What Do Wednesday: HALP my horse is a monster


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:

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?

2015-01-21 21.23.00

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!!

farrier tales & that time I accidentally Parellied my horse

I adore my farrier.  She is so great for me and Murray, and we blab and blab during our appointments.  We very much share the same philosophy for shoeing — do as little as you need to — and she explains everything to me in great detail so that I really feel like if she told me I needed to do something for Murray, I would completely believe her (perhaps this is the long con?! kidding).   Most importantly: Murray likes her, and she is GREAT with him.  Oh, and my farrier is a LADY, which is not the most common thing in the world and I do believe in women being badasses so you know.

2014-02-12 08.49.18We are not in posession of the world’s greatest feet

However, Murray and I did not always have such a positive relationship with farriers.  Doubtless the kid had all four feet shod at the track, but when he got to our barn he started out barefoot, just getting trims (from another lady farrier in the area, actually!).  Eventually, he graduated to front shoes, and that’s where I picked up.  After a couple of months of work, I noticed that Murray was wearing his hind toes down quite a bit, and asked my farrier if we could put hind shoes on to protect his feet while we worked on fixing the root of the problem.  It got put off for two appointments, until I finally put my foot down and asked for them then and there, as I knew I would be starting to ask the kid to do some harder stuff in the coming weeks — running XC on harder ground, for example.

Farrier man was in a bit of a rush, and with some bribery and minimal hijinks we got on the left hind shoe.  By the time we got around to the right hind though, Murray was done.  D-O-N-E done.  He kneed the farrier in the chest three times, and ripped his foot away while the shoe had a grand total of one nail in.  He pulled back, I popped him with the stud chain, and he happily backed away from me, twisting the shoe in his foot as he did.  He backed towards another horse in the barn aisle, shoe all askew and weaponized on his foot, and the farrier yelled at me to just get Murray away from that other horse.  Fortunately, Lisa showed up at just this moment and managed to placate Murray into some kind of submission.  At which point the farrier man uttered this very final statement:

“I’m not putting hind shoes on that horse. If you want hind shoes, call another farrier.”

I did find another farrier, of course.  And I love her!

Anyway, along the lines of this farrier I adore, I’ve worked really hard to make sure that Murray and she get along well.  This involved a lot of stuffing cookies in his face while lady farrier worked on his less-acclimated feet (hinds) and distracting him or reminding him to be a good boy during shoeing.

So with all this treating, I figured I would just clicker train Murray a bit to get him to be better while I was grooming him.  So every day, I pre-masticated a few carrots (read: bit up into tiny, treat-sized pieces), stuffed them in my pockets, and would click and treat him as I curried, picked, and brushed, targeting good behavior.  Murray, unfortunately, would be super mouthy whenever I was near his face, and would practically try to crawl into my pocket to get to the carrots he could smell and sometimes even see.  So I trained a “head down” command, and clicked and treated specifically for him keeping his head down.

Yes you really must wear this baling twine

But instead of getting steadier and more reasonable, Murray got fussier.  He started to wander all around the tie when I was grooming, and repeatedly picking up and slamming down his front right foot, a behavior I had been specifically trying to train out of him!  He would put his head down, up, turn around to look at me, and then shuffle all around.  I tried to click and treat only for the good behaviors but there were so many bad behaviors in there that I felt like I was really missing the point.

And then I realised what was happening.  Murray, thinking that this was training time, was offering me every single behavior I had ever rewarded him for in an attempt to get treats.  He knew the treats were there, and he was willing to work for them.  Constantly.  Forever.  Always.  Just to get more treats.

I mentioned this to lady farrier at our latest appointment, and told her how I’d had to back off the clicker training because of it (upside: Murray is much more well-behaved during grooming now).  She laughed at me and said “Well, you know, that’s one of the goals of Parelli! To have your horse to the point where they understand the game and are offering you all these behaviors to participate in the game!”

I was like UMMM WUT?

So there. I accidentally Parellied my horse.  No carrot stick or waving lead rope needed.