Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Sham Antics

Well, the Sham saga continues. On Tuesday I did not go to the barn. I had to work work work. Brian did go to the barn, however, and Sham would not let himself be caught. After an hour of trying, Brian gave up.

On Wednesday I went out to see what sort of luck I would have with our wayward steed. I had a reasonably easy time catching Sham, in the rain, and brought him indoors to do some groundwork. The jury is still out on whether or not this was a good idea. I think the groundwork itself was fine, but indoors seems to be a nervous place for Sham still. I had intended to do the groundwork outside, but was a bit tired of getting rained on so changed my plan.

Sham was pretty antsy indoors, and things escalated to him running around on the rope a few times. But then they would de-escalate and he'd calm down and receive pets and praise. I did a lot of ground-work with him, and thought I saw positive results. Then I tied him for a little while and groomed him, then put him back outside.

Today Brian and I headed for the barn again with a plan. I was going to catch Sham and do some groundwork outside where Sham is more comfortable. Then Brian was going to ride outside and maybe I'd ride Steen, too. The most frustrating thing about Sham is once you can get on his back he's awesome. It's getting there that has been the problem lately.

Well, today didn't go as planned. An hour and twenty minutes after I walked into the pasture, I finally had Sham's halter on. We were all exhausted by then - particularly Sham, who ran around a lot during the catching process.

We retired to the strip, where groundwork actually went pretty well. Sham was much, much more relaxed outdoors and did seem to recall some of yesterday's lessons. We did 20 minutes or so of groundwork and then we returned him to the pasture. Instead of running away today, he followed me to the fence and accepted some treats.

So, we'll see how things continue. In spite of the long catching time today, I remain optimistic. There are all sorts of training rules of thumb (like it takes a horse 6-12 repetitions to start to learn something, and problems often get a bit worse before they get better) to keep me hopeful. We've still only caught Sham without tricks or treats four times. If we get past twelve without things getting easier, then I'll start to be discouraged.

A brief video of the day's events:


  1. I'm curious why you're against using treats to catch Sham. I admit I don't like to have to depend on treats to catch a horse, but you can use them early on to establish a pattern and then phase them out. Get him caught with minimal hassle, and on to the part he enjoys (riding, it would seem), and he'll probably figure it out pretty fast. Unless he's still hard to catch even with treats, in which case I would use them sparingly.

    I did the treat thing with my guys, and now they almost always meet me at the gate (the "almost" being when there's something particularly interesting, like food). I still sometimes give treats when I catch them, but not every time (I usually forget about treats most of the it's actually a pretty low ratio of treats to no-treats). They never really ran away, they just didn't "come running" when I called.

    To each her own, I know. I'm just curious what your reasoning is.

  2. Normally I am not at all against using treats to catch a horse. It worked like a charm with Cal, who gave us catching trouble at first, and even with Steen I intermittently give him a goodie after haltering in hopes the cumulative result will be slogging through less mud to get to him.

    At first we tried treats with Sham. There are two problems with the treats and his personality. First, he doesn't care about them enough to do anything for them he wouldn't normally do. We can always approach him with no problem, and he will certainly accept treat after treat and he'll take them, but as soon as we try to put the halter on or put the rope around his neck, off he goes. The other problem is the treats seemed to undermine our authority with him. The more treats he got, the less he'd let us touch him, and he started trying to nip our clothes and get way too mouthy any time we were near him.

    So, we still give him a quick treat once he is haltered and when we are removing the halter - but we don't use them to try to coax him into the airlock or into a position where we can slip the rope around his neck like we did at first, or give him one for anything short of actually accepting the halter. He seems to be very sensitive about feeling tricked. Every trick works once and then the next time he's not only wise to it, he's mad you used it on him the last time.

    Believe me, if I could bribe him with a carrot instead of following around a pasture for over an hour, I totally would. :)

  3. Wow, a horse that doesn't love treats. (Tranikla is kinda like that too, but he's often willing to accept the 'bribe' even knowing it's a bribe. I think he's come to the realization that I'm going to make him do it regardless, so he might as well get a treat out of it.) I don't suppose he's the jealous type either?

    I agree that I'd only give the treats after the halter is on as well. He sounds like the kind of horse that might do really well with round-pen/join-up type work, but his pasture is probably too big so you'd have to catch him first anyways. If he's ok with approaching, will he let you just go out an groom him in the pasture (with no halter)? Maybe some low-stress spending time with him might help?

    Good luck. :)

  4. Yeah, he's definitely quite a bit different from the horses I'm used to working with, too. Our theory is that he's not had a lot of hang-out time with people. He's used to an all-business kind of handling, and doesn't really get the idea that people can be pleasant. The week before we went on vacation we went out nearly every day to spend time with/near him but not try to catch him. I think that helped. We haven't actually tried grooming him in the pasture yet. Could be worth a shot.

    And we'd really like to do round-pen work with him. Unfortunately the never-ending under-construction state of our barn means we don't currently have one...

    A new horse is always a new set of challenges. Luckily we've got plenty of time. It seems almost inevitable that as he gets to know us better, these problems will fade.

  5. And also, he's not the jealous type at all. I tried to whole "dote on a rival" thing and only got a very annoying shadow that took days to get rid of. ;)

  6. We had a horse that was formerly a ranch horse & he didn't care for treats either. I swear he didn't know what a carrot was. But he developed a taste for them... ;)

    My husband's mare will sometimes play the "catch me if you can" game. So rather than chase her to catch her, I make her run. Whenever she slows, I pop the rope on the ground and keep her moving like I would in a round pen. When she turns in to face me like she would in a round pen, then I can usually walk right up to her. She is tired of working that hard. Usually 3 minutes tops. Again, may not work for all - actually, I sometimes think it is a game with her. She's kind of funny that way.

    Yes, new horses do bring new challenges. Makes us better horsepeople, albeit a bit frustrated at times! :)

  7. Thanks Tammy. That's interesting to know you had a ranch horse with a similar 'defect.' :)

    I've also used the 'make them run' technique,and it does work well on some horses. The problem with using it on Sham is he's the definitive alpha in the herd and he refuses to run alone. If you make him run, he makes every other horse out there run, sometimes using his influence to 'send' them at the person making him go. When you've got a herd of eight horses galloping around a pasture that's really not huge to begin with, it make the whole ordeal into a higher risk situation than I like to encounter regularly. So, we try to keep things quieter. In general, I have found the less he runs, the faster he's caught.

    Horses. Such individuals. But you are right, each new challenge opens us up to more learning, and that has to be a good thing!


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