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The Listening Lounge

Unexpected rodeo

Hello everyone,

I told about a 4 year old Irish Cob gelding in some previous posts. Here is the update on his training (and on my learning mostly).

- I have done some Join Up and we have a relationship based on trust and respects. I have worked on long lines and Calou (that's his name) is really listening to the slightest cue. It is pleasure working with him.
- He seeks for human attention and for rubs, he catches me in the pasture and he follows up as we spend some quality time.
- He has overcome most of his fear of tractors (I have worked a lot on that) :
By "a lot" I mean 10 minutes sessions 3 times a week or so. I just lead him around the farm, when he stop because he is scared of something I ask him to follow me by pulling on the line and reward each step by a release. Then, when he is moving generously again I reward him by stopping to let him look around like he wanted to. We get closer and closer to the tractors and other scary thing, giving him a rub between the eyes when we stand still in a safe distance, letting him eat some grass or treats before getting closer.
He still is a bit spooky, but there is a huge change in his behavior.
- I have worked a lot on his ground manners and he has found the sweet spot when I lead him.
- He starts backing up more generously every day and we are currently working on standing still.

Here is the issue : Standing still in the round pen for 20 seconds is alright, but when there is even the slightest strange noise in the distance he can't stop moving, and when I school him he doesn't come of pressure, he keeps pulling. So there is a lot of work to do on standing still.


Calou lives in the pasture with Papy (22 year old gelding) and he doesn't bare to be alone without his friend.
When I first tried to lead Papy out of the pasture, Calou stood really close, making almost impossible to get one out without the other.
I teached Calou not to follow me by using my body language (looking him in the eyes, fingers open, making a little wave with my arm if needed) and it is going fine.
I can work with Calou (long lines) and he is doing fine because the pasture with is friend Papy in it, is not far away from the pen, so he can still see him.
When I attache him to groom him, Calou can't stand still (even tho his friend Papy is not far away), he will alway seek something to play with (a brush or any piece of equipment to sniff or chew on).
He keeps moving his hinter legs to turn and see what is around. I noticed his owner always attaches him with a long line (1 meter from the wall to the head of the horse) and he is used to enjoy this free range. That is why, I think, he moves his hinter legs so much when I attache him shorter.
Yesterday their owner and me, both rode Calou and Papy and it was really fine. We attached them side by side for the grooming and they where both really still. As we rode in the pen, Calou was responding to very little cue and we had a good time together.

You may now ask after a so long text why I told you about the standing still of Calou, about his friendship with Papy and why my title for this post is "Unexpected rodeo" ? Here is your answer :

Confident of the riding session of yesterday I decided to ride Calou alone.
The thing is, since yesterday evening, the horses are in another pasture, and now Papy is quite far away from the place I groom Calou and from the pen. I attached Calou, and while I left him alone for 5 seconds (really 5 seconds, not more, this is NOT a figure of speech) he pulled on the halter, detached himself and walked quietly toward the pasture and toward his friend Papy. I attached Calou again (to a piece of rope so that the rope breaks and he doesn't hurt himself while pulling to hard) and again, Calou decides to go to his friend. I had to get the material (saddle, briddle, ...) in the room just a meter from Calou, I left the door open and he could see me, I kept speaking to him and he stayed. But as soon as I turn my back on him, he pulls, breaks the rope and goes to his friend. He destroyed about 8 pieces of rope in 20 minutes.
I decided to do a Join Up (hoping to get him to stay willingly with me and not with Papy). He joined up, and followed up a little, but broke another bunch of ropes after that.
I finally got him ready and we went back to the pen. He wouldn't stand still for the mounting, I tried to get him still for a few seconds and when he really started to become nervous we would just walk a circle and try again.
He eventually stood still, until I got my foot in the stirrup, then he started to trot, and soon was I enjoying the feel of the sand on my face. I got up, got to him, we walked, and I tried again. This time I could almost sit (I was on him, my bottom barely touching the saddle) he started to canter toward the fence. I achieved to stay on him until he made a brisk turn which propelled me under the fence, where I enjoyed the thorny brambles.

Here is the "unexpected rodeo".

He stopped a few meter from me. I stood up, walked toward him (he stood still) and I gave him a good rub between the eyes. Some people would get angry at him, but I decided to reward him by a rub for standing still and let me approach him after the traumatizing experience we both endured. I am still convinced that my first intuition is good. I am not mad at him at all.
But I would like to know why he didn't want me on his back today. If you have any ideas please share.
I was a bit in pain after this second fall and decided to stop the exercice and lead him back to his pasture. I feel that it was a mistake to give up, because he now knows, that if he doesn't want to be ridden he just has to make me fall. I don't want him to make a habit of this, just as he is now used to break the ropes on which he is attached.
Calou really trusts me, even in scary situations (tractors around) he trusts me enough to accept my rubs. He leads really fine, follows up in the pasture or in the pen. I think that we have a really good relationship. But the moral of this story is (in my opinion) : that he chooses Papy over me. And it is really logical because I know Calou for a few weeks only and I am a human (predator) and Papy has been his pasturemate for many months, and he is a horse too.

What do you think ?

Meanwhile I will keep working A LOT on standing still.

Thank you very much for reading me and for being there. I have no one understanding non-violence to share this experience with.


PS: For those who read my post "Building muscle in a chubby horse" I will keep you in touch there on Papys knee pain.

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Hello Laura Marie;  after reading your post through a couple of times, i`ve come up with a few over-riding thoughts that may help you with your approach with this horse.  1st thought:   DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TIE THIS HORSE UNTIL YOU HAVE THE PROPER TACK TO PREVENT HIM FROM THE PULL-BACK AND BREAK LOOSE.  You are creating a situation with this horse that requires him to pull back in his mind to get a reward [freedom].  I would strongly urge you to buy a BLOCKER TIE RING ALONG WITH A 12 FOOT LEAD-LINE MADE OF YACHTING MATERIAL[they will not break]  The Blocker tie ring will literally teach the horse to stand while being tied.  Also remember to use the bottom tie ring of the dually halter when tieing a horse.  Laura, horses can be very claustrophobic and by virtue of their nature have a tendency to be free from that feeling of being trapped.  We have to help them learn that being tied is something that goes along with being with humans and their training to broaden that relationship..  The blocker tie ring allows the rope to slide through when the horse pulls back without coming completely loose.  The result is, the horse does not feel trapped and stops pulling back all by himself.  It is a great teaching and learning tool.   After a few times with the same result, the horse comes to an understanding about being tied and is promptly rewarded for his achievement.

Teaching  horse to tie and stand quietly will bring about an understanding with the horse while he is with the human.  This procedure can produce magical effects within the horses thought patterns. while he learns patience. 

From your post, I believe that you are making in-roads with this horse with your leadership.   My suggestion would be for you to continue to improve your leadership skills so that the over-all relationship can grow.  However,I believe that you could be moving in and out of a possible separation anxiety situation at times with the two horses.  That said, i would prepare myself for that eventuality any time you move one horse away from the other.  This process takes time to master, but you can do this.

I hope this helps you.  Keep being strong and ask for help when you think that you need a different approach.