Tuesday, April 17, 2012

growing pains

Merlin and I are going through a rough patch in our relationship. After 6 weeks of weight loss, conditioning, and regular care and training he is a different horse. He feels fitter, younger, and has been in trailers and on trail rides. But on Sunday he put his giant foot down and refused to get into Patty's trailer. He just wasn't having it.

Merlin is not scared of trailers. He has ridden them all over the country. He happily walked into that same trailer before, on several occasions. But this past Sunday Patty and I went to load him up for a trail ride at her farm and not only did he balk, he broke his own halter in protest backing up and ran away. (I have the rope burn scars on my arm to prove it.) He ran off any my heart stopped. I was absolutely terrified he'd run out across the fields of Washington County. Luckily, he ran right back into the barn and the people tacking up and helped by blocking all exits and escape paths. I walked up to him, tied the lead rope around his neck, and got him back into his stall. Patty and I found a loaner halter shortly after, and tried loading him again. I decided I wasn't above bribing the freaked-out horse, and got a small bucket of sweet feed from the grain room. It worked, and an hour of chaos, sore arms, and a cup of grain later...we were on the road.

At Patty's he was a jerk and I was a wuss. He didn't want to listen to a thing I said and started backing up every single time I got on him, crow hopping and throwing his head. I'm sure it felt scarier than it looked, but I am still new at this. Scared, I jumped off. Patty eyed me like a hawk. She wasn't mean, but she was firm. She told me the horse could not win, and I'd get back up on him. This was not something I wanted to do. There was no bravery in my heart. I started making excuses, balking, hell I wanted to cry. I was scared and frustrated. Never before has Merlin been so obstinate. I worried it was a mistake, taking him out after his freak out and running off. I worried I would get hurt. I just worried. It's what I do.

I ended up getting back in the saddle. The plan was not to let the horse decide what it was doing.

Today Merlin was going to:
1. Get in the trailer.
2. Get tacked up and I would ride him.
3. Get back in the trailer.

I got back on and off that horse at least four times. Each time I got more worked up, which of course made him wound up. I didn't understand what was going on in his head? Finally, when I was about to break into tears Patty got out a lunge line and attached it to his bit. Without controlling anything, she just held the emergency breaks while I rode him around her. We started in circles and then up and down the driveway. Eventually we took off the extra line Patty was holding and I walked him around. It wasn't the heroic trail ride, but he did as I asked and I didn't give up. Patty exclaimed it was a day for the books, a success. I just felt like a rookie.

Getting him back on the trailer was another big production, taking over an hour in the rain. Nothing seemed to work. He was just being stubborn. Finally I made a trail of apples and carrots between grains and he crawled in, practically on his belly. I took him back to his stall at Riding Right feeling conflicted.

Monday I wrote my trainers at the barn about the weekend, and both decided that the "pony had my number." Meaning he simply was acting out, testing me, seeing what I was made of. He knew damn well how to trailer and walk on a trail. But he also knows I'm new at this, and don't have the confidence to put my foot down and MAKE him do the things I ask.

Tonight I rode him, and he was the same. Fussy, stubborn, and unwilling to do some basic things I asked. I decided he would not win this time. IF he didn't want to walk past a gate, I turned him around in a circle and we walked somewhere else I wanted to go. If he refused to move forward, I turned him and walked around things. We weaved around the jumps, walking over ones on the ground like logs on the trail. We went through tight corners, from walks into trots. And we walked from the indoor to outdoor arena like I asked. It wasn't always pretty, but I stuck to my guns. I think Merlin learned that the girl on his back tonight wasn't the pansy on his back Sunday. I was gaining on him.

What it all comes down to is confidence. Merlin is demanding more assertion from me, more self possession and certainty. He is forcing me to step up my game, claim my authority, and do it in a way that isn't unkind. I already know whips and spurs aren't the tools he reacts too. This isn't about beating him into place. What it is about is out-stubborning him. He has no idea who he is dealing with. I have the gold, silver, and bronze metals in stubborn smelted together into a balking donkey trophy in my soul.

So we'll get there. We have trainers, friends, and resources on our side. This is just forcing me to be a stronger person. I accept the challenge, and am grateful for the opportunity to grow.

photo by jon katz

85 Comments:

Blogger Shannon said...

Very interesting post. I'm going through the same thing with my horse. Before I bought him this winter, he was a school horse and I rode him for my lessons. I was very indulgent with him, feeding him lots of treats out of my hand, letting him get away with stuff. Now that I own him and I'm supposed to be in charge, I'm having a really hard time establishing myself as the herd leader.

April 17, 2012 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger DarcC said...

While testing you is certainly a possibility, a behavior change that sudden makes me suspect a physical problem, he may very well be sore somewhere. Had he been gradually pushing your buttons all along I would be right on board with the testing theory. While a call to the vet is not necessary, a thorough going over of common problem points (back muscles, girth rub, a sore poll, hotspots on his legs indicating a strained muscle or tendon, strained stifle, ulcer, the list is long...), would be useful. If he reacts in any way give him a couple days off and some maybe some bute or banamine as an anti-inflammatory/pain reliever. Alternately, give him a dose of bute or banamine and if he acts much better then you know to go looking for an injury or strain.

Most horses will test you at some point, but most sensible and willing ones will quit as soon as they know you're not quitting. The fact that he was a dink the whole outing and both loadings makes me think a bit more may be going on. Merlin seems like too good-minded an animal to be a jerk for the sake of being a jerk, he may be trying to tell you something.

April 17, 2012 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Odd Ducks Farm said...

I'm proud of you, Jenna. You are building a relationship with a horse and that is so much like building a relationship with a person. You will have rough patches, you will have misunderstandings, but you will also work through it as we have all seen you done time and again. There will be misteps on both your parts, but keep in there and you will prevail. And your trainer is right - you have to get your butt back on that horse or he will think he is in charge. :o)

April 17, 2012 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Yeah, this is why I'm more comfortable with dogs. A stubborn, going-his-own-way horse is definitely scarier than a pooch pulling on a leash! But I have faith that you'll bullhead your way through this, and I know you'll learn a lot about yourself in the process.

It's all part of Merlin's magic. :)

(For what it's worth, the best riding adage I ever heard was "Throw your heart over the fence, and the horse will follow.")

April 17, 2012 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

Dear Jenna,
Every time you say something like this

"I have the gold, silver, and bronze metals in stubborn smelted together into a balking donkey trophy in my soul."

in just such a way that captures both you and what you're getting at and talking about it inspires the hell out of me. It instpires me because it shows through to your heart, and that muscle/organ/center of your's is fierce and tender and inspiring as the seasons. And it inspires me to write. so, thanks for that.

April 17, 2012 at 9:14 PM  
Blogger JulieG said...

Way to go! Show him who's boss.

April 17, 2012 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I assume everyone who helps you with Merlin checked the usual suspects - feet, teeth, joints, gut, etc?

April 17, 2012 at 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Cindy Kamberelis said...

Jenna, You are such a delightful person. Remember the platinum!
"I have the gold, silver, and bronze metals in stubborn smelted together into a balking donkey trophy in my soul."

Your daily roll inspires and amazes me in such a complete and real way. Thank you!
Cindy

April 17, 2012 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

Don't rule out the health issues, but I remember you writing about the other time he was being testy, too. I wouldn't rule out him feeling feisty, either, so I commend you for sticking to your guns. At work, we console ourselves, "Horses will make you feel like fools."

April 17, 2012 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger ~~Melissa said...

It will interesting to learn what changes between you and Merlin. In case it helps, my dad used to tell me, 'when you think you're the hammer, you're really the nail refusing to go in'. When I'd grasp this, the two would work together. I can't tell if this sounds too abstract. That said, I admire what you're doing.

April 17, 2012 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
Once you have ruled out any physical causes of Merlin's behaviour, I would recommend ground work. Not lunging but Natural Horsemanship ground work. Once you have established yourself as the leader on the ground, it is much easier on his back. There are many good Natural Horsemanship trainers out there-I'm sure there are several in your area. Natural Horsemanship will only reinforce everything you are already doing with Merlin and likely make everything you are doing easier and give your confidence a boost. I use this type of training on a daily basis with my horses and it has made a world of difference for the horses and me both.
Lisa in Maine

April 17, 2012 at 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with others about groundwork, but I differ in that I would lunge the daylights out of him. Make him tired, then make him go some more.

April 17, 2012 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I think it is a combination of attitude and confidence. His attitude and my confidence. He has been testing me this whole time, but I always got my way. Lately the little tests turned into flat-out refusals.

His vet check came out clean, feet, teeth, tack, all okay.

April 17, 2012 at 9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon here again:
Does he get grain? If so, maybe you can eliminate that. A horse that is an easy keeper just needs hay usually and that grain can make him a little "hot".

April 17, 2012 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger Jenetta said...

I would also say, he might be getting stubborn if the only time he sees you is a working day. Meaning, every time you come by to see him he gets saddled up and worked.

If you have time, you should just stop by with an apple and a good grooming session or just to pet him and talk to him. That way he won't associate every time he sees you with work. Horses need a break to.

April 17, 2012 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

Good horses don't suddenly start behaving badly "just because".

Remember the earlier post about "if you see a behavior change....check your equipment"?

Check his back, behind the shoulder blade, and just below the wither, and where the cantle of the saddle sits....any signs of tenderness? How well does your saddle REALLY fit?

Do you know the signs of soreness (if not, ask someone who does). And just because someone says they know how to tell doesn't mean they do. If in doubt, get the vet out (remember "the upkeep on horses is what kills you"?)

The horse is trying to tell you as plainly as he can he's not happy.
It's not because he suddenly "has your number".

Horses are fairly simple, but completely honest creatures.
Showing him who is boss, being in command, being more stubborn than he is? Won't solve your problem. Quit talking, and start listening to him.

He doesn't want you on him, there's a reason. He doesn't want to go in the trailer...there's a reason. Did you check the trailer thoroughly..bee nest, something sharp--ride in the trailer yourself...is it really noisy and perhaps downright uncomfortable?

There is ALWAYS a reason for a change in behavior in a horse. Find out what the reason is, and fix it. Before one of you gets hurt.

April 17, 2012 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger Jenetta said...

I totally agree with everyone else that he probably has a physical issue. He's sounded like such a game horse before this, it's very weird for him to all of a sudden do a 180 and not give in when you showed him you meant business.

It could be that he's associating seeing you with working if every time he sees you he gets saddled up and worked.

If you have time you should just stop by with an apple for a luxurious grooming session, or just to pet him and talk to him. Horses need TLC every now and then too.

April 17, 2012 at 10:04 PM  
Blogger Val said...

If horse didn't test you every once and a while we'd get bored, ha!

I am a newer rider and someone recommended that I watch the documentary "Buck". It was worth the watch, the man featured really has a good pulse on why horses do the things they do and how we can work with them. Check it out sometime when your not riding, milking, mucking, or watering :-)

April 17, 2012 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Thunder Ridge Farm said...

Jenna, go to downunderhorsemanship.com and buy Clinton Anderson's Ground Control DVD. I have used his method to train all of the Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses that we have bred and raised here on our farm. His method is no-nonsense, easy to learn and will instill confidence in your ability to communicate effectively with the horse.

April 17, 2012 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

Jenna, your vet check was what, a month ago? Before he'd been in serious daily work?

Ever buy a pair of shoes that felt okay in the store, but when you wore them every day, they started hurting? Ditto saddles and other tack.

And I apologize to all DVM's, but I've yet to run into a vet yet, even an equine vet, that truly understood the nuances of saddle fitting. Not their job.

The timing of his behavioral change, and his manner of expressing it is pretty much "on schedule" given his history, your history, and the past month.

He's muscling up, losing weight, changing shape, and a saddle that appeared comfortable a month ago, maybe not be now. Do you know how to tell?

And given the complete change in his lifestyle in the last month, don't overlook the possibility of an ulcer.

Figure out what's hurting him.
Smart riders figure the horse out....others "show them who's boss". Undertaking an entirely unfamiliar training method or lunging him until he's dead tired won't solve your problem. Neither will giving him drugs indiscriminantly without knowing what the problem is.

He was good, now he's not. Why?
In my lifetime with horses, they do not choose to suddenly behave badly without reason.

If you can't figure out why (and most of us can't at some point), get out the BEST experts you can find and figure it out. This is just part of owning a horse. It's not all the fairy tale.

Good luck.
Jan

April 17, 2012 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger J.D. said...

Hmm, couldnit be a matter of horse psychology?

I agree about the health check, the groundwork, and the return to saddle, but please do not reward bad behavior with sweet feed. Sweet feed is for good behavior. Merlin's thinking, "Gee, I'm hungry, don't feel like exercising, might want a little pasture time, I think it's time to show her who's boss. I'll go back to the barn, have lunch, & nap. If she gets real nerved up, she'll give me some candy."

Reward good behavior with practice and reward. Balk at the trailer? Groundwork. Not listening? Circles. He'll get it when he realizes that bad behavior equals more work.

All riders get thrown eventuallly. Either they slide off because a horse got spooked or something happens because the rider does not know how to react. Look at the professional riders, they've eaten their share of dirt. Having said that, Jenna, IMHO, you and Merlin have much to learn before hitting the trail

April 17, 2012 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

You've seen the documentary BUCK right??

April 17, 2012 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger TwoBlueHeelers said...

My experience is with dogs, also. My first Australian Cattledog that I trained with, was such a great puppy for her first four months of training. Then we met "adolescence" and she was the most challenging little snot dog for the next four months. Arrgh! I used a longline at obedience class (to prevent zooming away and disrupting everybody else) and I had to learn to be smarter and more stubborn than she was. It payed off, as in the fifth month, she decided to join forces with me. And then we took the test and became certified as a Therapy Dog team. Yahoo!
My knowledge of horses is zero... but it sounds like there are some parallels. Hang in there through the tough times, and listen to your teachers and trainers. They will help you succeed and be the owner Merlin needs!

April 17, 2012 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger TwoBlueHeelers said...

My experience is with dogs, also. My first Australian Cattledog that I trained with, was such a great puppy for her first four months of training. Then we met "adolescence" and she was the most challenging little snot dog for the next four months. Arrgh! I used a longline at obedience class (to prevent zooming away and disrupting everybody else) and I had to learn to be smarter and more stubborn than she was. It payed off, as in the fifth month, she decided to join forces with me. And then we took the test and became certified as a Therapy Dog team. Yahoo!
My knowledge of horses is zero... but it sounds like there are some parallels. Hang in there through the tough times, and listen to your teachers and trainers. They will help you succeed and be the owner Merlin needs!

April 17, 2012 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

When I had my horse, he'd be such an angel at times, but aoften old really be a devil. He was quite spirited and always testing. He also liked to bite. The 2nd time he bit me (always shoulder when you'd turn away, or believe it or not, your backside!) well I whipped around, grabbed his nose and nipped him right back (not hard enough to really hurt him), but it shocked him. He squeeked and stared at me sideways for a bit...then lowered his head and started "lipping" my shoulder again (what he'd do before biting sometimes), so I repeated the "procedure" and he again squeeked and stared at me for a longer time (I could almost hear him thinking...damn, she ain't kidding!). He never ever once tried to bite me again. I'm certainly not saying to bite your horse! Lol I guess my point is, I finally had enough, stopped being nervous and got firm- let him know I wasn't going to stand for it (whatever it may be). He knew it. He felt it. It was like our whole relationship started to change. He even stopped heading for the famous pine tree brush-off he so enjoyed before. The more confident & in control I felt, the less he misbehaved, the less nervous i was and the more we felt like a team. I think you're headed to that same place... you are not one to give up as you said, that's for sure!! Looking forward to seeing you & Merlin grow together!

April 17, 2012 at 11:24 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

When I had my horse, he'd be such an angel at times, but aoften old really be a devil. He was quite spirited and always testing. He also liked to bite. The 2nd time he bit me (always shoulder when you'd turn away, or believe it or not, your backside!) well I whipped around, grabbed his nose and nipped him right back (not hard enough to really hurt him), but it shocked him. He squeeked and stared at me sideways for a bit...then lowered his head and started "lipping" my shoulder again (what he'd do before biting sometimes), so I repeated the "procedure" and he again squeeked and stared at me for a longer time (I could almost hear him thinking...damn, she ain't kidding!). He never ever once tried to bite me again. I'm certainly not saying to bite your horse! Lol I guess my point is, I finally had enough, stopped being nervous and got firm- let him know I wasn't going to stand for it (whatever it may be). He knew it. He felt it. It was like our whole relationship started to change. He even stopped heading for the famous pine tree brush-off he so enjoyed before. The more confident & in control I felt, the less he misbehaved, the less nervous i was and the more we felt like a team. I think you're headed to that same place... you are not one to give up as you said, that's for sure!! Looking forward to seeing you & Merlin grow together!

April 17, 2012 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous LizzS said...

Atta Girl! I have a huge gelding who used to do just the same, and after a long summer redoing the ground work and gentle but firm discipline (even if it includes standing in front of the ditch for an hour before he walked through it!) we have a respectful and trusting relationship. He went from a horse that broke my arm in the past to a place where I can feel safe taking him out on trail rides. You'll get there, just be firm, but patient.

April 18, 2012 at 12:32 AM  
Blogger Barri said...

Thanks for this post. The timing of this was ridiculously good

Certainly not a problem with the same scale, but I rescued a dog 1 month ago who is just developing some aggression issues. He is 18 pounds of black fuzzy terror whenever anyone approaches me.

I was reduced to sobbing on the floor over an incident last night until I mentally went through the list of all the awesome things about him and the steps I've taken to get him properly trained.

Again - totally different scale. But I guess what I'm saying is thanks for the post - both misery and hope like company. Here's to sticking it out for the long haul!

April 18, 2012 at 2:33 AM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

Glad the vet found nothing wrong. A horse will soon "have your number" and some of them will certainly try it on. I would go with Lisa and say try Natural Horsemanship - that way you control your horse from the ground and make it more biddable without any histrionics! One little point though - the sudden unwillingness to load - I would wonder had he had a bad experience during the journey, perhaps not balancing well? Some horses travel better when they're alone if the partition is taken out and then they can move themselves to where they are most comfortable, sometimes standing head in one corner and hind legs across on the other side to make balancing easier.

But as you say he has been testing you a little more each time, and just discovered how he can win, time to step up to the mark!

April 18, 2012 at 3:16 AM  
Blogger mush said...

Are you using a treeless saddle?

April 18, 2012 at 6:22 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I appreciate all the advice and comments!

But I really think this is about attitude and confidence, not saddle fitting. It is about dominance. Experts are there to inspect, change, and adjust fit of tack. (trust me, five bits later we got it right) and he sure wasn't tacked up when he wouldn't go on the trailer. Merlin is healthy, his gear fits. He is just being an asshole. I can out asshole him.

Yes! I saw Buck btw. And ground work is a great idea.

April 18, 2012 at 6:30 AM  
Blogger Rachael said...

Part of the reason I love riding so much is that horses are incredibly intelligent and are pros at using mind games to challenge their riders and evade work. There's always something running through their minds. Spring always makes my horses act like pills too, haha! I lunge them a bit before climbing aboard to let them blow off some steam and remember who's the boss when their feeling their oats. Good luck!

April 18, 2012 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Krista said...

I really related to this post. A farrier once said those same words to me, "that horse has your number". I hated it. It took me a long time to learn that role of master and friend. I tried to hard to be just friend and my mare saw that as "wuss". She always acted so much better for my dad than she did for me. I watched dad carefully with her and learned that "kind master" was being a friend. For some reason it took me a while to get it but I know from reading your blog that you're a much faster learner than I was. It's just kinda intimidating when the horse is so much bigger than you, isn't it? Good luck Jenna, I know you'll get it.

April 18, 2012 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

I think Jasper has your number too.

April 18, 2012 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger PattyW said...

We all checked him over thoroughly - he is fit, it is spring and the only ones who are sore are me and Jenna. We have used ground work and longing and he plants his feet where he sees fit. We are calling in a natural horsemanship trainer to work with Merlin and us to smooth out some issues and further evaluate his behavior - whether trailering (which according to his former owner is not a new problem) and trail work ( which is what Jenna wants to do with him). Oh and driving - we still have to see him do that! This is not new to Merlin - he's a veteran!

April 18, 2012 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

"Dominance" in the hands of the inexperienced can be a very dangerous thing.

Just sayin' :-)

Physical reasons first, psychological last. Horses are really not that deviously minded.
"Oh, she only comes to make me work, so I won't get on that trailer, etc." Doesn't really work that way.

Have you contacted his owner and asked her opinion and/or advice?

And while the "natural horsemanship" training can be of value, the point here is not to completely retrain this horse in a different manner. He WAS doing well, he's NOT now. There's a reason, and it's likely not his previous training wanting an overhaul.
JMHO
Jan

April 18, 2012 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Jasper has everyone's number.

April 18, 2012 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

PS: Calling your horse an asshole won't make him one. The really good horsemen know one thing: the horse is always right. If he's behaving badly, there's a reason. It's up to you to find out why.

The horse is a reflection of his rider.

Not picking on you, Jenna, honestly, just saying that horses are simple, sensitive creatures. They don't plan how to make your life miserable, even though it may seem that way sometimes .

Jan

April 18, 2012 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Jan I am just writing about my experience. And colorful language is just writing, not vindication.

April 18, 2012 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

Merlins an old pro, why in the world did you put him through 5 bits? What was wrong with the bit he's been ridden, shown, and exhibited in all these years?

April 18, 2012 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

You can't out 'asshole' a horse. That mentality will get you or him seriously injured or killed. You may be able to throw your weight around with the sheep, but thats not how it works with horses.

April 18, 2012 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

I understand completely, Jenna.

You're frustrated (understandably so) and you're tired and sore (understandably so). It's human nature to want to "win" the situation.

It's also human nature to want to blame the horse. But 99% of the time, if you stop, think really hard and try to win the game from a different direction, you'll do better.

You hadn't mentioned that Merlin had a history of problem loading, but still double check the whole trailer/comfort thing. Trailer loading is problem that can be fixed, and I agree that the Clinton Anderson method, or some variation, works well...but you have to be very very quick and intuitive about when to reward and when not.

Another thing that might be helpful is to keep a "horse journal". If you have a problem, and look back, you may see how and when the problem started and possibly a solution.

Horses are not deductive thinkers (thankfully). 99% of the time they are reacting to something we, the owner/rider, are doing, or have done, or they have "trained" us to do (LOL).

You'll figure it out. Just don't get sucked into being reactive and dominant. Even a tiny pony can out-react and out-dominant you :-)
Jan

April 18, 2012 at 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I'm like the twentieth person in line to say rule out physical issues, and I know that you've attempted to do so, but lots of things can go unnoticed even by professionals. I had a big thoroughbred who started getting a little cranky. We did the cursory physical checks, and since everything looked fine, we just thought he "had my number" or the spring sillies. The behavior got worse, and not only under saddle. Vets, homeopaths, farriers, saddle fitters, nutritionists, and even an animal communicator came out. No one could find anything wrong; they all said it was behavioral. Finally, six specialists and a bazillion dollars later, we discovered his pelvis was out of alignment, and the root of his issues. Moral of the story: there is a fine, often

April 18, 2012 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

I just re-read your post. This does not sound like a horse that is testing you, it sounds like a horse that has a physical issue. He's broke right? He's not a youngster; he's trailered all over the country. I have loads of experience with horses, and I can tell you, I have never seen a horse who was experienced and well broke, behave this bad all around. My first step would be to contact a chiropractor, and a vet. Once you rule out physical, then you can go from there. When was the last time his teeth were floated?

April 18, 2012 at 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...indescirnable and often frustrating line between physical and behavioral issues. I don't know which Merlin is exhibiting, and I know you'll do your damnedest to figure out what's going on, but don't rule out physical issues just because the first few people couldn't find anything wrong. Good luck!!!

April 18, 2012 at 9:36 AM  
OpenID astralisfarm said...

Jenna--
As you probably know by now, horse world = two people + three opinions. You have professional help putting eyeballs on your situation every day--I'm glad you're trusting them.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm quite an experienced rider, and have a horse that will "have my number" at times. He is a total, wonderful, agreeable partner 99% of the time, and the other 1% he is a willful demon. 2 hours to get on the trailer he's loaded on his entire life? Spook/dump when passing the same jump standard that's been in the ring for 3 months? It happens. Helps that you have a sense of humor about it--we all(including horses)have days when we just act like assholes. Regrettable, but true. :) Glad you're not giving up.

And, in the spirit of diverging opinions, I've always believed that horses are much smarter and more intuitive than many people give them credit for. Though my current horse is the only one I've suspected of actually having a bit of fun at my expense...

April 18, 2012 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

5 bits because we were not allowed to take his last bit with us, because the owner used it on her other fell pony. she wasn't sure of the exact size so between brands and styles of dressage bits it took a while to find one that made him happy.

April 18, 2012 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Deltaville Jamie said...

My mare still tries to see what she can get away with. And if she's especially obstinate, she gets lunged. Whenever any of the horses we have/had act up they get lunged until they settle then we ride so that we can end on a good note. Also, it's possible his teeth might need floating.

April 18, 2012 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

My first thought is that he is getting too much grain...but what do I know. Just make sure you're not feeding him like a racehorse.

April 18, 2012 at 11:27 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

BTW this is why I don't have a horse after a lifetime of horses. You are either training them or untraining them.
All my friends that are very experienced riders have days and weeks like this.

April 18, 2012 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Merlin only gets hay, no grain!

April 18, 2012 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger greendria said...

Holy cow, I never realized how complicated riding/training horses could be. I literally took my first official horse lesson this past Sunday, and it was hard. Now I see why. I grew up working on my aunt's horse farm, but that was mostly mucking and grooming. With riding, there are so many variables - so much to consider! I don't know if I'm up for that kind of challenge, but I also can't imagine not riding now that I got a real taste of it!

April 18, 2012 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

I disagree with a lot of the comments about how horses don't "take advantage" ... because they do. It's very important to look at the whole forest and not just a tree, but you can't eliminate a tree from the forest just because you've never experienced the tree, or don't believe it's a valid tree.

That may not make sense. ;)

And I imagine that "out-assholing" a horse was a tongue in cheek expression... it's hard to imagine you being some cock and bull cowboy out there on your pony. I could be wrong. That said, sometimes you just have to walk away from a minute so you don't end up with a broken face.

Million ways to skin a cat, yo.

April 18, 2012 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Sue Steeves said...

Jenna, trust in your trainer. She sounds great and has been through situations like this with countless horse owners I am sure. If you have had physical ailments and poor fitting tack excluded then I agree that Merlin has found his comfort zone and is now testing you.....ponies are notorious for that ;) I seems to me that he was basically on vacation before you got him and now it is back to work.....who wouldn't fight that a little. I also think spending some non-riding feel good time with him is not a bad idea either....horses like to bond. I think you have a great team put together that are going to help you two work out the kinks.

April 18, 2012 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger The Village Queen said...

Well he's a pony. Ponys have a streak of born asshole. And they give stubborn a new definition. People equal work most of the time, try to spend some time just taking him for a walk and let him graze and be with you. Since you are boarding him, your not the one feeding him and that will make a difference too once you move him. But its spring, ponys are the horse world couch potatos and he's testing you as you said. Kinda like a 4 year old that never grows up. Think of it as parenting practice, if you can keep your sense of humor and not take it personally you will be well on your way. And Patty is right, never let them win even if it takes hours. You are boss. Hang in there Jenna, welcome to the wild world of horses!

April 18, 2012 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

Lady Farrier, I've appreciated your comments and I think Jenna (and all of us) are lucky when someone with experience and a different insight weighs in to a conversation like this one. I can always learn something new about horses.

For what it's worth Jenna, my horse Alan was sold to me with certain behaviour problems when handled on the ground, much like you're describing Merlin's recent behaviour.

When I bought him he went from living in a stable on his own, to living with my other horse Kitty in a field situation, with free access to a shelter but no enforced stabling. It changed his behaviour for the better - by accident not design I assure you. His ground manners and overall attitude are much improved.

I'm sure you're right that Merlin is sizing you up and testing the boundaries, but be open-minded that some of the behaviours may "settle" when he's living at your place, with company.

And, we all get scared. Well done for sticking with it and getting back on. Best thing you could have done, for both of you. Patty sounds like a gem.

April 18, 2012 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 18, 2012 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger bookkm said...

"Balking donkey trophy"! I love it.

April 18, 2012 at 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Horses are alot smarter that most people think. When we owned horses my daughters were 15 and 9, they rode the same horse in local rodeo's in the speed events and you would think that it couldn't have been the same horse because of the difference in the way he acted, older one on him he was spirited as the devil and with the younger one he was a much calmer horse.
I have enjoyed reading of your adventures everyday and I admire how strong and motivated you are.
Thanks for letting me lurk around!
Linda in Mississippi

April 18, 2012 at 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Wow! You sure got a lot of advice on this post! I'm not here to give advice because I know nothing about horses. Your post and all the comments were interesting.

BTW, I enjoy reading your blog.

April 18, 2012 at 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Hi Jenna,
As always, you are inspirational! I thought you might find this article interesting.
http://www.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/horse-training-tips-confidence-with-horses/?utm_source=FBPNH_Wall&utm_medium=SM&utm_campaign=FBPNH

April 18, 2012 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger CarolG. said...

Jenna,
Enjoy Merlin, I am sure you and the people working with you will find out any issues Merlin has. One thing I found out with my ponies is that you get a really confident seat when you have dealt with some of these behaviors. Here's hoping it all smooths out soon.

April 18, 2012 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger BaileyDog said...

I loved this quote! "horse world = two people + three opinions"

Here is my two cents (not that anyone should listen to me).

First, ignore all of us out here in internet land and trust the experienced people that actually have eyes on the situation. No one, no matter how amazing of a horse person they are, can read a handful of posts about a horse and diagnose exactly what is wrong and prescribe a solution. And trust yourself! Merlin is YOUR horse.

Second, I agree sometimes you just have to out-asshole your horse. As a kid/teenager I rode a Shetland pony and an Appy mare that regularly "had my number". They had an arsenal of ways to end our rides that included bolting for home, refusing to move forward, finding low hanging branches, spooking and bucking. It was NOT a physical issue. It happened with various combinations of saddles, bareback, bridles, bits and halters and oddly disappeared as I got older, stronger and more confident. As Linda mentioned above horses are smart.

Grit your teeth and ride out the bad days! They make the good days even better.

April 18, 2012 at 6:30 PM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

OMG, Jenna, when do you have time to read through all the comments? I was wondering if you need to look at routines, if there are changes that may be upsetting him or, on the other hand, if he's bored... I wish you luck in figuring it all out. From my experience with animals and children, by the time I have it figured out, they've moved on...

April 18, 2012 at 7:35 PM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

Oh Jenna. I have BTDT and I know exactly how hard those days are. Big hugs to you.

I will just tell you that after many, many years of riding as an adult amateur, the world of horse training can be a pretty confusing world...There are trainers who will insist that horses will "test you" and that you have to "win those battles or else", there are those who think lunging a horse until he is exhausted is a means to curb unwanted behaviour...basically ask 10 different trainers what happened with Merlin that day and you'll get at least 4 very different answers, possibly all 10 will be different.

I won't try to convince you that any of these ways is "the right one", but I can tell you from my own heartbreaking journey that you will have to decide at some point which training philosophy is right for YOU (this is good practice for becoming a parent some day, lol). And to do so you need to do your research. I read everything I could get my hands on, watched different trainers, joined a few online forums, and eventually decided that the natural horsemanship approach sat best with me. My current trainer is Chris Irwin certified (triple gold) and I trust her opinion fully. But I went through a few trainers who I had really gotten attached to, whom I had trusted from day 1 as a novice, but whom I eventually left because I disagreed with the way they treated horses and their general philosophy.

April 18, 2012 at 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna,
You might find this blog interesting right now - the author has ridden horses since a little child and yet had a similar experience that she posted today. She's a lovely writer too.
http://taniakindersley.blogspot.com/
Cheers,
Diane

April 18, 2012 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger beccaWA said...

Horses just aren't that psychologically complicated (to be "testing" you and all that for such a duration). He's been very stable and tractable all along. There's something physically up.

April 18, 2012 at 9:03 PM  
Blogger Melina said...

I spoke with my instructor today and she said you have to be a leader around herd animals. SHe believes horses are herd animals and do test to see who is boss. Wishing you and Merlin better days ahead.

April 18, 2012 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger deodar said...

Jenna, I don't usually comment but thought my experience might help. I have a wonderfully sweet Kentucky Mtn Mare who hadn't had a lot of time under saddle. Unfortunately she's also incredibly stubborn - a real blockhead. She would balk, threaten to rear, back up, anything but go where I pointed her. I tried lunging, on a long line she was a plug. One day she refused to go through the gate so I made her circle a small rock pile in the stable yard. Periodically I pointed her at the gate and every time she refused we went back to the rock pile. Eventually she figured out it was way easier to just go through the gate than make those tight little circles. Next time I rode her she refused once but after a couple of times around the rock pile she went where I wanted to go. Bottom line, fighting with her only got me po'd and her high-headed and worked up. She finally figured out it was much more unpleasant to argue and I never laid a hand on her, I sat still upon her with quiet hands and drove her with my legs and seat. Of course that first time was tough, seemed like hundreds of circles and I'm sure she was somewhat stiff and sore by the time we were done - lord knows I sure was. Sometimes you have to make them think it's their idea to behave. I've had horses for 41 yrs and learn something new from them all the time.

April 18, 2012 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger beccaWA said...

Oh natural horsemanship rocks!

April 18, 2012 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

My hard-ass trainer used to say "don't even call yourself an equestrian until you've been thrown off 75 times". Not really a goal I think, but it happens.

I suspect he is on grain and is zippy. Plus, they are masters of nonverbal cues, and can sense your confidence level. He will try to train YOU. These times are very important to persevere (safely, gently). Or he will set himself to be the boss. I spent 4 hours getting a plow pony to let me harness her. Her owner has given up. I now own said plow pony and he is moving to my farm in 2 weeks. She and I are going to have to come to a gentle understanding.

I would take him out on an lunge line for a good bit before riding to burn off that initial grain energy and make him more prone to listening and easing into the workout. I do the same thing when training dogs. They play fetch until initial energy is burned off, then they will listen better.

Let's face it, he is fit now, and has energy to object with. Before perhaps he didn't since he was trying to catch his breath b/c you were making demands of him.

April 18, 2012 at 10:42 PM  
OpenID domesteading said...

I just happened to reread a comment I posted here and it didn't come across at all the way I meant to so here goes again: Hi Jenna! I'm a pony girl from way back and I just want you to know that a naughty pony is a gift in disguise. I had taken riding lessons for years when I got my Welsh pony (at age 10 - I'm 37 now and had to graduate to horses loooong ago due to my size) and there was probably 6 months or more of hell, including tree scrapes, rope burns, nips, charges, escapes, and squashed feet before he and I worked it out. He not only became my best friend (I still cry when I think about him because I miss him so much...sniff) but he made me a FEARLESS rider. I just got another horse after 18 years without and I hopped right on and hit the trails without any trepidation. My rascal pony taught me to be alert, firm, relaxed, and happy all at the same time, and I still feel that way on a horse today. A perfectly trained, well behaved horse can only teach you so much. Enjoy and appreciate your beautiful, rotten, magnificent jerk of a pony!

April 19, 2012 at 1:25 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

You persevered and that's great! Sounds like Merlin just wanted to help you become a stronger rider. ;>)

April 19, 2012 at 6:20 AM  
Blogger MB said...

horses are like children - they will test you. I suggest you make him go where you want to go. If he tries to turn away - turn him back the way he turned etc.
I've worked with everything for old school horses to a 2 year old world champion paint horse (western pleasure).
Often times I have found when a horse gets some muscle they start showing their true colors - you either need to make sure they still obey or look for a different option.
Best of luck.

April 19, 2012 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Carole said...

I agree with the commenter who mentioned springtime. They all feel a bit zippy when the winter coats come off, the sun gets warm, and the ground gets softer. And FWIW, my past experiences have been much like yours. They WILL test, and they can have your number. Your stubbornness and determination will serve you well, since you'll be overcoming your own fears and physical limitations as much as Merlin's asshole-itude.

April 19, 2012 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Carole said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 19, 2012 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Carole said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 19, 2012 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Carole said...

(Also, no idea why that comment came up three times. Sorry 'bout that.)

April 19, 2012 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Jenna,
Please check into the dvd's by Chris Cox or Clinton Anderson. Your horse needs ground work as others have mentioned. He needs to go through the direct and drive exercises. If you don't get it corrected and continue to bribe hime to get in the trailer you will continue to get the same response.
I have ridden for over 50 years and current live on a horse training ranch in Texas... Chris Cox is the best but Clinton uses the same style of natural horsemanship. PLEASE CHECK INTO IT!

April 19, 2012 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger buddha-girl said...

You are getting some serious and good advice from horse people. I have four currently. So I'll throw in my 2 cents worth. Respectfully, it's not the same with dogs for sure (yes they can injure but they don't weigh 1100 pounds) and it's not about dominance and being more of an asshole than the horse. They require your patience, consistency,ground work and respect and that's just for starters. A few lifetimes can be tossed in for good measure and you still would not learn everything there is to know. Getting some good feed and putting on weight can change a horse's behavior dramatically and not always for the immediate good. Weather, different surroundings can play a part as well. Pay close attention and heed the good advice you are receiving from experienced horse owners. They are only trying to help and save you time, money and prevent injury. We care about YOU.

April 19, 2012 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Sue in Hawaii said...

Hey Jenna,

I've read all the comments and of course, have no idea what he was thinking, nor do any of us. But if he "suddenly" (IE. not his normal behavior at all, not just sliding into this behavior) is no longer wanting to do anything, consider that he might have a stomach ache. He might have a headache. We get them. He might too. Would not show up on a vet check. Maybe for whatever reason he just does not want to do anything. We have those days too. But he is a large animal that can hurt you if he finds out he is totally in charge. So here is what I would do on a day where he is clearly off. Whatever he does not want to do - make him do it 1 time. He has to load, no matter how he feels (unless he is clearly physically impaired). Then take him back out. He has to behave under saddle for, let's say 5 minutes, max. Then you get off him. Lead him around and let him graze if he wants to. Spend quality time just being with him. Pet him. Massage him. Talk to him. sit and read or whatever as he grazes next to you. Just let him have his time off. Then see what he does the next day. Maybe he is all better and happy to perform. Maybe not. Once he seems better then do all the natural horsemanship leadership training. And intersperse your visits with ones that are just you taking him out for a walk, leading him around. Not just all work. So he looks forward to it. And trailering- if feasible - take him somewhere fun for him so he is always wondering if something fun will be happening - not just more work. None of this is as easy as it is with a dog (my speciality) but I think the principles are the same.

And yes, it might just be attitude. My neighbors pony liked (it seemed to me) to just throw me for the "h" of it. But I miss her to this day. And it is not lost on me that a trainer I happened to meet offered to come watch her for free to see if it might be something physical. I really appreciated and respected that trainer. Unfortunately the owner moved her before I could have the trainer over so I will never know. But she impressed upon me that the physical should always be considered.

April 19, 2012 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger buddha-girl said...

You are getting very good advice from horseowners. Unfortunately it takes a lifetime or two or more to learn it all. Just changing feed or the environment can affect your horses behavior. they require your patience, understanding, consistency, groundwork, and respect. Being a bigger asshole than your horse is not the way to go - that's Old School if nothing else. Pay close attention and heed advice being given. Respectfully they are not like a dog and dogs don't weight 1100 pounds. I have 4 horses and work every single day with them. Oh and I had a horse once that the trainer had us both in the round pen for almost a year. It made the horse and me crazy. There is such a thing as too much round pen work. That horse was a bit crazy to begin with but I was a beginner, trusted the trainer, so beware. Please heed the good advice you are being given from so many. And, please do consider tack - could be a matter of weight change in Merlin or just bad tack from the get-go. Remember advice is coming from those who care about you and Merlin.

April 19, 2012 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger Sue in Hawaii said...

Hey Jenna,

I've read all the comments and of course, have no idea what he was thinking, nor do any of us. But if he "suddenly" (IE. not his normal behavior at all, not just sliding into this behavior) is no longer wanting to do anything, consider that he might have a stomach ache. He might have a headache. We get them. He might too. Would not show up on a vet check. Maybe for whatever reason he just does not want to do anything. We have those days too. But he is a large animal that can hurt you if he finds out he is totally in charge. So here is what I would do on a day where he is clearly off. Whatever he does not want to do - make him do it 1 time. He has to load, no matter how he feels (unless he is clearly physically impaired). Then take him back out. He has to behave under saddle for, let's say 5 minutes, max. Then you get off him. Lead him around and let him graze if he wants to. Spend quality time just being with him. Pet him. Massage him. Talk to him. sit and read or whatever as he grazes next to you. Just let him have his time off. Then see what he does the next day. Maybe he is all better and happy to perform. Maybe not. Once he seems better then do all the natural horsemanship leadership training. And intersperse your visits with ones that are just you taking him out for a walk, leading him around. Not just all work. So he looks forward to it. And trailering- if feasible - take him somewhere fun for him so he is always wondering if something fun will be happening - not just more work. None of this is as easy as it is with a dog (my speciality) but I think the principles are the same.

And yes, it might just be attitude. My neighbors pony liked (it seemed to me) to just throw me for the "h" of it. But I miss her to this day. And it is not lost on me that a trainer I happened to meet offered to come watch her for free to see if it might be something physical. I really appreciated and respected that trainer. Unfortunately the owner moved her before I could have the trainer over so I will never know. But she impressed upon me that the physical should always be considered.

April 19, 2012 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger Percheronrider said...

I've ridden some major pigheaded ponies in my time. None like what you have experienced with Merlin. With my last one, an Appy I just needed to carry double dressage whips for all the stopping and the refusals to budge. I was never afraid to touch him for disobedience in the ring, or at a show. Someone else always worked him first, so by the time I had him he was not too fresh.

I'd make sure with Merlin that it is not a medical issue, or a tack problem. Seems strange out of the blue, his behavior.

I like the training offered by Clinton Anderson, and Bob Avila. I also like the Vaquero method of training horses, besides Western Dressage.

I think I would be somewhat freaked out about crow hopping as I had a terrible accident at age 19 over something similar and spent a lot of time recovering. But rule out all the other stuff, then seek a trainer.

April 20, 2012 at 4:37 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

I am so glad you have Patty around-- you have what it takes to get this relationship right. While you wrote about that having your number thing I was seeing horse relationships of course, but couldn’t help but also see a parallel in teaching and some of the kids I’ve met over the years…the first few years a few kids had my number! There is a firm, but fair and gentle way to make it all work out and everyone’s better for it. Yes, it’s all about confidence and standing your ground—I’m glad you’re accepting the challenge!

Known plenty a horse to behave this way for a rider with no physical/tack issues at all—you’re building a relationship and he’s trying to figure it all out just like you…it comes down to personality. My favorite horse {and my only horse right now} does the exact same thing to anyone else who rides and handles her but me and the lady who puts her out to pasture at the stable she’s at right now because she knows she can and I believe she has a grand time doing it. But she’s the best horse I’ve ever had and will do anything for me and more because things are firm and set between us…I can’t help but love her spunk and spirit though. Keep at it and I know it will be that way for you and Merlin.

April 21, 2012 at 12:55 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home