Friday, December 7, 2012

When Things Don't Go Well

As we all know in the horse world, things don't always go as planned. In fact, usually they go exactly opposite of the way you planned, am I right? 

 I am completely regretting ever having turned Imogen out with Pangea. She is absolutely obsessed with her, moreso than I've ever seen her be with another horse, and moving her to the new facility has sent her into a mental tailspin. She was very good two nights ago, that is for sure, but last night was a veritable nightmare. M had kindly agreed to come help me with art the grounddriving process, but from the moment we crosstied her, her mind was not in the game. Completely focused on P (who was totally ignoring her and way, way out in the field far away, she made it absolute clear that she wanted nothing to do with me or with the process of grooming and dressing for our grounddriving. She wiggled, she screamed, she spun completely around in the crossties, she refused to pick up her right front foot, she set back (this is new). When I was bridling her, she shut down and flew backwards, trying to run away out of the barn to go find P. I had had quite enough at this point, and backed her out of the barn, lunged her in a circle, backed her against the fence, and put the bridle on with no further problems. But I was done with the monkey business. We were going in the roundpen and were going to see if the majik roundpenning stuff would actually work. This week has been a complete and total breakdown of communication between us, and I am stopping that train right in its tracks. Mare, I respect you were abused, I respect you are nervous and worried, but we are NOT going to make acting like a total fool a habit, not when you're been such an angel up until this past week.
Now, I don't know much about roundpenning in the join-up kind of way. I in theory understand it, sort of, but I've never really been exposed to it, nor have I ever been taught how to properly do it. It just isn't something most eventers do in their everyday training. Then again, I've never had a horse that is this severely mentally damaged, so I am open to any and all methods that might help her.
It breaks down like this: I am a stickler for manners, and I have always had snotty, bossy horses who wanted to barge their way right into the top spot in our herd of two, so there has always been a lot of groundwork, a lot of get-out-of-my-space, a lot of top dogging if you will. Imogen? Imogen is the absolute bottom of the totem pole. Watching her out interacting with a herd, if another horse so much as looks at her, she wheels and runs away. Despite being at the bottom, she NEVER has a mark on her, so quick is she to run from a possible threat. Now enter humans: she is more than willing to submit to them as the top dog, but they need her to stand still for procedures. She tries to run from their threatening behavior, but she is punished, beaten and hurt for her fear. Now she is double afraid of them, because she has reason to be. She is afraid of confinement, and she is afraid of being beat on. Can you really blame her for wanting to run away with the pressure gets to be too much for her?
Enter me. I was the only one who was ever nice to her. Cookies, love, and pets were all she ever knew, and it took her a very long time, but she came around. Even when we put her out in a herd, her herdmates didn't like her, and bullied her. I was still the only friend she had, and she was more than happy to leave the other horses to come find solace with me.
Enter P. At first, P was none too kind to Immy. Immy therefore was still more than happy to leave P's company to go work for me, even when I had moved her to a brand new facility. As time went on, however, P and Immy became inseperable friends - the only horse that was ever nice to Immy. Moving facilities this time around has really thrown Immy for a loop - after all, why would you want to be with a human who works you wen you can be with a horse who is always nice to you and lets you share her food? Thinking like a horse, it's an obvious choice. It isn't a matter of her being naughty, it's a matter of her being a horse. But humans, myself included, have the unfortunate disability of our own emotions, and it is upsetting to see your formerly in-your-pocket critter acting this way. So what do you do?
Simple. You think like a horse. That's the only way to get through to her.
S, the barn owner, showed me after all of her nonsense last night how to do the join-up stuff. I have a short video of it; unfortunately my phone died before I could catch. Any of the good stuff. Bummer!

I was a real skeptic at first, but she did well with it, and admittedly was MUCH calmer when back in the crossties. She could have been tired, but nobody there watching could deny the fact that now she was paying attention to us instead of what was happening elsewhere around the barn. This really might help her. What I need from her is a desire to cooperate, to partner up, to decide that good things happen with me, and that she wants to be around me INSTEAD of P. I had that before, and it is slipping away because of P. I won't let this blippet get me down either - honestly, even the way she acted yesterday was light years ahead of where she once was. We'll be roundpenning for a few, at the very least, and I may even opt for awhile to take her straight from the field to the roundpen before I groom or do anything else with her. I want her paying attention and focusing on me... and wanting to be there all at the same time.
This mare is by far the most challenging I have ever worked with - and god knows I have worked with a LOT of problem horses. She is just so very different from the rest of them all. Surely, she herself is - and will continue to be - my greatest teacher.


  1. There is so much information out there regarding horses and training. I believe there is something for every horse and i personally swear by the natural horsemanship training. Its not all about cowboys and as long as you are consistent in teaching a horse the aids, with out differing from the point of pressure/release and that you are a safe place, the aids you use can be anything. With the horses i have worked with (and by no means there is a lot, but they are varied.) Join up has worked with overwhelming success. The expression they give you once the first session has ended, is something similar to 'Where have you been all this time.' Every horse speaks the same language, using join up is tapping that keg of knowledge. :) Please don't see my ramblings as preaching, it is simply my opinion. Everyone will found something that works for them. I myself use different techniques from different trainers that I both understand and work better for me and my horses.
    Happy horsing!

  2. Wow, you really do have your hands full! I myself have ZERO experience with any of this, so I am fascinated by the whole process. I'm really glad the round-penning seemed to help, and I hope it continues to do so. Any thought of keeping the girls separated now, or do you think that would REALLY blow Immy's mind at this point?

    I was anxious to tell you, though, how GREAT Immy looks - so shiny and pretty and NOT saggy-bellied! Whatever you're doing, she sure is looking more fit and trim. :-)

  3. I have used the round pen method (John Lyons) but in my arena and not a true round pen. That is an awesome roundpen btw. It does work, and you don't have to do much of it. It's all about pressure/release, and that is basic good stuff.

  4. Good for you -- and it's really not majyk. A good round pen session DOES involve you speaking to them in a language they understand. I personally think it should be the first thing done with ANY horse and mine certainly have to pass that test before we proceed. It was a completely foreign concept to Encore, which is why it made great video, LOL, when I posted his a while back (check out our 'groundwork' tag).

    But do read up on it, because it is an art form of timing and dance and if you get it right, you can build an incredible foundation for your work that your horse understands and it will change your relationship completely to "well, she gives me food, that's nice" to "oh, I now respect her as MY leader no matter what and she is fair and I turn myself over." I continue to use it throughout the training process, both as a refresher and as a tool where they work out things like balance and transitions on their own, without the variables of my riding.

    Oh and lots of eventers use it, hee, we just keep it as our awesome little secret weapon. ;-P

  5. I'm an eventer and I use join up and I'm proud of it!!!
    I certainly don't advocate myself as a natural horsemanship guru, and I don't agree with the extremes that some people take it... but a lot of the basic principles of it, namely respect, are (or should be) the core of every discipline. I think it really breaks it down for the horse in a language they understand. I'm glad to see that it worked for you! Hopefully it will be the trick for Immy :)

  6. ::Googles join-up:: Sounds like just what she needs since she's nervous. Interesting, can't wait to see more of it!