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
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.
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.