Monday, March 12, 2012

An eye-opener

You can learn a lot about the personality of your horse just by sitting back and watching him or her be a horse.

I learned a thing or two about Gabe this weekend that may help me deal with the way he reacts to things that worry/scare him, such at the umbrella, the cows, etc. etc.

For some reason Sunday he decided there was something REALLY SCARY in his run-in shed. He would not go near it, even though he knew his feed tub was full of warm, yummy breakfast. By the way, there was nothing in his shed. I checked and double checked. Not a thing. Sometimes I think he sees things.

Anyway. He refused to go in there long enough to finish his breakfast and eventually, once I opened all the gates, Chief and Calypso finished it for him. Obviously, if they were willing to go stand in Gabe's run-in and gobble up his breakfast, there was nothing in there to worry about.

Evening rolled around, Gabe had avoided and given his run-in the stink eye all day. So, I put everyone in their appropriate paddocks, fed, and sat on the deck to just watch Gabe. I knew he was still being crazy about the run-in but I wanted to watch him deal with it on his own.

He knew dinner awaited him. All he had to do was overcome his fear of going in to his shed.

He started out in the farthest corner from his shed, standing there just watching the shed, ears pricked at it, body a big hard ball of tension and muscle ready to flee.

After a few minutes of him just staring at it, he dropped his head and walked forward with purpose about 20 good strides. Then stopped and stared at it again, decided it was still too terrifying, whirled and cantered back to the corner where he started the whole process again.

Each time he did that he stopped closer to the shed and ran less further away from it.

Classic approach and retreat method done all on his own.

He was confronting his worry and his uncertainty in baby steps, but he was definitely trying to defeat his fear on his own terms. Two steps forward, one step back, until he finally got to the entrance, stepped inside, took a bite, then whirled and ran back out again to stand about 15 feet from the entrance. He did this for a good 20 minutes before he finally decided it was safe enough to go in and enjoy dinner.

Now that I know, for certain, how he approaches worry and uncertainty and fear on his own, I can work that into how I approach it with him in the saddle. I realized as I watched him that he does the exact same thing under saddle, but WATCHING him do it, instead of having to ride that, was extremely eye-opening. It's a whole different ball game when you can watch them behave in a certain way and know why they are behaving that way than try to deal with it when you are atop them, especially the whirl and run away part!

If the approach, retreat method, done slowly and on his terms, is what helps him deal with it, then that's what we'll do and hopefully that will end the long, drawn-out battles we get in to over passing something that's a little too scary for him. Eventually though, I hope we won't have to go through that, that he will learn to trust my judgment enough that he will just march forward without the retreat!

We'll see how it goes, but it was definitely interesting to see him deal with something like that on his own.


  1. Horses can teach us so much, if we open our eyes and hearts to them.
    Just curious, have you ever had Gabe worked on by a chiropractor? Sometimes if their neck is out near the poll, there is pressure on the optic nerve, which affects their visual depth of field,and that sure sounds like it could be a visual /perception problem with him.

  2. Sounds like you have a good handle on how you'll support Gabe in future horse eating monster encounters - real or imagined...

    [If someone (myself possibly?!) has already mentioned this, forgive me.]

    I started supplementing magnesium with Val about six months ago - to improve his feet. A nice side effect is a reduction in surplus foolish behavior. Mg is water soluble so overdoing it is hard to do, and it is very often lacking in hay.

    If you are interested in more info I'd be happy to share. :)

  3. That's REALLY interesting! And it's the kind of thing you'd never learn if you boarded him.

    I think he's related to my fluffy insane cat. He definitely sees things that aren't there, all the time.

  4. Animals are great teachers. Great post, thanks for sharing.