Sunday, September 20, 2009

Curiously confident

On Friday during my lesson, I was thinking about how lucky I am that Panama is so curious and confident. I mentioned it to my trainer, and she agreed that he is really good about a lot of things.

It came up because someone in the neighborhood was running heavy machinery — perhaps cutting a tree down? I don't know what the equipment was, but it was loud. I've heard it before, recently, but I never pay much attention — and neither does Panama.

What makes horses react the way they do? Personality, experiences, etc.? When I first brought Panama to Denver, there was a dog on the property bordering the barn that would bark incessantly when I lunged him in the round pen. He was terrified of that barking dog, and I had a hard time getting him to stick to the rail on that side of the round pen.

Fast forward to current day, when he is just fine sharing a pasture with a dog, or even meeting one on the trail. Heck, the little dog where I board him now used to grab on to his tail when he'd run away, and he just learned to stop running so that she'd let go. He'll chase a dog away if it really annoys him, but he's no longer afraid of them.

What's the difference? Exposure to dogs? (The second barn he was at had an Australian shepherd that would help bring the horses in. The third place had a dog that would bark at Panama incessantly until he learned to chase him.) Two years' difference in maturity? Training? Personality? I really have no idea.

The other day when I had Panama tied up next to the tack room, the barn owner's cat started chasing a grasshopper on the other side of the gate. (I tie him to the huge wooden post the gate bolts to. I love that post as a place to tie because it's humongous and buried so deep it doesn't even budge if he freaks out and pulls back.) The grasshopper was making a run for the gate with the cat hot on its heels. Panama just put his nose down to the fence, right at the cat's level, and watched the cat bound right up to his face. He's been wanting to check that cat out since he first saw him almost a year ago, and I think that was the first time the cat had gotten that close!

And people — oh, Panama loves people, especially kids. During our lesson on Friday, a grandmother and her two granddaughters came up to the fence where the property borders the church property. I was talking to my trainer about what we were going to do next, and Panama kept turning around and trying to walk over to the fence, so I had to keep circling him back to where my trainer was. Finally she said, "Let him go over. He needs to see them."

Well, not because he was nervous about them. Not even the one girl's flourescent yellow skirt made him nervous, which actually surprised me. He quite happily walked up to the fence and greeted the girls. They were too well-behaved to stick their fingers through the fence and try to touch him, but he seemed to be content with seeing and smelling them.

And he is especially fascinated with my trainer's baby. He likes to smell his little fuzzy head, and he hasn't once tried to bite. (I'm always ready to give the reins a pull the instant he opens his mouth, but he's never even moved his lips — he just smells and blows on him a little.) It's the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Now, keep in mind that I'm not saying my horse is perfect. He's scared of his blue winter blanket (much more so than the black one, I think because of the color), so much so that I have to be careful of how I handle it when I put it on. He freaked out about the hose the other day, and ended up kicking me in the process. But on the whole, he is extremely curious and, I think, surprisingly confident for a four-year-old. What makes a hose scary and loud machinery not? Why does he know not to bite a baby, even though he'll mouth our dog Grace's back given half a chance?

Sorry for the long, meandering post, but I've been thinking about these things a lot lately and wanted to put them out there. I'm not sure there are any concrete answers, but I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, too.

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2 Comments:

At September 20, 2009 at 5:13 PM, Blogger Reddunappy said...

Age, experience, and your state of mind have a lot to do with how he responds to things. For example if you freaked out everytime a dog came around him, instead of letting things happen, he would we if not affraid, very wary of dogs. Feeding off the energy he feels from you. Just my opinion.

My mare Emma is not affraid of much, so far she does not like camera flashes and the long V banner flags. But I am confident she would come through it quickly when worked with, thats just how she is.

 
At September 22, 2009 at 7:49 PM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Pam, thanks for the comment! I agree that the rider's state of mind has a lot to do with it, but I'm not sure that explains all of it. Some horses seem more prone to spooking, no matter how calm and collected their owners are. I'm sure my attitude helps Panama, but I'm not sure I can take the credit for him being the way he is. :o)

 

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