Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mind Your Manners

New horse, new beatings, new people to offend!

I was going to write some sort of preface to this post about how maybe you should skip this one if non-stop snuggy time with your horse is the only thing on your agenda. If that's your horse reality, enjoy yourself. #snuggytimeforlife But instead I remembered I'd already written a preface many moons ago and went ahead and dug that out for you!

Plz read before leaving stupid comments, thx.

When Opie first arrived, he came with the warning that he stall walks when introduced to new places. His trainers were very upfront about that, and I assured them the first thing in his mouth was going to be ulcer medicine to ease the transition. Turns out not only did he stall walk, he also weaved, screamed, and his overall ground manners were found wanting.

"i what?? never!"

Ground manners are of utmost importance to me. I board at a very busy barn where several different people bring horses in and out to turnout during the week, and occasionally stalls get cleaned with horses still in them. From a safety stand point, the ground manners had to be installed right away.

Also though, I just hate a rude horse. I don't want them in my personal bubble, I don't want them dancing around on crossties, pulling me around while leading, or making tacking up/wrapping/treating injuries a time consuming process.

I've never dealt with a horse that weaves or stall walks before, and the accounts I got from people who have ranged from "It will never, ever stop. Don't even bother." to "You better make him stop before you maim him he maims himself." and everything in between. Several people forwarded me really interesting articles about what causes weaving, and what effects weaving has on the horse. Honestly, the conclusion I came to was that it's not fixable.

So obviously I decided I was going to be the one to cure weaving.

AND I DID.

"seems like a lie, where are those cookies."

Now before anyone offers me a book deal or a scientific grant (to which I say, where the fuck were you when I had the only horse ever in the history of 'merica with localized sarcoidosis?), I repeat: I've never dealt with a horse that weaves before. I don't know what's typical or how bad Opie was compared to other horses.

However, the reason I thought I could get him to stop the behavior was that he never did it incessantly; it was always triggered by something. He didn't stand in his stall weaving or pacing up and down if the barn was full, or if he had food in front of him, or something else was holding his attention. He was weaving if he was in the barn by himself or when he was on the crossties, and it got worse on the crossties when I was doing something like tacking up or the farrier was working on him.

With that evidence, I felt like this was more an anxiety outlet combined with a 4yo's fresh off the track brain in a brand new environment with a brand new routine. All things that pointed to: remove the anxiety, remove the weaving.

At first I tried just sticking him on the crossties and waiting him out. Surely you can't weave forever. While eventually he stopped flinging himself from side to side, he was still most definitely weaving.


So from there I moved on to beating. (Again, plz read the linked post.)

The weaving was approached as just another part of Ground Manners Boot Camp. These are the rules. If you follow them, you get a reward. If you don't follow them, you get a punishment.

I learned straight away that Opie's high reward, will do absolutely anything to earn it, reward is a peppermint. Easy peasy. Figuring out a punishment that he listened to that didn't involve me actually beating him took a few days to work out, but eventually I found that he really dislikes being driven backwards--no actual touching involved as having the lead rope shook at him and getting in his space to move him back was what stuck in his head as a real punishment.

Armed with that knowledge, I ditched the crossties and worked with him in-hand to show him that all those things he found so anxiety inducing were actually okay. If he ignored the reward and wouldn't follow the rule, he got sent backwards.

I leave his two pasture mates in now until I'm done riding him. That works especially well at this time of year where they're on hay instead of straight grass, and I was having to hold out hay until everyone was turned out which made Momo and Ralph upset. That nixed the stall walking right away to have his buddies still in their stalls while he was in his.

While tacking up, I made sure to constantly stuff him with a lower reward treat (baby carrots) until he stopped dancing all over the place. Once he was quieter about getting saddled, I went back to the crossties again, eased off the carrots, and only rewarded him with his high reward peppermints when he stood still for the whole process with no bribery. He now waits patiently to get tacked up, and has no problem hanging out waiting in the crossties with his saddle on if I get distracted by something else.

just chillin. 

He was also quite bad for the farrier when she came out to shoe him for the first time. Because he was so intent on weaving, he didn't want to stand still long enough for her to keep his foot up on the stand. It involved a lot of yanking his feet away, and if he couldn't get them back he'd just fall over. Fortunately Farrier is patient, but when she was done she said, "I'm glad this is one horse I know won't be like this the next time I do him." Challenge accepted!

During every grooming while we worked on standing still being the best ever here are some more cookies, I'd bring my hoof stand out and practice him holding his feet up for longer and longer. He'd learned that Bitch Is Serious about the rules, so by this point he understood that yelling his name was the one and only warning before getting chased backwards. Not liking getting chased backwards at all, he quickly grew very respectful of a verbal warning. Also good because it's something Farrier can use with him.

Now that his ground manners are where I expect them to be--he leads quietly, crossties quietly, tacks up quietly, is patient about waiting--the last thing I had to conquer was the fucking screaming.

When he first got here, he'd scream about anything. Was the entire barn full but someone was walking a horse down the aisle? Better scream about it. Were horses getting turned out even if someone was in the ring with him? Definitely scream. Trail riding and see another horse? Scream. Trail riding and don't see another horse? For fucking sure scream.

when you scream make sure you fling you neck around dramatically.

If there is one thing in this world I hate above all others, it's screaming. I cannot stand it. Like, legit grounds for selling a horse. Can't deal.

This habit has been much harder to break than the others, and it's still not totally kaput. What's made it so hard is that there doesn't seem to be a defining factor about what triggers it. Sometimes he doesn't make a peep. Sometimes we're doing the exact same thing we did the day before without issue and suddenly he lets one loose. It's like he's a horse or something, prone to horsey whims. Mind boggling.

Anyway, I have made some progress sticking to the same boot camp rules. You behave (no screaming when in the face of a prime screaming situation like other horses calling out or turnout is going on), cookie. You misbehave (scream), back you go. Obviously this was hard to enforce from the saddle. I couldn't yank him backwards--I mean, I guess I could, but obviously didn't want to. I tried a couple different tactics--booting him in the ribs, spinning in a circle, hustling at whatever gait we were in, etc--but none did anything.

He would not shut up one day while I was trying to cool him out by walking laps around the driveway because he could see his paddock but couldn't see his friends (because they were still in the barn so he wouldn't scream and weave). I'd run through any distractions I could think up, but eventually one scream per lap turned into straight up trumpeting to the fucking angels and mid-bugle I jumped off and sent him backwards all the way across the parking lot. We were able to finish with several in-hands laps in silence after that.

But again, we came back from our trail ride with Riding Bestie and Ralph a few days later, and outside there were horses screaming which got Opie screaming which for some reason Ralph felt the need to participate in (because Ralph is a dick and I hate him), and it was just a giant non-stop scream party.

So I jumped off mid-scream again and chased him backwards...each and every time he started making noise. The intensity of Scream Fest 2017 wasn't dying down for anyone and Opie's attention wasn't staying on me so I broke down and wailed him in the chest with my hand. That got his attention in a hurry, and it was immediately followed by more backing until I felt like I was the only thing in existence in his tiny little world.

I threw him in a stall quickly to grab his standing martingale since I knew I was going to need it after that display of ridiculousness, during which he picked up the screaming again. I finished getting what I needed, slammed the tack room door shut, and stomped up to the stall and screamed his name at him like a fucking rabid banshee.

He shut the fuck up. And he hasn't had a screaming fit in front of me since. He still lets one loose when we come back from trail rides, but I can tolerate that.

"can't scream if eating cookies nonstop. just saying."

I haven't beaten him at his game yet though.

I got there last Saturday mid-turnout and was happy to see him hanging out in his stall quietly even with the horses on either side of him out of their stalls. I gave him a scratch and a cookie and told him what a perfect baby horse he was. When I got into the ring, K was like, "I should have known you were here when he shut up. He's been screaming non-stop all morning."

Is that Carly 1 point or Opie 1 point?

I know the weaving and barginess will come back once show season starts. I don't expect him to be perfect at his first off-property experiences. But I think once he learns the routine of a show horse, and I teach him that it's also fun and rewarding and filled with cookies, he'll settle down while traveling, too.

And, you know, hopefully it will be so fun being surrounded by so many other horses he can keep his mouth shut.

56 comments:

  1. ugh man... weaving. blargh. considering i just spent more on charlie's surgery to fix an injury sustained while weaving than i actually spent on CHARLIE, i totally feel you on wanting to nip that in the bud. for charlie, i tend to think his weaving falls more along the lines of "never gonna go away" while simultaneously being very easily minimized. the lowkey weaving he does as a pseudo bed time story before naptime? i'm probably never gonna get that to stop. but the big violent weaving? like you say, there's usually a trigger. food isn't always enough, but for charlie the shape of his stall door (u-shaped racing door) has almost completely eradicated it. thank god. tho he never did it on the cross ties so i never had to deal with that.

    also the screaming? ugh brita's mare bella is insanely vocal and it drives her freakin crazy, esp in the middle of their dressage tests. she's experimented with all sorts of legal oral supplements (like perfect prep type stuff) to help, and i can ask her for specifics if that's something you'd be interested in exploring

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    1. If he starts letting them loose during tests--definitely my biggest fear and why I'm trying to nip it in the bud right this second--I'll definitely hit you guys up. So far he seems to be able to keep them in if he's actively working hard.

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  2. I'm not gonna lie, I giggled real hard when you got him to shut up by screaming back at him 😂😂

    Also, love that old post you linked to!

    Sounds like you're making good progress 😀

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    1. Baby horse has gotta learn no one can out-scream or out-crazy Boot Camp Instructor Carly.

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  3. I laughed so hard at this entry, hahah. LOVE that you screamed back at him to make him stop haha.

    Oh Opie.

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    1. Sometimes you just have to act like a child to beat the child at their own game.

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  4. i love all of this. i hate pawing with ferocity, and runkle used to paw TERRIBLY. it took one session to 'cure' him.

    there were cookies involved, but also a dressage whip. and that's all i'll say about that.

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    1. Sounds like it was basically just a dressage school. No harm in that. ;)

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  5. Ugh. Bast is the fucking KING of screaming. He's getting better because every time he does it (or starts to do it) I bring his attention back. It was a process working on teaching him to snap out of whatever horror-filled lala land he travels to when he's not paying attention, but now that he's starting to get it I can mostly bring him back to the job at hand. Sigh. Screaming sucks. My ears are SO PISSED AT ME for buying a dumb loud baby horse. Lol!

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    1. Oh man I couldn't do it. I don't know why it gets to me so much, but I just hate it with a fiery burning passion.

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  6. Screaming gets me as well. I cannot stand when Scarlet starts to freak about who knows what. OMG he is all alone when surrounded by 100 horses but he just can't perfectly see them. He is better when we are working cause his little brain doesn't have enough power to focus on more than one thing at a time.

    I think your methods of training coincide with what I think is okay. Sure, positive reinforcement with treats and such is great. I'd love to only have to do that. But some behaviors have to be given something that tells him no. Kinda like how horses bite or kick at each other in the field. They learn that if I do X, this unpleasant thing happens. I think the balance you talk about is just fine.

    Also, the "Oh shit Mom's here better behave" moment was hilarious. Such a silly Opie!

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    1. I was laughing so hard when K told me that!

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  7. Oh Opie! I definitely giggled when you screamed back at him too.
    I need this to get my dumb dog to stop barking at OMGEVERYTHINGMUSTALERTMOM. STFU TunaDog.

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    1. Ugh, my stupid heeler goes on those tears where she's just barking. Nonstop. For no reason. STFU!!!!!

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  8. Ugh. I hate screaming too. I hope the beatings continue working :)

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  9. Z weaved like a fucking Rockette on crack . But I moved her to pasture board for several months and she loved it. When we had to move back to stall life, she's been fine. She called a bit when I got her and that disappeared. Good luck fighting the good fight. Doing think Op knows the stubbornness he's in for..

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    1. There's a mare at the barn that literally cannot stop weaving if she's in a stall. I didn't count her as having experience with a weaving horse because all I do is throw hay to her in the morning, but it's kind of amazing how she doesn't do it any other time ever unless she has to be stalled.

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  10. Dear god. Can I send you Copper for a while? I'm just so sick of screaming at him for screaming and it not sticking so I must be doing something wrong. lol

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    1. I think Copper would come back to you scarred for life if he had to endure Carly Boot Camp LOL. Be quiet or I'll let you loose in the wild!

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  11. Hahaha awesome! So glad to know someone else has zero tolerance for poor ground manners. I often get side eye from the re-riders who never ride...

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    1. I once got the dirtiest look and lecture from a girl when I was walking by the horse she was grooming (not even her horse) and he reached out and bit the shit out of me so I cracked him one. Uhh, yeah, sorry not sorry I'm not going to let that slide.

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  12. So much like kids, you wanna be the quiet, in control mom, but you end up screaming for them to stop screaming. Ahem, not that I do that. I like your method with the weaving, I have never had a weaver (more than while food was approaching) but have seen some dooseys.

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    1. Right? I don't want to stoop to your level, horse, but I will scream right back if you make me, childish or not.

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  13. I had a mare once that screamed about everything. I FINALLY won, just like you are going to. The only thing? If she got truly stressed and felt the need to scream, she'd sometimes do the horsey equivalent of muttering it...it was the weirdest thing, and hilarious sounding, more wheeze than whinny, super quiet and like the batteries were running out or something. Actually, let me rephrase, I almost won! :)

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    1. Too funny! I think I would settle for that almost win!

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  14. That is a difficult set of issues. Glad you are making good progress (And more glad it's you instead of me, haha).

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    1. That they were all pretty much eradicated in about a month made it pretty easy to deal with. If this was still an ongoing thing, it would be a different conversation lol

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  15. Opie shitting up when he heard you coming is the best thing I’ve ever read. Definitely a point for him :)

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    1. It does seem like he won that round through craftiness. Oh well, still didn't have to hear it! :P

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  16. Fiction's weaving has been minimized but will never go away, unfortunately. I've tried every trick in the book but they only serve to enhance his anxiety and weaving. The best option for me is to completely ignore it and pretend nothing is wrong and then he's usually like 'oh.'

    I understand you on the screaming thing. I can't handle it. It's like babies crying. I want to strangle horses who do it, including my own.

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    1. Being adorable and a child genius definitely does not exclude you from being throttled when it comes to screaming, that's for sure!

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  17. I also absolutely DESPISE screaming. P so rarely does it that it annoys me that much more when he does let one loose.

    But Opie immediately stopping when you get there is hilarious!

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    1. If he only screams when I'm not there, is he really screaming? Doesn't matter, I don't hve to hear it! :P

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  18. this was great to read LOL I love your writing and omg Opie shut the eff up :) HA. I am glad you are making process. Remus will scream at whatever beast goes with him in the trailer but once they are away from each other he is fine. But it drives me nuts. But luckily it doesnt last. OMG. Like a nicker wouldnt do? So you have to SCREAM? HA! And Opie is so cute....too cute to beat ;)

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    1. I'm really hoping he won't try to attach himself to every horse he sees at shows!

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  19. The linked post - always a classic

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  20. Ugh, screaming is the worst! Sounds like you have a decent handle on it as long as he knows you're around. Your poor barn mates when you're not though! Nice work on the weaving too. I had a stall walker when I was a kid, but I was 10 so obviously I wasn't fixing that!

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    1. I gave my barn mates permission to treat the screaming as they see fit. If he gets extra beatings, too bad so sad. ;)

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  21. HATE screaming. I totally lol'd at him shutting up when you pulled in. As long as you don't have to hear it HA! I have no insights, I would beat App and it worked mostly. Beat The Pony is my most favorite game ever

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  22. I hate screaming too. Irish used to scream but mostly under saddle. I would growl at him and make him work his ass off every time he did it. After a while he would try to whisper-scream which was pretty dang cute.

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    1. So Opie finally tried this under saddle this morning mid-tantrum and my barn mate was like, WTF was that noise. I was like, HAHAHAHA IT'S HAPPENING!!

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  23. Apparently I'm the only horse person on earth that doesn't really mind screaming? I mean, I don't like it, but it's not a dealbreaker for me. I find it kind of hilarious when Tristan tries it. But then he's done it like three times in twelve years, so. I don't exactly have grounds for understanding.

    Glad you could ease the weaving! That one does make me nuts.

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    1. There's another horse in the barn that can scream for a solid thirty seconds without ever taking a breath, in this shrill, horrific pitch, and he'll do it over NOTHING. I think having to do morning chores around him has made me twitchier to loud noises than I used to be.

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  24. I love so much that you've been able to instal manners! Screaming bugs me too and Katai is right at the edge of my tolerance. Luckily she only now screams for food or when I show up at the barn. Now I just need to get her to calm down at shows and I think she'll be just as good :)

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    1. The whole barn erupts when they hear the hay cart first thing in the morning and I just yell down the aisle at them to shut up so they know it's me. I won't put food in front of them unless they're standing quietly so they all learned really quickly it's better to be patient and get fed right away then scream and have to wait.

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  25. Ugh the screaming would drive me nuts over everything else! We've got a new guy in the barn that screams about everything and seemingly for no real reason (though sometimes obvious reasons). Baby horses are such an interesting challenge, especially when they come with such quirky behaviors from the track! I love solving the ground work puzzles though and having blog friends to relate my problems with!

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    1. The screaming for no reason kills me. It's bad enough when they're calling to each other, but making noise just to make noise makes me murderous.

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  26. I just love reading your approach to baby horse training -- you're so good at enforcing the rules, making me laugh, but really caring about the horse's welfare. UGH. COME TEACH MEEEEEEE

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    1. This means we have to go baby horse shopping!!!!

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  27. Hell yes to good manners. #preach

    I totally understand the hate of screaming. I twitch with barely contained rage when Grif does it. He's fortunately getting better but omg... I guess it's just a weird misophonia thing to twitch with anger when hearing *my* horse screaming?

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    1. It totally annoys me more to hear my horse screaming than someone else's!

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