The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:37 pm 
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Both of my minis were very roughly handled by the breeder I got them from. They experienced way too much force and domination. They were wrestled and manhandled to get their hooves trimmed, and halter training was probably done in a very similar way.

This didn't damage Eldora, the youngest, too badly, but she's a more extroverted girl and not afraid to fight back. She was a big kicker and biter, but she's learned I'm different from the previous humans she knew. Plus she was just 2 when I got her, so she was handled abusively for less than her sister.

Her sister, Tara, is a different story. She's a very sensitive girl, but very introverted. If you make any mistake or do something that makes her uncomfortable, it takes a very long time for her to come around again. She was 3 when I got her. We have a pretty good relationship, until I try to halter her. She will not let me do more than just let the halter hang on her nose.

On top of the abuse, the previous owners also weren't good at keeping up with routine care. As far as I know, they've never had their teeth floated by a dentist...and that's something I really would like to get taken care of. For this, and because being comfortable wearing a halter and being led are going to be important in the future, I really would like to figure out how I can help her learn that a halter isn't scary.

I don't think my dentist can work on her without her wearing a halter. It was quite a project finding a farrier who would trim hooves on a horse at liberty, but I did.

One of the first things I realized is that the metal sounds the hardware on a halter makes makes her nervous. So I made a rope halter. This she'll let me hang on her nose, but more than that makes her nervous. She's ok with me touching all over her head, ears and mouth.

Most of our play has been about basic ground manners. Letting me pick up her hooves and clean them out at liberty. Scratching and grooming at liberty. And we had one go at 'run with me'. I know she's more comfortable with me than she was when we met, but she doesn't totally trust me yet. If I wasn't concerned about the state of her teeth, I wouldn't be making a big deal about this. But I really would like her to be looked at by my dentist, and I don't know any way to do this without a halter on her head. Or is there another way?

With Eldora, I just have to hold out the halter so that the nose hole is open. If she wants to wear it, she'll put her nose in the hole and I can fasten the halter. Tara may or may not put her nose in the nose hole, but she panics when she feels any pressure on it. I can hold it there, but I can't pull it up into position to fasten it. When she panics, I remove the halter and reassure her. And either move to grooming and scratching her or letting her leave if she wants to. I've also been trying to let her see me haltering her sister with the same halter.

I'm not yet working with food rewards. They were both really, really bad about mugging and pushing me around for food. I've been trying to build a relationship by respecting personal space, spending time together and mutual grooming before using food.

Also, any suggestions on getting video by myself? I don't have a video camera, but my cell phone will take video.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:57 pm 
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I had a similar situation with Pia when I bought her at the age of two. She had not been mistreated but was not used to humans at all and completely freaked out as soon as she felt pressured or trapped. She was wearing a halter already, but it was impossible to apply pressure to it. If you want to read about it in her diary, here is a link to the posts from that time.

Basically, what I did was showing her that she was not trapped and could always break free without any trouble. So after a while she realized that it was not necessary to "break free", because you could also just "step free" so to speak, only using minimal effort to make the pressure go away. Once Pia had understood this, the pressure wasn't as scary anymore, and only then I could gradually increase it.

For us that's the same in all other situation as well, and one of the main lessons I have learned from Pia: to never make a pony feel trapped but always make sure that he feels like he can easily get out of the situation. :smile:


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:01 pm 
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sayyadina wrote:
I'm not yet working with food rewards. They were both really, really bad about mugging and pushing me around for food.
We have a lot of threads about just that topic, if you want to work on food manners. Not that I want to talk you into food rewards, it's just that I can't think of any better way to deal with fear issues like you face with your girls than with food rewards.

I found with Mucki that things lose it's terror once he deliberately decides to face it on his own. And that I can only convey him with treats. For example, when I tried to touch his eye-lids to examine his eyes, he wouldn't let me and struggle if I wanted to hold him. When I started to teach him to target my hollow hand with his eye, he decided himself to 'give' me his eyes and so it was OK for me to touch it and examine it.

I believe the same could work with the halter. You could try to use the halter as a target and reinforce every interaction with it greatly. Later when touching it is already a good experience, you can progress to ask for putting the nose in it on their own and then even push into the halter. So they would teach themselves that pressure on the nose by a halter is not necessarily a bad thing.
I can only imagine such an approach with positive reinforcement though. It may work without treats of course, I just think they would make it a lot easier :f:.

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 25, 2013 9:34 pm 
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You were both so right! Romy, about not letting her feel trapped and Volker, about using treats.

I got out the clicker I bought several years ago, and went to work. Luckily, Tara was in one of the 2 stalls I have when I went out this morning, so I was able to get her by herself.

We first started targeting my hand. Once she caught on to that, we moved on to targeting my hand with the halter around my arm. And then touching the halter. Sticking her nose in the halter. Holding the halter on her face. Loosely securing the halter on her head. And finally having the halter properly secure on her. Such a brave little pony! :applause: :applause: :applause:

I did ask a couple of times for her to step back (walking into her, as she backed up). She seemed to catch on not to get too close.

And she didn't seem to get really stressed at all during the whole process.

To top it all off, she was perfect for the farrier. :yeah:


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 25, 2013 9:46 pm 
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That's wonderful! :cheer: Not only that it worked at all, but especially that you were able to make it a pleasant experience for Tara. :clap:

You probably won't need it anymore now, but perhaps for others who will read this thread later: We also have a sticky about Dealing with scared horses, where some more ideas are collected. :smile:


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:53 pm 
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Excellent! :applause: You did a great job, obviously! Such progress in such a short time is fantastic...
And great that it helped for the farrier too.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 17, 2013 12:41 am 
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Copying a part of a post in my diary of the other horses, about a halter training session with a filly...

The halter thing was much easier than I had thought, because the difficulty the young pony lady had was exactly the thing I don't do, anyway: the fear of being restricted. It was easy for her to sniff and touch the halter, but as soon as someone tried to hold her head or put the halter over her ears, she wanted to run away. There were two main things I did. First, I reacted to each of her attempts to flee or even her moments of hesitation by backing off, either literally moving away or just shifting my focus backwards away from her. Therefore, she saw that there was no need to get away, because that's what I already did. The second thing was that I turned the restriction into a part of something she liked: being scratched. I started by scratching her chest and then gradually moved up to her head, until I could scratch it with a hand on each side, including her ears. In that way, holding her head was just a normal part of the massage, during which I first moved the halter onto her nose and then over her ears, almost coincidentally. She could not have cared less. We did this many times and I made it more and more difficult by decreasing the scratching part and making the whole thing more about the halter per se. After our training, it was possible to halter her from all kinds of positions and also in rather uncareful ways.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 07, 2013 5:18 pm 
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Copying a response I posted in Ayla's diary:

I guess Ayla isn't scared of any other piece of cloth you have on you, like for example your jacket, is she? If not, you could ask yourself what you are doing differently with the halter. Probably, whereas any other piece of cloth is something you are just carrying around for yourself, the halter is something you are trying to impose on her. If that is the case, I would simply treat the halter like any other thing first: just hold it in your hand while interacting with her, or tie it to your belt, but don't try to move it towards her or put it on. Your mindset needs to be clear in that the halter is yours, not hers.

Once it is completely normal for her that the halter is on you while you are interacting, I would start playing around with the halter. But then again, this is something you do for yourself, not in relation to her. As Ayla is a curious little princess, she will probably start wondering what that interesting thing might be... after all it obviously fascinates you so that you are playing with it instead of attending to her. If she starts looking at it and trying to sniff it, I would even make a step back, as if you did not want her to touch it. Simply give her a reward for nothing in particular and continue playing with the halter. When she gets even more interested, you can present the halter to her, but just shortly and then immediately take it back and continue playing with it. The more scarce the halter is, the more interesting it will become for her. In that way, the message you are giving to her is not that you want to put it on her but that she is allowed to join in in your play, if she really, really wants to.

While playing with the halter together, you can move it (again not in order to bring it towards her but just because you are moving it for yourself), and accidentally touch Ayla with it. Just briefly, and then take it back. I would not wait with that until she gets uncomfortable but do it before she can even think of it. In that way, she won't even get to the point where she can find it scary.

In terms of your attitude, I would focus on the following things: The halter is yours, not hers. It's your favourite toy, and you only bring it to the pasture because you want to have it with you. Have you ever noticed how horses always seem to want to eat people's mobile phones or cameras? I think that's exactly because people treat these objects like this: They use them for themselves without attending to the horse, and if anything, they try to keep the horses away from these objects. This creates that magic draw, and of course the same can be done with a halter.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 2:27 pm 
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I was doing some 'research' about haltering, because when Alba came, she was wearing a halter, but I had no idea how that was put on, and expected her to have problems haltering...

I came across a few links that I thought were worth while (though it is the same as
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ-6MwbxaXw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUE7MCv0Q5Y

In the end, Alba had no trouble haltering... but I still want to like to play with the 'self-haltering' a bit more.

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