Monday, May 22, 2017

Weighting the Scale

How do you get a horse like Tex, who is so distrustful of the human race, to put his protective coping behaviors behind him and joyfully join you in relationship?  Why would he want to leave the safe corner of his pasture, the company of his friends, or his hay to come to me?
At the clinic, first day

Because I pay a commission.  And my commissions are good.  Very good.

Eventually, I won't need to pay as much because he will look at me and be filled with positive thoughts and happy anticipation.

Robin explained it as a scale, the old fashioned kind with two buckets and a pendulum.  On one side, the horse has his herd, his comfortable place, and his coping behaviors.  In Tex's case, those behaviors involve flight if people are close by, and indifference if they are far away.  That is the heavier side of the scale.  In Tex's case, that side is very heavy.  On the other side is me.  I haven't hurt him; I'm kind; but I'm a human so I can't be trusted completely (based on Tex's history of abuse).  My side of the scale is way up in the air.

What I need to do is add weight to my side of the scale with the goal of getting it, eventually, to be heavier than his status quo side.  I need to fill my side of the bucket with desirable things -- different sorts of snacks (if your horse is motivated by food like Tex is), interesting games (going out to hand graze, at this point), massages (Lucy lives for neck and wither rubs), or just companionable hanging out together time.

The first two days of the clinic, Tex was reluctant to leave his friends or his corner to come see me -- even when I had a bucket of carrots (or senior feed or alfalfa) in my hand.  So, we only gave him half a flake of hay instead of a full one to ensure that the goodies in my bucket were exceptionally enticing. By the third day, he was a lot more interested and when we got home -- he came every single time I approached the arena (okay, except for the one time he was hanging out with Flash who was across the fence).

The food didn't come free, of course.  He had to walk over to me and stay.  If he flinched, or pulled back, I left.  "Oh, Tex, you're scared.  It must be scary here.  I'd better leave."  -- and I'd take my bucket out of the gate.  The first day of the clinic, he was like "whatever."  This morning, he was eating his vitamins from a small bin I was holding (standing on his right side, I only pay from his right because that is his nervous side).  He was being a bit tentative and then something in the universe (I saw and heard nothing) caused him to take a quick "oh, no!" step backwards.  I looked at him and immediately left, marching at a quick clip back to the pasture gate.  ...and he came running after me.  I said, "Tex, are you following me?"  He put himself in position and dove into his bucket.  Because he is so tentative, I want him to be a bit pushy about it right now.  So, I was happy -- both with him following, and with the gusto he had for eating from a bucket wrapped in my arms.
Here, I'm paying commission from the left side.  By the end of the first day, I was only paying from his right.

Plink, plink.  My side of the scale is slowly getting heavier.  One day it will weigh more than the other side.  It may take a while with Tex.  That's fine.  I'm not in a hurry.

As of Monday morning, my side was already heavy enough that Tex will come to me when I am carrying his fly mask and let me put it on, at liberty, without moving a muscle.  I pay pretty well for that and he knows it.
Back home Sunday afternoon.
This evening, he was back to flinching and nervous.  He stood by the gate but he was looking for Brett and the hay cart; not for me.  So, I told Brett not to feed him until later and I did the rest of my chores.  Then I put some senior feed in a bucket, added some water, and brought the slushy cold mixture into the pasture.  Robin introduced him to "LMF tea" at the clinic -- its his favorite treat.  He immediately came to me.  I gave him a sip and walked further into the arena.  He followed; another sip.  I took off his fly mask and he jumped backwards -- so I left.  We'll get there but it won't be a straight line.  However, when we do get there it will be because he has freely chosen to be bonded to me.  Its worth the wait.


  1. Oh! Oh! I love this Annette! You are a quick study and a natural relationship builder. I look forward to seeing you bring out the joy and enthusiasm that Tex was born with. He is one lucky horse!

    1. Thanks, Robin! Your vote of confidence means a lot to me.

  2. Interesting. I think he will catch on to this very quickly.

  3. Oooh i absolutely love this... awesome! And with your patience I am sure your side of the scale will be heavier faster than you imagine. :)

  4. I think anytime you see horses running towards their humans there was, at some point, treats involved. Did you ever see the video of the horses running through the pasture and up to their trailer, then loading themselves? It's remarkable. I assure you there were treats involved with that training! But that is a good thing. I got Leah over her trailer loading issues by leaving her in there with hay. Now, she's great in the trailer as long as there's hay. When it comes down to it, it's their greatest need, besides water, and we provide it. Why shouldn't we get the love we deserve rather than just being their feeding slaves? bahahaha.

    It's interesting to me that even with treats, he was still a little stand offish at first. Wow!! He has come a long, long way.

    1. When I was at the clinic, we watched videos during our lunch break of Robin working with horses. There was one where she worked with a horse who wouldn't load. It was hysterical. First she established a bond and the horse knew she had treats. Then, with the horse completely loose, Robin started walking in and out of the trailer -- bringing treats and putting them in the trailer. A little of this, a little of that. Ignoring the horse who became extremely curious. Eventually, the horse wouldn't LEAVE the trailer. And the whole time Robin is having fun with it -- acting like a ditsy old lady. I think the "fun" aspect is key.

    2. Yes! We should always be having fun with our horses, otherwise, we're missing something. These things are so simple and yet we constantly complicate it.

  5. This makes so much sense, thank you for sharing! I need help working with my new catch ride on this like this, what a great way to think about things.

  6. An American in TokyoMay 24, 2017 at 5:24 PM

    Interesting!! Very interesting!!


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