April 21, 2013

Tough Love

Connor's always been off-and-on hard to catch, even in Pennsylvania.  Just when I think I've solved the problem, he relapses.  I do better with it than the barn staff, but only because I walk up to him like he's a wild Mustang, because with his weird startle reaction, one sudden move will send him running.  It's not because he doesn't want to work or doesn't like me, it's because it's become a favorite game to him.  I normally hate anthropomorphizing horses, but there's no word for the expression on his face besides 'glee' when he's cantering circles around me and the halter.  It's driving my trainer crazy, and making things like having him in for the farrier very difficult.  Time for an intervention and some tough love.

I had the perfect conditions in which to work on this problem today: 1: Due to a cold night, he was wearing his medium blanket, which needed to come off as the temperatures had risen into the mid-fifties.  2: I had all the time in the world. 3: It was nice outside.  The blanket was the key, because I was going to have to walk him down (calmly walk in his direction no matter what he did and keep his feet moving) until he was not enjoying his self-imposed game anymore, and submitted to me - sort of like roundpenning.  The idea is that the time it takes to catch him slowly decreases over time as he realizes that running away is not fun and being with me is more fun.  The blanket was going to make that happen a lot faster.

As it turned out, that is exactly what happened.  After what seemed like an eternity of watching him gleefully gallop circles around me, he allowed me to approach and halter him, still nervous and extremely on edge.  I immediately gave him a ton of praise and treats and took his blanket off to give him a nice, cool bath, as his heart rate was sky high and he had sweated profusely under the blanket.  Things never got dangerous to his health or soundness, I would have backed off if they did, but I made my point: life is better with me, little buddy!

My accomplice, the blanket
After that, I handwalked him and grazed him/groomed him in the grassy field until he was dry and cool, but interspersed that with desensitization training.  First I walked straight up to him, then I walked straight up to him with my arms above my head, then flailing, etc.  Each time, he first reacted like I was going to kill him, even though he knew I was holding the lead rope.  I kept the pressure on until he stood still and accepted me walking straight up and petting him.  There was even some licking and chewing going on.

Life is better wearing a halter.
Finally, I turned him back out sans blanket and repeated the same thing, but without the halter, and he stood like a statue.  Halter on, halter off, arms flailing, arms above my head, halter back on.  I know I have to continue doing the desensitization stuff in order to cement him as a good equine citizen, but hopefully today's coming-to-Jesus moment is enough to make him better behaved for my trainer and the working student.

During his cooldown/desensitization/reward time.


  1. Hey Jen -
    Saw your question on an older post about the saddle fitter pad.

    Val tends to lose topline quick when not in constant work. The thinline gives us lots of options. These days (lost a month due to an abscess) I shim up the front with two sets of pads. It was pricey, but is good quality and keeps my guy comfortable. I also have their bareback pad which I totally love.

  2. Thanks for getting back to me, that pretty well settles it, I've been looking for a Saddle Fitter for a while and this one is going for a really good price.

  3. Sounds like your exercise paid off! Hope it continues to keep his "game" at bay.

  4. My Thoroughbred and I just had our "come to Jesus" moment just like you and Connor the other day. But our took 45 minutes instead!

  5. Come to Jesus moments are key. I bet he will remember this exercise!

  6. Glad you were able to "win" with him... I wish that they would just understand that life would be easier if they cooperated!

  7. Karley, you are soooo right. There are days that I wish I could just REASON with him like an adult! Then I remember he's a horse...