What Do Wednesday: HALP my horse is a monster

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First of all, thank you to everyone for the lovely comments this week regarding Murray’s shenanigans and our fantastic rounds at the schooling show.  Now, I am calling upon you all for advice!  If you read my show recap, you’ll know that Murray really busted out all his best and worst personality traits during the day.  As much as I can laugh about and make fun of both of us for days like this, these antics are also frustrating, challenging, and concerning to me.

To review, we did this, and it was badass:

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But before any of that, there was this:

and this

Peace out, suckers!

Murray broke away from the trailer twice, reared twice (one little, one big), dumped my saddle once, tried to kill our assistant trainer, and generally displayed all of his absolutely worst on-the-ground behaviors from the past year.  And this concerns me, because it suggests to me that I’m leaving rather a gaping hole in his education.  The part of his education where he knows how to behave in foreign places.

SO: What do you do when your horse is acting out away from home?  What do you do to train them to stand, relax, and accept the things they aren’t the biggest fans of away from home?

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When I got Murray, he was so girthy that I had to lunge him before putting the saddle on, and he would habitually dump my saddle and/or break away from me during tacking up.  At home, I have worked diligently on this, and have succeeded in using a combination of positive reinforcement training, reminders of who is boss of whom, and bribery to get him not only to accept being tacked up but to relax while I am doing so.  Literally, at home he now stands like this for tacking up.  Obviously he is not always wearing a scarf.

Four weeks ago, Murray tacked up super well when we visited Dreamland farms.  He was a little girthy, but nowhere near the full-regression of Sunday.  That was four weeks ago… what changed?  My routine certainly didn’t, and I brought a pile of high value treats with me to the show to try to keep Murray’s attention on me.  They were so high value his neighbor on the trailer repeatedly pushed his owner over so he could try to get to them.  It was candy canes and imitation Mrs Pastures!  HE LOVES THOSE THINGS.

Murray was also fairly bad for tacking up at our recent outing to my trainer’s house.  There he also required a talking to, actually, though I kept it brief.  At the time, I chalked it up to the fact that I had neglected to bring him a hay bag (the trailer has soft feeders in it and I figured we’d be so quick it wouldn’t matter), and that there was grass EVERYWHERE that he was desperately trying to eat.  Now I’m not so sure.

I’m really not sure what to think of his behavior on Sunday.  Part of me thinks he was amped up by all the horses (we alone brought 13 and there were at least 6 others in the area) and the strange place.  However, I am fairly certain Murray wasn’t truly fearful — nothing about his behavior said to me that he was afraid.  His head wasn’t straight up in the air, he didn’t tremble, and he didn’t have diarrhea.  He wasn’t trying to trot circle around me, he wasn’t rubbernecking at everything around, and he didn’t refuse hay, only treats.  Obviously he was uncomfortable and anxious, but he was also rude — and I’m sorry, but I can’t not respond to rudeness with firmness and a reminder about who is actually in charge.  I should also note that once he was untacked, he happily polished off his hay bag and fell asleep by the trailer (but continued to refuse candy canes, weirdo).

I am very committed to making this horse into as whole and well-rounded of a creature as possible.  I don’t want him to only be able to be tacked up by me at shows with a twitch and drugs.  I don’t want to have to lunge him for 20 minutes before I can put a saddle on.  I want to teach him that going new places is really fun, and the tacking up part is just a little bit of it.

Do I just give him more time?  Do I get to shows and new places even earlier so he has a chance to really chill out?  I can’t just do these things at home — tacking up has to happen after we get to a venue.

My comments board is your canvas. Please, feed me your wisdom!!

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25 thoughts on “What Do Wednesday: HALP my horse is a monster

  1. My first thought is ulcers – stressful situations make girthing up painful. Has he been scoped or treated for ulcers ever? My second thought is if it’s not ulcers, he’s being a nasty, rude little brat who has figured out how to get out of doing things he doesn’t want to do, and he needs a confident handler with a whip and a chain shank over his nose while you are tacking up away from home. If his behavior isn’t pain-related, dude needs to know that rearing up and trying to kill people is NEVER OK AND HE WILL DIE IF HE DOES IT. This kind of behavior is dangerous for both Murray and all the people around him and he just can’t be pulling that kind of crap, in my humble opinion!

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    • Thank you Allison! This was exactly what I was hoping for — free rein to beat my horse! 😉 Just kidding. But it’s good to know that the discipline route is something others are supportive of.

      You know, Murray has always been super girthy and that’s one of the reasons we treated him for ulcers last year (a full month of treatment). It helped, but far from cured, the problem. I’m not opposed to giving him another round of ulcer treatment, and I always give him a preventative dose when we travel. To be honest, he doesn’t palpate in the other places the ulcery horses are supposed to react, just around the girth area, and I straight up can’t afford to scope him (and don’t want to run the risk that he’ll get ulcers from the scoping, which I’ve read is a distinct possibility).

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      • I am definitely not one to beat a horse for every little indiscretion, but when they get outright dangerous like that, I give ’em hell. Biting or trying to run me over gets them a whoopin’. There is NO EXCUSE for a horse to be rearing, striking out, and being a danger to himself and others like that. And when “whoa, nice horsie” and feeding treats and making nice and trying to keep them calm isn’t working, I would rather beat the snot out of a horse than get myself, or them, seriously injured.

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      • Curious what you treated him with and did you stop cold turkey after a month? Generally treatment is 4x dose for a month then 2x dose for two weeks, plus a regular dose before/during stressful situations like shipping and shows. The fact that the treatment helped the problem in the first place makes me think that you were on the right track but maybe didn’t get them all the way cured?

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      • I used a compounded omeprazole (slightly let concentration than yours) and did the 4x treatment for 28 days, then tapered down from that to nothing over two weeks, so it is possible that we didn’t knock them out entirely and or recent travels have flared them back up.

        He was honestly perfect all summer and for our fall travels, but maybe winter + travels is just stressful enough.

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  2. My thoughts were on the same line as Allison. Maybe try for a round of ulcer treatment? Those packets of “blue pop rocks” as talked about on some of the other forums could be a cheap, but effective option.

    Orrr….he could just be acting like brat. 😛 One idea though…have you ever tried trailering him with tack on to a new place? Just the saddle without stirrups. Maybe then the whole tacking up thing at a new place won’t be such an event? Just a crazy brained thought of mine. 🙂

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    • You know, I’ve also thought about trailering with tack before!! And it’s actually something I’m going to try, but I can only do it if I get to ride in one fo the straight loads, instead of the six-horse slant we usually use. But it is definitely something to try!

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  3. I have a horse that is girthy, but doesn’t show any other signs of ulcers. Saiph from Wait for the jump suggested a half flake of alfalfa before girthing, as the alfalfa settles the stomach acid and reduces discomfort. I have been trying that for the past month and it really has made a difference in how he reacts to the girthing process.

    You might try it.

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  4. I know in those types of situations (a show, trailering with a bunch of people), I can be distracted, my stress levels are higher, and I’m not totally on my game (also, seriously, I don’t like causing a scene so tend to be a bit ‘weaker’ than at home solo). My wannabe alpha mare used to take huge advantage of that and feed off of my energy – she used to be horrible at clinics and shows until I recognized it for what it was and started to be more consistent with my expectations and handling. Not saying that’s you, though – just another thought to add in with the other (excellent) ones!

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    • You know, this is a very good point. And I am more of an “if it’s not bad, ignore it” kind of attitude. As in, the level of badness that Murray has to reach for me to get strict with him is REALLY high. And then I tend to do just enough to get him to go along with what I’m doing, but maybe I really do need to lay down the law for a while and make sure my expectations are clear.

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  5. there are already a lot of good recommendations here about treating the physical side of things (always a solid first step!), so i don’t have much to add there

    i’m slightly hesitant to add my next bit, bc i don’t want to turn into the zealot that says ‘ground work fixes everythang!!’ bc… ya know, that’s not really my jam. but if you’re finding that he’s physically ok, and the opportunities to make these experiences straight up routine (which IS my jam) aren’t there, then maybe groundwork can help? stacy westfall did a whole video series on starting a 2yr old that i found HUGELY insightful. this particular video shows how she begins training for a girth. it’s obvi a little different from your situation, but perhaps there might be useful nuggets there? relevant footage starts around 15min, tho i honestly watched the whole series and would happily do so again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H0loHykJH8

    regardless, good luck!!

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    • Emma this video is awesome!! I honestly hate the idea of having to lunge Murray every time we get to a new place, I really don’t like lunging as “energy burning” but if it’s just routine and I have to do it as part of the routine well… I’ll get over it I guess. That wasn’t what you said, though, just something I thought.

      Ok so in this video there are SO MANY things Murray does to me! Distracted, thinking, trying to outthink me, more curious than paying attention to me. I think we DO need to get back to some groundwork basics!!

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      • yay i’m glad you liked the video!! i honestly wasn’t sure about posting it bc i didn’t want to sound like ‘you need to parelli the shit out of your horse’ lol… bc that’s really not my point!! i am first and foremost a utilitarian kind of gal

        and i doubt you need to lunge him at shows – in fact i really never lunge my mare, period – but that specific exercise might be good to do once at home to change up his reactions to girthing and re-install the expectation that he stand quietly…

        and, if you’re still interested – she did a video on preparing to tie too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBrcYBh5E68

        again – good luck working through it!

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  6. These comments have been helpful to me.. I also have a “whole different beast” at shows, and struggle to replicate the good work we get at home. If be curious to know which strategies work for you, if you find any that do 🙂

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  7. It’s good to just go and hang out and not even show if you can, until they get use to the environment. And also… calming supplements 😉 like the pastes you give. Not forever, but to help qhile they figure it out!

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    • What calming pastes do you like? I’ve literally ever heard of Perfect Prep and that’s from Ainsley Carter videos… I definitely went to new places to hang out with Murray last year (and not do anything stressful), but I think that my error was being WITH him the entire time at such events. Thus he didn’t really learn about the other parts of being a Show Pony (tying, not running away, etc.).

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      • I can’t say bc I haven’t used one in forever (but was thinking about it with wiz). My first horse went through a 6month phase where he was a wreck at shows. (He tried to climb out of the arena once-with me on him! And ran away at least once every show). We just used the paste and kept going and eventually he got over it-then he was pretty much bomb proof! I just thought it helped him work through it 🙂

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