Thursday, March 28, 2013

Herd Dynamics Versus Human Dynamic

Tessa is low on the herd totem pole.  Not that we have herds at our barn, but if we did she would rank low.  Every horse that she has been turned out with, she has been lower than.  I've never seen her offer to kick.  The most she's done is pin her ears and swish her tail at one mare that insisted on pushing her around the pasture constantly.  But she kept going....

Now, when it comes to human interactions, Tessa is not so low.  She's more middle of the road.  She swishes her tail and occasionally stamps her foot while I'm brushing her in places she doesn't want me to.  She bites the air if I brush her chest.  She pins her ear and snaps at the crossties when I girth her up.

This translates to the same attitude under saddle, unfortunately.  I ask for canter and she stops and kicks out.  Then she bucks and takes off.  Then she kicks at the leg and throws her head in my face.

We worked on that today and after having a huge pony meltdown, the rest of our ride was pretty awesome.  My trainer suggested I wear 'real spurs' rather than the little plastic ball ones I have on.  She said that having a spur will stop me from nagging Tessa constantly.  I see her point, sort of.  She's saying that we have GOT to quit having the same argument over and over.  That putting on spurs that are more uncomfortable (we're still talking bitty english spurs here people, not big scary spurs) will do two things.  One, they will make the pony really unhappy because it will be really uncomfortable when she gets a spur in her side.  Two, they will force the pony and I to have it out.  Most likely, the pony will react with some super anger and I'll have to deal with it and then maybe we can move on from this argument.

It's not just about forward, it's that I put my leg on and ask her hindquarters to move over and she completely ignores me.  I use my spur (my little plastic round ones) and she ignores that too.  I tap with the whip and she ignores that.  I tap harder and she stops and kicks out.  I keep tapping, she keeps kicking.  Then she'll buck hard and take off, basically giving me the pony finger.  But she STILL doesn't want to move off that damn leg!

My trainer said she's just a b*tch.  Is she really?  She's not super bitchy on the ground and she's certainly not bitchy around other horses.  But is how a horse is in the herd even relevant to how they are under saddle?

Right.  So, I had a good ride.  I love my crabby pony.  And I'm going to ponder this some.  I welcome your ponderings on this as well.


  1. Spur yes, Whip yes... as in I was taught that the Leg asks, the Spur tells and the Whip demands action NOW. That is the escalation of commands. Doesn't mean incessantly beating on your horse (and nagging makes them dull to the aids)

    My horse now and again refuses to yield his high end. If i nag we just go in an endless circle of pissy-ness. If we make a drastic action and he yields we move along at a happy pace.

  2. I have felt that herd position is rarely an indicator of human-horse interaction.
    I like the idea of bringing on an argument! (within reason of course) I've done that before on several horses and once I won all our problems just melted away..... tres cool.

  3. From what I have seen, horses in the herd, horse + human on the ground, and horse + human in the saddle are different dynamics and you must earn your place in each one.

  4. I am not one for natural horsemanship but perhaps some ground work, with you establishing yourself as alpha are in order?

  5. This is a random aside, but have you ever treated her for ulcers? the cranky-when-you-brush-my-belly and chest response is ulcer-y so is the unwillingness to go forward... Just a thought. Pia was super similar.

    Not sure if you know (or like Depaulo products but I like this vid...

  6. One step forward and several back. I'm sorry it's still difficult. I think I'd be doing LOTS of ground work with training stick. I'm not talking about going all nutso on the Clinton Anderson/Parelli stuff. I'm talking about establishing boundaries on the ground (wear a helmet), get her moving her parts just by you looking at them with the "mare glare".

    Her issues could also be from copious amounts of energy too (even though turned out they really don't burn a lot) some round penning might help here too. Not run her to death in circles but moving her around the pen with your body language. Using the brain is more taxing that using the body.

  7. I second the ground work. She may not really understand what you are asking. You're speaking French, she hears Russian and responds in Italian.

    Gabe was the same way, he just didn't understand moving off the leg and got quite pissy about it when I continued to insist. He just didn't understand and knew no other way to respond and that was his way of saying "I DON'T GET IT!" Enter groundwork...lots of ground work and moving off pressure from my hand, then just a finger, then, a touch with the whip, and it has translated beautifully to the saddle. Moving off pressure is SO much easier to teach from the ground than it is from the saddle. He understands the language I'm speaking now and responds with enthusiasm and understanding.

  8. I'm guilty of the same problem. I will nag bc I want to be "soft" but it doesn't achieve a soft horse.