Monday, March 9, 2009

Fred the ex-racehorse

Fred is a remarkably well mannered horse.  He wouldn't dream of lagging behind when you lead him.  If you ask him to pick up a foot, he snaps it up and holds it there for you.  A joy after my lazy lot, who oblige you, generally, but at their own speed!  But today, Fred showed the flip side of that anxious obedience.  His feet are very sore after some weeks without shoes and when the farrier started hammering on some shoes, Fred's fear of reprimand was overridden by his desire to get rid of the farrier.  With no warning at all, the farrier was thrown out the door. And this was the pattern for the rest of the feet.  He would stand for as long as he could and then bang!  He leapt forward or kicked back.  Racehorses are generally treated with a lack of patience and understanding by a wide variety of people so their expectation is that people are unpredictable and often violent and the best policy is to appease them, if possible.  Until anger and fear builds up to a point where the brain flips to fight or flight.  

My nags and I have a escalation ritual.  I ask quietly and politely, I ask more loudly, I shout and then start hitting with more show than effect and this is usually as far as it goes.  The nags start with a look, a snap of the teeth, a raised leg, a nip if pushed and on only one occasion have I annoyed one enough to kick at me (got me by mistake I think).  

It will be interesting to see if Fred can learn our escalation rituals.

After Fred, the farrier moved onto the two thoroughbred yearlings. It was time for them to re-learn that not only can we influence their behaviour, but they can influence ours.  Both these two had been handled when small and would lead and pick their feet up.  But in the last six months they have become a bit wild.  Their reaction to having their feet picked up was, "no thanks, I'm off".
 After patience and quiet has little effect a battle then ensues where the aim if to get them to a position where they discover that standing still makes the people relax.  It's difficult to ensure they are learning the right lessons, and all to easy to teach them that rearing and kicking earns them freedom.  But it's great when you see the light go on and they start to react to you as you react to them.  I think many horses have no influencing skills when it comes to people.   All they know is how to avoid trouble, how to run or how to fight.  If only horses had money, they could go on management training exercises.

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