Friday, September 18, 2009

Smokey Goes Left-Brain Extrovert!


Well, I'm supposed to be cleaning my office right now, but I just want to take a moment to blog about my experience with Smokey a few minutes ago.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may be aware that I've had a really hard time rehabbing this Racking Horse gelding. He is now 17 years old, and I've had him for 6 years. My effort to try to get through to him is what drove me to Parelli Natural Horsemanship.

Smokey is a very interesting horse. He is the unquestioned leader of just about any herd, yet most of the time he is very low-key in the field. He spends a lot of time monitoring Guinness and Cody to be sure that they don't get too rambunctious. If things get out of hand, he intervenes. He is so mellow that the Rockies even move him away from his food.

However, Smokey is very vigilant and if he senses danger or a rival for his herd, his inner stallion appears! He will snake his neck, lunge and bite, paw & prance. The mares all love him and often seem to go into season whenever he is around. He has even been spotted doing the "wild thing" with his girlfriends..

Anyway, Smokey is a big challenge to play with. He seems to inherently be a Right-Brain Introvert. He is very compliant, rarely tries to dominate people, and has excellent ground manners. (The exception would be when he is going RB Extrovert in an effort to control a situation.)

Under pressure, Smokey will balk and shut-down, which is almost every time that he is ridden by an adult. (However, he loves little kids.) If pushed further, he will blow up. In his "yee-haw" rider past, he once sent a man to the hospital.

When Smokey is RB (either Introvert or Extrovert) he has a difficult time learning. His brain seems to move like molasses and he doesn't retain information well. He is most often in this mental state when around people (especially with a rope connected to him or a saddle or trailer in view). It took him -no kidding- about 4 years just to learn to play the Sideways game with me!

The *only* time that Smokey is Left Brain when he is loose in his field with the other horses around. Fortunately, my roundpen is in the middle of his field, and recently I've been feeding him in it to prevent the Rockies from stealing his meal.

Several weeks ago, it occurred to me to ask Smokey to perform a little task, at liberty, in order to earn his supper. We started with jumping 1/2 size barrels. He has always knocked them out of the way and walked through them, so when he made an attempt to cross them I would click him and give him a handful of grain. Then, over time, I'd ask him to do it with more energy. (I cue this by making a swooshing noise with my mouth.) When he actually jumped them, I'd click and immediately give him his entire dinner. He has now worked up to doing the figure 8 pattern, circling, jumping, sideways and putting his foot on things. He can do several of these things in a row, but usually acts very ditsy about it and needs a lot of guidance.

Tonight we did something different. This time, I brought my stick out with me. I asked him to move out away from me and then circle toward the large barrels and jump them. I set his grain can in his feed bowl, but I didn't dump it. Boy, was he jazzed! He knew the food was there but clearly didn't want to perform the task I was asking him to. He shook his head at me, leaped and pawed. I laughed at him, so he stared at me a bit and then tried various other tasks to see if I'd accept one of those instead.

Eventually, he *walked* over the barrels (taking huge steps) so I clicked him and gave him a handful of grain. Then I sent him back out and pointed at the barrels and waited. He licked his lips a lot, thought about it, and then jumped them (not the best jump, but ok). I clicked him and gave him his entire dinner. As he ate, I kept the Rockies at bay with my stick.

When Smokey was finished, he stared hard at me and then made a bee-line over to me with his head down and started asking for scratches! This was huge. He is rarely this demonstrative. I really think that this experience was a breakthrough for him.

Here were the keys to getting him into a LBE frame of mind, and then getting him to comply with my request:
- he was in his own safe pasture with his buddies in sight
- he was performing tasks that he knew how to do
- I held his dinner hostage
- I was passively persistent in the proper position
- I laughed and was fair but firm
- I allowed him time to think - it was his choice when he ate!

I'm going to strive to get him back into this mental state as much as possible. The trick is going to be to reward him often enough to prevent him from getting too frustrated to learn. Now, I need to come up with a new challenge for him!

Now that I think of it, I believe that he is entering a similar frame of mind, but more LBI, as he is being ridden by his 10 year old horse girl. She rides him in the roundpen going from point-to-point in search of alfalfa cubes. She never forces him, so he doesn't shut down. And, instead of his habitual resistance, he is learning that she has good ideas about where to find the cookies. :-)

At this rate, he'll be a great partner - by age 27!! But, at least now there is hope.

1 comment:

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Hi Clare--You've done wonders for Smokye and it looks like you are still making progress! It sound like really fun times at your place. Great job!

-Michelle/arabhorselover1