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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marti Makes Progress

I've been making some small progress with Marti over the course of the week. At some point it occurred to me that I'm so used to working with a dominant horse (Gogo) that my body language probably screams I'm-The-Boss even when I am trying to be as passive as possible, and that this is probably what was scaring him to death. Horses read right through cover-ups every time, don't they. He could not possibly be a more opposite personality than Gogo. I've also been learning bits and pieces about his history, like how the workers at the place he's been at were so afraid of him that instead of leading him anywhere they just opened his stall and paddock and chased him to and from turnout every day, and how others have also tried to work with him and he's been equally as timid with all of them. He's really only known his momma and his stable his whole life, so getting completely removed from that is a BIG scary deal for sure.

So I changed my tactics. I am not insisting he come right to me if he wants to eat. I am not insisting he put his head in his halter before he gets his meals. These things were causing him to increasingly keep away from me, as it meant that every time I walked into the pasture I had an ulterior motive. What I am doing is holding his food bowl and waiting for him to come eat out of it while I have it, so that he associates me with something simple and full of comfort without the pressure of HAVING to do something, or using food as a bribe. Once he is there and eating, he gets lots of good rubs and scratches, and he seems to like that. He actually came to me directly tonight for food instead of backing away first. That being said, I had also enlisted the help of another weapon I didn't even realise I was holding: the owner. The owner had originally planning on staying away for awhile to try and get him to detatch a little from her, but she is honestly all he's really known, and she can get him to do pretty much anything. It's just other people that he has a problem with, and honestlty now that I know a little bit more about how other people handle him, can you blame him?

I re-released him into the wild with Gogo the day after I wrote about keeping him in a small pen. He was definitely not happy there, and while I originally thought it would make him easier to catch, it only made him more nervous. I said screw it, he's going back out, and out he went. At that point I let the owner know how bad he had been with the pulling back and getting away, and she offered to come out and see if being there would help him a little. She too had initial trouble catching him, but we soon figured out the real issue at hand... GOGO! She is incredibly possessive of humans in her field, and doesn't let other horses get near them unless she is bribed by food to go away. The owner couldn't get her to stop following her around, and he kept running away from both of them, so she had to put her up in a stall to just get her out of the way. Then she could catch him! Together we gave him a bath, which he desperately needed, and he was for the most part really well behaved, if not a bit jumpy. My hope was that I'd be able to finish his clip once his hair wasn't so thick and greasy, and the owner came back today to see if we could get it done. Of course, by this time I had totally killed every set of blades I had, so we struggled to get his front legs and head done. I gave up after that, and will try to finish his hind legs and belly tomorrow. I also hope to lunge him tomorrow, and maybe try on a surcingle and really loose sidereins to see how he reacts. He's on principle a hair fitter than he was when he first arrived already, simply from being out and running around on 15 acres all the time, but he's clearly still quite unfit so I want to be careful with what I do.

Today was definitely the first time he came TO me when I brought food to him, and didn't step back or run off while I was in the process of approaching and putting food into his bucket. Maybe after a few more 'hey-look-you-weren't-kidnapped!' sessions with his mother around for comfort, he'll start to get increasingly comfortable, and be able to be weaned off of her a little bit more. I don't want to rely on either her or food in order to catch him or be able to work with him, but Rome was not built in a day. The next time I hoof it into town (a 20 minute drive from the middle of nowhere where I live), I plan on picking up a clicker and trying that with him. Roundpenning is still an option, as I do have access to one, but I'll really need to read up more on technique before I give that one a go, or take a clinic on it. In principle I know what to do, but I've not ever roundpenned a horse beyond exercise. I've never had a horse NOT want to be with me before... this is a while new realm of training. Gogo comes running every time she hears or sees me, and she definitely doesn't ever leave my side when I'm out at liberty with her unless I insist on it. She puts her head on my chest and asks me rub her head for endless amounts of time whenever she wants a good snuggle. She follows me everywhere, even when she's just out grazing and I'm just out with her enjoying the sunset. I love that.

I think Marti will probably get to that point where he wants to be with me that much too. He really is a sweet guy, even with his issues.


Jen said...

Sounds like a great new plan! Sometimes we can start acting like a predator without realizing it and just make things worse. Good for you for taking a step back, re-evaluating and changing your approach. I am sure you will get where you want to be.

Kate said...

Good luck with your new line of attack. Its funny how differently separate horses react to things. I think people often end up causing a lot of problems with horses when they try to fit them into a 'one size fits all' mold, especially in regards to training. Once Marti learns to trust you, I have no doubt that you'll be where he wants to be.

eventer79 said...

Sounds like good progress to me! Good job staying flexible and listening to the horse and being willing to try alternative plans! Solo used to be rather submissive (before he got fit and turned into a badass, LOL) and these kinds of horses need a cheerleader more than they need a boss.

Niamh said...

After spending 9 months last year attempting to sweeten a dominant, alpha chestnut mare -- I too feel like my approach to some horses is to be dominant initially (to this day, she is the only horse I was ever legitimately afraid of -- at 15.2 no less!). I am just starting to work with an OTTB that responds poorly to ANY signs of dominance. He apparently a brute at the track and everyone who handled him there did so with a stud chain and force. If you even think of using pressure to get him to do anything he turns into a fire breathing monster. His current owner has done some Parelli work with him (though I am a true skeptic of Parelli) and has desensitized him to pretty much everything. She has helped him understand relaxed body language and he responds really well to it.

I think one of the greatest things about horses is that no matter how long you've been riding for, or how many horses have passed beneath you, they always have something to teach you. Marti will be really good for you and I can't wait to see how the journey goes. After working with some enormous Belgians at a therapy center, I learned that draft types have uniquely sensitive personalities. They don't realize they are throwing their huge bodies around and being dangerous!

SprinklerBandit said...

Sounds like you found an excellent solution. Hurray! Another win for Andrea and Gogo (and Marti).

kae said...

May I just say - clicker training is wonderful! You should absolutely try it. I tried it with my new mare I got, and it's made training so much easier and painless. It's so fun! I highly recommend it. The hardest part, for me, was learning to control my reactions when she started to do something naughty and be able to ignore it, and focus on the good behavior. Challenging, but wonderfully rewarding. I hope you & Marti continue to progress, but he sounds like he has great potential to be a good boy, and is trying, so I'm sure he'll come around! Hang in there. :)

Barbara said...

ah, poor guy doesn't know how to make friends. I think you are on the right track. They do try if we give them a chance. Nina wanted nothing to do with me when I got her, but she was aggressive and threatening. When that didn't make me go away she decided to try a different approach and tried to be friends. She, unlike your guy, is not shy about what she wants.

Deered said...

Ahh, the "I've forgotten I have to be dominant with horse a, so why is this timid horse so spooky/nervous" issue. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and the great thing is that although I found it took longer for the timid horse to get braver and more relaxed, than it did for the dominant one to realise who was boss, she did end up realising that humans are awesome and if you willingly spend time with them they do nice things for you.

You may feel like you take a few backward steps along the way, but tou'll get there.

danielle said...

I'm not sure if this is much help... but you know who Marti kinda sounds like. Webster!
I actually have Webster coming inside now when we want him to,he, little kids run around him screaming bloody murder, he even cross-ties for the farrier and everything. The biggest thing I did was find his comfort zone.
Webster likes to have something behind him. So anything we do with him is either in a stall or in a grooming stall. Plus with a wall behind him he quits pulling. He will cross-tie in the aisle now but we don't make him.
For the catching thing I really made it quite simple. First I started with what you are doing with Marti. I would also give him a treat any time I went out to the pasture to do anything. If he came up to me or near me I gave him a cookie. Then I took it another step, Webster comes to me to eat and allows me to drape the leadrope over his neck, next step had to take a couple steps with the rope, then the halter, then the halter and lead. Eventually Webster was only allowed to eat if he let us catch him and walk him either to a stall or the grooming stall.
Now Webster absolutely adores me. Hes always talking to me and when hes in the pasture he stares up at the house. He walks into the middle sometimes with the little, kids... Biggest thing though! He trusts me, the employees and almost always lets us catch him when we want, even with other horses in the pasture. Sometimes he needs a reminder that he doesn't eat unless he lets us catch him but usually it lasts about an hour.
But Webster the biggest LEC chicken ever is pretty much bombproof now.

Andrea said...

If Webster can do it, Marti can!

Terry said...

Yay. I'm so glad you changed your approach.