Thursday, January 3, 2013

Interference of the Bad Kind

Well! We've had an interesting (and not in the good way) few days. As a preface, everything seems to be back to normal... I hope!

As you know, I rode Imogen for the first time on Sunday, and it was fantastic. I gave her Monday off, and all  I did with both girls was to let them out of their runs at the end of the day (they had been up because of the rain). Nothing out of the ordinary happened... all was well. The next day, Tuesday, I had plans to pull the girls up and give them a good grooming, and give Immy a second day off. Both girls were standing near the gate when I arrived, waiting. Much to my surprise, when I went to go catch her and bring her in, she raised her head in alarm and moved away from me, turning on one heel and bolting off. Uh.... okay.... not normal. She wouldn't even come near me after that. I never ended up catching her at all. P came up and had dinner, then went back out again and left. Immy kept coming to the gate, but any time I walked towards the gate myself, she took off again. Eventually, I just gave up and went home, leaving her standing by herself at the gate. She was still there when I drove away, waiting for me to catch her but not wanting to be caught all the same.

Okay... what was going on?

The next day I arrived at around the same time, and both girls as usual came to the gate when they heard people arriving. Another boarder had arrived at the same time as I did, and she went into the pasture to bring her horses in first. Both P and Immy were at the gate when I arrived, but when I went out to catch them, they were gone. P came back within short order, but when I went to catch her, she too threw her head up and backed away, like she was afraid of being struck or chased. P is never, EVER, hard to catch. "Did you shoo them away from the gate?" I asked the other boarder. She replied that yes, she had chased them off to get her horses in. My heart sank as I spotted Immy down the hill, standing still and watching me with an eagle eye. The moment I turned to face her, she galloped in the other direction.

I understand now. She is getting aggressively chased away whenever anyone goes out to catch their horses... that terrifies her. Absolutely terrifies. I had no idea if I was going to be able to catch her... she wouldn't let me within 30 feet of her without galloping away. 

I enticed the yearling in the pasture over with a bunch of cookies in my pocket. It didn't take long before Immy's curiosity got the best of her, and she too came over and got a cookie from me. I stroked her cheeks for a minute, and then moved to touch her neck with my hand. Just the motion of raising it made her recoil in fear, and she bolted. (The "shooing" motion that scares her so much.) I couldn't get near her again, and night had completely fallen by this time. Over a half hour into it, I was nowhere near catching her.

I needed to get her to switch from right brain to left brain, and walking her down was never going to work. 
It was time for Plan B. I poured a whole bunch of cookies into a bucket, took it out into the field, and shoot vigorously. Hey, I'm not above bribery when I need it.

It worked like a charm. Immy and the filly came over, and after some nervous snorting, they both stuck their noses in the bucket started to snack away. I was able to reach up and pet Immy on the neck, and she no longer flinched away. I had a rope around her neck within short order, and was able to put her halter on with absolutely no fuss at all. She gave me her best Joyful Cookie Face, and I brought her up for dinner. She was a changed woman - all over me, cuddling up to me, happy to be in my presence and happy to be touched and loved on. 

Well... I guess we know the problem now. We can't have this happening though. She is nowhere near ready to have interactions with strangers, much less negative interactions. 

I formulated a new plan for the week: 
Wednesday: Just be able to catch her and love on her (SUCCESS!)
Thursday: Groom, love on, low-key lunging without bridle (SUCCESS!)
Friday: Lunging/Grounddriving with bridle
Saturday: Ride
Sunday: Ride

As per my schedule, I caught Immy, gave her a thorough grooming (including a leg wash), and lunged her in just a halter in the big arena. I wanted to keep everything low-key and stress-free, and was very successful in that pursuit. She was happy, relaxed, and peaceful in the crossties, happy to have her grooming and eat her cookies. She lunged like a perfect angel. To top it all off, she let me PULL HER MANE!! Or well, part of it... but it is DEFINITELY a start! It wasn't that long ago where I couldn't even cut it with scissors without her completely losing her mind, so this is a HUGE step for us. I only did a small portion of her mane at the base of her neck, but everybody has to start somewhere. Amazingly, after some preliminary wiggles, she stopped moving and let me do it without fuss. I kept shoving cookies into her mouth every time she let me pull without moving, so she had some pretty good incentive to hold still. 

Not saying it for sure helped or did not help, but when I first crosstied her, I tried out my bottle of Soothe Me spray from Zephyr's Garden (I LOVE their products and can't say enough good things about them!). She was very, very peaceful... maybe it helped! I am trying out the Soothe Me, Calm Me, and Settle Me sprays... I firmly believe in their other products, and regularly recommend them to clients and friends alike, so I can't wait to see if this helps her too.

There is supposedly some wintery mix coming in tonight (maybe, possibly, no idea... Texas weathermen can NOT predict winter weather to save their lives!), so we'll see what we have to work with tomorrow!

AND! January Goals and 2013 Goals coming up soon! 


  1. Grr! Ignorant boarder, how frustrating for you! You need a sign up, for the love of god do NOT shoo the horse that barely six months ago was uncatchable! I'm glad she's reassured herself that you're still her bestest friend.. I guess beyond riding the next step in desensitisation is Other Humans, and that this will be the greatest challenge yet.

  2. I am appalled that the boarder thought that was ok.

  3. The barn owner did it to, when Immy was in a pen eating dinner... chased her aggressively away so she could lead her horse through. And it happens whenever anyone takes the spreader out into the field too

  4. Hmm. This is definitely a dilemma. I experienced the same thing with my gelding (very headshy and wasn't too sure on the whole "stranger" thing), and I ended up solving it in an unconventional way. I don't know how big the barn where you board is, but what I ended up doing was telling everybody at my barn, "If you have some treats and Royal comes near you, give him one. You don't have to, and I will buy you more treats if you do, but I would really appreciate it if you did." It ended up working rather well, and while he still takes a while to warm up to people, he's not nearly as stranger-phobic as he used to be.

    I had some people worrying that this would make him aggressive or pushy, but it never did. I figure that a) when you're starting from a severe stranger-phobia, it's a looooooooooooooooong way to get to pushy and demanding, and b) I make sure he absolutely knows to respect boundaries and that "get back and stay there" means "get back and stay there."

    Good luck. :)

  5. I can't believe that people did not think this would be a problem! Not to mention, I can't see a stranger-phobic horse EVER needing to be aggressively shooed away. The only horses I have to really push out of my space are the horses who absolutely walk all over their owners (spoiled, rotten little things). I have never had to do it with recent rescues or with well-trained horses.

    Just mind-boggling.

  6. This is why the roundpenning failed... the horses get chased if they don't want to be near you until they do want to be near you. Or at leas, that was how it was explained to me. Which doesn't make sense... but there you are I guess.

  7. Is there a different field she can be in? Or can you talk to the boarder and ask her to do things differently? And is there a way to get the barn staff to treat her differently when they run the spreader?

    Poor Immy.

  8. Actually this is what I would do and actually do to my horses (only 2 in the herd). No way am I letting them stand at the gate when I go through with the other horse, they have to stand back. If the unhandled horse is close enough to touch the horse going through the gate, it can cause a dangerous situation if they decide to nip a flank on the way by. I learned this because my dominant gelding was always trying to crowd the gate at dinner time. It took some time, but now at feeding time when I come with the buckets of grain, he goes to his dish and stands there with his head down until the other horse gets out to his bowl and it's his turn to eat. I have to say it's cooler than anything else I've trained him to do. All it took was a pop with the end of the leadrope a few times to learn his boundaries.

    So I think you're overreacting as any person you run across is going to consider their own safety first. Right now it is causing problems for you, but keep at it and be patient, Immy will learn the difference between get away from the gate and you coming to get her for attention. It's not like they are chasing her to the end of the pasture and beating her, the other people are just making their boundaries known to her that she can't be in their space when they're handling their horses. Truthfully this could actually help you in the long run as people aren't always going to be going on tiptoes around you when you take her out so she has to learn to separate their actions from yours and look to you for leadership.

    So either this post really makes you mad or it helps you see it in a different light, I hope the latter.

  9. I'm not saying the boarder did the wrong thing - I chase other horses away from the gate too! It is just too much for her right now. She does not yet have the mental capacity to deal with it, and she is unlike any horse I have ever worked with. She does not and will not be able to differentiate because she is so desperate to preserve her own safety. She would rather starve than come near people, if they are scary to her.

  10. ugh poor girl... I hope that these other people can understand that she needs to be treated differently!

    I agree with Lindsay, is there a different pasture she can go in?