Monday, December 1, 2008

It's like we're Married!?!?!?!?

Ahhh yes. Marriage. A commitment that's supposed to last forever. A union between 2 people or a person and their horse. WAIT! WHAT!?!?!?! OK, OK I'm seriously kidding about marrying your horse, but sometimes it CAN feel that way. It's a hell of a commitment. So in order to carry on with this life long commitment of give and take (mostly give I swear ask my bank account), there must be some bonding time. Bonding? With your horse? Uh, yeah, it's a must! Your horse does not want to be worked 24/7 with no cuddle time. Confused yet? It's OK allow me to explain.
SO! I get a fair amount of people who tell me that their once "perfect" horse has suddenly begun to act up and what is going on and blah, blah, blah. Well all work and no play make pony pones a dull(angry) boy. It is YOUR job to make sure that your horse understands that he shouldn't dread every time you show your face at his stall. Well how? By special bonding time! You bond with people? Then yes you can bond with your horse! How? Easy!!!

Play games in the arena with your best bud. Tag, chase, just walk around. Oh and do this safely by the way. Don't get trampled please. Also take your horse out for some nice hand grazing. Or let them go out and roll and get dirty and buck and play and be horses. Grab a book or magazine and a chair and sit out in their pasture while they graze. Your horse needs to understand that you have nothing but the best intentions for them and the only way they'll understand that is through horse-speak. Meaning; playing, relaxing, grazing, getting groomed in the sunshine, find your horses sweet spot, take them for a walk in hand, stand in their stall and groom or pet them while they chow down. Get a ball you both can kick or stomp at. It will do wonders for your relationship as well as their mental health and stress levels. It's like the posting I did about arena sour horses. They CRAVE a change of scenery and something that does not require them to be tacked up worked every day. Even when you give them a day off and let your full care barn handle everything, you're not doing anything that is productive for you or your horse. You need to be there with them and have them learn that you are not all strict business ALL the time, that you have this fun, relaxed, playful side too. You will NOT believe the amount of good this will do for you and your horse. I tend to get a lot of people who look at me as if I'd just grown a tail or something, but then again they'll never have what I have with my horses. My horses are happy to work with me. Happy to do as I ask, because they know that we'll have some fun later too! They show better, and they trust me and I trust them. I know their every move and thought. I just know them inside and out and make I strict point of doing that with all my horses. It keeps me safe and happy, and it keeps them safe and happy. We have less arguments, no lack of communication, we're less stressed, etc. It's EXACTLY like bonding with another human being!!! You'll get the same results! Just remember to keep your games safe and start with things that are more controlled. You don't want to run around in an arena and play with a horse that may accidently play to rough at first, or no know how, or might get scared. I play with my show horse in the arena and we chase each other around and other people will watch and say "Oh my God! He's going to run into you, trample you, kick you, bleh." Nope, not a chance, I stay a safe distance and have a crop for the just in case. Plus I've been around him long enough to know the goofy things he's going to do. LOL!!!
A strong bonded relationship with your horse is something money could never buy. It just takes a bit of time, and I think you'll have just as much fun as your equine friend, if not a little more.


2toads2luv said...

Amen, sister!!! Yep, what you said!

Trainer X said...

LOLZ!! Thanks!!!

2toads2luv said...

It's so true, and so many people don't realize/forget. Sometimes it's just about relaxing and HAVING FUN, hanging out, playing games. Spending time together and doing nothing at all!

Hope you had a great turkey day!

Trainer X said...

I did, how was yours?? Soemtimes I think I'd rather be out riding though LOL!! I'm not too good at sitting idly by for too long.

Anonymous said...

That is exactly my qualm with some of the bigger show barns (like one I worked at...briefly). When I was taking lessons, we went and got the horses from the pasture or their stalls, we groomed them, we tacked them up, we warmed them up, we cooled them down, we untacked them, we brushed them down, and we either turned them back out or put them away. The point of that was not just to learn (although that is extremely helpful, I know a lot of great riders that couldn't put on a saddle correctly to save their lives), but to build a relationship with the horses we were riding.

The barn that I worked at mercifully briefly was one of those places where the kids showed up five minutes before their lesson (and this was whether they were riding a lesson or or THEIR OWN HORSE) and a groom would hand them the spotless, fully tacked horse. They would hop on, take their lesson, and then hand their sweaty horse back to the groom, who would cool out, untack, and clean up their horse.

There are a few riders from that barn who do decently well on the show circuit (saddleseat/Morgans), but there are a lot of them who have problems with their horses acting out and not knowing how to handle it. I too feel that the horse/rider bond is something that cannot just be tossed aside.

I shall now step down from my soap box.

Besides, I always loved grooming and cleaning tack and messing with the horses - you couldn't tear me away. I just don't understand people.

kestrel said...

Hanging out together time is incredibly important. It gives your horse a chance to learn that he can talk to you, and ask for what he needs.
I've seen some people push the game thing way too far. (After all, it's only a joke if we're both laughing, otherwise it's bullying.) Watch your horse's expression. If you show up to play and he gets an irritated or resigned expression, maybe now is not the time!
As humans we seem to need an agenda. When you watch a herd, sometimes the members just want to stand around and visit. Playtime is in short bursts, followed by bonding.
Great post. We forget that it truly is a relationship. Made me laugh, my darlin' hubby is crankiest when he's most needy!

ezra_pandora said...

I love just hanging out with my mare, who I think sometimes doesn't really like me too, but it's so stinking hard when you only have so many days a week you can go to the barn. We board horses and it's like 1/2 hour away from our house. We have two little kids and we both work late, so we only get about 2 1/2 hours from end of work to bed time with kids to fit everything in. I hate to say it is a waste, because any time with them isn't a waste, but when we go out we usually want to ride since we can only go out about 4 times a week and my mare needs all the time on her that I can because she's acting goofy again now that it's cold out.

What do suggest for me to do playing wise since we have no place to just let her run and be loose? I will just groom her on occassion when we are tired or it's too cold out but we HAVE to go clean stalls. I know she likes that. The barn owner doesn't like horses "rutting up" his pastures and outdoor arena, and the indoor doesn't really have a blockade (just a rope across the opening with some orange twine hanging down) between it and the stall aisles.

I do totally agree though, I wish we lived closer or even had the horses at our house so we could just go out and pet and groom them.

kestrel said...

Does your mare get turnout time? She may act goofy in cold weather because horses keep warm by generating body heat with movement.
I'd probably put her on the lunge line to work some boredom off and warm up. I use a separate cue, keeping my eyes off them and wave my arms a little, just encouraging them to play for a while. I stop them and say "worktime" before starting transitions, etc. I'd lead her up to stuff and let her check it out. I play "hide the occasional treat in the obstacle" to keep them interested. Maybe teach her to play ball. There are some really cool horse toys out there. If you let her follow you, then you kick the ball, she'll follow your lead. I have an old guy who can't be trusted with a ball though... He thinks he's a soccer player and will wear himself out!
If you keep her guessing she'll be more likely to enjoy her job. Hope this helps!

2toads2luv said...


Everything that Kestrel said, but if possible, I like to use a round pen to save my shoulder socket if they do decide to start rip snorting around. And I definitely change my body language from "play time" to "work time".

Trainer X said...

Hmmmm I agree with Kestrel, there are other games you can play. Or take turns cleaning her stall while one of you takes her for a walk to graze. In any arena you don't have to run her or yourself around. Just have her trot, play some tag, it's almost like "join up" and once she gets what you're doing she'll faollow you and un from you and will be less likely to say run through the rope of your indoor. She'll be interested in what you're doing with her. Also have treats in your pocket for the first few times so she understands that you are awesome LOL!!!

Mikolaj said...

I think the "off time" is the most rewarding part of owning a horse. I am definately one of those people who would have a pasture full of old retirees even if I couldn't ride anymore. My Arab mare is so full of character, I love playing with her. She's the type I can chase in the pasture, and as soon as I stop, she dances over to me blowing. She lives to run, and giving her a reason is just her version of paradise! I always take her out onto the lawn in summer, where the nice juicy clover grows, and just drop the lead and groom her or scratch her itchy places or even curl up with a book. My ex-boyfriend was once reading in the pasture and not paying attention to her, and he didn't even hear her sneak up until his book disappeared in her teeth and she went galloping away! She's been taught how to enjoy being a horse, and encouraged to have fun. Quite often when we gallop, she'll kick her heels up in the air just for the joy of it! People always used to tell me to discipline her, but I quickly realized it was nothing more then excitement - never bucking, never more then once, never takes advntage of it, just kissing the sky with her toes for the joy of running with her human!

I've always been lucky. She's always seemed to be aware of that invisible line and rarely makes me enforce it. I know a lot of it is her intelligence, but I think I owe more of it to having an understanding - by letting her have her fun, she's twice as willing to do some work because it's not her life. =D

ezra_pandora said...

She gets no turn out time unless it's dry outside. The barn owner will not turn them out if it's wet because he doesn't want pastures or the outdoor arena rutted up. The indoor has no closure to close it off from the main aisles of the barn, so I don't feel comfortable just letting her run out there and standing in the doorway, lol. There is no round pen either.

I do try to lunge her first, but she has issues lunging. She used to be good, and she's still good going to the right, but she refused going to the left, even when I'm riding, she refuses to lope to the left. I do also let her sniff around the arena and the things in it, but she gets herself worked up doing that sometimes. lol So I can only let her do it for a little bit.

Here's what's up with her. Prior to March 08, she was never ridden. And when this trainer came out to see her, she was jumping at her own shadow even. You couldn't walk her to cool her down because she would get herself so worked up. She wasn't really that bad over the summer, but now that it's cold again, she seems to be spooking more than she had been. I'm sure it has to be because she isn't out to blow off some steam. The owner turned them out on Saturday and she was GREAT. No spooking or anything. So I know that's what it is, but I'm at the mercy of the B.O.

I might try the hiding treats thing. She would probably like that. Unfortunately I will have to keep her on a line. I guess I can try to just walk her outside and nibble on what grass she can find, but it will be dark by the time I get to the barn and it's starting to get snowy more often. Thanks for the ideas :)

kestrel said...

I'd try leading around, then try a little lunge, stopping before she blows and calming her down a little, leading and then retrying the lunge. Sounds like she equates lunging with "being in trouble" so make much of her for any effort to be good, and stop lunging for a little bit as soon as she tries to co-operate.
The other thing is, how dark is it in the barn? Shadows can really spook a horse, especially when we're up. (How would we like it if our friendly shadow developed a huge hump!:?)
How old is she? Does she have another horse near to visit with?
Sounds like something is making her feel "not safe" so if you can convince her that you're her calm safe environment buddy she should really bond to you.

kestrel said...

The mare's still very green, so I'd not ride for a while until you can figure out what's upsetting her so much. What breed is she? Some breeds can handle being bored better than others.
Stacy Westfall has some great ground training information, and her DVD's are incredibly inexpensive for the amount of information they contain. I usually won't get on a horse unless we have an understanding on the ground. An old cowboy told me long ago
"that horse has to have faith in you, and you have to have faith in that horse. Anything else comes after that."
Have someone check your tack, something may be pinching. Good luck, and let me know how it's going.