Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting away with murder

Not to be confused with scene of a murder

I mean things that some horse owners let the horses they handle get away with, time and time again. Things at the time don't seem like a big deal until the horse hurts you or another person. I think we tend to forget sometimes that horses are still 1000+ pound animals, ready to flee at a seconds notice just like nature intended, but never quite evolved out of no matter how much training we put into them.

I work at many different barns. I handle, ride and drive many different horses. I see many different bad behaviors. Some are mild for example like a horse trying to crowd you when you feed grain and others are downright nasty like a horse trying to take your face off when you feed grain. Some horse owners correct bad behaviour, others avoid it which can cause problems. They might avoid gnashing teeth and hooves every feeding but I don't want to have to dodge a 1000 pound animal, I want the 1000 pound animal to respect me and my personal bubble. Problems can go from one extreme to the next. I always appreciate a horse owner that addresses the problems that arise with a horse then I don't have to go out of the way to teach a horse to respect my space on my own time just to keep myself safe.

100% of problems on the ground come from a horse not respecting you or being afraid of you. Most haven't been taught where your personal hula hoop is or are fearful because they have been given confusing signals in the past or no one taught them. Few are truely devious and know your boundaries and know your signals but try to test you every-single-day.

I have been thinking about ground work lately. Some horse owners let their horses get away with murder when it comes to manners. Some things I find inexcusable. If they don't catch up with you now, they will later for sure. I am not talking the rearing, bucking, striking manners, I am talking things horse owners consider small until they get someone hurt.

For instance a year and a bit ago I got my nose broken. It was completely on the left side of my face. I re-broke it and kept on working only to my mothers horror when I came home that afternoon with a bloody self doctored face. I suffer this summer with the worst allergies I could imagine due to a ruptured sinus cavity. The reasoning? The horses owner did not want to deal with leading her three horses out to the paddock each morning. They acted up and were excited to go out so she just opened the stall doors and let them gallop out. Fast forward she moved from her private barn to one I work at. I went to turn out said horses, opened the first ones stall door to put the halter on and WHAM! Horse face to my nose. My nose lost. Long story short the owner avoided leading her horses when they were being difficult. I noticed this when she trailered them to that farm she had the hardest time with each of them just getting them to the barn because they did not respect her space or commands to walk beside her. In the end my face suffered.

Another one is rubbing after riding. Specifically on the rider/handler but solid objects too. We pay enough for tack why should we let them scratch on things and ruin tack? This was one that happened to a girl I would see at a barn when I was taking care of one horse. She would let her horse rub on her after every ride like it's own personal scratching post. She switched his bit from a d-ring to a full cheek snaffle because he would gape his mouth and the bit would slide through and she didn't want to use a flash. Flash forward post ride and the horse rubbed, catching her armpit with the full cheek and tearing a ligament in it. I remember her coming to me and asking me if her armpit was cut open because it really hurt bad. If you look at it from the point of view of you being able to dictate where you want the horse to be, on the ground and on their back, just like an alpha mare in a herd. You would NEVER see a horse rubbing on the alpha mare because the alpha mare would lay the boots down. Why should you be your horses own personal scratching post? Small human VS 1000+ pound horse, horse is going to win unless you take action to let it be known it's NOT ok to be rubbed on. I do however like to scratch an itchy horses face without them rubbing on me of course. Indigo appreciates a good face scritching after being worked and has never offered to rub on me because she respects my space. Mr. Pony is indifferent though and does not care about being itchy.

Lippy/nipping. A lot of people are opposed to feeding treats by hand. I say it is mostly a) when you give treats. For instance Indigo knows tricks and mr.pony does targets. They only get treats when they have completed a trick or task I have asked of. This way they know the hand that feeds does not open on any random occasion thus they do not look for the hand until they have completed something I have asked of. b) Petting a horse on the muzzle. If you touch a horses muzzle most of the time they will retort with either turning their heads away hopefully or lipping at you. A lot of young horses and especially stallions are naturally going to be more lippy. It's important at a young age horses learn biting is not going to be tolerated. A horse that has gotten used to biting or lipping can be a big problem when it gets older. My friends old gelding used to be leased by an old lady. The old lady would let him bite and lip (and even rub after riding). I was holding him for her one day to mount and he reached over and bit me really hard on the inside of my elbow. All I can say is **** THAT HURT!! It left a nasty black bruise and throbbed for a couple hours after it happened. We both learned the hard way when the next day she went to reach her hand out and he bit her on the palm expecting treats, giving her a HUGE blood blister that burst a minute later trailing blood from one end of the barn to the other. I discovered the blood trail to my shock minutes after she left for home to find a bandage. I promptly checked every horse to see what one maimed itself and was completely puzzled as the BO was until she showed up the next day with a bandaged hand. Lesson learned she put treats in his bucket from then on.

When it comes to ground manners I don't think they speak enough for all aspects of training. Horses are visual body language communicators. If they do not respect us on the ground and we let them shove us around it will translate into ridden work eventually.

What are some things you consider a horse getting away with murder? Any your horses do that you want to correct or things you have dealt with and fixed or watched other people try and deal with? What do you consider the worst in your books?


Jen said...

Good post; our thoughts must just run along the same lines sometimes *laugh*. I was thinking about doing some photos for a post on "the great debate" (treating) and manners soon. I see parallels quite often between ineffective parenting and ineffective horsemanship; both of which can cause untold grief for the rest of us. Horses are more than happy to follow the rules and respect our boundaries, but just like our kids they will test the waters and any inconsistencies on our part can cause some serious repercussions later on. Horses are always learning, whether it is what we want them to learn or not is a different story. I think this is something that goes much deeper than most people realize.

Amy said...

All very good points. I have friends that don't want to correct their horse in stuff like that because they don't think the horse is being mean so they let it go. Drives me bananas. I try to tell them but they don't get it.

My OTTB has bitten two other people HARD but he will NOT bite me. That to me is hard behavior to correct because he obviously knows better but there are the rare unexpected moments when he is handled by someone else that he will get them.

Also another horse I bought a few months back previous owner let him get away with murder for sure. He pushed her around like a rag doll. The thing is he is really a naturally sweet horse and she kind of ruined him. Not for life by any means but for herself. He has been here a few months and is making progress but still not great. Not to the point that my 7 year old can lead him and that is where any horse I own will be. By next year he will be a dream. I just know it.

Laura M. said...

I'm a rather new follower and have enjoyed your bitless posts. May I also say, I love this particular post! I expect my mare to stand wherever I put her, to follow when told, and to do precisely as asked when asked. Everyone at my barn loves handling her because she's so responsive and respectful. The line between quirky behavior and bad behavior seems to blur too easily for many people.

Mellimaus said...

Daisy has problem with personal space from time to time. She's a mare who always wants to be alpha mare. She'll try to take off if you're leading her to a grass pasture; hence having a chain over her nose. She also has a horrible habit of trying to run you into the stall at dinnertime. A lot of times, I'll lead her in, back her out, back her in, lead her out, and play around the stall until she focuses on me again and not on the food. I don't ever let her rub on me; so annoying. It ticks me off when horses try. I'll itch their face, but there's no need for them to itch on me, and only when the bridle is off.
This is a great post.
I have to admit though; Daisy is pretty close to being the truly devious one who tests every single day ;)

Mellimaus said...

Oh...just thought of it...horses that try to eat when your riding them. I had a friend who rode with a crop for the purpose of keeping her horse from eating, but she'd never use it. Trail riding with her was a pain in the butt because her horse's head would shoot down every few steps for a bite, and she'd laugh. Drove me crazy. Daisy never tries to eat when out riding; she knows it's a lost cause.

Sydney_bitless said...

Indigo is the worst for eating I have come across. I have to be paying attention constantly or her head will shoot down. Even the work she gets because of it is worth just one attempted bite. Whenever she tries to eat I canter her good and hard. She'll quit but sure enough try again even though she rarely succeeds. My friends old horse (the one who bit me as I explained in the post) would try and eat the second she went to mount him and he stepped on the bridle and completely broke it into a bunch of pieces.

Dreaming said...

This is a great post. I agree with you that ground manners are very, very important. Pippin is pushy, lippy and rubby. He crowds people. We have been working on personal space!
A friend of mine has started a training company. She focuses on ground work as she feels it is key, too.

Breathe said...

How about sniffing? I am a big tyrant on ground manners, but recently was hanging out with my horse and allowed him to come up (I gestured that it was okay to close the distance) and let him sniff around me. I notice alphas allow curiousity via sniffing, to a point.

I'm also restricting treats to tricks only. We have a cue word that we are doing tricks. Let's me get my need to reward in. :)

I'm teaching Smokey (a black belt food diver) a graze cue. It's a work in progress, but is helping a bit (pun intended).

Crystal said...

Excelent post, I see so many people letting there horses get away with stuff cause they want thier horse to like them. It's hard for me to get after them, but I do and try really hard not to let them do small bad things that escalate into hurtful things.
I board where the BO is very picky about manners and will call people on it when they are doing things unsafley even with thier own horses, so we are lucky there are no real bad ones tehre.

Cathy Clementz said...

One of the horses I had when I was a kid would fill her lungs up with air as soon as you set the saddle on her back. How she could hold her breath that long was beyond me, but anyway, I didn't realize she was doing that until I'd get the saddle cinched up and go to get on, then she'd blow out the air! It finally got so I'd have to give her a good nudge in the 'belly' when I was ready to cinch her up!

Sydney_bitless said...

Breathe: Sniffing is ok so long as I invite them into my space and they respect my requests when I tell them to back off. I like a horse to feel comfortable enough to come up to me and investigate what I am about.

Cathy: thats being girthy/cinchy. A good number of horses do this. Elastic girths and doing up the girth/cinch slowly instead of all at once can totally eliminate this problem.


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tangerine said...

My mare loves to rub, it used to be so bad that it took me several minutes to get a bridle on or off of her because we'd have a fight about rubbing every time I touched her face. Now she only does it when she catches me off guard, and not with a bridle on ever. I 'groom' her by scratching her withers/neck all the time, and I don't think it's a bad thing for her to groom back because she's never bitten. I'm always wary but I'm working on mutual trust :P. I think it's murder when a horse can't be lead. I don't care what's happening, my horses will walk along side me like a lady or gentleman.

Rachel said...

I found this post so helpful! I often lose sight of my role as my (little diva) mare's master and leader. You are so right on all counts and I will remember when I go to the barn tomorrow. Thanks!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Good post. Apache is very respectful of my space and I can move her whereever I want just with my finger pointing her where I want to go. Sometimes when I'm getting ready to pour her grain mash into her feed tub, she will be excited and bend down before I'm ready, and I stomp my foot and say NO and shake my finger away from me and she moves back.

The only thing I really have an issue with her about is leading. She's very polite when everything is quiet and normal. She walks beside me and doesn't crowd me or pull.
But a couple times when we've been at a large ACTHA Competitive ride and there's lots of horses and strange sights and scents, she will try to walk circles around me taking it all in.
I have to gain control by moving her feet, backing her up, moving her in tiny circles and disengaging her hips, but it would be nice if she could just stand still or walk beside me and observe everything going on in a new environment without me having to remind her to keep her polite manners.


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