Principle #5: The attitude of justice is effective

The attitude of juh-wuh?

This one means “trust, but be ready to correct, no more one than the other.” Trust your horse to do his job, and if he makes a mistake, help him: answer his question, bring him in for reassurance and try again, ask for the gait again, or whatever is appropriate for the situation.


Salsa’s next Life Experiences include the equine dentist on the 15th, and for that he has to be sanguine about needles (for the sedative) and trailers (for the treatment room). I don’t have toothpicks so have yet to start the needle project, but today Jan and I decided spontaneously to see how he feels about loading in a trailer. He hasn’t been in one since we brought him home, and that day was stressful for him anyway.

We removed the divider and opened the doors wide, and were glad to see hay already bagged and ready for Erin’s next trail ride. We got Salsa and brought him around the drive, and I told Jan I was just going to focus on the hay and walk right into the trailer and make the hay my goal and destination (versus “get the horse in the trailer”). We knew we might be embarking on an hour’s process but as Dan needed a nap, we were okay with that.

So of course Salsa hopped right in. Not even a hesitation, just trot trot trot UP step step CHOMP. He took his bite of hay, chewed it twice, then turned his head toward the door, so I promptly turned him around and out we walked. We repeated this sequence five times: trot trot trot UP step step CHOMP reverse hop out. I decided that was enough for the day, and not to push for the next thing (standing aside while he goes in).


I am working hard at knowing when to quit, as it has dawned on me that our on-line sessions are way too long. Right now it’s too much pressure for Salsa, who is still not quite sure about this whole “partnering with humans” thing. He’s also a left-brain extrovert with a strong dominance streak, so keeping sessions intense but short is the way to go, at least for now. And it’s too much repetition for Rocky even though we are progressing through patterns and have begun Project Look Where You’re Going And  Watch Your Step (LWYGAWYS).

We took Salsa to the arena for some free time, so he could roll and shake and sniff things while we threw the ball for Jedi. Salsa could not help himself and had to follow Jan all over the place. Once he did give her a driving look and she stopped walking backwards (practicing draw) and projected her energy at him, and he stopped and licked and chewed and didn’t try it again. I have suspected for a while that Jan is his favorite human.

Rocky had a bloody ankle this morning but was not limping or tender, so I determined to do 10 minutes of traveling circles (our level 2 on-line patterns, finally at the trot). I had not even thought of asking for a trot yet when Rocky offered one, so we went around a few times and included the little pole-on-riser obstacle I set up Friday. He swerved at the last minute and squeezed between it and a barrel, which was fine: I was not asking him to step over it but rather to LWYGAWYS. On another lap he did go over it without bonking it, so that’s much improvement over last time, and I think I only had him go over it three times total today, and not in a row.

We made a few loops in each direction and when he was in my field of vision I watched him for signs of rhythm, relaxation, and contact. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but he did not seem quite as high-headed or braced to the outside, and he definitely kept the inside ear on me. We also managed to use most of our 22 feet, although with the belly of the rope on the ground I’m not sure exactly how far out he was.

I am still unsure whether the brace is totally dominance or if it’s partially (mostly?) habit and muscle memory, from having done it that way for so long out of resistance (previous owners were fond of longeing) and soreness (took me a long time to find the right treatment for the lameness/arthritis).

illo-canterI can feel, now, when he’s giving me the hoof and when he’s willing to play along, and today he felt willing to play along and also impatient — they had eaten their morning buckets but not received their hay yet, because I’d wanted to play with him for 10 minutes first. I got the sense that he was offering to trot because he knew we were going there anyway and he figured that the fastest way to lunch was to get through his homework as quickly as possible. On one circuit he broke gait — upwards. But after a quarter lap of what I shall generously refer to as a “canter” (not sure what else to call the hop hop twist swish quiver stomp kick da-da-DA da-da-DA da-da-DA), he put his cut ankle down and flinched, and just as he asked the question I disengaged him and brought him in with a look. That’s right! With a look, I disengaged his hindquarters and invited him in. Me! With a look!

I sent him to the two pedestals, both squares together to form a rectangle for teaching, and asked for all four feet. I wish I’d had a video camera rolling because he had no anxiety about getting all four feet up there, but he sure was not paying any attention to where he put them. At one point he looked like an elephant on a ball (and about to fall). At another he had a front hoof wedged in the crack between the two pedestals and one hind foot barely on the wood at all, with just the very tip of his toe. Another time he took one more step and got his foot on the plastic mounting block. Yet again I had reason to be grateful for his sensitivity, because it took only a gentle porcupine and moving his nose over the foot that was in front (thank you Bill Dorrance) to get him to lift it up again before he broke through and sliced himself to ribbons on the plastic shards.

This is the drawback of cookies as incentive and end-of-session: he was so excited about standing on his magic cookie carpet, he was not safely and sanely standing. Next time, I’m taking away one and he will have to learn how to stand on just the one, steadily.

We hosed off all of his feet and scrubbed the crusted blood and mud off the hind leg, then stung him with a little Betadine iodine solution (“virtually painless”) and smooshed on some SWAT to keep the flies away. He’s a little tender right on the inch-long gouge but was not swollen or sensitive around it; I think he’ll live. It’s been a while since I’ve gone out and found him randomly bloody, so he must be learning something about where his feet are.


Categories: Feel, Health, Leadership, On-Line | Leave a comment

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