The Art of Natural Dressage

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 Post subject: Being a leader
PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2007 4:55 pm 
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Often in other forums, you see questions about how to address a situation with a "pushy" horse - or a horse that runs into you, or dances around you, or gets nervous and forgets you are there. How to make them stop pushing, if the horse is always right? I would like to suggest that you don't MAKE them stop, but you don't ignore the situation either. Provided that one's personal safety is addressed (ie, don't put yourself into a situation you where you will get run over), then I would like to start a discussion that would address this issue, with specific things you can try to help overcome the problem of a horse that "forgets" you are there, tries to rush past you, or runs into you, or worse, runs right over top of you (been there! done that! OUCH!).

I'm paraphrasing, but someone once said that if you have a horse that is afraid of being eaten by a cougar (or a lawn mower, or a bit of paper that blows by, or the wind, or a stick on the path) you don't have to desensitize a horse to cougars - you just have to convince the horse that you are a cougar-eater.

That means, that as long as the horse is secure in the fact that you will not let anything bad happen to him/her, he/she will not be jumpy, and they will look to you for protection and security, rather than looking past you for an escape route which may, in fact, be right over your head. If a horse will look to you for safety, they will take their cue on whether or not to run away, or to stand firm and calm, from you. Their leader.

So how to get this leadership?

Well, you can force it. If you do though, you not only get a horse that is calm, but you get one who's spirit is broken. You get a deadened, apathetic calm rather than interested self control.

So another way to get it, is to experience the world with your horse, and through slowly showing them that any frightening thing is something you are not concerned with, then they come to trust your judgement. Within that trust (which must never be broken!!!), comes calm awareness. They no longer rush around you in a panic, they no longer push past you to get away from something, and they no longer choose to run over top of you to escape the situation. You are exploring together, but you are leading the exploration.

You will see in my diary of Tamarack, that I will explore many strange objects with him. I will find something he is unsure of and I will endeavor to show him through my relaxed body language and feigned disinterest, that it is nothing to fear. Whether it is a large ball, an innertube, a hula hoop, a barbeque, a strange building covered with a tarp, a puddle, a large wooden box to stand on.

With the box, I showed him that I could stand on it. I suggested to him that if he wanted to, he could stand on it too. With the tarp covered building, I stepped inside of it and sat down so he could see that I wasn't afraid that it would swallow me whole. When I knelt down, I did not look at my horse...I looked around me at the object and acted very comfortable. I invited him in by clcuking to him to ask him to come forward, but I did not pull on the line. I did not say he HAD to come in. I simply told him it was safe, so give it a try.

I do not force him (or Cisco) ever to confront something. I confront it first, with him behind me, then when I say it is safe (and I make darn sure it is), then I suggest that he could check it out as well.

When confronting a scary thing for the first time, your own safety is assured (pretty well), by keeping your body between your horse and the object. If the horse is going to bolt, he will run away from the object. So the safest place to be is closer to the object than your horse.

As you approach the item, allow your horse to hang back as far as he needs to, in order to feel comfortable. If you are staying close to your horse, or beside your horse, then stop when they stop. Keep your body relaxed, and keep your energy low and confident.

Keep your eyes on the object. Do not turn and stare at your horse as you approach the object. By doing so, you direct energy and uncertainty at the horse. In essence, by staring at the horse, I believe you are asking the horse whether either of you should approach the object or not. That would be a mistake. The idea is to show the horse that you can make a sound decision for both of you - confidently, like any good leader can.

If the horse hangs backand does not want to approach too close, do not pull the horse closer. Simply stop, stand relaxed for a moment, then gently ask the horse to back away from it. Do not turn and possibly put yourself in harms way (with the horse between you and the item). Backing slowly is best, but if you must turn the horse away from the object, make sure you stay between the horse and the object.

If you back or turn away, then go for a walk. Walk around and relax. When the horse is relaxed, turn and approach the object again. Keep up with approach and retreat, approach and retreat until you can calmly get right up to the object.

If it is a small object that you can pick up, then do so, and carry it with you. Walk on with the object, study it in your hands as you walk. Show interest in the object, but again, do not look at the horse. You may stop and play with the object, but all play must directed away from the horse. You may kneel down and look at it on the ground. Turn it this way and that in your hands and be increasingly interested in a very relaxed way. Be sure always to maintain a relaxed body posture. If the horse is relaxed, you may toss the item ahead of you, away from the horse. If at some point the horse wishes to see what is so interesting, allow him to check it out. Again, be careful to keep yourself in a safe place. A horse may put it's nose on something, then spook himself at the contact, and jump back. Make sure you are not in the way. As the horse checks it out, again, do NOT watch the horse's face. Use your peripheral vision only to keep track of the horse's postion and response.

If you can not get right up to the object, get to the closest point where your horse remains calm and relaxed with you, praise, and end it there. You can get closer on another day.

Each time the horse relaxes, there should be praise. A kind rub, a cookie, and gentle and soothing word. It doesn't matter if it is right at the object. What you are reinforcing is a calm and relaxed response from your horse.

As your horse becomes more convinced in your good judgement, he will become increasingly secure in your leadership and be more relaxed.

This is how I choose to become a "leader". Not by showing my horse I can make his feet move. Not by waving my arms and making him move away from me. Not by forcing him to submit to being near something he may see as terrifying.

We do it gradually, over time, proving myself over and over again to him. That I am calm. I am aware. I have good judgment. I am trust worthy. As he becomes more secure in that, he becomes more aware of where I am and he is less likely to ever feel the need to rush past me (or over top of me) to save himself.

When my friend Paul Dufresne introduced me to this concept (he calls it "Training for Courage"), that is when my rocky relationship began to change with Cisco. That is where I truely discovered that Cisco never trusted me before. That he never saw me as one that worthy of being followed. I was not a leader he trusted.


It took a long time. It did not happen in a two day clinic. We had a teeter-totter bridge that took me several months to get Cisco to even stand on it calmly, let alone walk over it. I spent many days just getting Cisco to trust me enough to put one or two feet on it and to be relaxed while doing it. Under saddle, it was like starting from scratch. I had to convince him all over again that I was worthy of leading him through perceived dangers from his back.

Tamarack is naturally more brave than Cisco, so it is going easier with him. But I nevertheless have to prove myself to him, too, and I will take all the time I need to do it gently.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2007 5:44 pm 
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Karen, you describe so wonderful how this works. Thank you very much!

I understand this theory, I know how to do this, but it doesn't always work when practicing.

Quote:
Turn it this way and that in your hands and be increasingly interested in a very relaxed way. Be sure always to maintain a relaxed body posture.


This is the difficult thing for me. Sometimes I just know that Amiro will get stressed from a scary object, and when this object is in the middle of a crowded road I'm just not able to be relaxed. I pretend to be very relaxed, and humans believ me always when I'm pretending. Amiro doesn't believe me, I have to be relaxed, not only behave relaxed.

Now I'm thinking of it, I experienced a nice thing last week. I was walking with Amiro when we passed a field where we saw some air balloons. Amiro was first very scared, and normaly he's standing still when he's scared or walking backwards. I only get him passed something scary when I'm standing on his back and there tell him to move forward. I don't touch him, but take a "driving position".
This time, with the air balloons, I walked forward without looking at Amiro. He stood still for a moment but when he saw I ignored him he walked after me. His nose wide, his head high, with a ot of stress in his body, but he walked with me without any force from me. I was very happy!

Hm, I just need a bit more time to develop a trusting relationship. But, as I told, I see improvement :D


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 10:12 pm 
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What about horses that are pushy because of dominance- the hard to inspire lazy QH matriarch for example.

Geting my filly (no she isn't technically a filly, but I'll call her that when she is thirty!)to respond to Postive reinforcement is easy, but our QH mare- hmmmmm, I'm not saying it is imposible- but I can't imagine having to start with a horse like her!!!

At least this type of horse is often food oriented! :wink: But also fat!!! How do you convince a fat lazy dominant horse to submit through good will (as opposed to submitting through many hard whacks with a big stick :D :lol: )

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 11:10 pm 
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Danee,

They don't submit. It isn't a matter of submission. The last thing you want is a submissive horse. You don't have a partnership with a submissive horse. If you have a horse that has submitted, you have a slave.

In a herd situation, (and someone PLEASE tell me if I am wrong here) a lead mare will give up it's leadership postion in the company of a mare better suited to the job. Without violence. A herd will follow the mare that leads them to water, to better grazing, to more suitable places to foal, that will fight to protect her followers. The lead mare may instigate a group attack on a percived threat. So the mare that proves herself worthy of being followed, is the lead mare. She doesn't have to push anyone around to get the position (although I suppose she may). It is awarded to her simply because she proved herself.

As for inspiring (a much better word!) a horse that seems unwilling to play, well...been there, done that! CISCO! Big, fat, and totally uninterested in doing anything he didn't have to do. Until my clicker came back out.

One little lightbulb went on. Then another. Then another. In time, he more resembled a string of Christmas lights, rather than one, dingy, dust covered, bare bulb.

With the right inspriation, even the most sedate will perk up as much as their REAL personality will allow them. But it takes time for that personality to come back. A horse that has always just submitted (and submitting doesn't mean they totally gave up thier spirit, they just packed it away for the most part), will eventually come back around, once they trust that someone is listening. But it can take a long time.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 11:22 pm 
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And I would add one sentence from Alexander - do not irritate your horse :lol: like this:

Image

this is her today's answer to my cue for spanish walk ;)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 11:24 pm 
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Ah, it's nice to see your horse is not shy about talking to you! :lol:


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2007 7:06 am 
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Quote:
Ah, it's nice to see your horse is not shy about talking to you!
:lol: :lol: :lol:

Submit was a bad word which is why I added "through good will" but that doesn't exactly make it a good word, does it!

I played with two calm, lazy horses yesterday (not mine) and I ran around with them online and got them moving. I did have to pester to get them to first open up, and I did have to assert control here and there as there were other horses and people in the ring, so it wasn't ideal, but they both started bucking and kicking and the one in particular was kinda confused about the whole thing. When she saw that I liked the bucking it through her off. You could see her waiting to be disciplined, but also wondering if everything she thought she knew about acceptable behavior was wrong (like the look I gave when first finding this forum and realizing that as "advanced" as I am, I'm just a beginner again suddenly!) The owner had trouble getting a good response when asking the mare to back from the ground. After all the running, I asked her to back (albiet, Parelli style) and her response was SOOOOO much better!

But those two horses do play in the field when no humans are holding them. Our QH mare doesn't even play with our herd. The three year old tries so hard to goad her into taking a lap around the pasture or playing bite the face, but she acts like he isn't even there! This IS her real character! I'm not saying she is uninspirable, but just that at this early point in my journey, I wouldn't feel confident in my ability to do so. (I can hit her with a stick pretty good though :roll: )

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2007 5:33 pm 
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Danee wrote:

Quote:
Our QH mare doesn't even play with our herd.


Neither does Cisco.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2007 3:02 am 

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I have a question, not saying I don't agree with what is being said but looking at it from a different situation. How should would you handle a horse that walks up to you always with ears back and mean faced? Or when told to not do something like grab the bag from your hand turns thier butt on you and kicks you? Do you employ stay out of my personal space till invited and work from there? Just curious what ideas are out there on handling this.

Take care,
Eileen Darland

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2007 4:00 pm 
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We were discussing something similar yesterday (two ladies and myself at the stable)...but we were talking about horses in the herd (about fifty horses). A few of the horses can be quite pushy. Mostly just friendly mugging, looking for any handouts, but a couple of the horses can be quite jealous of someone coming to take their buddy away to the barn, or you could be getting your horse, another comes up to see what's going on, and a thrid horse of perhaps higher ranks comes up to push the other one away. This can result in a confrontation that you really don't want to be standing in the middle of!

One of the ladies had gone out to the pasture to catch her horse, and another horse came in quite aggressively and drove her horse away. She didn't know what to do, so we talked about the possiblities.

My advice to this lady was to read the horses. Keep your eyes open. If a horse you aren't catching comes up to you in a friendly way, but blocks your path, acknowledge the horse. Spend a moment with them, rub them, talk to them, then walk around them and continue on your way. If they follow you, then swing the rope and use your body language to tell them not to follow you.

If one comes up with ears back, then yes, safety first. Define your space immediately. You can swing a rope (and yes, I've made contact, but not hard), or just drive the horse off with your body language. There are some horses of lower rank that will respond very naturally if you turn your back and back toward them in a threatening way (as if you were another horse and ready to kick)...if they back off, you soften immediately and just carry on your way. A higher ranking horse may need a bit more convincing that you will not accept being run over so they can go after your horse.

Still others that may be softly pushy (a little too inquisitive, but definitely mean no harm), I will put my hand up and push their nose away. At the same time I will stiffen my stance and look them right in the eye. They generally get the message that I do not wish to be mugged.

The times I have seen this kind of behavior the most, is from youngsters...they can get a little over-inflated image of themselves as the other horses are quite tolerant of bad behavior until they are a bit older...so they tend to treat people as badly as they treat other horses if they don't get their way. It's a bit of tantrum.

But all this is for staying safe in a changing dynamic of a large group of horses.

If a horse is in a paddock alone though, it could be best to stay on the other side of the fence, and "condition" the horse to approach in a more friendly way. If you use a clicker, you can click and treat for ears forward, you can click and treat for backing away (purposely staying out of your personal space). Another alternative is to put a halter and lead line on the horse, so you can control the tendency to turn the butt toward you.

If you think food (you didn't say what was in the bag) is triggering the mean response, then don't take the food with you. I cannot really imagine why a horse would turn to kick as a result of not being given the bag...without seeing the dynamics (seeing it actually happen), I don't know that I could give you good specific advice...maybe someone else has experienced this and can help more. Has this horse only interacted with you, or is it possible this horse has been hit by someone or otherwise badly treated by anyone? It seems there must be more going on here than the issue of a bag.

Tamarack has the habit of putting his ears back when he approaches or when we are walking in from the field...so I have been working with him on ears forward (click and treat) and softening his appearance. It's working, slowly but surely.

So I could be missing something here...I have no experience with very nasty horses...just horses that get a little spoiled by getting away (or getting what they want) with bad behavior.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 3:00 pm 
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Karen wrote:
you don't have to desensitize a horse to cougars - you just have to convince the horse that you are a cougar-eater.


This says it all!!! Image


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:29 pm 
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Eileen asked
Quote:
How should would you handle a horse that walks up to you always with ears back and mean faced?


Are you speaking about a horse that you have a current relationship with? Is it your own horse or is it a horse belonging to someone else that you only encounter occasionally?

I ask this because I truly believe there are different responses depending upon the circumstances.

I was very deeply concerned about my young mare always giving me mad faces and pinning her ears at me no matter what I was doing. Even during feeding time. In my situation, this was a clear indication that there was a problem with the relationship between she and I. While over on the NHE list last year, Miriam offered some good suggestions that helped a great deal.

I've spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about this situation and experimenting with different things to try and change it and improve the relationship. Things are very much better now and here is a list of what has helped the most:
1. I changed my attitude about this mare by truly accepting her for who she is and acknowledging that she has every right to express herself as to how she is feeling about things.
2. I changed the way I was handling her (brushing, touching, approaching, etc) and became much softer and lighter - she appreciated this immediately.
3. I found out what things she likes to do the most - and began playing lots of games her way. Galloping around, bucking and kicking out in the arena is really big with her. When I started playing that game on the other side of the arena, she was immediately interested in me and pricked her ears up and came over to find out what I was doing. That was a huge breakthru.
4. I've been specifically training her ears. Yep - I use a word bridge when her ears pop forward and then give her a treat. I drop all other training if her ears are pinned and focus just on the ears. If her ears are pretty, her attitude changes - much like smiling. It is hard to be mad if you have a relaxed smile on your face. Like Karen said, this is progressing slowly, but it is definitely working.

My reward for all this is huge and brings a little tear to my eye. This mare calls out to me now when she sees me and comes down to stand by the gate wearing her pretty face. She will move around and allow me to scritch her itchy spots - never ever allowed this in the past. We are now great friends. There is much to do, but things are getting better everyday. :D

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 17, 2007 4:56 am 
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Bianca, I wish I could rememer who said that, so I could give appropriate credit...it was one of those, "Oh what a great quote!" moments when I first heard it. I have never forgotten it.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 17, 2007 5:07 am 
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outriding wrote:
My reward for all this is huge and brings a little tear to my eye.


I know the feeling...it's an almost overpowering one that catches in the back of your throat!

You are doing so many good things with Cam and Breeze...you were referring to Breeze when talking aout teaching the ears to point forward?

I have been trying to put this on a veral cue, with Tamarack, but he hasn't got the behavior solid enough yet to know what I'm talking about. I will keep trying though. Whether he's conscious of it or not, the ears are foward much more. He still plays with them back though! He looks very tough! Everyone at the stale though is getting used to "the face" and nobody gets intimidated by it.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 17, 2007 8:27 am 
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outriding wrote:
We are now great friends. There is much to do, but things are getting better everyday. :D


You are so right with your suggestions. I would like to extend one suggestion, not in this precise situation but generally speaking. In my experience mares can be very powerful and wise. Sometimes they don't feel appreciated this way because they can't be in their own strenght. Some horses wich are badly treated or ill we feel sorry for and worry about. This places them at a spot that they are not feeling strong and responsible for their own lives but dependant on our care. I had to start seeing for example my mare as a powerful horse who could take care of herself although she was not doing well at the time. This made her grow and feel so much better. She became a very happy horse and would not pin her ears that much because she felt understood and appreciated. Now she pins her ears when I worry about her, for example go see if she is allright at night or feel sorry Evita gets so much attention now.
She really feels things in my heart before I even notice myself and is a real mirror.


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