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Working with the spooky nappy horse
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devvie
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 Posted: Tue Nov 1st, 2016 12:01 am
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Hello to everyone here on the forum. I just joined.

I'm looking to continue my education in working with a rather spooky and nappy horse.

The horse (gelding, 12 years old) is often fairly reactive and spooky in all the typical ways, and the spookiness is magnified by situations where his herd-bound behaviour is triggered: for example, can be very brave trail riding with others, and lead, but if he sees something perceived as scary, will then stop and "request" a lead from the other horse(s), and he is mostly always less confident on his own.

He can also be very nappy. Let me provide a few examples for you all from tonight, since they're fresh in my mind, but first I will say that I've been riding and working with this dude for over four years and things are consistently getting better in this regard, although progress is slow.

So, examples from tonight:

-leaving the farm/barn area, he takes a hard look at the scary tarp-covered bale of conditioner for the footing in the arena: it's been there for about 2 months but he still considers it new and potentially scary, and he's spooking (trying to go wide around it, high-headed, jigging). I ask him to whoa, stand still, allow him to lower his neck, and turn him to look at it. Excellent - he lowers his head, takes a look and then -- whoops, more nappy than excellent -- having decided it's not going to eat him today, starts to graze. Uh, not what I had in mind.

That over with, we cross the road to the house under construction across the road: lots of new stuff to look at here, but nothing worries him. I've brought with me a bag because I'm there to collect apples from the tree, fruit's going to waste with no one living there at the moment: we've been to the tree many times lately to stop for a snack. Horse willing to stand by the tree, but not putting his feet exactly where I want them to go (close enough to reach the apples please), and when I try to circle him around to far side of tree he resists in his classic manner: refusing to go forward, refusing to go left, instead spinning to the right. This dude has taught me to be patient about these moments so I stand him there, and ask a few times, nicely, and eventually I get the yes and we end up where I want to be, in a good spot to harvest apples. He gets a pat -- and then walks and then trots off in a spooky way, from under the apple tree -- haha, hilarious -- only to have me circle around again, again stand under the tree, and again he walks off. Third time or so, he stands, I get my apples.

On his best days, he's brave and willingly goes just about everywhere, if even sometimes he needs to stand and evaluate something before he's willing to go forward. On his worst days, he can prop from a gallop, he can spin hard to the right, and if pressed on the matter (i.e. if you try to demand that he go forward despite him acting fearfully toward something) he will rear. At his most fearful under saddle he trembles, snorts, and his heart races: classic signs of anxiety.

His ground manners are generally excellent, he likes his people. He's not a horse though about whom you would say that he's "workmanlike" or "always tries to please."

There's more nuance to my perceptions about all of this that I'm keen to discuss, but I'll start with the above for now.

Finally, I wanted to say two quick other things:

- I tried the basic focus exercise tonight, having just read about it today, and got 8 seconds of focus on the third try, with a gentle movement of the lead rope. However . . . instead of keeping his distance from me, just before I got focus from him (each of the three times), he would take two steps toward me and stand with his head inches from me instead of standing still.

- Secondly, I "discovered" Dr. Deb. through the USEF lectures posting on YouTube, for which I am grateful.

--Devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Nov 2nd, 2016 01:01 am
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Devvie, I'm on the road today for a class and so can't answer you right now at length. I'm glad you've discovered the 8-seconds-minimum focus work and that you see the importance of it. Your troubles are not separate instances of different sorts of trouble; they are all ONE trouble and they all have one cause, and that is that your horse is not "with" you or "with" himself. His Birdie is not with him, and you so far don't know how to cause that to be.

Therefore, I suggest you order a copy of the 2-CD set entitled "Mannering Your Horse" from our main website. Go to http://www.equinestudies.org and click on "Membership", then go to the audio CD section. You are under the impression that your horse has good manners, but by your description this is not so. "Mannering" is connected to the horse having good manners, but really covers much more, and its whole basis is focus. In the absence of the horse's ability to keep his Birdie with him, and your understanding just what this means, he will not be able to be a mannered horse (or a safe or enjoyable ride, either). So go get the CD's and listen to them and then please write back after you've put into practice the concepts which I talk about on that program.

You will have some questions after that, I am sure, so write us back then. -- Dr. Deb

 

devvie
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 Posted: Thu Nov 3rd, 2016 04:54 pm
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Thanks for your reply, Dr. Deb.

For sure the Birdie metaphor captured my interest in a big way the moment that I heard of it, especially in relation to this horse. I certainly will wait with my questions, but I have written down my questions of the moment, to compare with the questions I'll have after studying "Mannering Your Horse".

In the mean time, I've spent a good number of hours reading threads here on the forum, and have already put some ideas and suggestions into practice, and am seeing/experiencing some differences in working with this horse. Quite exciting. Proof is in the pudding as they say, so that it itself motivates me to get busy with these studies.

Thanks all.

--Devvie

Last edited on Thu Nov 3rd, 2016 04:54 pm by devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Nov 3rd, 2016 05:20 pm
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Devvie, we will look for you to order the "Mannering" CD's as above suggested. -- Dr. Deb

devvie
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 Posted: Fri Apr 21st, 2017 02:19 pm
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Hello Dr. Deb and all of you forum members (and happy spring!),

I went for many snowy drives to and from the barn and elsewhere this winter with the Mannering cds playing and me listening, and I worked on applying them in the groundwork that Lou (the horse) and I did.

So yes, I do have questions. I wonder a little bit where to start, so instead of attempting to recount my many trains of thought regarding progress made, get into details about how the groundwork progressed, or to collect all questions into one long post, I think that I will begin with just two (very much related). Of course I have developed my own answers to these, at least partially, but I think it's better to ask them here, unless you'd like me to air my ideas on the answers first.

1) How to best translate the groundwork, esp. going to your room, to work under saddle?
2) What are next steps for me to learn to apply these lessons during (before, I would think) times when the horse is in turmoil, birdy is elsewhere, and flight response has kicked in?

Thank you.





-


Last edited on Fri Apr 21st, 2017 02:22 pm by devvie

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Apr 29th, 2017 05:43 am
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Devvie, thank you for the consideration and thoughtfulness in actually DOING as I suggested. The reward for this, almost without exception, is that the person so willing finds that "it works", and their horse and their relationship with their horse improves.

It is good to try to distill your many questions down into a crucial few. One question can contain many, and the INITIAL answer to any one question will usually lead to at least partial answers to many others.

So to your queries.

(1) This is multiplex and will evolve as your skills and perceptions evolve. For the moment, if the horse is liable to get "lost", then what you do is you dismount, lead him over to the drum, put him on it, and you both chill for a while. You get him up there and you let him settle and you leave him until just before he shows signs of wanting to get down on his own initiative.

(2) This is the same question as no. 1 in another form. You are correct in thinking that a great key lies in getting your spoke in BEFORE the horse's Birdie leaves. My question to you is, therefore, are you working on your own perceptivity? It is neither wise nor really allowable for the person to "fall asleep" whenever they are around a horse, either in the saddle or on the ground. The horse needs your support at all times.

Now, if you don't have a drum and haven't built one yet, go to Google advanced search per directions given in thread above this one on front page of forum, follow all directions and enter "drum", "drum work", "building a drum" as keywords and it will pull numerous different designs contributed previously by our readership here.

If after that you need specific directions as to how to begin drum work, then write back. After a snowy winter this will be great fun and a good project as spring begins in Ontario. -- Dr. Deb

devvie
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 Posted: Mon May 15th, 2017 03:28 pm
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Hi,

Thanks for your response.

Regarding your question, "My question to you is, therefore, are you working on your own perceptivity?" my first response is a happy YES: this has been key in any improvements made since we began the groundwork. Or perhaps less perceptivity and more ACTING on perceptions.

In short, during the course of the groundwork I realized that, despite having worked around horses for a long time and possessing what I think is a very decent grasp of their body language based on hours of paying attention to them, I would not react at the first inkling, instead opting to take a wait and see approach. (My coach, of course, has been telling me this for years, but I'm finally absorbing, to her amusement/suffering).

Therefore I have been working at reacting immediately, at the first sign. An example of this would be when Lou the horse is, say, thinking about doing a 180 back in the direction of the barn (which in his case means popping his shoulder a little out to the right as he always spins right). In the past I would absolutely notice this but not act on it until it escalated into a stronger signal. Now I'm working on reacting instantly -- which in this case would be putting my right leg on and basically telling him, buddy, I know what you are up to here, no way, forward and straight please, and rewarding him when he does.

Secondly I would comment that I'm also working on being more attentive -- trying to get ahead of him -- when we're out doing things. I'm trying to notice things before he does so that I can, uh, how to say this, better support him when he gets freaked out/show him that I am listening.

Finally, I do have one follow up question at the moment. Regarding the drum: most of our issues are when we're out on the road or on trails, so perhaps my question should have been more specific: 1) How to best translate the groundwork, esp. going to your room, to work under saddle away from the barn and out in the open.

(This is not to say that I don't plan on beginning the drum work, but this horse and I both benefit from being out on trails and we don't like to dull ourselves with too much ringwork, and ultimately the ringwork is all about making him brave and obedient enough to go pretty much anywhere. Also, cross country jumping is one of our activities, and to do this confidently he must go out on his own, away from other horses, with confidence.)

He's become better and better about going out alone, but there are still moments.
Currently I halt when these moments happen (because more often than not if I ask him to walk forward, he goes backwards, sideways, or up. Since I know this, I now opt to ask him to whoa instead), wait for him to lower his head, and ask him to walk on after that. If that doesn't succeed, I simply dismount, lead him forward, and mount again when I think he's calmed. I then ask him to walk forward again away from home. If he doesn't, I dismount again and give him still another lead. He does not get to turn around and head home. Some days he doesn't need this lead, other days he does.

Thank you again.


Last edited on Mon May 15th, 2017 03:32 pm by devvie

devvie
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 Posted: Thu Jul 27th, 2017 06:19 pm
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Hello to all,

OK, Dr. Deb, I have my drum at last and am ready to begin. I did not see a thread on beginning the work, and would appreciate guidance on how to begin.


DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jul 28th, 2017 08:37 pm
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Devvie, start by reading this thread:

http://www.esiforum.mywowbb.com/forum1/649.html

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Jul 31st, 2017 07:03 am
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....it's been several days and I am assuming, Devvie, that you have been reviewing the thread suggested above. This to start with.

However, not to make any mystery of it, I understand you're asking for step-by-step directions too. So, let us begin.

Have your horse in the halter and 8- or 9-foot lead rope. It will be helpful if the lead rope attaches to the halter by a lanyard knot rather than a bull snap. This work can be done with the standard bull snap, but it's quite a bit more comfortable for the horse if there is just a lanyard knot, instead. This leads me to mention that there's a reason we usually see rope halters with long leads sold with the bull snap, which was not the original design -- the bull snap makes the outfit into a kind of hybrid between the correct design and "standard" Pony Club web halter and lead. The reason is that people want to turn their horse out without taking the halter off; they want to turn the horse out by just unsnapping the lead.

Of course, this is horribly dangerous and should never, ever be done. Why it's dangerous is that a loose horse wearing a halter can get the halter caught on just about fifty million different things that can be found in a pasture, paddock, or stall. Or, he can put a hoof into it, no matter how snugly you think it's on there. And if he does any of those things, you've got a wreck and a permanently damaged horse.

So why do people turn their horse out with the halter on (they know this stuff as well as I do?)? Because....they can't catch their horse. And they can't catch their horse because they have not taught him to come at call; and the reason they have not taught him this is that they totally misunderstand how to use a round pen. So you see, Devvie, there's already more to this than you might have been thinking.

But. Let us assume you have a rope halter and an 8 or 9-foot lead rope, the lead rope being made of 7/8ths-inch yacht braid, which is of a perfect weight for all the uses we intend to put it to. The very tail-end of the lead rope should have any one of three configurations: either (1) A rubber disk, (2) a pair of leather thongs like a "snake tongue" braided in; or (3) a knot. The reason you need these things is so that the tail-end of the lead rope feels different than the rest of it; and so there's some kind of swelling at the end of it, so that when you are working your horse with him all the way out to the end of the line, the knot or thick spot provides just a little extra bump against which you can grip.

Before getting your horse, you will have first been out in the arena, and what I want you to do is set up one single ground pole. Ideally it will be the kind of pole that has been milled to have flat sides so as not to roll; and it will be at least eight feet long, as most standard jump equipment is. If the only kind of pole you've got around the place is round, you can do two things -- either go ahead and use that pole, but bury it halfway in the arena footing and tamp it in firmly, so that it will not roll. Or else, go find an 8-foot long board and use that instead.

Bring your horse into the arena wearing the halter and lead. Start driving him at a walk per the directions given in the "Mannering Your Horse" audio lesson. Before beginning this work you should in any case be able to drive a horse to any target in an arena on the longe.

Drive the horse in a circle so that the circle comes near one end of the pole or board but the horse does not actually step over it. Drive him to the right this way, then reverse and drive him to the left on the same track.

Now come back to longeing clockwise and adjust the track so that the horse does have to step over the board -- remember, at a WALK. Having had a good opportunity to look at the board or pole before being asked to cross it usually takes care of any difficulties; but if the horse does anything at all other than just take an ordinary walk step over the obstacle, then stop him, reel the line up, change to a length that you would use merely to lead the horse by, and then lead him up to and over the obstacle with yourself stepping over it also. It is not rare to find a horse who thinks the pole is going to jump up and whack him in the belly just when his body is crossing it. We want the animal to have absolutely zero fear of our equipment, that's why we do this.

Once that's the case and he's good with crossing the pole at a walk on the longe, have him longe over it in both directions at a trot. When that is easy and no problem, you're ready for session no. 2, which can occur immediately thereafter or the next day.

Having listened to the "Mannering Your Horse" lessons, you already have taught the horse to step back one step at a time, first by touching the halter, and later by standing back at the end of the line and shaking the line to him. Now it's time to set up the exact same lesson, only you're going to have the pole between you and the horse. So you lead him up to the pole, stop him when he's a couple feet back from it, turn to face him, and yourself step backwards over the pole.

Now, lift your rein hand and tug lightly, encouraging the horse to come forward to you. Be on your toes: again, if he suddenly gets it into his head to leap over the pole, he may charge over you or land on you. What we want is just for him to step forward over the pole.

At first, have him step forward one, two, three, all four feet and then stop. To make room for his whole body to come onto your side of the pole, you'll probably have to step back softly as he comes forward. Be careful you do not bend forward at the waist while you back up, instead keep your eyes up and on him and your chest up and forward.

Once he's crossed over, go pet him and then lead him off away from the pole. Then set it up again and repeat several times.

Next lesson is for you to get your timing good enough to where you can stop him exactly precisely, without forceful aids or coming "at" him at all. Set him up in front of the pole, and then yourself step backwards over the pole as before. Call him forward to you as before, but now be prepared to tell him "whoa" and give him a shake with the line as if you were suddenly wanting him to step back. Understand that a stop is nothing but a backup that doesn't go anywhere; so the same aids he already knows for stepping back are just as handy and just as appropriate for stopping him. Your objective is to time it so that you get him stopped with only his two front feet on your side of the pole, but his two back feet are still behind the pole. Now you understand why it was so important that he not feel like the pole is going to fly up; he has to be willing to stand there with his body spanning the pole.

Don't be surprised if your timing turns out to suck.

This is plenty for one day. The next day your timing will be better. When it is better, and you can stop him easily every time with two-and-two, then it's time to move on to just one: you want to call him forward and you observe he does that by leading with one or the other forefeet. You let that forefoot pick up and start coming, and then you stop him so that he's got just one forefoot over the pole but the other still behind it. Your timing will suck on this too, for a while.

This is why regular practice is absolutely necessary. You're not going to be able to do this, neither is anybody on earth, unless they practice.

In case you're wondering when I'm going to tell you to go put him up on the drum, we'll be doing that after the next exercise, which you must perfect: you want to have him start forward, and then set the leading foot down ON the pole or board. This requires excellent timing. You will find that you either get him coming too strongly, or not strongly enough; you tell him to whoa and settle either too early, or too late, or too strongly, or not strongly enough. You will have to work it out. Note that this balance will be different with every different horse.

Once you can get him to plunk one foot down onto the pole or board, then you want to make sure he is willing to weight that foot. He needs to put the normal 50% of the forehand weight onto that foot, not kind of just tap the pole or kind of avoid it: we are after a full commitment of weight. Do make sure that the pole or board is stout enough that it doesn't bend or crack under his weight.

Once you can get one foot to land on the "target", then you work it out to where you can get him to stand up on the target first with the hoof he likes to lead with, followed immediately by the second hoof, so he's standing there, proud as Punch, on top of the pole. And this is the first time he will have mounted the drum.

Work on this, Devvie, and I certainly hope it will not be an entire YEAR before you get back with a report. it would seem to me that you might be getting kind of tired of having a "spooky, nappy horse" -- but, like most people, you may not have really seen the connection with doing what I am telling you to do, and having that spooky nappy B.S. disappear for ever. -- Dr. Deb


devvie
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 Posted: Mon Jul 31st, 2017 06:53 pm
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Again, hi everyone, and Dr. Deb, thank you so so very much for providing this introduction to teaching to step up onto the drum. I am new to this kind of focused ground work, so it's very valuable to me.

I did read the thread suggested and therefore am not one little bit surprised that we're going to learn this one step at a time.

Your explanation of first steps is clear to me and I will let you know how it goes -- in under a year, no less (laughs at self.)


Last edited on Mon Jul 31st, 2017 07:00 pm by devvie

devvie
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 Posted: Wed Aug 23rd, 2017 03:14 pm
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Hello all,

Well, I've done five sessions of about ten minutes (or less) each. For anyone who might be wondering, I am using the EXACT equipment recommended, a rope halter with tied-on lead rope (no clip) and a flat plank, not a round pole.

Where we're at? No problem stepping over one foot at a time, although sometimes I'm not quick enough and the second front foot follows the first.

In every session but the first one, we've got one or both front feet landing on that plank, but he's not fully weighting them/not keeping them there and often is putting a foot down on the plank, weighting it part way, picking it up a moment later, and then setting it down on "my" side. So that's where I have to work on my timing.

He's VERY good at placing both feet JUST on my side of the plank and keeping them there, so I'm hoping that we're close. This is a horse who is accustomed to doing a lot of trot poles/cavaletti, so he is used to stepping over, not on.

I'm getting the "hey, need your attention" nudge/nostril on my arm that is detailed in the mannering cds after about the 3rd try, so keeping the sessions very short in response to that.



Last edited on Wed Aug 23rd, 2017 03:19 pm by devvie

Aloha
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 Posted: Wed Aug 23rd, 2017 05:51 pm
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That thread Dr. Deb suggested above is excellent reading. In my experience, I would replace the word "pride" with "jealousy" however.

Dr. Deb should be thankful that she and I aren't at the same barn, as I would probably pester her to death. She'd pack up and move in the middle of the night. LOL. Unfortunate that the other boarders don't see the learning opportunity before them.

Devvie, my thinking about the plank is: start with a wider plank!
It's fun though isn't it? When one foot is on the plank, to "hold" it (keep it weighted) there with your mind. Then "hold" it while bringing the other foot up onto it. It's like walking and chewing gum at the same time. I did alot of this with my new horse (as well as my others), which eventually led to loading into the horse trailer. It's all the same stuff!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 02:16 am
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Yes, you beat me to it, Aloha, in making the suggestion that Devvie start with a wider plank. Also, be sure the horse doesn't know something about it that you don't, i.e., make certain it's not going to bend or crack or give way beneath him.

And -- don't be in ANY hurry. At any time. Over any thing. Catch yourself strictly -- are you hustling the horse, silently saying to yourself, 'why don't you hurry up and do this'? Because if you are, I promise, the horse can hear it, and it will make him antsy and unable to settle. You gotta have the peace inside yourself so that he can have peace inside himself.

Persist, with great patience; you'll make it, and as Aloha says, 'it's all the same stuff' because success with the board leads directly to trailer loading and also getting up on the 'tall board', i.e., that's all the circus drum is, is a tall board. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

devvie
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 Posted: Fri Sep 15th, 2017 09:37 am
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Well, last night was my first groundwork session since my last update (was away travelling for a couple of weeks). I tried a wider and more solid plank. He stepped onto it with first one foot and then another on the very first try. He only stood for about a second before he removed one foot to position himself to turn and bite at a fly, but I was still so pleased. In my part of the world, pesky biting flies that look like houseflies are just terrible right now. We left it at that (too buggy to ask for more I thought) but will aim for a repeat again in the next day or two.

Thanks for the suggestions everyone. Looking forward to the next steps.

Last edited on Fri Sep 15th, 2017 09:39 am by devvie


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