Monday, May 16, 2011

Mind your manners

Manners. Something we are always told to mind from an early age.
Looking at how we raise human children from the time they are born we talk to them, show them things they should and shouldn't do and give consequences for when they breach the boundaries. We like to talk and interact with respectful children. They are polite, mind their P's and Q's and are usually rewarded with more responsibility.
In the same category are our "four legged children". Just like human babies, foals are cute. They look cuddly and usually are curious and like to be scratched and fed things. Sometimes I think we overlook the fact that they are 100 pounds now but will grow 10 times that or more by the time we actually need their respect.

I've thought about this a lot over the last three weeks and a few days since I have been home. I know I have not blogged a lot and I apologize to my readers who are still here. I love you guys.
This kind of stemmed from a couple posts ago how I got bit on the top of the head by the PITA (Pain in the a$$) warmblood. No I did not need stitches I just had a big goose egg for a few days.

I've been in on average 5-8 barns a day since I have been home. I see all sorts of horses that are ridden and handled all sorts of ways. I can categorize them by their owners really, but that's for another post. Right now I want to focus on the horses behaviors in regards to manners in the long run.

Here are some things I notice the horses that are going to hurt you display.

Reaching out to you as you come close.
If a horse has to be in a stall it is nice that he is allowed to look around by poking his head into the isle way. Some barns accommodate this by making extra wide isle ways. Personally I am of the belief that a properly mannered horse should move out of your way when you walk. I don't want to have to avoid horse heads when I am walking or leading another horse. Same goes with being out in a paddock. I want my horses to come closer when I ask, not come poking and nosing around when they please. You don't see the lead mare getting poked at by a younger horse because that usually means there's a consequence just like you wouldn't see a human child come poking into an adults space. It's rude and eventually will lead to the horse going "Gee I am allowed to touch (human) whenever I want, I wonder what skin tastes like?" and you get bit or at the very least end up with a lippy horse.
I work with horses feet. I do not appreciate getting goosed by a clients horse wile I am handling their feet. I also do not like having heads resting on my back or snot being snorted up the back of my shirt.
For horses in stalls I spin a lead rope as I walk by. They do not become head shy because they run into the rope themselves. They learn that sticking their great big heads out (especially to bite me on top of the head) is not a really good idea because there's consequences they cause themselves. If a horse is in a paddock I'll shoo them away, poke their nosy-nose or rub their face in a way it's very annoying to be in my space.
If I want them to be near me I will approach them. It's perfectly acceptable to come to me which horses will do and I like a horse to do (I am lazy I hate having to "catch" horses) but keep your nose to yourself. The nose turns into lips and lips turn into teeth and I am 100% certain people don't like to get bit by big yellow horse teeth.
Curiosity is very acceptable but there's a time and place which does not belong with sticking their nose and possibly teeth in my business without being invited (EG- A hand offered to smell).

Or lack thereof.
I have a saying and it's so far as I have ever seen. Your horse only stops as good as he backs up. This is very true on the ground and in the saddle.
A horse that can be backed up properly will flex at the poll and shift his weight to the hind end on the ground and in the saddle. This means the horse has accepted the pressure you are creating and is going with it, not bracing against it with his nose out in front of him. I can go as far as to say most horses when I apply pressure to the halter stick their noses out and brace against the pressure in the barns I am at.
I'll give you this scenario. I was working at my new barn, the state of the art one. The horses there are handled by lots of people some with horse experience and even more without because they need volunteers to run a place like that. The horses there are depressed and every single one of them display a condition called learned helplessness. They would have in human terms "Chronic depression". They often act out violently, biting at handlers when asked to trot and in extreme scenario's kicking or striking out. Today I had this young kind of problem gelding. He was kind of antsy tacking him up and when we got him into the arena after one trip around I had to dismount his rider when he charged ahead and threw a buck. I tried to stop him as a ground handler but he stuck his nose out and pushed right through my pressure. Long story short we got him another horse. The other horse went to spook at the same thing, tried for a second to push through the pressure but he stopped, flexed at the poll and allowed me to back him several steps instead of taking off and bucking once.
I was at a barn today shoeing some horses. They were very well mannered and were easy to handle. I backed every one up a few steps in the cross ties easily, even when a bit startled and jumped forward. Guess what each one did? Yup they flexed at the poll and backed without sticking their nose out and leaning on my pressure.
Leaning into pressure also means a horse will rub on a rider. This is getting away with murder in my opinion. In no way do I look like a fence post or will I ever be a fence post. Bridles are made of materials that can bruise or cut my skin I am not a personal scratching post. When I take a bridle off there will be no rubbing, pushing, scratching. Period. If a horse wants to scratch once the bridle is off and I am not handling it anymore be my guest.

Not turning to face you when you approach.
This is a big no-no. You never see a horse keep his butt to the lead mare when she approaches. You can bet that horse is going to turn around and give that mare both ears out of respect (and possibly the ruling of her iron fist...err hoof). Think about it as if you were talking to another person. You acknowledge them and their back is turned but instead of turning to greet you they keep their back turned to you wile you talk. Rude right?
I cannot count the times I went to get a horse that was in a pen or stall and I clicked to them to say "hey I am here" and have had them either ignore me or reply with a threatening hoof and nasty look. Neither is acceptable. You can teach a horse this many ways. I prefer when in an enclosed space to tap them (rope, lunge whip, halter, broom, whatever you have) until they turn to face you. Generally teaching a horse how to disengage his hindquarters from the ground is adequate enough to move a horses hind end when you look at it.

So from getting at all this basically they are three common things that results from lack of being able to control where a horse moves. If you have a say in where his legs go you have control over where his mind goes. If you control his head his legs must follow.

I see these are the three most common things that horses are allowed to get away with on the ground. They seem to branch off into hundreds of other behavioral problems that I could talk all day about. I love a horse that is well mannered just like I love people who are well mannered. They are easy to get along with, don't invade your space without being asked and respect your opinions.
So having said that, what are some things you hate that other peoples horses do. Did your horses do them (or do the above listed). How did you correct them or are you still fighting the issues? I would love to hear.


Kate said...

One step back - any time and all the time - I do it with all my horses.

Facing me in the stall or whenever I approach - same thing.

We're small, they're big and strong - it only makes sense.

The pushing against the halter/bridle thing - they've learned to get a release that way and do it because that's what they've been taught by their handlers.

Dom said...

Manners are SO important and I see so many things in horses that are appalling. People just don't GET it! Good post.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I get annoyed by owners who think it's cute when their horse rubs all over any of their visitors, or tries to nibble and play with their visitor's clothes. I wouldn't allow my dog to do that to anyone, why allow a horse that is so much bigger?
And I really don't like when a horse isn't calm and respectful when leading.

But my biggest problem that I still experience with my own horse is her turning her butt to me. I have tried to work with her using the techniques you mentioned and by disengaging the hips, but she will usually try to kick out under pressure.

This is something I am going to require some professional help with because it's above my experience to deal with.

Sometimes if I go in to halter her, she will walk away and turn her butt to me. After being kicked in the face last summer, one thing I do not feel safe doing anymore, is approaching her from behind. I've found what works best in ou situation is to just turn my back to her and ignore her. Usually it only takes a couple minutes until she is standing right beside me where I can halter her.

Still it would be better if she never ever turned her back to me, so we have a lot of work to do....


Sarah G said...

I wonder how Pepe's manners are.

Jen said...

Ours aren't perfect, but they do turn and face you (no ifs ans or butts please ;o) They also understand phrases like "excuse me" and "mind your manners".
One thing I have noticed - just as an aside - is that the Girls seem to have an inherent politeness that the Moo Crew members lack (maybe it's just because they're of the aristocracy, you know, those hoity-toity Arabians *grin*) Not really important, I just thought it was interesting.

GunDiva said...

I do love a well-mannered horse. I can't take any of the credit for Estes' manners because I bought her when she was 18, but I can tell you that I would not hesitate to buy another horse from the same person.

It's hard not to become barn blind with your own horses, though. Estes loves to have her head scratched when she's bridled. I've managed to change that habit and if she starts again, I push her head away and tell her not to be rude.

Once the bridle's off, if she asks nicely, I have no problem scratching the itchy places, but she's no longer allowed to use me as a fence post.

Sydney_bitless said...

I will scratch a horse, they cannot scratch on me. Most horses appreciate a nice scratching of their face itchies once the bridle is off but always make it on your terms and don't allow them to rub into your fingers/brush.

Mellimaus said...

Great post, as usual :)
I loved hearing what you think. Daisy is one of those mares that does not submit to a person once and for all. I constantly ask respect of her, and she will continue to try to get away with things, always trying to be on top. I do have her at the point in the stall where if I want to pass by, I cluck and she'll move her hindquarters way over out of my way, and I like it that way. Her current problem is that she won't step back when I go to walk in front of her while she eats, while I fill her water. I think swinging a leadrope every time is probably a good idea.

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

Great post!
Funny b/c I worked on backing up during our ride on Monday. Laz at first was bratty and throwing his nose up, etc. We worked on it and I finally got him to flex his poll and back up nicely by just alternating my hands squeezing and releasing the rein, in our bitless. We have new work to do to get him to round into the bridle a bit more instead of leaning WAY too much into it though. Baby steps! :)

smazourek said...

Funny, I was just working on this yesterday with my nervous, nelly mare. I use an exercise called hip/shoulder/shoulder where you disengage the hips and slide the movement into backing up. Works out well unless your horse is being sticky and refusing to step under with that inside hind...

berryvine said...

Any suggestions for a mouthy stud colt? He is a yearling and when you go to halter him he will open his mouth so he can bite the halter. If he manages to get it in his mouth he will just hold it until he is ready to let it loose. He also wants to play with the rope when standing tied. Dangerous to the person unsuspecting if their hand is in the way. Not aggression just mischief.

Yankecwgrl said...

you've been awarded

achieve1dream said...

Great post!

I have a problem with the mouthiness because Chrome is still a stud. I'm hoping when I get him gelded, if I stay firm with him, that is will go away. It is getting better. :)

I don't know how to make him behave better for other people though because I don't know any horse people around here that I trust to handle him, so he doesn't know how to interact with other people. It's sad. He's like the sheltered homeschooled kid.

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