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:
But before any of that, there was 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?
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!!