Monday, November 14, 2016

The Plan (such as it is, subject to change)

Someone needs to tell 2016 that October is over. Until they do, I guess I'll appreciate the hearty doses of perspective I keep getting served up.

Here's where I'm at:

1) I really, genuinely like this horse and I'm (still) not ready to give up on him.
2) This year was really, genuinely awful and I don't want to do it again.

From where I sit, it looks like Courage is advancing well in his dressage training. On the days he shows up to play, he works hard, tries hard, and is definitely making progress. His body is changing. His muscles are changing.

Those days are great.

But there are also days where he flat doesn't show up to work. Doesn't want to play. Can't deal with life. Not just "a little bit doesn't want to" or "needs to go for a hack"--we're talking completely unmanageable, borderline dangerous, brain checked out, not coming back to earth stuff.

Everyone is going to have bad days, but for this to be worth it to me, the bad days need to be less frequent and they need to be less dramatic.

See, here's what's really interesting to me about this. For all his antics, Courage is never trying to get rid of me and he's really never trying to get away. He's massively claustrophobic, yes, but he's also terrified of freedom. He may leap and rear and bolt on the lunge line, but he never pulls away from me. He may break free at the trailer, but he immediately stops and wants to be caught.

That grabs my attention. This isn't a horse saying EFF YOU HUMANS. It's a horse with some rather severe emotional issues, but still issues that might be overcome-able.

And again, while I don't enjoy the leaping/bolting/flailing, I can and will ride it. We changed disciplines and trainers and everything for him and I don't resent him for that. Those things are fine with me, but I also need him to work with me on this.

The dressage training is definitely helping the good days, but I'm not sure it's improving the bad ones and I question trying to ask a pressure-averse horse to accept more pressure on days when he's already peaced out. If I show up and it's clearly a "not" day, saying "go sideways and step underneath yourself" doesn't seem to improve anything.

So I need a different approach. Something that addresses Courage's emotional instability and claustrophobia and teaches him different responses.

Dare I say it? We're officially in search of a good local cowboy. There will probably be a round pen. Pool noodles? Balloons? Flags? God only knows.

This is not something I undertake lightly--Courage is at best a fragile horse mentally, and I am not going to risk having him fried by someone who doesn't understand what we're after. I don't care if he can walk over bridges or get in the back of trucks or have guns fired off him or whatever. I don't need razzle dazzle and pizzaz.

I'm in search of someone who can get through to my man C-rage on an emotional level and help him learn some coping skills.

54 comments:

  1. I commend you for thinking outside the box and hope you find somebody who can help Courage learn some new ways to deal! I know someone in my local GMO who has a very hot, reactive horse that she's had trouble showing because he tends to lose his marbles. She's been doing some natural horsemanship-type work with a trainer and has raved about it ☺

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  2. Good for you. You're right, it's not about him doing the razzle dazzle stuff, it is about him learning to deal with pressure in a different way. Good luck and excited to hear all about his progress.

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  3. If only you were closer, I'd have the perfect person to suggest, but I don't think she travels quite that far. Best of luck in your search though! I've seen some really weird horses make big turn arounds with natural horsemanship and similar practices.

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    1. Haha yeah not flying someone in. ;-) something about "reality" and "budgets" would come up for sure.

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  4. Why do learning experiences have to suck so much? Best of luck with the NH/cowboy approach! I hope it's the magic bullet for understanding and working with C-rage. <3

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    1. As far as I can tell, there are no magic bullets. Only patience, time, and understanding.

      Bullets are just too quick and easy. 😜

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  5. I like your thinking! We have a few in our area that do fantastic work. I have seen a horse with severe anxiety about trailer loading advance to self loading while the 'cowboy' stood leaned up against the outside of the trailer.

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  6. It's not easy making decisions like this, but reading your blog for a while, I think everyone here will agree you've taken all the right steps. You've gone the conservative route, switched trainers to someone you thought could help him cope, but you know better then anyone when you need more help.

    A good cowboy can do a world of good for him, and give you more skills in your toolbox to help when shit hits the fan.

    So good for you! We're all behind you!

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    1. Haha every time I think I know the answer, I find out that there's worlds more I never thought about.

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  7. Totally supportive of this decision! Sometimes you have to think outside the box!

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  8. Butch Mowdy is supposed to be great. Might be worth a shot. Do his hocks might need to be done?

    http://www.equinekindergarten.com/Page_2.php

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    1. He's definitely on my list to check out. Have you worked with him?

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    2. I haven't but he gets glowing reviews and I haven't seen anyone else (cowboyish) in the area I would consider sending a horse to! Maybe you can try out a private session or something?

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  9. hopefully this pursuit of finding better and more effective ways to communicate with Courage when he's tuning out yields good results!

    the best horsemanship professionals have such an intuitive, innate sense of timing and energy when it comes to applying and removing pressure on the horse.

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  10. Good training is good training, regardless of discipline. Cowboys can be great. Many of the more rough and tumble looking ones are the best with gently moving horses along. However, some of the rough and tumble ones are really rough and tumble, so it's definitely important to find the right one. Here's to hoping you find a good one nearby.

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    1. Yeah rough and tumble thinking can set me back weeks or months in less than a hour.

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  11. You know, I read your last post and started thinking of Royce, the western trainer who saved Carmen and I. A good one is worth her/his weight in gold! Good luck on the search.

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    1. Thank you! I've appreciated your insights. :-)

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  12. Funny you should mention this- our GMO just had a weekend camp for adult riders, and one of the clinicians was a local cowboy/natural horsemanship guy. He brought tractor tires, mattresses, pool noodles, bridges, you name it. I was thinking the DQs would NOT be into this, but EVERY last one of them was like "OMG this was my favorite part of the camp! This guy is AWESOME! My horse had fun/learned something/coped!"

    Good luck!

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    1. Watching the mustang makeover made me feel really inadequate as a horseman. I will say that.

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  13. I totally think you should shoot a gun from Courage's back, while in the back of a truck, going over a bridge. ;)

    Just kidding - I do think this is a great idea. There is a local cowboy woman that I wouldn't hesitate to call if needed. Good luck in your search!

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    1. Oh I would totally do that if only for the photo op. 😂

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    2. Maybe throw in jumping a ring of fire too!

      In all seriousness I hope you find a good match.

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    3. How was the ring of Fire not serious? Profile pic for YEARS.

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  14. For my 2c worth, I'm not sure a pressure method, like "natural" horsemanship is going to be the answer. At risk of sounding kooky the positive reinforcement option might be the way to go. For want of a better description, clicker training.

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    1. Whatever we settle on (and I do appreciate the thought--this is a new world for me), it will definitely have to be courage-approved. He is my barometer for what works.

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  15. Also, kudos for looking for answers, hope you find them.

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    1. Also, I'm sure you have looked but I have to say look in the mouth. Penny was like this too and there was a hidden tooth sliver making her miserable only some of the time. Best of luck.

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    2. I adore Tik, but there is the slight issue of him living 2000 miles away. If he moves here, I'll be all over it but I'm not holding my breath.

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  17. I am all for it. It could definitely get him some coping skills and help him build some confidence and trust. And even if it doesn't, it will make for interesting blogging.

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  18. Good plan, hope it helps for those bad days. He is such a lovely horse, but boy o boy those nope flail photos!!

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    1. Yeah... and I don't have a fantastic photog every time they happen either.

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  19. Been there done that and highly recommend it. Finding the right one that has the horses best interest in mind not some die hard method follower is key. I use it with steady to engage his brain when he's overwhelmed and it makes a huge difference. Opened me up for criticism from people because certain "trainers" have made it so commercial it is comical to some.

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    1. This is exactly what I need. Might bug you for ideas here shortly.

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  20. I am full Team Courage, and I fully admire your ability and patience to accept him as is and work with him. I'm excited to hear if this new approach will work. Maybe you can see if that really nice schooling show judge gives lessons? He seemed to really have a solid head on his shoulders and a lot of horse sense.

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    1. I was really impressed with him. He's definitely on the list.

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  21. I can't say enough good things about Anna from onehorselife.com :) It's not "natural horsemanship" and is probably a little more "out there" than most people like, but it has been the best thing that I have ever done for myself and for my horse!

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  22. Board certified veterinary behaviorist?

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    1. That sounds like something that doesn't exist where I live. ;-)

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    2. Some of them do distance consults, collaborating with the client and client's veterinarian. http://veterinarybehavior.com/behavior-consultations/ Phone, skype, video. I've seen clients get excellent results in companion animals. I don't know if this team does horses, but contact them, Dr Martin will know which of the board certified veterinary behaviorists work with equines.

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  23. I had an ottb with a lot of traits similar to Courage. Eventually to help him deal with the world I turned him out with an alpha mare. When he would start to lose his marbles in turnout she would flatten her ears at him and tell him to knock it off, that behavior isn't tolerated - surprisingly it worked. They developed quite a great relationship as she taught him better coping skills than I ever could. It was fascinating to watch. His turnout coping skills carried over to his behavior under saddle, which was amazing. I owe that alpha mare a lot. It was really something to see - watching their relationship develop and my ottb change into a much calmer horse. Of course, finding the right mare could be as hard as finding the right cowboy. Either way - just another outside of the box thought. Good luck, I've been there - it's quite the roller coaster.

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    1. I definitely had good results turning an alpha mare out with a more alpha mare before. Don't have access to that mare any more and given Courage's turnout history, I'd be leery of trying something like that at this point. Good thought though! Definitely something to rattle around my head.

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  24. I had the RedMare started by a NH/cowboy and as pressure-reactive as she was/is, I think it helped. Magic? No. The perfect solution all by itself? No. An integral part of her education? Yes. She's still a hot red mare but I firmly believe I did right by her and me in doing that. So she still spooks at random shit in the bean field but when I need to tap into the non-crazy part of her brain, I can. Unless she's in heat. Then all bets are off.

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    1. Right. I'm not throwing everything we've done out the window and I still call our current trainer the courage whisperer. I just need some more tools in the toolbox.

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  25. I like how you're changing the approach. Keep us posted on how it goes - would love to hear about his progress

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  26. We also turned to some 'natural horsemanship' (translation: behavioural therapy) techniques through a specific program for my hot-headed anxious overreactive mare and it's been complete and utter magic for her. The biggest thing with her as been the really clear concept of pressure, a correct response, and immediate release of ALL pressure. It's been totally transformative and has helped her learn to seek out a solution to pressure instead of just cracking and having a meltdown over it. Best of luck for you guys!!!

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