Sunday, July 16, 2006

More Horse Play

Mary's haflinger horse Sarah was touted as being calm and well-mannered; and she is. That doesn't stop her from trying to have her own way on occasion. Horses learn very quickly how to take advantage of a situation, and how to get out of doing what they were supposed to do.

We still haven't really ridden her. We saddled her up a few times and led her around with Paul on her back, but we don't know if she can carry Mary or not. We're pretty sure that she can't carry my 290 pound bulk.

You may recall that the person at TSC had sold Mary the biggest girth strap available because haflingers are so stocky. Unfortunately, it ended up being too big, which made for a loose saddle. If the saddle starts to slide, there isn't much you can do to stay on.

So Mary went to Mustang Sally's tack and feed shop and got a smaller girth strap. This one fits.

Mary was outside trying to heave the saddle onto Sarah's back, but she was stepping sideways to avoid it. The little snot knows what she's supposed to do, but she'll try to get out of it if she can.

So, I went out and held Sarah while Mary saddled her. She wanted to scoot away on me, but I was firm and I stood where she was going to scoot.

When dealing with smaller animals (like goats), you can pretty much use physical strength to tell them who is boss.

If I attach a lead to the goat's collar, call her, and walk off, she has to follow or get dragged. She soon finds it less stressful to just go along with it.

Horses, on the other hand, can not be strong-armed. Controlling a horse is much more dependent on attitude and relationship. A good horse person commands respect from the horse, and is seen as a benevolent herd leader. A mediocre to poor horse person will try to use intimidation, but a good horse person love the animal and is a partner.

I won't call myself an expert horseman, or even a mediocre one. Still, I'm working in that direction. I try to exude a calm confidence around Sarah, and I let her know what I want.

So, I stood next to her and held her halter. Mary lifted the saddle from the other side. Sarah wanted to scoot over, but I was there firmly telling her that she couldn't do that,

Mary got the saddle on her, so we attached the girth strap and tightened it up.

The next thing we need to work on is Sarah's tendency to dance or spook a bit. This last time, Paul didn't fall off (tighter girth strap helped). He chose to get off later, though. I hope he waited a while before doing that, but I wasn't there.

You see, animals have short memories with some things. Any trainer will tell you that you must correct bad behavior within about five seconds, or not at all. If you wait longer than that, the animal will have no idea what you're upset about.

I use that to my advantage with the goats. Vanessa is particularly adept at getting out. She's sneaky and stubborn, and she'll dance just out of your reach and laugh at you. Then, when you aren't looking (or are too far away to do anything about it), she will tip the feed cans (garbage cans) and get into the grain.

But, what I do is put about an inch of corn into a can and shake it. She sees it, and really wants it, but she is cautious because she doesn't want to get caught.

So, I hold the can out for her. She comes and munches on it. I let her munch for a while, then I carefully grab her collar. That way, she associates the rattling can of corn with eating, not with being grabbed.

Then, I take her back to the barn and let her eat more of the corn once she is inside.

Today, Mary decided to wash the horse. The trouble is, the horse spooked. She doesn't like water dripping down her back.

But, she's a good girl. I was able to grab each side of her halter and look her in the face while Mary was pouring water on her. She didn't like it, and struggled a bit, but she didn't panic or try hard to get away.

I had Mary stop as soon as she got the soap rinsed off because I didn't want Sarah to hate the experience and become uncontrollable the next time she sees Mary with the buckets and stuff.

It's a slow process, but we're getting there. It won't be all that long before we are able to handle the horse pretty well.


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