The independent horse
Over the weekend my friend's friends came to the farm and Super got painted. Thor was going to be painted too but he had a sudden weird problem of separation anxiety.
Because it's been rainy and wet, the horses generally are all sand bay. In other words covered in sand. Liz took Super out of the pasture to rinse him off before painting commenced and Thor ran around crying for his buddy. He doesn't usually get so upset but he can be quite the insecure horse. Perhaps he was anxious because the previous Sunday we went down to the riverside... because we have no trailer this means leading them behind the truck... and did a very short trail ride.
Back when I was 20, I used to ride 45 minutes along the road to get to the trail. And I would do that too here but there are a few factors to consider. We have a herd of cowards, so we only get so far from the farm before they can't cope with a rider on their back. Warwick Schiller talks about the 50 foot trail ride and because of that we can get all the wall to the bottom of our mountain road if we are riding and they trail ride nicely on the on property trails. Another factor are uncovered ditches. These waterways are just large enough and deep enough to swallow a small car. They run along most roadways, sometimes on one side, sometimes on both sides. On the other side of the ditches are often crops: apples or potatoes or rice. If a horse spooks and doesn't break a leg backing into a ditch or has enough sense to jump over the ditch (trust me when I say Thor does not) lurking everywhere are thousands of dollars of crop damage an wires or supports strung between crops that need them. This is not an environment when I recommend pushing a horse's limit.
Our horses will go about anywhere we lead though. It's that follow the leader thing. I think often people don't realize how unnatural it is for a horse to have a leader, leading from behind which is what riders actually do.
Since walking all the way down will take forever and some how our entire herd loves all things with engines, leading them behind the truck works really well. While I've know people to tie the horses to the truck, I find that unsafe so I sit in the back, hold the ropes and when someone really refuses to move, I sometimes have to jump out and grab the lead ropes. This happens less and less as Liz now knows what things are liking to scare them and slows down or even stops and also how fast to drive for a good working walk.
To add to the adventure, last week we encountered a giant crane as one of the businesses along the roadside was building something. In productive fashion which is practically the hallmark of Kore, the large equipment was parked in the road, raising beams while the small farm traffic flowed by. This included us and the horses. I have to say they were frightened, but years of trust and you can do it paid off. We got to the park area, let them eat a bit but Super was determined to go home... well eat his way home. The previous time he grazed quietly but the clovers were dry from lack of rain and he said in his way, "What is this. Why did I come all this way for this crap. The farm is yummier."
So we mounted up rode about ten minutes along the riverside which paved for people and bikes. But our horses not only like things with engines, they really just like things with wheels. It's strange. As a young rider motor bikes, four-wheelers, bikes, strollers, kids on skate boards, and all the other things bothered most of the horses I rode. I would get really nervous about riding in certain places because of that. Mostly, we're just getting the horses broke to urban trail riding which means going under roadways and random objects. Thor seems really okay with most thing while Super on the other hand passes things with great suspicion. Since he finds some inanimate object to be worried about every few feet, I plan to use some clicker training with him the next time we go. I will give him a treat (from his back) for looking at scary things. I'll build on that until he'll approach and give it a sniff for a treat. Soon he will associate all these things with food and that will build his confidence.
After we got done riding, we led the horses down a steep bank, took off our shoes and gently coaxed the horses into the river. Thor went right in. Super came in with quite a bit of coaxing and after having two feet in the water leapt from the there as if he might be able to jump over the rider. I had a good laugh. Thor seemed to realize it was quite nice and stood with Liz quite happily. She said that he felt very different to her.
Which brings us back to horse painting day. Super was in the barn drying and I was clearing manure for the pasture. TAs she walked to go get a patch for the inflatable pool, Thor nickered after her and called for her three more times as the truck drove down the road. He did that nervous walking around thing, and was just upset. I brought him up and tied him. If a horse ties well, sometimes this can settle them. Well, if you have a patience pole your horse doesn't have to tie quite as well but we don't. we have a string and a rope and pretty much every tie in the place has clips secured by folding over rope and wrapping it with electrical tape. This is my own personal safety measure.
There is a school of thought that if a horse breaks free, they will always do so. I used to adhere to that school, but these days, I find that if a horse knows he or she can get lose in a pinch, the less likely they are to panic in the ties. That said, the really key to tying well is the horse's ability to give to pressure and a gradual build up of time spent tied. Boredom or frustration or both always sets in because being tied and left alone is boring. Learning how to pass time is something that marks maturity in both humans and animals. I find horses that cannot pass time while tied are usually very baby like in other ways too.
And worried as he was, the years of slow conditioning that being tied is boring, payed off. He danced around a big, pawed a bit and then settled into the passing time stance. Finding relaxation this way is advanced groundwork. If he were less far along, I would have had to be with him for him to settle. But since he really struggles with attachment, the most useful thing I can teach him now, is how to calm himself.
There is a slippery slope in bonding deeply with any animal. Its nice to feel needed. But even animals need independence. Super, our resident coward, is quite the independent pony these days. If he gets a chance to graze, he'll be off by himself no problem. He used to not be that way. Thunder to. Infact, she escaped today after I brought her up and when I brought down Thor and Super, she didn't follow like you'd expect. Instead she took advantage of the open gate and crossed the road to the neighbor's apple orchard. The apples aren't ripe yet but she was after the clover growing between the isles. So I had to make a third trip up the hill. I went with grain hoping to lure her, but no. She didn't run from me, but she wasn't going to give up her clovers either. Sigh. Independence has it's drawbacks.