'm done with this now" than any sort of panic or fear. She is certainly not dead broke, not even close, but she has proven to me that when I get it right she's more than willing to listen and take heed. However, if at any point I feel otherwise, I will look into seeking further help as you suggested.

I will proceed when I sense she's ready to the saddle. I think I've all but completely eliminated the goal of riding or doing anything mounted: sometimes the desire still rears its head, but I'm learning and I have to say the past few days have been much less pressure-filled and FAR more enjoyable.

DarlingLil
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 Posted: Fri Jan 27th, 2012 05:03 pm
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Jam, how long have you had your mare? I bought a mare after having a gelding. She rode well in her original home but was mighty scared by her change in home. She scared me too, all snorty and jumpy! Took a while before all parties felt comfortable. I still have my gelding who is now 24, spunky as ever. Thank you Dr Deb for the information on older horses. I am now well prepared to keep an eye on his digestion and what to do if he colics badly and I have to let him go. I'm sorry you lost your gelding Jam. I discovered this forum Dec 2010 and have been enjoying it all, printed off the required reading and am on my 3rd reading. Soon as I am back to work I will be getting a membership here. Odd thing is I named my filly Birdy! She is the granddaughter of the above mare and is 2 this year. Keep it up everyone! This is a great learning experience.

Jamsession
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 Posted: Wed Feb 1st, 2012 11:14 pm
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OK, Dr. Deb. I was unable to work with my mare for a few days since I got into a car accident last week. No damage to me, the car is another story, but I began with her again yesterday doing the same routine.

She began by running away and bucking when I released her: no surprise, since I have taught her that when I let her go it's for this purpose. Apparently it's more ingrained than I thought.

Today, however, when she tried to pull away, I stood fast and asked her to move her haunches over by stepping over slightly and tapping her hip with my fingers. I asked this a few times until she stepped over by my just holding my hand up towards her haunches, waited a moment, and then un-clipped the leadrope. She walked off instead of running off. I remember you saying in another thread once that the act of moving the horse's haunches tells the horse "I am in control of these, not you."

My question is about what I witnessed her doing once she was free to roam. I'm hoping you can help me decipher it.

She seems to have a routine: if she walks away quietly, she'll meander around with her nose in the dirt, sniffing at things occasionally, but never truly stopping. Eventually her pace will slow, she'll come to a stop, look around curiously, and then I'll approach her and start grooming. She generally does not move from where she stopped when this happens.

Today, she walked away calmly and began her routine of nose in the dirt, stopped eventually after a couple minutes, and I walked up to start grooming, but after a minute there was someone on a tractor nearby pushing up the manure pile, and when she heard the sputtering of the tractor coming closer she took off bucking and squealing. She did not attempt to strike at me, nor did she kick anywhere near my person. Rather, she walked off (albeit quickly) and then took off bucking and running.

As she ran around, she stayed going one directly in a fairly close 15 meter circle around me. I stayed still and watched; she continued to canter around, throwing a few good bucks in, but she didn't seem particularly upset or afraid. Rather, it seemed like a game. She was grunting and sometimes would throw in a squeal or two, toss her head around, etc. She stayed near me but did not aim any kick, etc. in my direction. She could have roamed anywhere in the roundpen, but she didn't. When she finally slowed to a trot, there was a quite a bit of blowing through her nostrils (head low, as if she were clearing them, not blowing in fear), and eventually the trot became a walk, with more blowing, more head shaking (like a dog would shake after a bath) and lots and lots of licking and chewing. I saw more licking and chewing today from her than I've seen in a while. It happened at all the down transitions she made after she spooked and happened often during her time running around. Her walk eventually got more languid and she stopped near the roundpen gate. I resumed my grooming.

Can you help me decipher this? I have some guesses, but I'm very curious to know what this says to you.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Feb 4th, 2012 10:49 pm
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Jam, sorry I haven't been able to get back to you for a day or two....travelling to KU for more research, and I'm grabbing five seconds here between taking microphotographs in order to make you a brief reply -- which is a question, as usual.

Tell me please, what does it mean to you when a horse shakes its head like a dog would shake? What does this gesture mean in 'horse language'?

Meanwhile until you make an answer to this or we work it out, I would advise you to be quite cautious around this mare's hindquarters. DO NOT permit her to aim her haunches toward you, and if you're in the pen with her loose, watch yourself so that you are never in a position to be kicked, struck, or bitten. -- Dr. Deb

Jamsession
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 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 01:52 am
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Well, when I have seen horses shake their heads or their bodies, as many do when they get up from a good roll or perhaps a bath, to mean it's a sign of relaxation, a way to relieve or let out stress, akin to a sigh, I suppose. With my mare it is almost always accompanied by a few licks and chews after she's had a good buck in the round pen, as if to say, "Ahh, that's better"

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 04:40 am
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Jam, what you describe MAY be what's going on. However, most usually, when a horse is shaking its head WHILE it is moving around, and especially if the head-shake is accompanied by bucking or kicking as you have just described, the correct interpretation is that the horse is saying "why don't you take a swift trip to the hot place," or "screw you."

It is, in short, a strong sign of resentment and is usually a warning of, and precursor to, an imminent attack by the horse toward whatever it perceives as an antagonist, i.e. most probably toward you.

Hence my reiterated warnings to you to be careful. I am not at all convinced that in this case, or at any time, you really read your horse correctly; and I further think that this is one of the root-causes of the problems you have had trusting the animal and the situation. Your head (which is off-base) is telling you one thing; your guts (which are hardly ever wrong in any person) are telling you another.

Lip-smacking and chewing is not always a sign of relaxation and good feelings within the horse. In some horses all the time, and in all horses under some circumstances, lip-smacking betokens worry and anxiety. In achieving a correct interpretation, everything depends upon reading the more subtle aspects of the expression, which, I can tell you, are not at all easy to capture in a photograph. This is why I have not asked you to try to photograph all the events you have been describing -- the very attempt to get the photo will disturb the genuineness of the animal's action enough that the photo becomes useless.

So, you are going to have to decide; and you are going to have to learn how to read a horse's expression by looking at photographs that were taken "as if by chance" and which are correctly interpreted, i.e., in the Birdie Book, which contains over 500 of them, including the head-shaking/aggressive expression. You must at this stage go and look at those photos, and then compare those to what your animal is doing, and then report back with how it seems to you. -- Dr. Deb

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 04:41 am
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Jam, what you describe MAY be what's going on. However, most usually, when a horse is shaking its head WHILE it is moving around, and especially if the head-shake is accompanied by bucking or kicking as you have just described, the correct interpretation is that the horse is saying "why don't you take a swift trip to the hot place," or "screw you."

It is, in short, a strong sign of resentment and is usually a warning of, and precursor to, an imminent attack by the horse toward whatever it perceives as an antagonist, i.e. most probably toward you.

Hence my reiterated warnings to you to be careful. I am not at all convinced that in this case, or at any time, you really read your horse correctly; and I further think that this is one of the root-causes of the problems you have had trusting the animal and the situation. Your head (which is off-base) is telling you one thing; your guts (which are hardly ever wrong in any person) are telling you another.

Lip-smacking and chewing is not always a sign of relaxation and good feelings within the horse. In some horses all the time, and in all horses under some circumstances, lip-smacking betokens worry and anxiety. In achieving a correct interpretation, everything depends upon reading the more subtle aspects of the expression, which, I can tell you, are not at all easy to capture in a photograph. This is why I have not asked you to try to photograph all the events you have been describing -- the very attempt to get the photo will disturb the genuineness of the animal's action enough that the photo becomes useless.

So, you are going to have to decide; and you are going to have to learn how to read a horse's expression by looking at photographs that were taken "as if by chance" and which are correctly interpreted, i.e., in the Birdie Book, which contains over 500 of them, including the head-shaking/aggressive expression. You must at this stage go and look at those photos, and then compare those to what your animal is doing, and then report back with how it seems to you. -- Dr. Deb

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 04:41 am
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Jam, what you describe MAY be what's going on. However, most usually, when a horse is shaking its head WHILE it is moving around, and especially if the head-shake is accompanied by bucking or kicking as you have just described, the correct interpretation is that the horse is saying "why don't you take a swift trip to the hot place," or "screw you."

It is, in short, a strong sign of resentment and is usually a warning of, and precursor to, an imminent attack by the horse toward whatever it perceives as an antagonist, i.e. most probably toward you.

Hence my reiterated warnings to you to be careful. I am not at all convinced that in this case, or at any time, you really read your horse correctly; and I further think that this is one of the root-causes of the problems you have had trusting the animal and the situation. Your head (which is off-base) is telling you one thing; your guts (which are hardly ever wrong in any person) are telling you another.

Lip-smacking and chewing is not always a sign of relaxation and good feelings within the horse. In some horses all the time, and in all horses under some circumstances, lip-smacking betokens worry and anxiety. In achieving a correct interpretation, everything depends upon reading the more subtle aspects of the expression, which, I can tell you, are not at all easy to capture in a photograph. This is why I have not asked you to try to photograph all the events you have been describing -- the very attempt to get the photo will disturb the genuineness of the animal's action enough that the photo becomes useless.

So, you are going to have to decide; and you are going to have to learn how to read a horse's expression by looking at photographs that were taken "as if by chance" and which are correctly interpreted, i.e., in the Birdie Book, which contains over 500 of them, including the head-shaking/aggressive expression. You must at this stage go and look at those photos, and then compare those to what your animal is doing, and then report back with how it seems to you. -- Dr. Deb

Jamsession
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 Posted: Sun Feb 5th, 2012 01:34 pm
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OK, I have taken another look. The biggest thing I think I have difficulty with is seeing conflicting signs: licking and chewing is always something I've associated with the positive. For example, the photos of the palamino-looking mare who had a history of attacking people: she was being called to the drum at liberty, and the first photo showed her in a very troubled state, captioned as her thinking of attacking. Then there is another photo which shows her settling and becoming 100% OK. This is by far the hardest for me to understand. The first photo took me a while to get, and I'm still not sure I do. The look in the mare's eye is certainly troubling: it just says resentful. The second photo is still hard for me to see clearly. Her eyes look bigger, less clouded, and her head is raised instead of lowered and threatening. But other than that I have trouble reading her.

So, with this information, and looking at the photos again, it appears my mare has been showing me very FEW signs of true relaxation, trust and interest. With that said, I've heard many a good trainer say that "if a horse doesn't kick you, he didn't mean to kick you"...my mare has never attempted to kick me, and I certainly don't want to appear naive and think she won't at some point if I don't change something. I have been ignoring a not-so-good feeling in the pit of my stomach because I'm not confident in my ability to read her.

Edit: I came back because this hit me like a lightning bolt as I got up to leave the computer. I would describe what my mare is doing as sincerely annoyed, frustrated and irritated. She has little interest in me. I remembered Buck's words in the documentary on him: "the horse is the mirror to our souls; sometimes we don't like what we see, sometimes we do." I have a feeling my mare is giving me a long, hard look at what's going on in me: a lot of frustration, a lot of irritation and a lot of turmoil...

Last edited on Sun Feb 5th, 2012 01:41 pm by Jamsession

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Feb 6th, 2012 12:35 am
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Jam, the palomino mare on the drum is a decent example but I agree she is harder to read in the second photo than some others presented in the BB. Go instead and find the photos of the buckskin mare -- there's a whole sequence of them, taken at about one-year intervals from the time she was a weanling until three years old. The last photo shows Harry Whitney riding her (Buck had also seen her once between-times), and their work produced a profound change, so profound that her overweight, inexpert, and inexperienced owner could thereafter ride the horse safely.

There is also, somewhere in there, a photo of a Chestnut-colored stallion caught in the middle of a twisting head-shake threat gesture. This and the buckskin should help clarify to you what the head-shake expression means.

I sympathize with your uncertainty about whether you can correctly read your horse, because this is a skill that takes time and experience to learn. The very best advice that I can offer you on that is -- go find either Harry or Josh, and if at all possible, bring your horse with you. They (among all the others whom we recommend) do offer one-on-one instruction and help, and this is what you need. -- Dr. Deb

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 Posted: Mon Feb 6th, 2012 04:30 am
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I hope it is okay to jump in here on the topic of 'licking and chewing'. I recently finished up three days with Harry Whitney where the idea of licking and chewing being a solely positive thing was raised and I am hoping it might be of some use for me to share what was discussed here (if not my apologies).

Harry pointed out that licking and chewing happens often after some sort of tension or worry in the horse where he doesn't move his mouth and it dries out (much as can happen to people too when we are really nervous). So when a horse licks and chews he does so to relax and re-wet his mouth and it is often both a sign that he has recently been worried in some way, and that whatever worry he had has decreased some.

Often a horse might lick and chew because a skillful person has helped them to feel less worried. However, another participant at Harry's clinic offered a very useful example of how licking and chewing might not be a sign that the human has done the right thing. He said he had once seen a woman having trouble with a horse at feeding time, and as she came to bring the feed into the yard the horse kicked her over and ran off. Immediately after the horse turned to face her and licked and chewed. In this example the horse had removed it's own worry at the expense of the human.

We concluded that you really have to consider licking and chewing within the wider context, just as Dr. Deb has suggested here.

Jamsession
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 Posted: Mon Feb 6th, 2012 02:15 pm
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Thank you Shelly and Dr. Deb.

Dr. Deb, I would LOVE to have an opportunity to go and work with Harry or Josh or another one of the teachers you have recommended. At this point in time, distance, lack of transportation and finances limit me, but I hope to this summer at some point. In the mean time, if I may, I'd like to continue coming here and asking questions, and seeing if I can work more with my mare Stella myself with your guidance. I am confident I can come to understand her, and I am so willing to learn. I already have done a tremendous amount, now the hard part is applying it.

I took another long look at some of the photos as well as did some more reading of the BB. The ones that struck me the most were, indeed, the grulla filly, but I also found the series of Harry with the chestnut TB. This horse, and your descriptions of this horse, sound very much like my mare. She is TOLERANT, but not willing. She will let me get on her, and for a while now has been letting me poke around, w/t/c, etc. She has, I believe, come to a point where now she is not willing. I read the chapter containing the discussion on the five stages of grieving. I believe Stella isn't out of anger and may be somewhat into bargaining.

I have figured out, I think, that Stella is certainly not playing when she shakes: I think, rather, she is upset and unsure and is giving me the hoof while saying "I need some direction and I'm not getting it, I'm nervous and am not OK so this is how I'm going to make myself feel better" . You describe a horse who has a fair amount of aggressiveness in their personalities as something that can be very good if appropriately channeled. I believe my mare does have a fair amount of aggressiveness; the interesting this is I never saw it until we put my gelding down this past summer. I don't know if horses, like people, can "come out of the shadows" when they are given the opportunity, but I wonder if this may have happened. My gelding was the dominant one, Stella always the more "followerish" of the two.

You described that when the horse is at liberty in the pen, that if they begin to show signs, even small ones, that tell you they are angry, you must as the handler do something to express to them that this is not appropriate, whether that be a smack on the rump, an energetic, forward step towards them, redirecting their attention, etc. Would this be an appropriate place to begin now? As in, I continue to bring her to the small pen, let her move at her liberty and continue to do our grooming there, but assert when she shows signs of irritation and anger that she can feel that way but sure as hell better not direct it at me?

I think part of my issue is not just having doubts about my ability to read my mare, but also not having the intestinal fortitude to do SOMETHING, and then see what happens. I've tiptoed around this mare for a while, she knows it, hence why she's essentially saying "F off, lady". I've been afraid to experiment, something I now see is a vital part of learning.


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