Sunday, February 21, 2010

Steen the Great

Both days this weekend Brian and I headed out to the barn in the morning. Yesterday things didn't start off great. Sham decided to give us a bit of a run-around when we went out to catch him and we only succeeded in getting his halter on after coaxing him into the airlock with a bucket of grain. Partly because of his clear reluctance to let us put anything on his face, we've decided there will be no more riding or bridling Sham until he gets his teeth done. Since he'll approach us without hesitation and hang out with us until we try to put his halter on, to me it seems pretty obvious that the pain in his mouth is leading to anxiety - so we need to take a step back and fix the problem before it gets worse.

Once caught, Sham was ok yesterday. He was a bit nervous about coming in and being in the tie-stall, but Brian did ground-work for quite a while and made some progress. I rode Steen and then Brian put Sham back outside and he rode Steen, too.

And I must say, Steen has been unbelievably awesome lately. He comes inside without anxiety, he stands to be groomed, he doesn't care when other horses and people come and go, he is calm when ridden, willing to stop and stand. His walk and trot are both energetic but relaxed. He is neck-reining perfectly and yielding to my leg. I almost don't know what to do with him, he's so wonderful lately. He was great for Brian, too, so in spite of the difficulties with Sham, we came away feeling good.

Today we approached the pasture with a strategy. Brian went in to get Sham, who once again approached quickly and accepted a treat, but pulled back when Brian moved towards his head. So, instead of trying to chase him we once again let him into the airlock and fed him grain and petted him until he relaxed enough for Brian to slip his halter on. When he was avoiding us yesterday, he was using the whole herd as his mobile body-guard, so it definitely simplifies things to be able to get him alone.

We took Sham indoors and he seemed nervous and was getting cranky and a bit reactive to Brian's groundwork commands, so I took over for a while to see if I could figure out what was going on. I put him on the longer rope and got my stick out of the locker and called on my tried and true arsenal of exercises- leading, yielding, and basic circle work. As we've mentioned before, Sham is a puller and he's big and strong, so instead of trying to oppose him when he didn't want to stop, I just made him go quickly in a direction of my choosing.

The other thing I focused on was lots and lots of positive feedback. Every time he did anything sort of right, I'd smile and pet him and ooh and ah over him until he started losing his focus and then I'd immediately jump right back into moving his feet and using his momentum against him.

It only took about five minutes until his body-language transformed. He would stand still and let me pet him, paying attention to me instead of the door that leads back to his herd. My big praising made him noticeable proud of himself. He really warmed up to me and seems to love the praise.

After he relaxed, I gave him back to Brian and worked on helping Brian also relax and focus on the positive. It's easy with a new, unfamiliar horse to slip into all reprimand mode and nobody appreciates constant criticism.

I was making Brian smile a lot, too

getting better at the yields

Finally, we put Sham back out and brought Steen in. I had another absolutely wonderful walk-tort ride in which Steen was perfect.

one of the many reasons I'm looking forward to summer - our photos will get more interesting when we can go outside again


  1. Now that Steen's "competing" for your attention, he's decided to step it up a bit. :)

    I'm with you on the positive re-enforcement thing, and remembering to focus on the positive is something I often have to remind myself about when I'm working with the horses.

  2. Yeah, maybe it's jealousy that's got Steen on his best behavior. :)

    And positive reinforcement is a struggle for a lot of people, I think. It always amazes me how quickly a little praise can make a big difference.

  3. To Dazey:

    Please stop using my blog as a platform to try to sell your horse-training manual. This is the second time you have posted more or less exactly the same remarks, and this is the second time I have deleted the comment. This should be a clear indication that your attempts at direct-marketing aren't working and that I am not receptive to your product.

    You might note that in Blogger's Terms of Use guidelines they denote spam as follows:

    Spam: Spam takes several forms in Blogger, all of which can result in deletion of your account or blog. Some examples include creating blogs designed to drive traffic to your site or to move it up in search listings and posting comments on other people's blogs just to promote your site or product.

    You are using your blogger profile to spam, and that is illegal. I suggest you stop.


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