In this post, we pick up the story after two long, hard days of lunging 2 hours in order to get the most basic compliance from Finn, my ½ Arab ½ QH/Thoroughbred gelding. He is 7 years old. I haven’t had him long, and he is just not sure that I am a herd leader he is ready to follow…
As I mentioned in Part One, I have a lot of dog experience and I can read canine body language pretty well. I am also a small animal veterinarian, so I just have vastly more experience in doggy dynamics than I do equine behaviors. But my dog experience and frankly my kid experience (I worked for years with troubled kids who had learned to manipulate at a very early age just to survive…) have taught me how to tell (at least most of the time) the difference between I can’t and I won’t.
My Arabs are smart. It didn’t take me too long as I watched Finn make a zillion revolutions around the round pen to tell when he knew what I wanted but simply chose to ignore me. And when, at the end of an exhausting couple of hours, he does everything I ask, with a calm and willing attitude, his change in compliance clearly directly relates to how the battle of the wills resolved.
Finally, some progress
After two days in a row of two hours, he had a day off because of my schedule. On Day 4, I headed out to the barn resigned to the fact that probably the next couple of hours were not going to be fun. He was quiet and docile as I haltered him and attached the lunge rope. Fortunately, he readily walked into the round pen.
He listened from the very beginning to my basic lunging commands, and with no fanfare at all, he went over the round pen panel! I couldn’t believe it. We had a blissfully short session that day as he did everything I asked and never tested me once.
The next day, I laid out a tarp in the round pen. Kadeen had also struggled with tarps. My trainer, who had put a year of work into Finn, said the only time she saw his really belligerent behavior was when she asked him to cross a tarp. When asked to do something new, his default position is “I can’t! That’s too HARD!” He resisted at first and made every effort to skirt the tarp, but in a matter of minutes, he was crossing it. He did test me, and we did have some “discussion” about it. Nevertheless, I was quite pleased with how far we got and how fast we got there.
The dreaded water crossings
Our next lesson occurred at a new trail riding location. I took both horses and a friend of mine met me at Clinton Lake. I feel like I am giving Finn every chance to succeed when I provide him with his stable buddy directly in front of him on the trail, showing him that there is nothing to fear. By the way, Finn loaded into the trailer without incident, something that isn’t always a given. Loading is yet another area where Finn checks to see if I am “on duty” so to speak.
The ride went mostly okay, although there ensued another battle over water crossing. The first time we came to the creek, he did what he did before…. He immediately turned his butt to the creek and his whole body was screaming “I CAN’T! DON’T MAKE ME!” He was relatively quickly dissolving into a hissy fit.
I dismounted and he was so wound up, he knocked me onto the ground. Thankfully, I was wearing my helmet as I did come perilously close to shod feet. I picked myself up and told him we were crossing the creek, and we did. Not daintily, not exactly how I wanted it, but we crossed.
At the next little tiny stream, we repeated that scene, minus the part where he knocked me over. I dismounted and led him over it, with much less fuss. On the return ride, we had only the first stream to cross back over. Kadeen was in front. Finn came to the crossing and looked at Kadeen who was already on the other side. Finn knew we had to cross it to get back to the trailer. With an audible sigh, he leaped over it with me on his back! Again, not pretty, not how I wanted it, but a first in terms of doing it while I was mounted.
Time to try something new
After that ride, he had a couple of days off, and I lunged him 3 days later. He was readily crossing the round pen panel, and the tarp, so it was time for another challenge. He had to do as I asked, or at least try with a willing attitude, no matter whether it was a new challenge or an old one.
On that day I took out a hula hoop that rattled. I hadn’t done any “sacking” of him at this point, and that is all about compliance and trust as well. I had all of these same issues with Kadeen when I was first building the relationship, Just to “take a reading” I first “hula-hooped” Kadeen. He stood there like a stone, never flinching or showing any concern whatsoever.
In Part Five I will tell you how Finn reacted….Video of me crossing the Big Piney River on Kadeen… Finn will need to be doing this by this October! Here are a couple of great articles from two of the “masters” on how to get your horse accustomed to water crossings.