Wilson and Peggy
First let me say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of people that have told me they are referring to my blogs for help with their at home training! Most of my posts are generated by what I happen to be working on, but I'd like to also share some of the questions I've received. Maybe there's something here that can help others.
With her permission, I'm going to share Wilson and Peggy's story! I acquired Wilson in June of 2012 and sold him to Peggy in 2013. Acquiring him was "classic Kathy". We had gone to deliver a horse that had been sold...and we end up coming home with Wilson! But the minute he and I made contact I liked him...and Mikey caved! I just knew I could polish him up into a terrific horse for somebody, and the somebody ended up being Peggy...just a little over a year later!
Wilson is bred to be a "mighty mover".
His sire is Seventh Son V (shown below), so he is "hard wired" to carry a very upright neck set. And he is amazingly trainable!
He learns things almost instantly, which can be a problem when you want him to forget something. And Peggy and I would like him to forget one thing! Somewhere in Wilson's past, I'm positive someone "earred him" or at the very least wasn't very tactful when trying to put the bridle over his ears! With a lot of patience (going really slowly) he stopped over reacting and running backwards when bridling. Mind you...you could pet and bend his ears all you wanted...as long as the bridle wasn't involved. Which is why I was sure this was a "learned behavior"! He and Peggy had to work on this issue as well, but once again, because she was patient and determined, Wilson learned that Peggy wasn't going to maul his ears either. And Peggy just provided me with a new clue to what may have started this particular behavior!
Peggy says, "Wilson hates the vet! She is so gentle and kind, but he hates having his blood drawn, or shots. She rubs and pinches the site so he can't feel it. The other horses just stand still and say ok, but Wilson is threatened. When I went to ride him this afternoon, suddenly the old ear problem is back and no one had been near his ears, so there must be a connection of an ear hold at one point, along with vet treatment".
I believe she's right! I would be willing to bet money that the very first time Wilson had his ears twisted, it involved something a vet had to do! And it's quite possible it was some kind of an emergency and a proper twitch wasn't available. I've totally been in a situation where you just do what you have to do to get something vital done. But I ALWAYS try to follow up something like that (even a nose twitch or neck pinch) with double or triple "nice rubs" so that the last thing they have to remember is something nice, not something unpleasant. That usually gets most of them back to forgiving you for doing something "mean".
The second part of Peg's message to me was as follows.
"I don't understand Wilson at times. Jim dug a trench for a silt barrier at the end of the riding area slope. Wilson did not take well to the change, neither did he a few days earlier, when the four wheeler and cart were in the lower section. He is afraid of everything new in open spaces, including dark fallen trees at the edge of a meadow, that look like bears. In the woods however, it is a different story. He is an amazing neck reining horse, around trees and over rocks, through brush, without a flinch. I pull of big limbs and little twigs, they might touch him, or bounce with a bang, and he just plugs on like an old master. We went over a large black rocky outcropping and over a log, and he just puts his head down and very gingerly walks over the obstacles, never touching the log or branch. If there are tiny clinging branches, he just drags them along with his feet, like they are feathers. I just don't understand his split personality."
Peg actually answered the "why" in her own message....all the big, dark new stuff "looks like bears"! And Wilson is a survivor...ain't no bear gonna catch Wilson with his guard down!
And the "whys" and "what do I do about it" are a mix of how horses see coupled with their relationship with their rider/handler. It's much easier to discuss face to face, so doing it in blog form can get a bit "wordy".
Here's my answer to Peg!
I think Wilson's reaction to "dark" things has to do with vision (refer to the article I sent you on Equine Vision). All he sees is something "predator sized" in an area where they weren't before. How did they get there? Did he see them go out there or did they just show up one day. Mike has a cut off tree stump (about hip high on a person) that is out in the middle of a meadow and that's a "boogy man" for all the horses...it just doesn't belong there. Wilson's reaction to new things in "his" area is a correct one for survival. Paranoid horses live longer! I bet he will always be more suspicious of new stuff turning up where (he doesn't think) it doesn't belongs rather than the same object in a completely new area. He's sort of memorized how things are arranged in HIS environment and expects them to be the same (did you ever watch Monk on TV? Or the Big Bang Theory...think Sheldon on that one). There are some people that are can't stand any sort of change. Wilson seems to be that kind of a horse. Wilson simply is suspicious about change! I would bet that any new objects higher than his knees would be suspect at first! To help you with this, I need you to do some experiments and "set him up" and observe him. Something like a trash can might work. Or a big empty cardboard box...those freak mine out every winter when set them up in the arena. I have a bunch of cardboard boxes about the size of a refrigerator that work great for stuff like this. You need a little weight in whatever you use so that the wind doesn't catch it and "chase" him! Here's an activity I'd like you to try. This isn't so much training as observation. Instead of you teaching Wilson, you will be learning about him.
Experiment 1: Place a strange object in Wilson's "hang out area: WHICH HE GET TO WATCH YOU PUT THERE. So put Wilson out first and let him hang out 10 minutes. Then bring in "the thing" . Don't pay any attention to him, don't show it to him...pretty much ignore him and put something in the area. Then just leave him alone and see if he ever goes near it and how long that might take. Try not to let him know you're spying on him. Experiment 2: This time, keep Wilson in and either move the "strange object" to a different spot OR use a different, but similar object. The point being, instead of watching the "object" move into the area with his "herd boss"...all of the sudden, aliens have landed in his pasture and he doesn't know what you might think about it. Once again, observe from a distance and don't interact too much. We're trying to get a "feel" for his instincts NOT his responses to training. I haven't heard back from Peggy yet as to whether or not she's had time to set up her "Wilson Experiments". I'll let you know when I do!