Two Head Shakes

I've sat on this post for two months because I didn't know whether to believe what I was seeing.  I've gathered enough data now, though, to officially call this a thing.

Every single ride, toward the end of our warm-up and after several minutes of being somewhere between here:

Meh.

And here...



...Connor shakes his head twice, juuuuuust as I'm asking him to really do stuff and he realizes he can't get out of it.  This head shake tells me three things:

1. My warmup is working.
2. He knows what I'm asking for, and he's in his own head deciding whether to play along with it or not.
3. I am T-1 minute from getting total body control and really good work out of him the rest of the ride.

That exact process has happened every ride for months now.  My trainer said a few months ago that as the work gets harder and more complex, horses often develop something like that.  Some grunt, some cough, Connor shakes his head twice.

It's like the obstinate part of his brain is making one last stand against what the obedient half of his brain is about to give in to.  "Obedient brain, you hear me?  This is going to be hard work!  She's going to make you go in circles with your inside hind leg underneath your body!   You want no part of that!"  Two head shakes later, obedient brain wins out and we're ready for the Olympics.  Or at least a Beginner Novice Dressage test.

Anyone else's horses ever develop a really specific behavioral response to work?

31 comments:

  1. Huh. I've never had Guinness exhibit any sort of regular "acquiescence" noise, but then again I don't think he's really ever not been trying to work. I think he's always just waiting patiently for me to get my act together. The barn's warmbloods, though, always grunt or sigh when you've finally "made them work." My huskies also yawn widely before doing what I ask, which I've read is a sign of a dog warring with itself about completing the command … or bolting after a squirrel instead.

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    1. I've always heard yawning in dogs is a sign of unease, and it really seems to be with Tucker. Not so much with Bitsy, but who knows what goes on in her hyperactive little brain.

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  2. Yes. Tristan farts. Loud and long. It's my cue that he's settled in to forward and using his stomach muscles. I praise him for it every time. I wish he had a less embarrassing "tell," but...it is at least obvious!

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    1. Oh gosh! Haha. I guess it could be worse!

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  3. Vallu makes weird but happy grunting/snorting noises (very odd I know) when he is warmed up and fully relaxed. He doesn't do the noise when he's tense, so it's a sign of him being happy and relaxed too :)

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    1. That's a really nice tell. I think I'd rather have relaxed!

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  4. I sometimes get a big sigh from Loki, like he's been holding his breath for half the warm up and finally has decided to let it go. But I haven't paid enough attention to say it is every time.

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    1. I've seen horses do that too, do you think it means they are finally fully warmed up and relaxed?

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  5. I think, Ramone might be a sigher... not sure, Carlos would pin his ears for a bit when he realized he needed to work, kick out a little and then give up lol. My first lesson horse Orion would make a big grunt, which is why i developed a "Yes it's hard work" reply to grunts.

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    1. Aw, a little Carlos temper tantrum! I like it. He had such a fun attitude.

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  6. That's really cute! Simon is definitely a 'sigher'. He will take deep breaths before I get any quality work out of him.

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    1. I think that's a good thing! It means he's relaxing and happy, right?

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  7. That is kinda cool. Shy is a snorter. She blows out through her nose really hard. When she does this, I know that she has started to really breathe (sometimes she holds her breath in anxiety).

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    1. Aw, poor thing. That's cool that you recognize it though.

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  8. Yes! Hampton will sneeze a couple of times and then SNEEZE with such force the entire trot rhythm is disrupted. Then ... he goes to work. I have always thought this was his way of releasing tension, expressing his opinion, and deciding he better just go to work now and get it over with haha.

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    1. That's so funny! Totally. And you have to ride it like nothing happened, right? It drives me crazy, because he used to do it often, but now he only does it twice. One sneeze is good!

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  9. Hmm...I don't think Roz does anything specific, but then again, I currently don't ride him hard enough that I would know.

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    1. He may not, I've never noticed it before with any horse myself. I find it interesting that so many people have, though.

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  10. Lainey would cough - if she squealed you knew things were going to go in the opposite direction very quickly ha ha. Ginger is a much kinder soul and either grunts or snorts like she's sighing - both are good and make me happy!

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    1. How nice of her, its like a barometer telling you the weather! Ginger is a good girl, she's really growing up.

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  11. Scuba will sigh and then stretch his neck straight out just once and then it's "go time".

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  12. Speedy might not be succinct in his ""I'm ready" clues, but his go-to is to cough and SNEEZE and SNEEZE and SNEEZE. He also snorts and wuffs and just generally wakes the place up. I can't do much with him until we've gone through this whole process!

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    1. Good for you for just letting the process happen, as long as it happens in the warmup ring and before they ring the bell, right?

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  13. Arwen sneezes. Like 4 or 5 or 6 times, every time I ask her for a canter for the first time, every time losing the contact completely and jerking her nose out. It drives me crazy, but usually she suddenly becomes wonderful as soon as she's done sneezing. Funny mare.

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    1. Funny indeed! It really did drive me crazy at first as I'm sure that would.

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  14. Rory will grind his teeth for a moment as soon as the work gets really hard- not in the beginning, but when we are really getting somewhere! I used to worry about it and would stop the work, then realized that was what he was training me to do!!! Now I ignore it , keep going and he stops:)

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    1. I had to learn to ignore it too. It made me mad when he did it continually this summer. Now he just does it twice. I need more Rory stories and photos and videos in my life, by the way. :-)

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  15. Ha! My lovely mare gives a really hard buck and then she is Dressage Princess for the remainder of the ride. I would trade that for 2 head shakes in a heartbeat :)

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    1. She is just reminding you that she is a Diva, and keeping you on your toes. :)

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  16. That is actually really adorable! Penny was grunting in her ride yesterday, right before we got to the good stuff!

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