Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Catlow humbles me and makes me think

Well, Catlow never fails to make me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing with horses. She can sometimes be the most gentle, calm soul, but the second she gets nervous, she turns into a stiff over reactive freako horse. And she gets nervous easily.

Today, I brought her out of the pasture and tied her to the hitching post, immediately on the other side of the fence from the pasture. Well, Cody and Chico wandered out of sight and Catlow became very nervous, pacing back and forth trying to get a look at them. I had tied her facing away from the pasture and possibly she might have been more calm if I’d tied her facing the opposite direction. I don’t entirely understand why she would get so nervous down in front of the barn because that’s an area that they frequent often and a comfort zone. Plus, Catlow is an outsider in the herd and she is often off grazing by herself out of sight of the others. So why would she be so nervous just because I brought her out of the pasture and tied her after the others moved off out of sight? She definitely doesn’t “trust” me like she trusts the other horses….she trusts them to keep her safe and alert her to danger. Perhaps her distrust of me is because she has problems communicating with me…and vice versa…so she feels like a foreigner when she’s around me, stuck some place where no one speaks her language.

I bought her out to trim up her feet. Her fronts were getting long looking. She was not very cooperative at first, trying to take her foot away and swinging around to try to look where Chico and Cody were. When she’d lean on me, or step toward me, I’d smack her side to get her attention, but that seemed to make her worse. So I went and got a bunch of treats and started doling them out as she stood still and paid attention to me. Even with the treats, her attention would come and go. She’d be still and calm for a while, but then suddenly remember that she was “alone” and get nervous and need to move. Then she’d settle again. A couple of times I just stood back and watched her when she was nervous. My only rule was that she couldn’t step into my space or swing her butt toward me as she paced. She respects that, but I did have to assert myself a couple times as she was pacing into me.

After her feet were finally done, I took her out into the field to do some lunging. First, I tossed the string all over (the initial couple tosses she tried to take off lunging because she thought that’s what I wanted, but I just wanted her to stand still). Once she understood that, she stood very well, and lowered her head. I was pleased with that. Then I asked her to move out and lunge around me. She of course kept looking toward the pasture, so her circles around me were bent, then counterbent, then bent, then counterbent, and she was completely over reacting at first…also trying to go the wrong direction after I’d stopped her (treat reward), then asked her to go out again. It took a while, but being calm and just calmly asking her to stop and change directions got her calming down and trotting more slowly around me. Then of course, something got her nervous again, and she started overreacting again. When she’s nervous, she tries to cut in on me with her circles (back toward the barn). I started to tap her when she did that, and she respected it and moved back out….so initially, she seemed very calm, but then suddenly she got quite nervous and overreactive about the fact that I was “hitting” her with the stick.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing wrong with her. I guess I had this issue last year when I first started my training journal. Last year, I was confused about whether I wasn’t being firm enough, or if I was being too firm. I have to be very firm with Chico and Cody…it gets their attention and their respect…but with Catlow, I’m not so sure what to do. Last year, I decided that I was being too firm and too inconsistent in my body language. She gets upset when she doesn’t understand what I’m asking. And I really did get good results when I tried to be super consistent and backed off on the intensity of my commands.

And for the most part, Catlow does respect me, but when she’s nervous, she loses a lot of it. I also don’t chase her at all, because she’s so sensitive about it, but I’m always chasing Cody and Chico. Usually, I’m chasing them away from Catlow…like after I give them grain in three buckets and the two piggies can’t seem to keep their noses in their own buckets. I have to “protect” Catlow from them. So because of that, she will let me run around and move Cody and Chico away, but she won’t move away. She’ll stand there…she knows. But then today, I was shooing them out of the barn so I could close the gate (I had let them in so that they’d clean up some left over hay). Cody and Chico left immediately, but Catlow stood there, continuing to eat…I wonder if she thought again that I was protecting her. I had to shoo her a little more forcefully than usual to convince her that she really was supposed to leave too…it wasn’t just the other two. Or maybe because I never move her away from her food, she’s taking that as a sign that I’m not her boss? I don’t know.

This horsemanship stuff is complicated. I just want to be able to ride out alone and I want my horse to trust me. I think I just need to spend more time and start working with them more consistently than I have been. As soon as physics is over….


Linda said...

She'll probably come around with time and slow separation from her buddies. Sometimes it seems they're worse around their own place--maybe you should trailer her away and try her further from home a few times to build up that one and one.

Kara said...

I was thinking that trailering her away might help. She is definitely worse when she is close to home because the "magnet" is stronger there. When I ride her out, she seems to get better the farther away we go...and of course, if I ride out with someone on Cody, she's perfect, very calm and the most trustworthy horse of all of them.

Andrea said...

She sure does sound like my Bella.

I wonder if tying her up for a couple hours at a time would help?

I go back and fort on the firm enough/too firm thing. I think if you start small and up the pressure in predictable steps, and never get angry or frustrated, just keep it businesslike, you probably can't be too firm.

My sister had this problem recently with her new mare, who is very worried all the time. She was babying her and it made her worse. Recently at a Mark Rashid clinic she was told to ignore all the lip flapping and other signs of nervousness and treat her like you would any other horse (which doesn't mean punishing when she's afraid, but being consistent). She's already showing improvement.