Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Good Feet, Stubborn Grump!

Ask anyone who lives with horses whose opinions matter the most to them, and the farrier is on the top of that list. I was touched to hear such kind words from Dave, my farrier. He's the best horseman I know, a whisperer in the truest sense. He was pleased to see Merlin in such great shape, from haunch to hoof. He gave me the thumbs up after trimming the Fell's bare feet. He said the pony was in great shape, a good weight, feet were solid, and he could tell I was "using him", which in Dave means: riding and driving a lot. That is certainly true! Merlin is ridden or driven nearly every day, be it trailside or roadside, I am with him and he with me. But it sure was nice to get such accolades from a man I respect so very much.

But things were not perfect, in fact, this past week with Merlin had been kinda rough. I told Dave I started graining Merlin, giving him some sweet feed in the morning since I was worried at his age (19) and his amount of everyday physical work, told him I thought the horse could use the extra calories. Dave is too polite to say anything that contradicts an owner's statement, unless you ask. I took his lack of comment for disapproval, and was right. Dave kindly explained that most sweet feed was nothing more than sugar. I would see energy, alright, but maybe not the kind I wanted. He then offered some more mild feed suggestions if I felt inclined to grain my horse. Turned out, Dave was absolutely right. Just one week on sugar and Merlin was a totally different animal in cart and saddle, and not in the way I wanted.

Merlin and I have a lot in common, a whole lot. But the thing that we both have stamped on our souls is a streak of determined stubbornness. When Merlin doesn't want to do something, he just doesn't. And when I want to do something, I just do. Both of us are certain as angry gods and don't give the tiniest shit what anyone else thinks about it. So, when Merlin was hitched up in a cart and about to trot up an easy, dirt road, he just stopped. Stopped. A thousand pounds of nope. He didn't want to do it, would not step forward, and instead headed into a farmer's field to our right. After half an hour of circling, backing up, and refusing to give in to his hissy fit, I won that argument. We trotted up the hill and he was back to normal. All it took was zero quit and a lot of gentle patience. I can thank Dave for that.

I have learned how Merlin presses my buttons. He knows he out weighs me, he know's he is the mightier beast, but he also has to deal with the fact that out of all the predators known to his kind, only human beings can talk to horses. And I don't mean actually talk, I mean communicate with an equine the way horses communicate with each other. Using a halter and a plastic bag on a stick I can do astounding things with a horse. Dave taught me some fundamentals of Natural Horsemanship, and it has done wonders. I can make him move his feet and that matters! Moving each other is something dominant horses do to lesser ones. We all know dogs have a pack order, but so do mares and geldings. When I show Merlin over and over again that I can move his feet (be it on the ground, saddle, or cart) he eventually sighs, snorts, and farts and does what I ask. It just takes a lot of dance steps and a total removal of frustration (which I am working on).

I think his week of sweet feed was too much. He is usually solid as a piece of granite and predictable in the saddle, but three times since he was grained his attitude went back to testing me after months of being totally okay. Yesterday it took 15 minutes to get up onto the trailhead we have ridden a thousand times. The day before in the cart it took us a half hour to get up a hillside. Once I win the argument all goes back to normal, but starting any work seems to be met with some serious butting of heads. I blame our natural vice: sugar.

What do you guys do with your stubborn horse friends when they don't feel like doing what you ask? For me it is a lot of deep breathes, ground work, circles, and fuss. I make it so the easiest and most comfortable option is to just do what I asked in the first place. So, for example: I want him to trot down the road and he won't budge, I have him trot in a circle and then release his head and praise him when he just goes forward like I asked. There is no crop, no kicking, no yelling. Just the simple lack of annoyance when he does what I ask instead of being made to work harder standing his ground. But I know some folks have different methods, or get off and go back to ground matters, or might not have a Dave around to help? So share your horse stories - acts of patience over stubborn grumps appreciated!

17 Comments:

Blogger Deltaville Jamie said...

Circles were always the thing for me, very tight circles. They don't like doing them so usually they figure out doing what you want is more comfortable. It also works when a horse is a little full of himself in a "let's buck and act nuts" sort of way. I love our farrier. He gives the same advice and he was one of the best riding instructors I've ever had.

September 9, 2014 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger phaedra96 said...

Considering how he looks condidition-wise in the photo----no grains!!! Especially not sweet feed. I might consider Equine Senior or rolled oats, but he looks wonderful. I have to be so careful with my Fjord horses and grass....founder heaven. I have dry-lotted them from late April to mid-to late August. Next year, I think we will try grazing muzzles. They will both be 22 and Willow(the mare) still looks like a tank. She is given Easy Mineral through the winter, the gelding is given Equine Senior because he is ribby at times. He is more edgy, energetic and requires a bit more than just hay. You simply cannot compare "easy-keepers", those breeds whose genetic code has programmed them to utilize what feed they have, with those breeds that have been dosed with the Arab or Thoroughbred.

September 9, 2014 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thanks Jamie!

September 9, 2014 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Great advice Phae!

Merlin is ribby, for the first time ever since I had him. This shot taken at the rear end is somewhat tricky, making him look heavier than he is. (He has a draft butt!)

Dave said he is trim as can be, when you stand behind him you only see rump, no rib or belly on the sides. But I started seeing hims when he was running up in the fields and got worried a little since this is my first "using" horse.

September 9, 2014 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Betsy Earley said...

Make sure to deworm him too. Love your blog btw. I have a quarterhorse mare named Cricket, who I have had for four years now. She is my first horse. I love her to pieces, but had a rough start, but have learned so much. She is a stubborn bugger too some times, but I've learned to be really assertive with her. You really do get the horse you deserve. Good luck with him and your farm.

September 9, 2014 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thanks Betsy! You read my mind, he was also dewormed yesterday. I use that apple flavored tube, he seemed okay with it and smacked his lips.

September 9, 2014 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Deltaville Jamie said...

You're welcome! And I agree with going with Equine Senior if you need to add some grain to his diet. We've had 2 senior horses that have been on it- one was a high spirited Thoroughbred (even in his 20's) and it never made him "loopy". Both he and the mare lived to 29. Our farrier is the one who recommended the Equine Senior back in the day.

September 9, 2014 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'll look into Equine Senior :)

September 9, 2014 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger live pura vida said...

Ditto again on the Purina Equine Senior. That's what we feed all our horses, as well as several supplements. Depending on the time of year, their additional food either comes from grazing (with a muzzle) or some combination of orchard grass and alfalfa hay. Sugar is a real pain with horses and we have several (mainly OTTBs and a warmblood) who are very susceptible to founder and abscessing if they're given unrestricted access to sugar-rich grasses. Good deal that you caught the culprit early! Behavior wise, I always begin with ground work, even if it's just 5 minutes. The horse has to work at my pace and follow my direction. When riding, I circle or I also like to do figure-8s. This engages the horse's columns and makes him listen to your seat and your leg. Because you're doing so many small turns with a figure-8, there's a quicker "thank you" in giving the horse his head and you also are more engaged in collecting him underneath you. Half steps are good too, just remember to encourage taking those short steps with your seat and leg, not with force on the rein. It makes the horse listen to your go-ahead but then a step or two later, obey your "stop."

September 9, 2014 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Ally said...

My horses were having behavioral problems which i linked to their diet and housing. I moved them to a New stable offering 24hr turnout (what you have) and changed their diet to organic beet pulp soaked a little extra loose with a no-sugar grain and an omega-3 supplement. 3 months later and i have completely different horses. Calmer and more willing under saddle. My gelding sometimes plants his feet. I just sit, and if he moves forward great, if not well... He just ends up going in a circle and ending up in the same position until he moves forward. I have difficulty with frustration sometimes as well, but i keep trying ;)

September 9, 2014 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

That's funny, I remember some of those days. Feet planted and Im not moving. Horses have to follow their nose so I would just grab the bit and pull and he would ether have to take a step or fall over. Like any 2 year old, (seems to be the mental equivalent to people) not giving up or getting upset, you redirect their attention and give them no options. Bribery (food) is a last resort as that can set a bad habit pretty fast. You just cant let him win and he will eventually give in, seems like you know what to do. Goof balls.
As for the sweet feed bad choice, we only ever fed it on that 2 week stretch in the middle of 20 below winter days. A Fell is a lot like a big Shetland, one blade of grass and they can get fat, kind of like me, I could starve for weeks and not lose a pound but my thoroughbred sister is 5'8" and 115 and looks like a aged ballerina, not a ounce of fat anywhere. Bitch. Oh well, so save the sweetfeed for a treat, its like a candy bar. and come winter when he needs the extra heat to stay warm, then good old oats and a little corn on really cold days. And be glad you don't have to feed him 10 quarts a day like my sisters fancy Dutch warmblood who is still skinny after all that and a bale of hay. Cheaper!

September 9, 2014 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

That's funny, I remember some of those days. Feet planted and Im not moving. Horses have to follow their nose so I would just grab the bit and pull and he would ether have to take a step or fall over. Like any 2 year old, (seems to be the mental equivalent to people) not giving up or getting upset, you redirect their attention and give them no options. Bribery (food) is a last resort as that can set a bad habit pretty fast. You just cant let him win and he will eventually give in, seems like you know what to do. Goof balls.
As for the sweet feed bad choice, we only ever fed it on that 2 week stretch in the middle of 20 below winter days. A Fell is a lot like a big Shetland, one blade of grass and they can get fat, kind of like me, I could starve for weeks and not lose a pound but my thoroughbred sister is 5'8" and 115 and looks like a aged ballerina, not a ounce of fat anywhere. Bitch. Oh well, so save the sweetfeed for a treat, its like a candy bar. and come winter when he needs the extra heat to stay warm, then good old oats and a little corn on really cold days. And be glad you don't have to feed him 10 quarts a day like my sisters fancy Dutch warmblood who is still skinny after all that and a bale of hay. Cheaper!

September 9, 2014 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
One thing you can try is circles in your yard before you leave. Do large circles, go out a bit further, do more circles and demonstrate that staying in the yard equals work! When you get to the road, ask him to go in the direction you choose and let him go forward without circling. He will likely be glad to be moving out and not circling! Lisa in Maine

September 9, 2014 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Maria Crispell said...

Sounds like you're doing all the right things! Natural horsemanship is definitely the way to go; there are a lot of videos you can watch online, such as at downunderhorsemanshiptv.com. Have his teeth been floated lately? Also,this time of year, most pastures are not as nutrition-packed anymore, so good-quality hay for sure.

September 9, 2014 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Jenna, Everyone seems to have posted many helpful ideas. I concur with them. You are so lucky to have a great farrier!

September 9, 2014 at 8:42 PM  
Blogger Cath Miller said...

A sudden change in diet especially to a sweetened grain can lead to hindgut acidosis - even a mild upset tummy would make him unwilling to work (same could be said for me) also the reduced pH causes more lactic acid buildup in muscles or causing "tying up". With Merlin normally such a great partner, I would always suspect pain or at least discomfort with any behaviour change. Or he could just be not feeling at the top of his game. Do you have any days that you wouldn't feel like TKD or running? As I said to another horse owner, if you want something to ride all the time, any time you feel like it, get a motorbike :-)

September 10, 2014 at 6:26 AM  
Blogger Ginny said...

Boy do I know stubborn. Try that with a one ton 3/4 draft 1/4 TB. You figure out how to be on the same page with cooperation, or it doesn't get done. He and I both have our days, and he is my mirror, really reacting to how I'm feeling, so it makes it extra tricky to have his cooperation if I'm not completely on top of my game.

Circles are helpful with horses, my only caution is not to over do it with tight circles. If he isn't engaged and truly balanced on his hind quarter doing small tight circles will lead to hind end issues. Getting a horse really balanced and engaged is a lot more challenging than people give it credit for. Teaching a horse to have self carriage whether you are riding or not is tricky but well worth the time it takes to do so.

I could talk all day about this, so I'll spare you too many details :)

Glad you got him off the sweet feed. My big draft only gets a small handful of pure nutrition - a mix of supplements that vary depending on the time of year and his needs, half of which pertain to his non-sweating issue. Even a horse in daily work doesn't need as much grain as most people feed. Its a waste of money and creates behavior challenges.

I have to agree with another commenter - knowing his usual behavior would lead me to believe that a shift towards the negative is indicative of discomfort of some sort, even just a belly ache from the change in feed.

September 11, 2014 at 9:58 AM  

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