Aug 30, 2012

Small Therapeutic Doses

This is how we taught Bryan The Rules.

At the time all the boys lived in stalls. So first thing they would all go out. But usually before they went out they would go in to the cross ties for a quick groom, check, what have you. I don’t boot so they are always bare legged but they would get fly sprayed or whatever.

B had a total thing about the cross ties. Well, B had total things about a lot of things but he had a *big* total thing about the cross ties. My cross ties at the time faced the row of stalls. But behind them was a large lawn, with a lake, and ducks, and birds, and frogs, and a driveway. All of these things periodically made NOISES. In Bryanville, NOISE was bad. And noise *behind* you was DEATH. Of course, I am making that up as I have no way of actually knowing that. But that was sure how he acted. Or over reacted, as the case may be.

He would always walk *in* to the cross ties, but halfway around would leap *out* of the cross ties. Of course, since the human leading him in was right there, said human would go flying. Sure, you could muscle him around and push him back in, smacking him on the shoulder and telling him to get over himself. I certainly did that lots and lots of times. But I wanted to fix him, not just bully him. So we had frequent cross tie training sessions that went as follows.

Bryan faces the cross ties. His head is up and he is searching the horizon. He knows the ducks, frogs, birds, and cars are behind the cross ties, waiting for their moment for DEATH. I have a chain over his nose. I do not shank him or anything, but I softly pull down on it; I ask him to bring his head down. That’s all. Just to bring his head down. He gets, in a week or two, that a soft chain pressure means put your head down. Of course, like a shot, the head is instantly back up. So we work, for a long time, on put your head down, and keep it down. For one second. For two seconds. For 30 seconds.

When he would put his head down and keep it down for a second or two or ten, we would take a step toward the cross ties. Up would go the head again, since now he was One Step Closer to DEATH. Self-Preservation Perusal Process Re-Activated SIR! And so we would ask, again, for the head to go down. And we would do this over, and over, and over. One step at a time, head down. Until we were half way in, or part way in, but before we turned around.

But then, rather than make him go all the way in to the cross ties, just before I felt he was thinking LEAP! AVOID DEATH!, I would very quietly back him back out, still requiring that he keep his head down. We would stand for a moment. And then we would just just go to the turnout.

I think this in important. I didn’t always make him go in. I think sometimes that lessons are just not broken down enough for some horses to get. I see people trying to teach a horse to load, and they go on and on and on getting the horse in the trailer, and then he finally goes in and Ah HA! they shut the door and drive off, triumphant. What the heck?! A horse doesn’t want to load, or go in to cross ties, or whatever it is, because they are sure that once they do they will never make it out alive. If you just ask for part of the goal, and then say ‘attaboy!’ and *leave* it, it goes a long way toward showing the horse that while they have to do what we tell them, they also get a break to think about it, to learn the task in small therapeutic doses, and that *starting* a task that they fear doesn’t always end with them forced in to whatever terrible situation they are fearing

So that’s what we did. Just part way in, and then out. And then done. 


  1. I have learned with Dini, that no amount of pressure can make him do what he isn't ready to do. Just last month I was ground driving him around the barn property and we came to the stream. Now I have lead him over this stream a few times so I was thinking "no problem": he would not cross the stream. It was about 90 degrees and humid and all I wanted to do was finish our lesson. I yelled; I slapped him hard with the reins; I smacked him with the whip; all to no avail he wasn't budging. He would keep backing up and then I had to turn him, and straigten him and face him toward the stream again. Finally I had to stop because we were both soaked in sweat and my heart was beating way too fast; had I continued I would have passed out. So I lead him into the stream so he could soak his feet and lower his body temp, while I sat down on a large rock and waited for my heart to stop pounding and my own temp to lower. Then I calmly walked him across the stream and back thru it again to our starting point. Then I asked him once more to ground drive across the stream, which he did with no hesitation. Consequently, I now understand that I cannot force this gelding (with a stallion attitude) to do anything before HE is ready. With Dini one must play the waiting game. If I had just waited for him to decide about the stream he would have eventually gone across, because his food, water, and buds were across the steam, up the hill at the barn; stupid he isn' ME sometimes yes. But that's how you learn. I should have remembered the trailer. When you load Dini, you need to line him up straight, then ask him to go forward, then you WAIT a few minutes for him to check it out and decide and then he calmly walks in. But you can't force him: no way, no how.

    1. Such an excellent story and point Elaine, thank you. Some horses just need to think about things for a moment or two. Its an easy thing to forget, but can make or break a ride or lesson for sure. Make Haste Slowly is true for many things, but particularly for our work with our horses >;->