Saturday, February 23, 2013

Out-stubborning Mr. Stubborn

Oberon is, we're pretty sure, part goat... and part mule.

We knew when we got him that he could be hard to persuade to do certain things. If he didn't want to go near an object, he'd simply plant his feet and refuse to move. No amount of kicking or smacking him with a bat (bats made and impressive sound at least, dressage whips don't phase him at all) could get him to move. And those Natural Horsemanship games where you "annoy" the horse enough so that he moves his feet? Yeah. Oberon doesn't annoy easily, if at all.

But still, he was good when we needed for it to count. He's not afraid of armor and is a jousting wonder pony. He foxhunts, he jumps. We could put up with his oddities.

Unfortunately, we've had to get rather creative to work through them.

Although he's boss in the pasture (yes, Red lost his status), he REFUSES to lead on a trail ride. Red happily strides out all day long, feerlessly passing bikers, dogs, horse-eating rabbits, and other terrifying things. If we ask Oberon to lead, he stops dead when he gets literally one step past Red. Usually he'll then start backing up, as this is his favorite mode of evasion. Hubby has learned to smack, kick, and move his head left-to-right, to keep his feet moving. If this doesn't work, we turn him around and BACK HIM UP down the trail, in the direction he doesn't want to go. Since his evasion is to back, this actually works pretty well.

Let's just say Oberon's done a lot of backing in the last few months. A LOT of backing. Hubby will back him past whatever he refuses to go past. Initially he'd have to back him 20 feet down the trail, but now it's to the point where a few smacks and kicks usually gets him going. Brat.

You never know when this ugly tendency is going to rear its head. For example, Oberon's always been a good loader. You toss the lead over his neck, walk him up the ramp, and in he goes. Self-loading. Love it. Until last weekend... when he decided he ABSOLUTELY WAS NOT going to get within 20 feet of the trailer. I wasn't there, but I understand it was quite a show. He reared, he backed. He snorted. He reared some more. He wouldn't put a foot on the ramp. Finally, after 15 minutes of antics, with one person pulling on his lead and the other tapping him on the butt, he loaded himself right in. BRAT.

The funny thing was, he wasn't afraid. He's been in this trailer once or twice a week for the last year. Nothing had changed, he simply didn't want to get in. The only thing we can figure is that it was on the way home after a 3-hour haul there, and he didn't have a buddy. We almost always haul 2 horses, so maybe he was objecting to hauling solo? Who knows. Regardless, it's unacceptable behavior.

Another lovely habit that Oberon came to us with is that he likes to set back, break his halter/lead/tie point, and wander off. We've watched him do it any number of times - he'll simply be standing there one moment by himself, and then he'll pull back until something snaps, wander off 5 feet, and start to graze. He's broken two halters, half-a-dozen leads, and the tie point on the side of the trailer (&^$!). Clearly he's learned over the years that he's big and strong and can get away with this. Trust me, this is not a fun habit for a horse to have.

He uses anything as an excuse to do this - from "just because he feels like it", to someone walking around the corner of the trailer, another horse, being asked to move his butt over, and most recently, wheelbarrows. He's decided he's absolutely terrified of wheelbarrows, but only when he's tied (I can trundle past him while he's out in the pasture, and he never bats an eye). The ties in our barn are all Velcro safety ties (they tear apart when under pressure), which is a good thing because otherwise, we'd have to invest in another dozen lead ropes. Gah.

So the rule with Oberon is now that we either hard-tie him (rope halter attached with a bowline knot to a 3/4 inch thick 25 foot rope, then tied to an immovable object) or we tie him with something that will give, so that we don't have to keep replacing things that break. For the past few days, we've been hard-tying him in the barn during morning and evening chores. Hubby holds the end of the lead and has it wrapped around a post so that when he sets back, he can put some pressure on the rope, or let it slide if that seems like the better option. If I come around the corner with a wheelbarrow, he sets back, rears, sets back more... it's quite a show. If I truly thought that he was afraid of the wheelbarrow, I'd be concerned, but he's not snorting, trembling, the whites of his eyes aren't showing... in other words, there are none of the classic signs of fear that you see in a horse. Instead it seems that he's learned he can do this, so he's just going to do it.

Did I mention that he's really quite a brat?


  1. A brat indeed!

    When a horse learns that he can break ties of any kind it is very difficult to fix. I think hard-tying or abandoning tying altogether are the only solutions. Oberon must be a gem for you to put up with all that. I must admit that I have little tolerance for those types of behaviors. I have observed them several times in Percherons or Percheron crosses. The ones I have worked with were a combination of scaredy-cat and bull-headedness. Nothing lights my fire like a horse that refuses to move his feet except for one that intrudes on my space. I have worked with Perchs that did both. Grrrrr.

    1. Val, yes, this kind of thing is very hard to fix, and we're not excited to be dealing with it. We have no tolerance for this behavior either, and we are doing our best to put a lid on it ASAP. In the last day, he's stopped sitting back when hard-tied in the barn, although you can tell he's considering it. He also had a moment of hesitation when getting on the trailer w/out Red (although he self-loaded as usual when Red was on first). We were ready for a possible fight, and one single tap on the butt with a crop changed his mind immediately. We just have to be absolutely sure he doesn't win at whatever naughty thing he's considering.

  2. Aaah, how I recall the trial ride, when he would not go near the scary bank... lol.

    1. Haha, yes, just like that. Only now it takes a kick or two and a smack and he gives in. It's gotten MUCH better, but he still likes to test. It's a good thing that he's such a good boy the rest of the time!

  3. Naughty boy! Sounds like something Jetta does too, refuses to do something for the sake of it. Like going on the trail and refusing to cross a creek. She's not afraid of it, she has crossed many creeks before, she just doesn't want to do it. Then 20 minutes of persuasion later she decides that she could easily cross it, no big deal. Horses...

    1. TBA, what IS it with these horses that just decide not to do something one day?!?! Our other guys might legitimately decide something is scary and not want to approach, but that's totally different. SO FRUSTRATING!

  4. Brat indeed!

    With the tying.. .have you tried tying him to a couple big bags of sand?? Works a treat for teaching our youngsters to tie. They can pull back ALL they want, and that sand bag will just shift slightly with them. And since it's moveable, he can't really hurt himself- there's enough give from the sand.
    *shrugs* could work? Oberon might find a way out of it.
    He's lucky he's cute.

    1. I had not heard of the bags of sand idea, but I think he'd just keep backing up. Even 50 lbs of sand probably wouldn't impress him much. Right now we're working with ground tying, hard tying, and I've ordered some special tie points that let the rope slip with about 50 lbs of pressure. The idea with those is that with a 15 foot rope, you can get to them before they get free, and it also has some give in it so they'll stop pulling. Hopefully it will help - or at least we'll stop breaking hardware.

      And you're right, he IS lucky he's cute. Grrr.