Thursday, March 19, 2009

The fascinating pile 'o poo

Spring is just around the corner and we are definitely enjoying the better weather around here. Warm and sunny most days. We had rain last night but we needed it. The pastures are greening up beautifully and it is SO hard for me not to turn the horses out on it already! I like to wait until the grass is a few inches long before I start gradually turning them out full time. Last year I didn't turn them out on the grass until after I mowed them all at least once. I don't know if I'll wait that long this year.

I've ridden Gabe four times since my first ride and he just keeps getting better. We are still steering wide, but the stop is definitely there. My last ride we had a bit of a forward issue: He didn't want to go forward. Robert was riding Calypso with us in Gabe's paddock (it's about arena sized) and Gabe was doing beautifully: Circling, stopping, walking, changing speed within the walk and reaching for the bit. He is very, very mouthy with the bit. He likes to suck it up and chew, chew, chew and play with it so we get plenty of foam on the lips. I know in a dressage competition his mouthiness would be counted against him, but I'm not going to put him in a flash or a drop. If he wants to play, I don't care, as long as he listens and doesn't try to grab it and ignore me. I think some horses are just naturally mouthy, and he is definitely one of them. He is the most oral horse I've ever been around, much like a toddler who has to shove everything into his mouth or at least give it a taste. He even tries to pull parts of the bridle into his mouth when I tack him up. He normally reaching around and nibbles at my sleeve or arm or shirt while I'm grooming. He's not trying to bite out of malice, he just seems to need to have something in his mouth. An odd beast he is.

Anyway, we were riding with Calypso and she pooped. Shocking, I know! Gabe was suddenly mesmerized by her pile of poop and refused to move away from it. I wouldn't let him sniff it and trust me, he was trying! I tried to make him walk away from it and he decided backing up was his best option because he did not want to leave that pile of poo, dammit! So we backed and we backed and we backed. I kept his head turned to the side as he was backing and as soon as he'd make even the slightest forward or turning movement, I released his head. He figured it out pretty quickly. There is no good (or safe) way to force a horse to go forward if they are determined to go backwards, the option of going up is definitely increased in that situation. I could have kicked the crap out of him and forced him to go forward, but all I would have managed to do is get in a battle of wills with him, and I'm not going to win. He is much larger than me and will win any "strength" battle. My philosophy is to make it uncomfortable to do the wrong thing and very easy to do what I am asking. Backing up with your head pulled around to the side is not comfortable or easy...taking a step forward and having your head released is much easier! Thankfully he fairly quickly chose the easy path.

The funny thing is, as soon as I untacked and turned him back out into his paddock, he trotted over to that pile of poop and gave it a good long sniff then wandered away like it wasn't a thing. I told you, he's bizarre!

Today is beautiful and I'm sitting in the office with ants in my pants. I just want to get home and RIDE!!!!

P.S. I still have a job! We all were forced to take a pay cut so now I'm earning what I earned in 2005, but at least I still have a job. And for that I am thankful. It could have been much, much worse.


  1. That's so funny! I thought dogs were the only animals who did stuff like that.

    Lynnette Labelle

  2. He is soo funny!
    I love hearing of his willingness....and your trick for continued willingness is my sissy's too. DO this circle and that sidestep or more of what they think they want to do..till it is "their idea" is to simply go forward on!

    I know...when I must work on the days of slays me! So glad the job is still there for you as well. I have mine and people are coming in saying that they took a 10% cut to kep theirs.

    Sometimes, ride others horses on the trial and they have that facination for the poo out're riding along and..bango.the head goes down to sniff a poo pile!
    I am so glad that Wa not only cares less for that sniffing but also keeps on moving through making her own!

  3. Gabe sounds like a real character. I've not caught my gelding sniffing poo, but my mare is quite obsessed with the stuff.

  4. Glad you still have a job. I've always treated backing as if it is a skill, but I do see a lot clinicians use it as correction -- not necessarily punishment, but just a way to make the horse work harder so that he will choose the easier request. Also, horses that are slow to whoa can be asked to back up after the halt to reinforce the command. I keep reminding myself to try that.

  5. Lynette...yeah, he's a bit bizarre. Horses will sniff each other's poo to ID it, but most aren't as fascinated by the piles as Gabe seems to be!

    allhorsesstuff...I was watching the clock ALL afternoon and the minutes just dragged by. He is definitely willing and quite the character...he's so much FUN but can be a puzzle to figure out.

    OnceUponAnEquine...Gabe wasn't gelded until he was four and stallions tend to really want to sniff all poo...I can't help but wonder if it's just a habit he picked up as a stallion. He is funny though...I love that big ole goober.

    NuzzMuzz...Oh, I am too! I don't really know what I'd do out in the real world!
    I don't use backing as a correction because I don't want my horses thinking backwards when they don't understand something...I want them always thinking forwards, even when stopping. Besides, they should back willingly when I ask, not because they did something wrong, in my opinion.
    My husband's mare's whoa is sometimes iffy and I've been using the back up for 4-5 steps after the halt and it has really helped A LOT because not only does it rebalance her after a halt, it definitely reinforces the halt.

  6. Glad to hear you are getting some rides in. Isn't it great to have more nice weather days than bad?

    My mare has a poop obsession, too. She is also the only one that I will occasionally find worms when I deworm her. Makes me wonder what she does when I'm not looking.... ergh!

  7. Just catching up with your blog; so good to see that you are riding and enjoying Gabe! Woo-hooo! There is such a good feeling when you have done all the work yourself, and that first ride always gives me an ear-to-ear grin!

  8. So great that you and hubby are able to ride together again.