I’m reluctant to jinx it, but I seriously think the end might be nigh for Murray and me… and our tacking up woes.
Since my plaintive cry to all of you regarding my tiny monster of a horse, I’ve instituted some changes in Murray’s life. Some that we had discussed, some that we hadn’t.
The first thing I did was get a big bottle of compounded omeprazole and pour it all down his throat. Just kidding — it took ages to arrive so it wasn’t the first thing. I dosed him at 2000 mg daily (less than in UlcerGuard, but according to studies a clinically valid amount) for 28 days, then 1500 mg for four days, then 1000 mg for four days, and we’ll be down to 500 soon. It’s important to taper omeprazole off — though my particular program is not necessarily the best one — to avoid a huge resurgence of acid in the stomach. Basically: omeprazole suppresses proton (H+) pumps to decrease acid in the stomach, the body recognizes that the acid level isn’t what it should be and ramps up H+ production. Since the omeprazole is inhibiting these pumps, all is fine in the stomach. Until you cut your horse off omeprazole cold turkey. Then, all the proton pumps are no longer inhibited, and the body is screaming “PUT SOME H+ OUT YOU USELESS PROTON PUMPS” and suddenly the stomach is flooded with acid. And in our tender, newly-healed stomach, this can cause ulcers again. This is by no means what ALWAYS happens or what WILL happen, but it is one hypothesis about what CAN happen. And I wanted to avoid that possibility at all costs.
Did the omeprazole help? I think so. But I can’t be totally sure, since we instituted a bunch of other changes at the same time.
I also got Murray a pull back halter. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a nylon halter with another piece that goes over the poll which you clip the line to. Obviously these things can be dangerous, so like a stud chain Murray never wears it without supervision. He also never wears it when tied to anything solid, he’s either tied to the breakaway or I’ve just had his lead slipped through the blocker tie ring.
Despite him having worn it several times on excursions, it’s never come in use. Somehow, Murray’s gotten his head screwed on enough those times to behave. More likely, he’s familiar with this device and knows he can’t misbehave in it. Much as he knows it’s imprudent to misbehave in his stud chain.
Damn smart horse.
I wish he were a colt. If he were a cold I could just cut his balls off to try to change his behavior. WORKS SOMETIMES, RIGHT?
Okay, silliness aside. At home and away from home I’ve been taking a much firmer stance on Murray’s behavior. He is still allowed to do things that I know certain people would vomit upon seeing — I let him graze in his bridle if we’re waiting a long time for something, or between XC schooling fences while we wait — but I have been much firmer regarding when I’ve actually asked him to do something. While camping Murray decided to just wander off while I was haltering him, and after I asked him to stand once and he declined, I kicked him in the shoulder. I left a footprint. He stood.
I never did get around to round-pen training, though I still want to. However, the round pen has been out of commission for a while as it’s been in use as a dry-lot for a retired shetland-mini X who has been foundering. She and Murray adore one another, and she’s slowly getting better, so that’s good news. I would like to try some of the round pen exercises when it becomes available again.
I have also continued to reward Murray for making the right choices. I haven’t busted out the clicker again as his anticipation of the game was causing some problems, but I still wait for him to make the right choice, say “good”, and give him a treat when appropriate. However, Murray has started anticipating making the right choice and has been making the wrong choice first (sidling away) then making the right one (standing still) and regarding me with treat-expecting eyes. Yes, yes, I know, this is my fault. I created this. However, it means that I have to be extra strict with myself and what I’m asking Murray.
So recently, when he decided he would rather dance around for treats instead of standing as I asked, my barn manager suggested I institute the stick part of the game and make it harder for Murray to be bad. She took a hold of him, held his girth up to the billets (he was also being too fat for girthing, a newish trick), and made him turn on the forehand in the barn aisle. After a few goes around, she tried the girth and lo and behold: no longer too fat! I’ve had to do this twice since then, but it has worked. Murray doesn’t get away from what he dislikes (girthing) by wandering off because I’m still holding the girth to his billets, and when he relents and lets us get it on, I stop asking him to do something hard (turn on the forehand). It’s really not my ideal way of training, but I think it was an important distinction. There are good choices (standing still), okay choices (moving for one second and standing still), and terrible choices (refusing to stand still at all).
So today, Murray made his usual paltry attempt at not having the girth put on (one step away, stop, look at me for a carrot), but I did one billet anyway and then untied him and asked him to stand for the second one. He looked at me, all doe-eyed and “well?” and started to get a little anxious. So I reminded him of what I wanted — just stand — and Murray was like WTF LADY. He headbutted me, I reprimanded me, and he was like woah this is for real. So I asked him one more time to stand, and then praised him heavily for it. Then I did up the last billet, and he stood perfectly still. I gave him a carrot and lots of pats. I asked him to stay standing one more time, tightened the girth, and nothing. No movement.
This was seriously the icing on the cake of good behavior. Despite the little setbacks, Murray really has been getting better these last few months, and today I saw the lightbulb go off. I saw him when he realised “OH THIS IS WHAT THEY’VE BEEN ASKING FOR”.
For the first time in a long time, I can see the end of this fucking ridiculously absurd tacking up journey.