Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A little post on Horse Grooming Supplies

On the horse grooming supplies forum, there's a big row over punching a horse in the face if he bites you. Bo asked me to get involved, so I posted this:

Well, I'd say the first thing is to make certain that the horse knows and accepts you as the clear leader, and feels confident in you enough to not feel the need to challenge you to such an extreme degree. Does your horse trust you? Or does he feel insecure?
Is he biting because he is mean, or is he biting because his environment is stressing him out? Do you spend a lot of time on the ground with your horse, learning to communicate with him? Do you observe how your horse acts with other horses? Do you know how to move your horse out of your path when you walk, with no tack or halter involved? This is very important, though it might not seem like much. Pushing a horse away with body language is a major part of herd dynamics.
If you tell your horse "no," does he believe you?
Do you keep an eye on your horse, and watch their mood?
I know there are SOME horses who like to surprise a person and nail them with a bite without warning. But the question is why? Why does your horse feel the need to do that? A nip or a bite is a form of communication. They are trying to TELL you something, and it is important to find the underlying issue, not just punch the horse in the face.
If there is a big problem, the issue will come out one way or another.

My horse bit me once. At the time he was locked in a 9 by 9 stall fetlock deep in his own feces and urine. I didn't own him at the time, of course. He was in a barn that was a fake rescue. I went there to volunteer, not knowing the truth about the place, and fell in love with him, even though he was pretty sour on people. I just saw something in his eye.

Why did he nip me?

He nipped me because he was trapped and miserable. I was the only person who pulled him out of that hellhole so he could walk around. I was the only person who gave him positive attention. And on that day, I was standing and leaning on the stall door instead of bringing him out. When he bit me, I convinced him that I meant business, oh for sure. But looking back, he was pleading. He was telling me "I am going crazy in here, please, PLEASE get me out of here." He was starting to get regular feeding and he was starting to hope again. Ever see an animal sure that he is going to die? Ever bring an animal back from that? So as he started to feel better, he started to let his needs be known more.

So you need to look at the horses environment. And you need to consider what is going on in the horse's head. You need to consider what's going on in your own head, and how you interact with your horse. You need to consider how your horse views you, and why. Most communication between horses in a herd does not come to a big physical altercation. Most of it is an ear, or a tail, or pody positions between horses.

If you are at the point where your horse is biting and you are punching, then your relationship is that of two people who are screaming at each other. Not a good partnership. It needs to be ramped DOWN, not UP. The behavior should be addressed, yes, but one must think a little deeper afterward and address the underlying issue.

Learn to play act. Learn to, at first, yell and lunge at the horse, use bravado to convince him you mean it, back him away from you. And THEN, go back to groundwork. Go back to just spending time with your horse. Take a break from just tacking up and riding and develop a relationship on the ground with him. Watch him. Let him watch you. Learn how he asks, learn how he tells, learn how to ask him, learn how to tell him. In time, working with him, working with moving him around you with more and more subtle cues, you can work beyond this issue, and if you keep it up, you can avoid the relationship slipping in the future. Stop rushing things. Stop putting everything on a schedule where THIS and THIS and THIS has to happen NOW. This is a living, breathing being with feelings and thoughts and agendas of his own, not an ATV.

Some of this I learned myself. Some of it I learned from Bo. None of his horses have ever bit me. He has taught me how to set clear boundaries with the horse before it can get to that point... and his horses have been raised to not act like that.

As for Solomon, my boy, who nipped me once... I moved him to a big boarding stable with a 90 acre pasture. He had friends and he was no longer trapped. Other horses teach manners quite well, and not feeling caged, panicked, sick, and miserable worked wonders.

That's from October of last year.

Now I can pour molasses on my hands and let him lick it off, even between my fingers.

So yeah. You don't have to punch your horse in the face. You do have to have patience and take time, lots and lots of time, you have to realize that the relationship between you and your horse is about both of you, not just you. You have to really really learn to speak the horse's language. And you have to accept that it will take as long as it takes.


Maggie said...

Wonderful post.

You have come so far, learned so much, I am in awe.

Now if only we could fix what slows you down, you would be unstoppable...

Wait, you are already pretty unstoppable.

Evergrey said...

Awwwh man you are gonna make me blush!

Whoop, there it goes. :o

Thank you so much! Well my new spine is on back order apparently. I've sent in a few complaints up to asgard but so far nobody has crafted me a new body to live in. Hey, one can always hope though, eh?

Meanwhile I'll keep duct taping the one I have back together and cowgirling up. ;)

hownowbabycows said...

While I think this was a wonderful, thought-provoking post, some of it is kind of... too much in the fantasy world I think. Hah. Re-evaluating your relationship with your horse is GREAT, especially if there is more than one issue going on. But some horses -- the obnoxious babies that don't know any better, and the hormone-driven stallions in the middle of breeding season -- have their own reasons for biting, independent of whoever is handling them. And in those kind of situations, they need to be disciplined before it goes too far.

In the wild, 1000 pounds of force behind two hooves is used to settle arguments. A FRACTION of that force behind the meak "strength" of our hands and arms barely touches horses.

And that's my opinion in the matter. :) (I didn't even open that thread on fugly. Ugh.)

Evergrey said...

Hah, oh the thread on fugly isn't too bad, but the HGS one just because a huge fight.

I won't pretend to have all the answers for every horse. Far from it! But I do like to offer up a different way of looking at things, a different way of thinking.

Something I should have added-
if a horse is aggressive and baring his teeth at me, or just getting too mouthy for comfort, I stick my hand on his upper lip and glue it there. You have to be pretty fast, haha. I use enough pressure that the horse cannot advance on me with his mouth... and I just keep talking to him, and annoying him because he can't bite me. This has worked on a few rather bully-ish horses who would threaten anyone who came by their stall. It's also something that I'll do with a rather mouthy horse that I don't know the nature of. If the horse isn't seriously big scary aggressive, it seems to work. They decide it's annoying and give up trying.

But stallions, I admit quite readily that I do not have a whole lot of experience with them. The one I have met was such an angelic, well-behaved horse that I had to double-check to make sure his coin purse really was full. :o