Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life With One Opposable Thumb

Izzy has gotten dramatically better under saddle, which I'm crediting to the gastroshield we're giving her. She still lacks turnout, but we're working on that.

This morning, I groomed her, put her boots on, and started leading her to the arena to turn her out to play for a while. All was well until she saw something scary, barged into me, and bent my thumb backwards. It hurt so bad I almost cried. (Ok, I did later.) Despite my injured thumb, I still had to get my obnoxious stupid horse out into the arena with all her dancing and barging an everything. It was excruciatingly painful, but we made it. I turned her loose and off she went.

I turned one of our OTTBs out with her to give her someone to play with. That gave me enough time to realize that my thumb wasn't broken, but it still hurt like crazy. It also allowed me to handle a total gentleman of a gelding who is fabulously athletic. Let me tell you, if his owner ever offered to trade, I would take her up on it RIGHT NOW and I don't even like geldings.

Anyways. We have an obvious problem. I am a stickler for good ground manners, and I have worked with Izzy on them since day 1. I use a rope halter with her, though she is also respectful of a flat halter usually. She is good about walking behind me, stopping when I stop, and going when I go. She backs up pretty well and I can do pretty much all of this in a round pen with no halter at all.

That said, when she decides she wants to pay attention to something else, she's just gone. That's when she barges into me, rears up, acts crazy, whatever. What do I do? Today I wanted to beat the snot out of her, but since that would just give her psychological problems on top of what I'm already dealing with (and my thumb hurt a lot), I abstained. I don't know where to go from here. Most of my experience is with sensitive horses who may spook and act stupid but would NEVER run in to something (why I love TBs so very, very much).

So. My options are A) continue what I'm doing and get killed B) invest in a stud chain C) keep doing what I'm doing and hope the problem goes away before I get killed D) ?

Any ideas?


  1. I try not to (obnoxiously) point people to posts on my blog, but you did ask for advice. Take a look at my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . ." - it's under favorite posts on the sidebar. Our Dawn is the subject, and I'll bet you she could give your mare a run for the money on some of the issues you've got. There are some other posts on my work with Dawn after that post, running into last fall, that describe some of the work we've done on her paying attention and being "with" me. It's all helped, and we have more to do.

    Also, in truth, if she's getting no turnout, she's probably going out of her mind with the energy crazies, which is going to exaggerate any problems like this that you have. All horses need some turnout, otherwise they develop physical and mental problems. You might also want to take a look at her feed and make sure she's not getting too much, particularly in the carb department.

    Good luck!

  2. Ouch! Sorry about your thumb.

    I found carrying either a lunge whip or Clinton Anderson's "Stick and String" (borrowed from a friend, as I refused to spend money on one, lol) worked really, really well for getting Miles to back up off me. I would also go back to using a rope halter, and make sure it's fairly stiff, not one of those really soft ones. I'm not a huge fan of the knots on the nose and/or poll, but to each his own, and if you've got a horse that's a bit dull to pressure you might want that.

    Anytime Miles would forget his manners (and it wasn't malicious, it was usually just that his attention would be diverted elsewhere and he would sort of forget I existed), I could tap the lead rope, then whack it if needed until I got his eyes on me (the stick was actually much more effective for this). The whip/stick was also great for backing him up, which was my #1 way for getting his brain back. Again I could tap or whack the lead rope, or march forward toward him with the stick, and if he didn't back up the stick would hit him in the chest-but it was more like HE was running into it rather than I was coming after him; as long as he backed up out of my space we were all good-and of course when I say "hitting" I mean more like tapping-he is a thoroughbred and didn't need much pressure at all to get a point across:)

    I know there's lots of controversy around Natural Horsemanship, but I really found Clinton Anderson's groundwork exercises to be fair for the most part, and they WORKED for us.
    Good luck! I agree with Kate that more turnout would help immensely as well. Silly mares:)

  3. Thumbs are over-rated, you don't really need them to ride. They're no fingers.

    All kidding aside, it sounds like Izzy knows how she's supposed to behave but sometimes checks out. Check her back in. I usually hold the end of the leadrope in my left hand, if a horse tries to barge forward or run into me, I thump them in the chest with the end of the leadrope and yell "NO!". They get the point fairly quickly: it's not fun to run me over.

    More work will also help. Horses that don't have turnout need a lot more exercise and interaction to keep them sane. When I used to have stalled horses, I made sure to be out every single day to work them, hand graze them and groom. It was a lot of work and took up hours of my day, but it kept them from turning into crazies. Good luck! And it's only temporary, as soon as you can get her back to being on turnout she'll be back to her old self.

  4. My vote is for a chain shank on her nose just until you can get her turned out regularly again. I am sure she can't help herself and if she's usually good, it will likely go away as soon as you can get her back to the regular routine. Sorry about your thumb though -- bet that hurts!!

  5. I vote for turnout as well. Very few horses I have ever known do well without it.

    Carrying a dressage or lunge whip with you is not a bad idea. Using it to put her back out of your space is not cruel. And you can always just use the handle end to define a safe distance.

    All the above suggestions are good ones. Also, if there is room, leading her with a longer line can allow you to drive her around you in a circle when she acts up. Just lunge her right there. Most horses I know get awfully tired of that and tend to settle down rather than find themselves having to work....and a small circle is work.

  6. Ugh sorry about the thumb...any injury sucks and especially coming from a pony that has forgotten their manners for a minute.
    I hope it's the lack of turnout that is making her act silly and blank out.
    I agree with the whip or bat, and sometimes just having it, tips their eyes and attention enough...I mean, you know that...so maybe having a few ground lessons instead of riding could help??

  7. My old guy was a perfect gentleman... as long as he had turnout. During his suspensory rehab, he spent our hand walking time looking like a Macy's day balloon. He also would rear, then flail the leg NOT on my side... and never once in his life barged into me.

    You are at a disadvantage because she is a little goofy with no turnout, so it's harder to teach her in that she will have more explosive energy to any corrections/body language you try. So, yeah, a stud chain (please try to find one long enough that you can put it over the nose thread under the jaw, and clip to the cheek/crownpiece ring on the near side again. It can't ride up into her offside eye that way) may be your best bet as you are working towards getting her more turnout.

    My theory of horses and respect:
    1) Be as 100% consistent as humanly possible.
    2) Correct them when necessary, but consider why the horse was doing the behavior. They have only so many ways to communicate with us.
    3) Be fair in discipline, but remember they weigh way too much to have more than a honorary vote... when they require discipline, do what their own mother or boss mare would do, and don't feel guilty. Another horse wouldn't, and is still respected.

    Izzie needs to learn that coming into your space is never acceptable when led. Period, end of story. Then, you to can have a crazy rearing Macy" Thanksgiving day parade balloon that at least won't bump into you. =)

  8. Once again, I gotta say that your blog is one I read with great interest because you are always asking the tough questions and I learn so much from reading it. I don't know that much about working with horses who are very naughty since my mare is so mellow and I really spend all of my time riding her on the trail. Honestly, sometimes I think she is too lazy to act up! I will say this though.. I think Miles had a great suggestion with Clinton Anderson. He's got some really good ideas. plus you can watch his videos on his website, I think. Whatever you do, I will be reading to find out!

  9. Although it's a bit pricey, I really like the Monty Roberts halter for ground-training -- you clip the leadrope to a ring that is attached to a rope that goes around the nose. When you pull on the leadrope, the rope closes completely around the nose/jaw, putting pressure around the whole head instead of just the front of the nose/muzzle (like a chain does). It's both more gentle AND more effective than a stud chain. I find that horses really respect it.
    Obviously, more turn-out is the key to a more mellow mare; but, in the meantime, you certainly can't have her running you over! Good luck!

  10. The halter that Frizzle is talking about is awesome. I don't have one, but it totally makes sense!

    When Denali was sound, and had turn out, she was fine. Keep her in a stall or in a place where she can't run, and you're asking for trouble!! Good luck!! I'd try turn out first.

    Best of luck with your thumb! It's no fun!


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