Let me be really, really frank here. I do NOT put up with disrespect from any of our horses. They are 1200 pound animals and I am very appreciative of how quickly they can move and how they can accidentally hurt me without trying. They know that what I say goes - I am Boss Mare. I expect them to move when I ask them to, proto. If I ask you to step your butt or shoulder over, you do it. If I ask you to back from the gate, you better move your butt. If I ask you to back off your food, then you are just gonna have to wait to eat until *I* say you can.
Of course, at the track, Echo never had to learn this, so we're starting the Boss Mare education from scratch. We've had a few sessions in the stall during feeding time where he tried to mow me down, but we quickly came to an agreement where he waits politely until I put the dish down and say he can have it. But this habit of pinning his ears and moving his butt into me - I needed to do something about it, STAT.
Enter "natural horsemanship." Let me preface this by saying I'm not a fan of any system with gimmicks and videos and horsenalities. However, I do agree with the main message behind this school of thought - your horse must respect you. Several years ago I audited a Clinton Anderson clinic, and there were a bunch of things I took away that I'd never seen before. The concept of ground work - having the horse yield his haunches, shoulder, be able to soften, back, walk politely next to you - was new. The horses I'd worked with up to that time had all been good equine citizens with nice ground manners, and while I was more than aware of the benefits of longeing, I'd really never used ground work to improve my horse's focus on me and respect for me. Shortly after the clinic, I worked with a Lipizzan mare with a biiig attitude, and boy did a few sessions work wonders. It's definitely not something I'd use with every horse (Cash, for example, would lose his poor little brain if I tried it with him, he's just too sensitive), but like every training method, there can be a time and a place for it.
Echo's time and place was this week. I've been using a rope halter on and off with him since he arrived - this instead of putting a chain over his nose. So I got that out, and a short bat (to enforce my requests in case he ignored them) and off we went.
At first, he categorically refused to move away from pressure, so I asked more forcefully until he took a tiny step away from me. Not gonna lie, I had to smack him with the bat to get a response. The next time, I didn't have to ask as hard. And today, after a week of 5-minute-a-day sessions, I can now sort of poke my finger in the air near his hip, and he steps away from me. Hooray!
But the real breakthrough came one session where he decided he didn't want to follow me as I was leading him through a gate. He's done this a few times while being led - stopped dead and refused to move. I can usually unstick his feet and have him move forward, but this time I decided we'd do some backing. We backed a few steps, and then I asked him to move forward. He refused again. We backed some more, and he decided that he preferred to back instead of moving forward. Well OK then - so we backed until he didn't want to back any more, and then we backed some more - right through the gate he didn't want to go through. We stopped on the other side of the gate, and he got this really funny look on his face, like "Waaaaait a minute... how did this happen!??!" He stood there, puffing a little (he'd backed himself halfway around the pasture and back) and I let him rest. Then we went through the gate half a dozen times, with nary a foot out of place or thought of hesitation on his part. We then went for a bit of a walk, and he followed politely at my shoulder, stopping with me, turning with me, backing when I did, all with only the lightest touch from me. He was so attentive and focused on what I wanted, instead of being off with the butterflies in Baby Racehorse land. It was really wonderful!
So now, we have daily sessions where we go through all the steps. He still has a hard time moving his shoulders, but he's getting it. Sometimes he needs a reminder poke instead of just a gentle touch to move his butt. But he's ever so much more polite to be around, and it's reflected in our under-saddle work too. He's moving away from leg pressure quite readily now, and is much more responsive. Definitely a win-win!
Don't believe a thing she says. I'm really an angel!
In fact, lest this post leave you thinking that things aren't going well, let me give you a bit of a hint as to what we've been doing under saddle: leg yields at the trot. Shoulder-fore. Relaxing the poll and jaw. Real dressage horse stuff! In fact, we have a jumping lesson on Saturday and a dressage lesson on Sunday, so I'm looking forward to a fabulous weekend of riding!