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ESI Q and A Forums > ESI Q and A Forum > Questions and discussions for the ESI Q and A Forum > Working with the horse that does not have much "try"

Working with the horse that does not have much "try"
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Redmare
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 Posted: Fri Jul 13th, 2018 08:21 pm
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Hi Dr. Deb, I always appreciate your insight so I am hoping you have some advice to impart on another particular horse.

I have been working to help him find some middle ground and feel better about trying things. I think he believes if he tries something he'll be either punished if it's wrong or not given a release and so he either kind of blows you off/is apathetic about it or he panics about the fact that you are asking something and becomes tense. He is otherwise a pleasant horse with a very gentle disposition.

I just came back from apprenticing with a long-time student of Buck's and she helped me tremendously to get much more efficient and clear with several things. With this horse in particular, I am finding the changes I'm asking him to make are being met with greater anxiety than other horses I'm working with and I believe it to be at least partly related to his tendency to live in this kind of place mentally. He is giving me good tries and showing me he understands what I'm asking, but he maintains a level of anxiety/concern that most of the other horses only have at first when they aren't sure/haven't figured out the right answer yet. Once they get it and find the release a couple times, the concern fades. Not so with this horse.

Is it reasonable to expect that - like we have talked about with horses who have been generally not OK for some time - that it can take quite a while for a horse with this kind learned mentality to get confident in consistently trying again? I would presume that - like the generally not OK horses - a horse that has been essentially taught that it doesn't matter what he does, he will not get a release for his try (or worse, will get punished for it) will not believe you when you say "here, think about this, offer something". I would presume he may need some time, maybe even years of working with someone with good feel and timing, to get confident about offering something? And/or, that he may spend some time, maybe even years, not feeling entirely OK when he offers something up - even if it's right and even if there is a release - because he has known otherwise for so long?


(As an aside, I got to meet Lee Smith and Joe Wolter while I was out working with Buck's student - I would highly, highly recommend to anyone that if you have the means and opportunity go spend even as little as a weekend auditing one of these folks who have worked with Ray or Tom or Buck, to do it. Better still, go ride with them. And if you don't have the means or opportunity, find one. The difference I've felt having lived it for two weeks versus read it and watched from the fence line the last few years is something I'm still trying to find words for...it hits you that deeply.)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Jul 14th, 2018 04:01 pm
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Redmare, first off just to say, all I can do is agree with all your "guesses" about what's going on inside this horse who is timid or has been made timid and unwilling to risk trying. And yes -- it might take a long time to get him into a new pattern of thinking and greater confidence.

On the other hand -- sometimes it will flat-out surprise you, because it isn't always a "gradual" process. Sometimes it's more like you're loading him up, and the day comes when his load of internal good feelings hits a turnover point or you might say "reaches a critical mass," and then bang all of a sudden he's a different horse altogether. It would be good to remember this because if it happens you'll not want to miss it through expecting him to still be like he was originally!

Another suggestion I can give you is this: figure out to try some stuff that NOBODY ever showed this horse before. So if he came off some kind of ranch where they had cattle, for example, we know how excellent cattle can be for the development of a horse. However, if his many little punishments were around cattle, then cattle aren't going to be the best thing for him right at first. Instead, build yourself a circus drum if you haven't already, and teach him to step up on that with his front feet and then tell him how very handsome he does look up there. And when he's got that little smile on his face from that, after a couple of days then teach him to hold one front foot up ("wave goodbye") and then switch feet and wave goodbye with the other front foot. Many horses positively get a chortle out of this.

Another good one will be to teach him to roll a ball with his nose, you know, one of those "physio" balls. Kind of under-inflate it so it doesn't roll all skittery, at first, and he has to push it some (or "kneeing it" is OK too), in order to get it to move. You want to build this up to where he feels so dominant to the ball that he might just reach down and bite it. Great if he does that (though it may cost you another $15 for a replacement ball).

Once he knows to do this, you'd be ready for one of my new favorites -- get an old polo mallet and get him broke to you swinging it while sitting on him. Then get a white polo ball (or a white or light green tennis ball, the object being that it's real easy for him to see), and bring him up to it at a halt and then swing the mallet and let it smack the ball fairly gently, so he sees the ball moving away from him to the front. Then kind of fast walk up to the ball and smack it again. And so on, zigzagging all over the arena. The idea here is to get him "into" the game of chasing the ball, which again almost always works to bring up their confidence as well as being a good fun game. Eventually you might even be able to raise the speed to almost what they would do in real polo -- pretty fast. And what a great way to make "riding to the target" be a LOT more fun as well as making the target more obvious to the horse. Credit old Henry Blake for this idea.

In short -- try to find stuff he hasn't done before, which is the equivalent in this situation to re-training a horse that has been coerced and hurt when originally taught to bow or rear, by simply re-training him with different cues from the other side of his body. And be on the lookout for that ever-so-shy little sideways glance (where he's checking to see if you're looking), where he's got a wee little smile on his face, and then two seconds later you can expect to see or hear him ask you a question, or make some kind of offer, even if it's only to touch you with the side of his nostril. But it might also be a broad "play invitation," i.e. often through gently taking ahold of a fold of your shirtsleeve -- not a nip and not intended to be a nip, more of a little pull. When he's doing that, his armor is down at least for the moment, and that's your opportunity to tell him what a handsome young man he is and would he like to earn a bit of carrot by giving you another try on a plie bow, or perhaps (under saddle) deepen the bend a bit more on that 8M volte? Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Wed Jul 18th, 2018 04:54 pm
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Thank you so much as usual, Dr. Deb.

I have taught this horse to fetch using the tube sock and carrot method you described somewhere in this thread as he had troubles with taking the bridle/bit a while back, and he very much enjoys this now. I am excited about the mallet game, so I'll get to work on finding that which he does not know!

Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Oct 4th, 2018 04:38 pm
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Dr. Deb - can you advise what I might do differently in this situation?

I am going to get this horse on cattle as soon as I can, but in the mean time I've been working with the physio ball. On the ground, the gelding is totally uninterested in the ball. I have taught him a request to touch it with his nose, but I'm having a hard time getting him to progress from touching it to actually making it move. Sometimes I just kick it ahead, lead him up to it again, ask him to touch it and see if gets the idea in his head that HE might be able to move it, but he just touches it and then either gets distracted or gets a wide-eyed look like often does when faced with something new where I know he knows he's being asked to do something, but he doesn't know what and he's afraid to try.

Interestingly, under saddle, when I direct him up the ball, he tries to put his foot on it like it was a pedestal! Or, he picks his foot up and either paws at it or places his knee on it and rocks it around a bit. But he seems lost on the idea that HE could move it and I am unsure how to help him see this. I think having this horse track something would be IMMENSELY helpful to drawing him out as his tendency is to get rooted deep inside himself.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Oct 4th, 2018 07:22 pm
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Sooooo....fix up a hay net to put around the ball, attach a long cord or soft rope to the hay net, and you walk ahead and pull it as a drag. Have the horse you're trying to train in a halter, and have a trusted helper hold the lead rope, which should be as loose as possible at all times.

If the gelding looks away or loses interest, then the helper is to bump him with the lead rope so as to remind him, "look at the ball".

Your job requires excellent timing -- you want the gelding to touch the ball, then as soon as he touches it, you pull it ahead. "How much" ahead you will have to decide; a little bit at first, not too vigorously. The idea is to get him to continually come up to the ball, hopefully even aggress the ball some.

Big reward from your helper, too, who should be carrying a pocketful of carrot chunks or other favorite treat -- reward when he touches the ball, but withhold treat after the first couple of touches until he actually places the dorsal aspect of his nose against the rear contour of the ball and pushes. When trying to get him to push, it is helpful for the person with the treat to squat down or bend down and hold the treat LOW, almost under the contour of the ball, making the horse have to "dig" for it....as a side effect of the digging, he may accidentally bump the ball and cause it to roll, which is what you are aiming to reward him for, rather than merely touching it.

After he pushes the ball the first time, DO NOT drag it anymore...or maybe only one more time, if the first try at this was kind of weak. The whole purpose of the drag is merely to just get him to realize "oh, the ball can go forward as a result of my touching it." After he makes it go himself, then after that we hope to have him be the one who makes it go forward ever afterwards.

Let me know how this works out. This sounds to me like a horse who needs really concrete examples. -- Dr. Deb

Aloha
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 Posted: Fri Oct 5th, 2018 06:59 pm
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I was going to suggest putting a bit of hay underneath the ball to see if he could figure out to give it a little push, like they do when they are moving their hay pile around.

I once taught my old Appaloosa to open a mailbox by putting handfulls of grass in it. I was going to post this yesterday, but it has taken me this long to try and remember WHY I was teaching my horse to open a mailbox all those years ago! Best I can come up with is that he was afraid of the mailbox and they had one in a trail obstacle class I was planning on signing up for.

I find it absolutely fascinating to work with the horses in this way. Not to mention a whole lot of fun. Setting things up to let them figure stuff out.

Good luck!


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