Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This situation needs a solution!

I've decided that Lady's fear of machinery and big trucks needs to be dealt with rather than ignored. Previously, Cynthia Medina worked with her fears of a four wheeler, and it was a small miracle in my estimation, as I watched Cindy ride her down the driveway beside the four wheeler within 15 minutes! A few days ago, my dear husband took Lady out to eat some grass, while I was talking to a couple friends on the other side of the barn. I saw the big combine go by, and I told my friends I was glad I hadn't gotten her out yet for grass, because it could have been a disaster! I didn't realize that he had already taken her out and they were near the road when it came by, and she spooked and ran! He tried to hold on (big mistake) and got rope burns and a blistered finger. He did let go then, and she ran out to her paddock, dragging her lead rope. Lady is so good in many ways...she is very intelligent and loving, but her alpha nature and her fears can take over in a split second! HOW do you get a strong alpha mare to get over her fears? It's only when some big tractor, or combine or dump truck comes toward her...and I know that would scare almost any horse...but is there some way to get her to not react so suddenly and violently? Once before, when she spooked at a big tractor on the road, I was standing beside her and I held her halter and looked her directly in the eye, talking to her, and she stood still. So I think she might trust me if I could keep her attention on me, but that just doesn't always happen that way! So...people out there...anyone with any ideas...PLEASE SHARE!

12 comments:

Rose Miller said...

wow, that is a tough one. I will be looking to see what results you get from your question. My experiences with my horses and mules has been that you need to do the ground bonding as in "Parelli" or some such, but it sure taks a lot of time and effort and exposure to large machinery. in my case I had a young man help me who was a "natural horse whisperer"

Betsy Kelleher said...

Rose...it's the exposure to large machinery that I need! Never know when the big tractor might go by, or I'd be out there waiting, staying back at first, then getting closer. Guess I need to take her to the farmer's home, if I really want to get somewhere with this!

Betsy Kelleher said...

Connie Funk, author of Beauty from Brokenness sent me an ingenious solution to consider. I'm going to publish it in pieces, and you need to read all the pieces to get the full picture...
Hi Betsy!
Your blog looks terrific and it is a wonderful forum for situations just like this that come up and we can work (and play!) together to find solutions. As you read in my first book, when my incredible mare, Chasta, first came into my life, she spooked at her own shadow at times--I am not kidding! And when I approached her with a carrot and broke it in half, she leaped ten feet up and sideways and took off for the next county! I had no experience or confidence to know how to help her at that time so was foolish enough to think I could have success riding when neither of us were prepared to remain calm under pressure. So on an early ride, we were on a trail when some motorcyclers (who were not supposed to be on that particular trail) came up on us and she spooked and tried to bolt. Fortunately, I was with savvy Parelli friends whose horses also remained calm and she was soothed by that and we escaped what could have been serious consequences. That situation made me realize the incredible importance of what Pat Parelli calls "prior and proper preparation" and the process starts on the ground. If it is not calm and collected on the ground, it certainly will not be there in the saddle, since both horse and human emotions are amped up considerably there. So when I got home, I put what I was learning in natural horsemanship ground games to practice. How could I replicate that high pitched motor sound under controlled conditions so that I could help my horses (and myself!!) know that it did not represent danger? It occurred to me that my son's remote control truck had a very similar sound so asked him to help me since he is very skilled in directing the truck properly and I am not. (Lesson here: Be Proactive and ASK FOR HELP!)

Betsy Kelleher said...

Connie Funk's solution continues...part two...
I had my son go to a pasture below where I was with the horses and run the truck in circles full tilt, making as much noise as possible but not directing it at them--just commotion. They reacted at liberty as horses usually do to what is fast, loud and new--by running and snorting and not feeling confident--feeding off each other's energy. I stood in the center of the field with my arms out to beckon them to me. When they finally came running in for comfort, I gave them a treat and petted and reassured them that I was the source of their safety.
I had instructed my son Evan to cut the engine whenever they made an attempt to connect with me and that relieved them of pressure which told them they had made the right decision---to make connection with their partner and leader--Me! I stood quietly with them, petting them and talking to them in a soothing voice, allowing them to process what had just happened, before we moved to the next level. Evan then brought the truck into the large pasture where we were and repeated the process---horses as prey animals naturally run from what is coming toward them (a predator does this and causes fear) and move toward and are attracted to what is moving away (creates the opposite of fear which is natural curiosity) so I had him bring it toward us and whenever they came in my direction at the center of the pasture for comfort, he turned the truck away--this allowed them to think that they were in control of it and calmed them considerably, plus they got treats and comfort (release of oncoming pressure and pets and praise from me). Then Evan ran the truck away from us and slowed it down a bit so that we could follow---by now they were both relaxed enough to walk beside me at liberty and follow that funny thing that seemed to be connected to Evan--whom they loved. They became very curious and followed eagerly and again, felt it was their idea since they were at liberty and in control of their choices (I am learning the incredible importance of high levels of liberty from horsewoman Carolyn Resnick, and interacting with my horses in this way.). Evan then slowed it down and then stopped to reward them for their bravery. Then we allowed them to sniff it while we both gave them treats, praise and pets. We stood quietly again, allowing them to process all of this and blow and snort and come off adrenaline--when they sniffed the truck on the ground, the lowering of their heads naturally precipitated this. By the time Evan started the truck again, they were willing to remain calm and follow it with us so we walked together slowly all around the pastures following this ironically named "Monster truck!"
The key here is that Evan knew how to run it so that it did NOT come up and bang them in their shins, which would confirm that it truly WAS a monster (and anything that sounded like that would also be through association---horses are pattern animals just like we are!). This is where 'outside help' is invaluable. For it to be Evan, someone they already liked and trusted, was even better.

Betsy Kelleher said...

Part three from Connie Funk, author of Beauty from Brokenness...
The next step was to take them in the round corral and they were so willing now to stand with me in the center and watch that funny thing go around the perimeter! It was hilarious---and about 40 or so minutes before they were running in a frenzy just to the sound and motion from a distance. Now they were watching it with calm attention, enjoying carrot rewards for bravery. They had gone from a high level of right brained reaction (fight and fight in a fear based mode) to left brained acceptance (a calm and thinking choice mode) I so wish that we had made a movie of this experience, but it is indelibly imprinted on our hearts!
At this point, the next step would be to repeat the process in a completely different location on another day that would also be a controlled environment simulation---perhaps a neighbor's fenced pasture. Equine behaviorists suggest at least three separate locations and at least seven repetitions on different occasions of something like this scenario to allow the learning to truly become embedded as a healthy pattern that overrides their instinct to flee. This is the type of 'bombproofing' that mounted Police horses receive---slow and repetitious 'advance and retreat' exercises to build confidence. This is where Pat Parelli's famous line comes in: "Take the time it takes and it takes less time." We also could have quit and left it on a high note at any point in the process but we had done a significant amount of these type of simulations with other 'scary things' prior to this and felt that we had good timing and understood advance and retreat techniques taught in natural horsemanship. This could also have been accomplished on a line, but I really prefer to allow total liberty so that the horses get to choose. They have become calm and desensitized to so many things this way. I do a combination of online and liberty, but I start with liberty. Confinement, even of a lead rope where they can move around, can create even bigger fear.

Betsy Kelleher said...

Fourth portion of Connie Funk's suggestions....
Back on the trails, even mountain bikes without motors can be scary for horses since they can come up on you so fast and look very weird and are allowed on the same trails as horses. So we did lots of 'controlled simulations ' with this at home, too, riding in the pastures all around them on bicycles in patterns and soon they were walking, trotting and sometimes cantering along with us, getting treats on the run and when we stopped. They now pony off of my little Polaris farm rig at all gaits, both from behind and alongside. We do lots of advance and retreat with our tractor in different positions on the property with the bucket up and down and allow them to sniff it and even find treats planted along the bucket and seat. I have had my husband run it on the patterns course we have and follow him, in circles and on the rail. This I do on line and again, we are following it and it is not "chasing us". Once they become very confident, then they can handle having it come up on them from behind. Lots of short sessions, practice, stopping when there is improvement (removal of pressure) and different locations is so important.
These simulations have helped ME immeasurably with my timing and confidence--I am a completely different partner for my horses today than I was when their lack of confidence caused mine to falter. One time when I came out of a trailhead with my very wired and alert Arabian horse, Ritzy,(after much practice at home with these ground desensitizing techniques) we came up on a fatality accident with a huge number of emergency vehicles and lights and sirens flashing, men and women in hardhats wearing neon colors and speaking into high pitched radios. Though we were alert, we remained calm and I dismounted quietly and confidently and looked directly at my horse and said, "We do emergency vehicles and we are brave". Just saying it aloud made me feel calm and brave and I knew that I could lead my horse to our trailer through this maze of tension and tragedy in safely and I trusted my savvy Parelli friends could, too. Down the road when we got to our trailer and I asked Ritzy to load with the suggestion of my pointed finger and he was headed quietly into his trailer stall with his head down, a blaring siren went off within ten feet of us---he flinched and tensed his muscles but did not stop his calm overall demeanor. I stood with my hand on his rump and stroked it and though he was tight, I could actually see his chest puff out when I told him how brave he was and how much he was helping me to learn to be a confident leader. I find that by talking directly to my horses about how I am feeling (even admitting if I feel afraid, etc.) that I remain congruent and therefore trustworthy. I may feel a bit nervous on the trail in an unknown situation or if I feel my horse is not confident so I quietly and swiftly get off and tell them directly--"I feel more confident leading you now." or taking a break and allowing both of us to lower our heads. I also often toss the reins over my horses' backs and walk beside them at their barrel on the trails so that we can regain our bearings. This way we do not find ourselves overfaced and crashing through our thresholds.

Betsy Kelleher said...

Fifth and final entry from Connie Funk...
Preparation at home has made all of the difference for me with my lovely horses. Chasta and I now ride the trails with only a halter and she, a former "confirmed bolter" who I was told would never be a suitable partner for me, has perfect impulsion but is no longer impulsive--in fact, it is very difficult to even get a reaction out of her these days! She reponds to the lightest suggestion and I have no pressure on her head--she feels my intention and seat and breath. She is a trusty leader for young horses and fantastic with children with special needs. I am so very grateful for the incredible fun and learning that I have on the ground--I have so many wild and wacky things in my horse playgrounds and am constantly looking for something new to challenge both myself and my horses and the children who come here to play. As Pat Parelli says, when we bring horses into "Humansville" with very unnatural things like tractors, it is our responsibity to show them that they are safe with us. I hope this helps and others can see how much fun it is to be creative on the ground and how it totally transfers to the saddle (or bareback riding). And isn't having fun why we have horses---?! And as you say so well, Betsy, God truly uses horses to help us find the best in ourselves so that we can offer it to all we meet. I invite your readers to visit my site at: www.constancefunk.com for many links and resources that have helped me so much on my journey.
May God bless you and your horses and hooray for mares and their humans!
Connie Funk

Betsy Kelleher said...

Have to share another idea from an emailed suggestion...whenever the combine or tractor is in the field by the barn, just take Lady out, in hand, to watch. I have tried to do that from the yard area around the barn, but maybe I could enlist the help of the farmer, so he wouldn't object to my entering his field! Thanks, Rose Miller of Indiana...and we're waiting for your new book: The Horse that Wouldn't Trot, with lots of mare stories inside!

Betsy Kelleher said...

Since Nanette had trouble posting her comment, I will post it for her. I believe her advice is tremendous, and her experience a good foundation.Nanette Levin says: Frankly, as I age, I’ve become a bigger believer in groundwork, but have also encountered a good number of horses who are much more comfortable and better behaved handling a scary situation with a rider on their back (these are usually horses who have had very bad on-the-ground handling experiences that are tough to resolve), so you need to figure out what works best for them – it’s even better if you can identify the why. With most of the horses I work with (they are mounts destined for professional performance careers), the goal is to channel the intensity as opposed to eliminating the horse’s ability to think for themselves and/or making them “bullet proof,” so my mindset is probably quite different than the majority of those seeking to create the safest pleasure horse. Still, I think we all can learn from different perspectives, and personally, I always welcome ideas from others to test and incorporate into the mix and if it works for some – or even one – it’s input well worth compiling for the future. A lot of Alpha fillies show up at Halcyon Acres that are deemed crazed, unridable, dangerous or just plain ignorant. Most are smart and melt when they find a confident leader with the staying power to stand their ground (don’t get combative with one of these gals, or you’ll regret it) and the understanding to recognize where things went wrong in the past and guide them through their concerns with patience. People often don’t realize how much their behavior or demeanor impacts their horse’s reactions. Most want to tighten the reins (or the hold on the halter) when they get concerned about a situation, obstacle, approaching fear or new circumstance. Don’t. The best thing to do is breathe, relax, give the horse her head and be the rock she seeks. Your tension and the restriction you put on the horse will only alarm them and cause them to react with fight or flight instincts. With the farm equipment issue, I’d seek out opportunities to have your mare see this stuff while stationary. Whether in the saddle or in hand, don’t force the approach. Give her all the time she needs to look and assess and approach when she’s ready. Don’t reprimand her for being scared – that will only make her more determined to avoid the concern. Release her head and give her the option to approach as she’s ready. On the noisy, moving equipment, this is where you really need to be the rock. Relax, try not to get concerned or tense and instead, transmit a calm confidence to your mare that you will keep her safe. The first few times she may wheel or spook, but if you stay steady, don’t react (except to stabilize her as she retreats with a quiet but firm rein, seat and leg) and give her the opportunity to realize you will keep her out of harm’s way, I think she’ll come around. I know it’s hard to not be scared when you see something coming that you expect your horse to fear, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly she turns to you for confidence and guidance if you can muster the resolve to relax and guide with a quiet, fearless and non-reactive approach and a mindset that you can handle this and help her do so too.

Nanette Levin, publisher of the Horse Sense and Cents (TM) series

www.HorseSenseAndCents.com

www.HorseSenseAndCents.com/blog

Ellen said...

I actually use parelli as well but theres a lot to that stuff. A more immediate solution that seems to work with my headsrtong mare is to walk her or continue in forward motion. My Grandpa taught me that one, he told me that if you stop your horse by he thing thats scaring it, it gives them to much time to think about the scary thing. So you get busy doing something. I do one rein stops that Clinton Anderson does or I spin Dixie in circles, or just walk around and talk to her and let her know I'm there. She might be nervouse but she usually calms herself down. I think after a while she knows she's being silly and tell's herself it's just a dirt bike or whatever.

Holly said...

interesting reading. I no longer believe in the alpha relationship theory. I have no idead where I fit into her heirarchy. For the most part now, I simply deal with what I can see as that is concrete information.

When I have a new skill to teach (in this case it's stading still when anything with a motor is either moving or not moving), I start far away from the finished behavior and stay well back from the point I get much of a reaction. I reward there until being at that place isn't frightening anymore, then move forward a few steps, reward quiet behavior and move forward again. It's simple conditioning and establishing trust. By starting far below threshold the horse becomes less likely to react and you become more confident. A win/win situation.

Nancy A. Kaiser said...

Sorry to take so long to try to post again, but I've been swamped with holiday stuff, a blizzard, ice storm and now sub-zero wind chills and artic temps that froze a pipe. Survived it all and am getting caught up with delinquent emails. So, your mare's fears are probably due to a large component of past life energies influening her. I'm an animal communicator and healer who works with all sorts of animal problems. Past life negative energies are so powerful that they overide a person or animal's consious mind, i.e. they know they're doing something wrong, but they can't change the behavior. I've cleared hundreds of people and animals with amazing results. My guess is that your mare would really benefit from Spiritual Response Therapy, a modality that clears past life negative influences. If you're interested, go to my Website to read more about it and me. You can read numerous testimonials. I have interviews and articles listed under Resources. www.NancyKasierAnimalCommunicator.com. nancy@nancykaiseranimalcommunicator.com
Sorry for the delay. Email me if you'd like more info or if I can help. Nancy Kaiser