"Thank You for Saving Me From Making a Big Mistake" ~ Mike W.
I belong to several social media groups for horses. I do so for a couple of reasons. First, it helps me keep abreast of what's going on in the "horse world" in general. Secondly, I have an opportunity to make comments to people looking for advice for their horse problems. Not all my advice is welcome, as there is still, unfortunately, a lot of traditional stuff going on out there and people are not willing to open their minds to another way.
But in THIS case, the outcome was exceptional enough to blog about!!
The horse is a 2 year old BLM mustang filly. The human is Mike, a life-long horse owner, rider and trainer. They live in Texas. This was Mike's first foray into the world of the wild mustang. He'd had this girl (I'll call her Fury ... as they have not yet chosen a name and she reminds me of a horse in a TV show I watched when I was just a kid.) about 3 weeks and was "stuck". He could not get past the point shown in the photo. Fury was not interested in having Mike touch her. This was about as good as it got, and if he tried to be progressive, she would either run off or threaten to bite and/or kick. Further, when Mike asked her to move, she did so reluctantly - to the point that he began to wonder if she was possibly sick.
Can you take time to analyze Fury's body language in the photo? Do you see her high head and stiff neck? How about her clenched jaw, tight mouth, and pinched nostrils? Her eyes are squinty (and Mike confirmed that she often did not blink) and ears are showing displeasure...stiff and pointed back. Her whole body is tense and she's poised to leave ... see how the hind legs are close together to assist her escape?
Now let's analyze Mike's body language. It's soft, not stiff. One leg is cocked so it shows relaxation. But, he's facing her straight on - his belly button is blaring at her, his eyes are putting pressure on her, the lunge whip is not neutral and he's reaching out with his "claws" up.
Mike had posted a video of him working with Fury and after analyzing it, I concluded that 1) Mike's heart was in the right place. 2) Fury is a very sensitive, reactive, right brain introvert. I commented about that, and offered that Mike private message me for more a more detailed discussion.
And he did! Mike was very open to this concept of "Horsenality" (trademark of Patrick Handley and taught by Parelli). He could understand that introvert's feet get stuck and they can really shut down. He also shared that Fury could be aggressive when he was feeding her, pinning ears, whirling to kick, etc. He didn't know what to do about that as he was trying to get her to accept him, but didn't want to get hurt. We decided to have a virtual meeting and analyze the video bit by bit and then I would offer suggestions. This is certainly one good thing to come out of the Covid Pandemic ... people getting comfortable using virtual meetings to solve problems.
Anyway, my analysis and advice was this:
1) Having been in BLM Holding, Fury was ultra-sensitive to him having a lunge whip, so either he should not carry it, or learn how to carry it in a neutral position. Resting it on his shoulder or having it tip down toward the ground would accomplish that. Mike wasn't really conscious of how he was carrying it and how it was affecting Fury, so he decided to not use it at this point.
2) Mike's body language is mixed - part relaxed, part pressure. He needs to become more cognizant of the affect that has on Fury's reaction to him.
3) Fury is really interested in him, and he needed to build on that by doing unrelenting retreating. Offer a horsey handshake ... palm down ...then walk away, walk away, walk away. Understand her comfort zone, and know that if she's pushed too far outside of it, no learning will take place. So progress when she's fully accepting what's going on and move JUST outside HER comfort zone. Read her carefully ~ neck, eyes, nose, ears, stance.
4) This filly is really good at DRIVING away (leaving), so no working on her movement at this point. The focus has to be on the DRAW. He needs to help her understand that he is a worthwhile leader (so many horses do not perceive humans as having much to offer in the line of leadership). That can be accomplished by equal doses of LOVE, LANGUAGE and LEADERSHIP. Lots of people enjoy the LOVE piece (and that's not a bad thing ... just can't be the ONLY thing). They buy into the romantic notion that if you feed your horse treats and groom them, they will love you and do what you want. That's why people end up with treat-demanding, rude horses. There's another set of people who embrace the LEADERSHIP part (and that's not bad either ... just can't be the ONLY thing). The school of "teach them who's the boss" can result in resentful horses who have issues cropping up all over the place. Not too many people seem to be aware of how important the LANGUAGE part of this equation is. Communicating with a horse in a way that is natural to him allows him to see that you relate to him in a way he can understand. We need to do what horses do with one another - being friendly & using steady and rhythmic pressure to move them about.
5) DO address the aggressive behavior at feeding time. If it's done in a fair way and a way that horses understand, the horse will gain actually gain respect.
In my next post, I'll share the feedback I received from Mike in just the short time (10 days) it had been since our virtual lesson (and a couple of text conversations). But, you probably know how it's going to turn out from the title of this post ~ I'm sure you'll want all the details!