Sunday, January 13, 2013

Back to Basics

The past week has been a pretty rough one for me (for personal reasons) but my rope halter arrived and so I did go introduce it to Charlie and do some basic groundwork. Honestly, it was nice just to be around him, even if I wasn't feeling up to doing much else.

Anyway, boy do I love that rope halter! After just one session I noticed a huge difference in Charlie's respect for my personal space (plus I think he realizes that when he resists it doesn't feel so good). Yesterday we had a very good lunging/groundwork session. I focused on keeping him walking at my shoulder and not ahead of me, stopping when and where I wanted him to, and not moving his feet when I told him to stand. It's tough because he is a very soft horse but he tends to have no response to light requests and too much of a response to anything more.

Our biggest success, I think, was in Charlie's waiting skills. We started small with me taking one step back from him and asking him to stand and wait for a few seconds until I returned. This was hard for him, he really wants to follow you and stay at your side. After gradually increasing the time and distance, by the end I was able to walk away from Charlie for periods of up to 30 seconds or so and he would stay. Every time he lifted a foot to move or took a step I would calmly back him up and reset his feet back where they were. Baby steps. 
Mom, I'm not so sure about this thing
I also worked a lot on getting Charlie to relax and lower his head by applying soft pressure either on the halter or directly to his poll with my hand until he gave a little, then released. My thought is if I can get Charlie to go down instead of up in response to pressure (and consequently stop and think before he reacts) then maybe we can get this rearing thing under control and more adequately handle "scary" situations. He did try rearing twice yesterday: when I asked him to change direction or back up and he was slow to react (and, I think, anticipated a reaction from me). I stayed calm, did not make a big deal of the issue, and moved him on right away back into what we were doing before (backing, turning, stopping). By the end of our session Charlie was responding calmly to a combination of verbal and body language cues and doing transitions and turns on the lunge on command and with no complaint. Plus, when he stopped, I was able to keep him from turning and running right to me in the center of the circle which is a big accomplishment. I no longer needed a whip to keep him out of my space or to direct his energy.

Working on lowering his head

Today was a HUGE day for Charlie :) My friend Maddy, who is very good with natural horsemanship and ground training, came to give me a hand and offer some pointers. I started Charlie out on the lunge and then gave him to Maddy to play with. We made so much progress! Since I really worked him yesterday he had a brain today and was definitely respecting the rope halter. Plus, it was nice having Maddy there with her expertise to quickly and appropriately correct Charlie and good for me to have someone to watch who is in her element. By the end of the session Charlie was staying well out of her space, backing up when she asked, moving out of her way in both directions and standing still until she said it was ok to move. He was a perfect calm boy, the closest to what I had seen when I first met him. He had some minor "moments" but they mostly stemmed from an overreaction when he got slightly confused and there was no rearing. I realized watching her I actually can be more direct and specific when I ask him something so I'll work on that. I have the knowledge, now I need the practice. We're going to work specifically on using the rope as an extension of my body/energy, pointing it at his feet if I want them to move back or waving it to request more space, and directing my energy at the feet I want to move. Also, I am going to focus on getting Charlie to back up smoothly. First bending and lowering his head, then shifting his weight, then shuffling back on a couple of feet and finally picking up his feet in an even tempo, all with very slight pressure on the halter so I can transition this into when I ride him.

Here are two videos of Maddie working with Charlie, the second one is after about 15-20 minutes of work. I think you can really see the progress they made.

I really think last weekend was the extreme end of Charlie's spectrum, after all he had never been like that before, and today renewed my belief that I have a truly great horse in there :) 

On a last little side note, I did want to add in a conformation shot since it's been about one month since Charlie first came to me. I think he's filling out nicely and is very shiny (and his feet continue to look good too). My handsome boy :)


  1. He's looking great, he's lucky to have such a patient mom

  2. Sounds like a big step in the right direction :)

  3. I love my rope halter. It is such a godsend sometimes.

  4. Hey Lauren!
    I just saw that you commented on my post on Kate's blog. My TB was also the "quiet TB that needed spurs". I was so horrified by his rearing problem when I first got him that I almost returned him. Since moving to his new barn he really IS the quiet TB that needs spurs AND a crop.... His turnout with his young gelding buddies has been AMAZING for his mental health. He never pulled any of that crap with me again since we moved. I didn't think it could make that much of a difference, but it did. :) Totally understand needing an indoor. I'm in New England too, and I would be lost without ours. Luckily his barn has everything we need!

  5. Charlie is lucky that you are willing to work through this with him.. hope that things keep going in the right direction! :)