Sunday, January 4, 2009

Teaching my horse to play nicely with others

You might remember that my horse was having some blanketing problems recently: He wouldn't let the barn's owner halter and blanket him.

I decided then that I needed to practice having other people handle Panama — in particular, having others halter him. While I'm glad that no one will be able to kidnap my horse (good luck getting him into a trailer, let alone getting a halter on him), I do want people other than me to be able to put a halter on him if necessary.

Today when Michael and I went to the barn to take Panama's blanket off, we practiced having Michael halter him. I caught him initially — he hasn't given me any problems with that for a couple of weeks now — and we took him into the back pasture to remove the blanket and brush him. Then I took his halter off and released him in the back pasture, where the other horses wouldn't be around to harass us, and had Michael catch him again.

Initially I was going to stand back and let Michael do everything, but as soon as he tried to approach Panama while holding the halter, Panama walked away from him. I quickly realized I would have to help.

In case Panama was feeling frisky, I clucked at him and made him run a little bit, but he cantered around us only a few times before stopping and facing me. So I walked up to him and stood on his right side (so that Michael could eventually stand on his left and put the halter on). With one hand stroking his neck and the other lightly on the back of his withers, I told Michael to approach slowly.

Panama immediately tensed up and tried to back up, but I scolded him with a little sound I use to mean no (kind of a sharp, low eehh) and tightened my hand on the back of his withers. He stopped backing up after a step or two.

We took it slow then. Michael stayed where he was, about three feet in front and to the side of where he'd need to be to put the halter on. I also told him to hold the halter in one hand down at his side, as relaxed as possible, and hold the other hand out to Panama. Panama sniffed his hand, and I felt the muscles in his neck and shoulders relax; then he reached out to sniff the halter.

Panama seemed somewhat reassured once he recognized the smells on Michael and on the halter, so he stayed relaxed. I put a hand over his nose, the way I do when he snuggles up to me or when I worm him, and held him still as I directed Michael to get a little closer. We mostly stood there and talked, and took it a step or two at a time until Michael was standing in position.

I could tell when Panama was ready. He was relaxed almost to normal, and even started dipping his head to try to put his nose through the halter, which Michael still held loosely in one hand. I laughed and told Michael, "He's ready."

"Really?" Michael asked.

"Yup," I said. "Just slip the halter over his nose."

Sure enough, when he did, Panama put his nose right through it. Michael drew the halter up, got the strap up behind his ears, and buckled it without so much as a whisper of protest from Panama. Of course, I was praising him silly (Panama, that is).

After a few moments, I had Michael take the halter off again. We stepped back.

"Let's try it again," I suggested.

Michael was skeptical. He confided that he had thought we'd only get one time out of this, and that only after some work.

"No, let's do it one more time."

So we walked back up to Panama, and he handled it just fine. Michael slipped the halter on. Panama helped by putting his nose through it. Then we backed off and he stayed there, looking rather goofy with the halter strap too far back behind his ears. (Michael needs more practice than Panama, apparently.)

Satisfied, I took Panama back into the front pasture and released him. I think having Michael handle him more on the weekends is going to become a regular thing, though. Panama needs to be handle-able by more than just me and my trainer!



At January 17, 2009 at 9:27 PM, Blogger Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Yay you! Yay Panama! Yay Michael!
Excellent training you all are doing together :)


At January 19, 2009 at 4:26 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Thanks Lisa! You can read about the latest "session" here:

More practice with Michael


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