Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tex: Thoughts and Reactions

I can't thank everyone enough for all the feedback in the comments section of my last post.  In particular, breeding/pedigree/lineage is not my forte.  It is so helpful to have those of you who are, weigh in.

I'll try to describe how Tex is reactive, since I don't think I was clear on that point and the question was asked: how can Tex be so solid and calm in what you teach him, but still be reactive?

The reactive part of Tex is almost like a reflex.  It feels disconnected from him.  I'll give some examples:

When I go into the boys' pasture, Tex always looks up and walks over to me in a relaxed and friendly way.  Then he stops a few feet away from where I am standing (I always wait for him to come to me).  I say "Hey Mr. Tex Mex, how are you doing today? " as I extend my hand, palm up in greeting.  He stretches out his nose and touches my hand, then I move to his left side and touch his neck, above his shoulder, firmly but gently; I don't tickle him but I don't pat him either.  Invariably, he flinches at the first touch.  "You goof; it's just me" I say.  I rub his withers, the way horses do when they are grooming each other, and he immediately relaxes.  But he always, always flinches first.

At the clinic, as I lunged Tex yesterday he was relaxed and tuned into me.  If I walked fast, he would trot.  If I slowed, he would walk (eventually).  To get a prompter transition, I worked on moving him onto a smaller circle while walking slowly until he came to a walk.  Then I praised him and we did it again.  We did the same thing with transitioning from walk to halt.  If I stopped walking, he was supposed to stop.  Initially, he just kept on walking - slowly and in a relaxed way, but still walking.  I reeled in the lunge line until he stopped.  He caught on pretty quickly (he is a smart horse), and after the second time when he nailed it, Mark said "go up to him and give him a rub; praise him."  So I did.  And he flinched when I touched him -- even though he was standing quietly, watching me.  He wasn't alarmed, but he reacted like it was the first time I had touched him.

Mark watched this happening, over and over, during the course of the three days.  He didn't say much until the end; I'm sure he was waiting to see if Tex would work out of it and stop reacting.  On the last day, Mark walked over to Tex (calmly, in a non-threatening way) and Tex ran backwards.  I laughed "stranger danger!" -- and Mark shot me a look.  He said, quietly (because he is a quiet guy), "I'm not a stranger to this horse."

At this point, Tex runs from everyone except me -- and sometimes not from Brett.  But even with us, he still flinches or steps away or reacts.

Mark did say that often horses, especially ones who are as easy to train as Tex, are often pushed too hard in their early training.

I think Tex has a couple of strikes against him.  Time will tell whether they can be overcome.  I'm not giving up on him, by any means.  He has a lot of lines going back to Driftwood -- being inbred is a problem to start with and Driftwood was a reactive horse.  Thank you to all who pointed that out (I didn't know anything about Driftwood other than that he was a successful competition horse and sire).  So, he's got a double whammy of reactive in his genes.  I'm quite certain he was treated roughly and it is very likely that he was overloaded in his early training.  The amazing thing to me is that he has remained sweet and kind, and that he tries hard to do what is asked.  There isn't a mean or aggressive bone in his body.  Just fear and reaction.

Mark said that I am doing everything exactly right with Tex.  I'm giving him clear instructions in a way that doesn't cause pressure.  He feels safe with me.  The reaction is greatly reduced from when I started working with him, but it still exists.  Until it is gone, it isn't safe to ride him.  If he reacts to something, he will flee and ask questions later.  And apologize.  But, I can't afford to be part of the reaction from his back.  He's tall and strong -- the chances of me getting hurt in the reaction process are too great.

I am going to continue working with Tex.  He is improving and he is becoming affectionate with me.  I'm going to research doing fancy ground work with him -- kind of like dogs on an agility course -- teaching him to weave through cones and such.  I think it will be fun and it will help me to have a goal in my work with him.  If he stops reacting, I'll ride him.  If he doesn't, I won't.  Mark said it would take at least six months for the reaction to go away and most likely take years.  That's fine.  I have time -- and I have the lovely Lucy to ride.

I'm also pursuing a full medical work up -- and I will include Lyme disease in the blood work.  My vet is very thorough and I am going to ask her to explore all possibilities.  We have an appointment next week.

6 comments:

  1. It sounds like a very good plan.

    One of the ways I earn my living is buying horses that are not working out in their situation and giving them skills for jobs that match up better with their natural characteristics. Think finding square holes for square pegs. I am not trying to tell you your business, but eventually you might want to find Tex a situation where his reactive traits are seen as a positive (like on cattle work). Just a thought.

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  2. I'm so glad you clarified about his "reactiveness". I've been playing out my own horse's reactions in my head all day wondering if they are also over-reacting. Mark Rashid was right, he wasn't a stranger to him by then.

    I don't know if you've ever studied TTouch, but I had a practitioner come to my home a few years ago and work with me and the horses one on one. If I can say anything for it--and I can say a lot for it, actually--but the number one thing it does is calm a horse's mind. From the head/face work, to the back, tail, belly, legs...it's all about bringing down the reactiveness of the horse and in the process getting a really nice relaxation and flexibility...especially with the head bends...like you were doing with the carrots, but even more of a stretch and softness in the muscles. All of my horses, including Beautiful (and the practitioner spotted her from moment 1 out in the pasture. She said, that horse needs to bring its head down--it's too reactive) were like putty at the end of their sessions.

    Anyway, I think there's lots and lots of hope for improvement with Tex. You've only just begun and look how far he's come.

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  3. I would work a lot with him on things that involve you touching him, gently and kindly - which you do. The more you touch him, the more he'll begin to associate touch with good, and not bad. He's got an automatic response going on - there's no room in there for him to think. As he trusts you more, I bet he'll be able to start to introduce a "pause" in there where he can think and not just react. That's my hope. If you could start doing body work and/or massage with him, that might help a lot - it would give you an opportunity to do lots of touch work with him that would feel good. Take a look at some of the Masterson materials (I believe both Mark and his wife Crissi are Masterson certified.)

    One reason I suggested testing for Lyme (do you know what states he's lived in?), is that hypersensitivity to touch is a common Lyme symptom in horses - Pie had it when he had Lyme. Cornell has the best Lyme test - ask your vet.

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  4. Don't give up on this sweet boy. You are going in the right direction...just be careful.

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  5. If his early life consisted of being whacked for doing things wrong, and he's a sensitive and reactive horse, it may be that his innate reactions are still coming through. I would also suggest TTouch, or just flat out touch, with a flat palm. Run your hands over all the parts of his body, smoothly and with firm pressure, until he settles. Also, tell him out loud that you will not hurt him, and that you enjoy touching him with your hands. It really helped Ashke to hear that out loud from me. It made it more real.

    I think he will relax and completely trust you at a point in the future, especially since he has shown so much improvement since you started working with him.

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  6. Tex is so lucky to have you and Brett!

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Thanks so much for commenting! I love the conversation.