So I wrote about how we taught B to stand, in the arena, first facing the barn but waiting; next facing somewhat away from the barn and waiting; and lastly facing totally away from the barn, and waiting. We would often would get off in the ring, stand there, do some in hand work, and then take a walk. Anything to break his response patterns. This was so hard for him. He would first shake his head, then stamp, then it would escalate in to a spin or two or a zipping backwards or what have you. We didn’t particularly punish, we just went back to Point A. And waited. He had to stay absolutely in place. He could not take one step out of where we put him. If he did, he was put back. It took a long time, but he got it. I liked the Myler combination bit for these months; it gave us some control if we needed it, but it was so mild when we didn’t. I think the loose ring aspect is good for horses who have been ridden badly, and the little bit of nose pressure if needed helps take away the defensiveness of a wrecked mouth. Bryan, like many OTTBs I have had, had a very low palate and sharp bars. I think the shape of the Myler, with its little protective roller thing in the middle, is much more comfortable for a mouth like that. Regular snaffles can really poke the soft palate; I never use them any more.
We used the same approach to leading and the gates. On the ground I used a chain over his nose. He was so blank, I really felt that he needed to feel *something*, even if it was discomfort, at first. I would not do this with every horse, but with B, it seemed worth it and frankly the only way. I also *always* carried a stick when I worked with him, regardless, every single time. I used it to mark his limit in front, to move him over in the haunch, to back him up, or to hit him in the cannons if he struck. I wrote before that B was never aggressive per se, but he would get so frustrated when his panic and drag you routines were disrupted that sometimes he would strike. I never ‘punished’ him. It was strike for strike, with a ‘no!’ or a ‘quit!’ and a smack on the cannon bone.
Our walks might look like this.
Bryan, as we would leave the barn aisle,
would start prancing and speeding up. My first response would be to immediately
go to turn on the forehand in hand. Switch lead to left hand, carry left hand a
little high so he isn’t just circling me; tap with stick on haunch or inside
leg cannon bone since I was after the step under. He had to *step under*, and cross step with his
front end. Not just circling. I would
also stick my finger in the corner of his mouth so he would have to chew. This
is good for lost horses on every level; physiologically, there is a relaxation
response involved (Drs Clayton and Heuschmann have chronicled this and Richard
Maxwell explains it well also) and as a strengthening exercise is it
wonderfully effective. I just considered it spontaneous in hand work. We would
go first to the left, and then to the right, and we would finish in the
opposite direction in which we started, and then back up. Then we would go to
the original direction and try again. If he became agitated or sped up or tried
to step past me, we would repeat. I did not care how long it would take me or
how dumb I might have looked or what any one at the barn thought about it.
Well, I lie. I did feel self conscious and I did know that I was sometimes
making a spectacle of myself. But I blushed and carried on.
All of this helped. It helped a lot. But I think that exterior things can only have so much value, and that while you have to work on the behaviour for sure, you also have to dig, and keep digging, for the causes of the distress that is behind the behaviour. A frantic horse is a horse in pain. Just because you don’t see it, can’t find it, or don’ believe it, doesn’t mean its not there. It could be foot pain, ulcers, neck pain, a head ache, back pain, anything. So while we worked on B’s behaviour, we kept working on his body.