The young not always do as told
Young humans and young horses are very similar in their way of treating things they are being told. Usually they try to ignore instructions and get away with it. So did Max, the Haflinger, this afternoon. I took him out of his stable and started to walk him towards the training area with the round pen. It's a nice little walk down a long driveway and over some piece of township road.
Max is usually a nice and obedient little guy. He makes space when someone cleans out his stall. He waits until his hay is in the right place. When he first came to us he was a bit weak and since then has gained weight and strength. It appears that now step by step he is coming out of his shell and does show all the traits that one would expect from a two years old horse.
Right now it's pretty cold and although Max is getting quite a lot of feed (grain and hay) he is always hungry. That's quite normal for a horse. They basically like to eat all the time. We left the barn area and he started to look for grass under the snow. Of course that created a conflict. He wanted to eat grass and I wanted to walk down to the training area. What happened? He refused to continue walking and as soon as I pulled on the lead rope he started to buck and express his discontent. It went so far that he jumped really high and even did a few playful strides in the air with his front legs. Quite impressive and good to have a long lead rope ;-)
My reaction to him saying "no" in a horsy way was to have him run in circles around me with me not moving any feet. That's the important part with horses. Who moves his feet looses. Who stands still while making the other run is the boss. Quite simple and effective.
So there he was running in a circle. That had some effect. After a few minutes he got the message and we were able to continue our walk to the round pen.
We arrived, I took off the lead rope and raised my arm. He immediately started to walk in the indicated direction and when I raised the same arm again he picked up speed. Just as he learned to do. I stepped in front of him and he stopped and gave me two eyes looking at me and waiting for more instructions. I sent him off in different directions a few times and everything was just perfect.
A little bit later in our training session I jumped up and down next to him while holding tight on to him with my arms. That's the exercise to prepare him for a riding getting up on his back. Somehow he didn't like me doing that. His mouth came to my boots and legs and he started to nibble. So I gave him a slap on the nose. Still he was repeating this a few more times and on both sides. He clearly wanted to let me know that he doesn't like this exercise. That's not ok. He has to learn to tolerate these things, because when a rider mounts him jumping up is part of the activity.
After we were done and when I stepped away he raised his head playing with his tongue and exposing his teeth. Not in an aggressive way but I feel that I got the message. He was still discontent and basically wanted to let me know that he does have teeth. So… That's a big issue and totally not acceptable. I raised my arm to make him go in circles. He did but stopped after a few steps. He was testing me. To figure out whether I'm really sure about it. That's a horses way to question one's authority. No. Wrong answer. So I used the stick and the attached string to whip the ground. That made him go. Good answer. I raised my arm again and he went faster. He was still trying to test me but each time he slowed down I responded by raising my arm with the stick and string ready to hit the ground again to reinforce my command. I told him to change direction and he refused. By hitting the ground and clearly making him understand the new order I got him to comply. We did this a few times and after a while he was breathing hard and ready for some air. So he got to rest a while and think about how's the boss.
The next exercise went right by the book without any questioning on his part.
Now that we had established our pecking order we were able to do a few more things and then ended the session with some desensitizing exercises and a lot of rubbing for good behavior.
The walk up to the stable was completely uneventful. No pulling on the lead rope. No searching for grass under the snow. He walked with the same speed as I and kept his relative position.
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