Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mr. Pushy Bites-A-Lot

After spending most of Saturday clearing the woods for a new fence (and a new pasture!), we didn't have a whole lot of daylight left to get to the groundwork I wanted to do. But, in spite of the quickly darkening day, my daughter and I pulled out our horses and managed to get about 20 minutes of work in.

Kayleigh (my 10-year-old daughter) has never done any kind of ground work with the horses before. She used Calypso for this new adventure and was quite thrilled with how responsive Calypso was to her. She had her backing up with the twitch of her lead rope, moving her haunches and shoulders easily just by motioning towards her and stopping on a dime. That mare was following her at a respectful distance and had her ears and eyes stuck to her the entire time, watching her every move and waiting for the next task.

The need to explain to Kayleigh WHY we were doing the things we were doing with the horses on the ground really helped cement my need to really work with Gabe on those basic fundamentals.

Calypso, while a very bossy lead mare in the pasture, really likes to have a strong leader in her person and responds very quickly and very well to even a tiny kid like Kayleigh. Kayleigh was thrilled to death and was having a lot of fun working with the mare. She said she can't wait to do it again!

Gabe, on the other hand, is easily bossed and moved around the pasture by Chief and Calypso but pushes me and other people around more than he should. I notice it with other people and get on his case about it, but as with most things, I was the last to notice he was doing it to me, too.

I never really realized how pushy he had become with me until I got him on the ground and started trying to move him around. Backing up was pretty much nonexistent when I asked him for it. Funny, considering backing up while in the saddle is our biggest safety issue - he does it when he decides he doesn't want to do something I've asked and he's dangerous about it. Instead of backing when I asked, he came towards me and nipped me more than a few times. He got smacked and backed hard and fast for biting. He kept moving into my space and trying to push me around. I can only surmise that the biting and the moving into my space was his way of telling me HE was the boss, not ME.

Which is a great big fat no go.

He refused to move his haunches or his shoulders over when I asked. That big fart stood there with his feet planted and completely ignored me. Ugh. I had to go to the stick to get him to move even a tiny bit. Hugely frustrating.

This is a different horse than he was when I first worked with him on the ground when I brought him home as a three year old. At three he was much more willing to let me be the leader and moved where I wanted him to. Which is why I never imagined I'd have these issues now.

Now, he's not so willing to let me be the leader. Somewhere along the line I've failed him, in his eyes, as a proper leader and he's felt the need to take over the role. Probably because I've let him get away with coming into my space and being pushy for the past year.

Re-establishing my leadership in this relationship is now a top priority. I'm just so frustrated with myself for letting it get this out of control and not even REALIZING it had gone as far as it's gone. UGH.


  1. I went through the exact same thing with Val. I was so disappointed and embarrassed that I had let the situation escalate, and that my horse didn't have confidence in my leadership. And the ground problems only got worse under saddle.

    The good news is that you can reestablish leadership. Gabe won't hold a grudge or dwell on the past. He will respond immediately to your strong confident leadership. You have to mean it though! :)

  2. It's an interesting aging thing - as they get older, they are less "foal-like" and willing to give up leadership - now you have to prove it. Don't be disappointed - it's just a stage and you'll both get past it provided you keep working on it as you have.

    Great to hear about your daughter and her fun session!

  3. Wonderful that your daughter enjoys groundwork. Glad she had such good success with Calypso. Interesting how Gabe views himself as the leader. But I'm sure you'll change his mind soon. You bring up a good point about letting horses invade our space. I tend to let my mare get too close and I need to be more aware of that.

  4. Great equestrian blog! Why not come over and post this for more to follow at Haynet an Equine Social Blogging Network http://hay-net.co.uk/

  5. I just wanted to say hello. I've been enjoying your blog for a while but never commented. :) Anyway, my horse was pretty bad about everything when I got him, and groundwork gave us a way to move forward. Still as I've moved into riding him more I've learned time and time again as we've moved forward that when things start to deteriorate under saddle it means it's time to get back to groundwork. I would venture to say Gabe's behavior doesn't mean you have failed in any way -- it just means you have some rough spots to revisit (as does almost anyone who works with horses). I bet you will find he shapes up fast. Good luck, and I will be curious to hear how it goes!

  6. Whew, I'm gonna try this again! Wrote a whole comment to everyone and Blogger ATE IT! Grrr....

    Calm, Forward, Straight...That's exactly what I'm feeling: Very disappointed in myself and embarrassed that it got to this point. To get back to where we were before this "nonsense" I'll put in as much time as it takes on the ground. When he was doing so well in his groundwork last year we were having beautiful rides...now...well...*sigh*

    Kate...I never really thought I'd have to step back and go to the groundwork again. I figured I'd gotten the whole leadership thing established in his mind, but, it does make sense that as he matures, he's going to also change how he views what he expects from a "leader."

    Once Upon an Equine...she absolutely loved it and is so ready to do it again. The best thing is its something she can do on her on and really get a strong sense of accomplishment from it. Her current goal is to be able to ride Calypso bareback and bridle-less...small steps, I reminded her, small steps!

    Samihob...thanks for stopping by! I'll be heading on over to Haynet to check it out.

    Vitzy...Hello, welcome and thank you for reading! I'm glad you commented. It's reassuring to know I'm not the only one out there running into these "setbacks" with their horses. I'm hoping his laid-back nature and desire to be a "wuss" rather than a big brave boy will play nicely into gaining my leadership role back. I'll definitely be making updates as we move along, hopefully those updates will be positive, forward-moving ones.

  7. Horses notice everything, and Gabe's new bossiness likely started with just the little things that you overlooked. Since I own a stallion I'm pretty vigilant over those "little things". I found a hole in my training on Rio the other day when I went to hose off his wound- he's only 7 months old, but to escape the water, he shouldered right in to me. That will be straightened out pronto!

  8. Hey! I answered your email before I read this. hhmmm, am I perceptive or what... lol
    Sometimes our desire to be best friends with our horses, leads to a tiny bit more permissiveness, leading to their behavior as herd boss towards human-boss. I had an interesting conversation with an over-50-new-horse-owner this weekend re her multiple issues with her very 'shy' rescue green horse. OH MY. But, she related and explained that she and the horse have a very special trusting bond and she allows the horse to nibble treats right out of her (the woman's) lips. Both Jerry and I simultaneously gasped 'WHAT', to her. Tried to explain that the herd boss never lets the others take food from their lips, stressed the damage a little nip of those teeth would do to her face, and she still never got it, probably thought we just 'didn't get it'. I ramble, sorry. I'd love to see my little horse whisperer grandkid pointing her mare the way...... you and Gabe will be back on track in just a few lessons, if I know you! p.s. you have awesome reader comments and insight on this blog.

  9. Interesting dichotomy - being pushed around and being pushy. I guess it's just like herd behavior... my horse is the low man on the totem pole but for the 2-year-old, whom he pushes around and bites and threatens.

    And Kathy - eek! my friend lets her horse kiss her on the lips... he wants to do it to me but NO WAY!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond