About Me

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North Lawrence, New York, United States
I can be described as lover of life, an animal lover, and lover of education. I am constantly striving for knowledge and learning opportunities. I've been around horses my entire life. I enjoy working with horses and their human partners through natural horsemanship philosophies, natural balance bare foot hoof care, reiki, red-light therapy, essential oils, aromatherapy, crystal healing, chromotherapy, flower essences, and more. I am a Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Master Teacher who offers treatments for people, horses, dogs, cats, and other creatures great and small. I also teach Reiki classes for those interested in learning how to treat themselves, their loved ones, and even their animals! Natural Horse Lover Farm is located in Northern New York between the St. Lawrence River and Adirondack Mountains. Heaven on Earth. naturalhorseloverfarm.com

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My horse bit me...now what to do.

To begin, I have no intentions of ever hanging a sign up like the one I used here but, I got you ateention didn't I? It has been a hot day here on the farm with a heat index of 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday was really warm too. Everyone is sweating and fairly miserable, man and animal alike. I just went out to the barn to take care of the horses and as I was putting hay in the feeders, Lola came over and bit me, deliberately. Not a nip, she grabbed the top part of my arm with her mouth open wide and CHOMP! It almost seemd like it was in slow motion. Normally I'd have moved the horses out of my space but I was in the process of opening the gate, trying to carry the hay, and before I knew it, a huge bruise and teeth marks were on my arm. I immediately backed her (as soon as I could anyway) and chased her out of the barn. I was, to say the least, upset. I was angry that she'd do that to me as it was nasty not to mention, she hurt my feelings because I thought we've been doing really well together. After this incident, I had to drive Rick back to the house but, I knew, despite the heat and the terrible mosquitoes, I'd have to go back to the barn, retrieve Lola, and work with her to reestablish the herd dynamic, partner, and be her leader. I realize that often times this is a dominance game and I knew that I'd need to win. I see the horses nipping at one another and just yesterday observed her chomping Whiskey pretty similiarly to what I experienced (and he is the lowest horse in the herd).

Upon reentering the barn, the horses were eating hay, the boys calm as usual and Lola, a little on edge. She truly was one big ball of attitude. I blocked her with my arm bend and moving it upwards a few times, keeping her well out of my space until I haltered her and put on the 22 foot line, grabbed my carrot stick and string, and then moved outside with her. In hindsight, I should have sprayed the both of us with bug spray but, there was about 15 minutes of daylight left and I didn't think of it, I was more intersted in fixing our relationship.

The first thing I asked her to do was to walk, me in zone 3, but at a distance (about 5 feet away). I didn't allow her to get ahead and used the stick and string, wiggling it in front of her when she needed a reminder. After getting to the open area in the paddock, I asked her to back up the entire length of the rope, and with some impulsion. She did that well but I could tell she was having a hard time thinking and focusing. Then, the fireworks started. I asked her to circle and she blew her top. All I did initially (phase 1 mind you) was point, then lift the stick, wiggle and pow, freak out! She bucked, reared, squealed, could barely look at me, and couldn't move forward, just up. This happened for several asks and eventually she moved forward but fast, out of control, bucking, squealing, and she kept trying to turn her hind quarters towards me (totally disrespectful) and I could tell she could not look at me. I've seen this behavior before but not this bad (I still don't know why she was so upset). I maintained my emotions and her dignity and continued to ask her politely, as always, and tried to giver her time to respond, rewarding the slightest try. I did this in the other direction as well intermingling backing and pausing, giving her time to lick and chew. Once she had herself more in control of her emotions, I asked for sideways down the fence line in both directions, some squeeze, and eventually, I asked her to back down part of the paddock, around the corners to and into the barn. We ended on a positive note, both calm, both in a good place. I then remembered to spray all of the horses (all at liberty of course) to chase away some of the bugs.

As I headed to the barn, I started replaying this in my mind. Why did she bite, what was going on? I remembered her trying to bite me yesterday when I rode her and the day before she nipped me. I need to be more aware of my cues to ensure that I am being polite while mounted. I believe that as we progress, she is challenging my leadership but taking it to another level. She's always challenged and now, perhaps she's upped the ante? I am not sure of course, only Lola knows but, I do have a plan. I wrote a long time ago about biting and decided to dig up that post. I am also going to read her horsenality report again, gaining me more insight to strategies working with her. Some of this behavior is exactly the kinds of things (similar anyway) to what Fosse did as a young horse, testing me. I recall a time when he grabbed my finger and chomped me, my arm too, anyhow, backing certainly helped cure that (he was backed up the mountainside, fast and that made him think twice). I never hurt my horses over this but do establish a leadership role using the techniques from Parelli.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about horses and biting:

  • Disengage the hindquarters (breaking the hindquarters) to break a brace with a horse taking away the power they have, braciness (start on the ground), be sure to give release, horses are bracey—people usually asking too much too fast (rude or abrupt)
  • Backing cures biting—it starts on the ground, horses get into habits, try new things all of the time, sometimes a physical thing--problem usually mental, emotional, or physical
  • On the ground, backing cures biting for two reasons: 1. Horse backs out of your proximity 2. You back a horse psychologically, you are moving up in the leadership ladder (the pecking order of horses)
  • Horses check you every minute and try to challenge when they can, they try new things to see what your response is
  • Punishment does not work with horses because if you watch horses (geldings) two, one bites the other, the other bites back, they will do it all day just for fun, when people smack a horse for biting, you agree to participate in their game so this would not work
  • On the horses back, back him because they cannot bite you, if the horse wants to come around, (the horse can get lower jaw caught on the stirrup if you remove your foot from it--especially in an English saddle), get your horse busy and back the horse up, give them something else to do
  • You could also, move your foot forward into the curl of their neck (say if you are bareback), they cannot curl their nose and neck around to get to you to bite (just make it difficult for them—they cannot reach)
  • Backing cures biting (ask yourself, how do I change their mind about this behavior and make it not fun anymore?)
  • If the horse views you as a leader, they would not do this.
  • Many considerations, not a simple question, really.
  • True leadership with the horse, the behaviors will go away.

Lastly, I love Lola, I love all of my horses, but, I do have to remember that they are horses, not humans, and that I have to be a good leader, a partner, and keep any anthropomorphic ideas in check. It also occurs to me that I need to remember the horse's hierarchy of needs...maybe too many treats during playtime?? HMMM.

Horse's Hierarchy of Needs (IN THIS ORDER)
• Safety = Confidence + Leadership
• Comfort = Release
• Play = Fun + Creativity
• Food = Incentive
So much to think about....I love horses, they keep my mind reeling! I definitely need to pull out some of my Parelli educational materials and get a more official game plan in play. Here's to the horse, always teaching the human (and hopefully we humans are teaching them too).


Lisa said...

Something else to consider . . . Lola is a mare, not a gelding. Mares are different. Where is she in her heat cycle? I'd pay attention to it.

Carol Coppinger told me that to own a mare is to own all the hormonal changes that go along with it. Geldings are generally even; mares are not.

Cricket has a *very* difficult time with her heat cycles. She gets very irritable and physically uncomfortable. Riding her in the spring used to be a Russian Roulette - just wondering when the bucks would come. She's on 2 herbal supplements that help regulate her hormones and relieve physical cramping. She's a much happier horse and this spring, no bucking.

Kelly Sigler's mare Maggie bit me once. She was just coming into heat and Kelly warned me. The bite wasn't hard and I backed Maggie and all was well.

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Thanks, Lisa. Owning a mare sure is different. She's been sweet ever since but maybe there was something physical going on. My arm is turning all kinds of lovely colors, looks horrible and is sore still. All well, I still love her. I will listen to your advice and pay closer attention to her cycle, I typically have ignored it. Guess I've got some homework to do! :)

Lisa said...

Last spring, I was beyond excited to take Cricket to camp. We'd worked hard since the previous fall camp and I couldn't wait to show Carol our progress. Just prior to camp, Cricket started popping little bucks at the canter. At camp, going into a bowtie pattern, she bucked. I broke down in tears.

When Carol and I talked it about it, her simple statement was, "She's a mare and it's spring."

Carol and I have had this talk before. I've come to agree with her - mares are different. And often harder. Stallions may fight to the death but mares will challenge you every day. Geldings generally get along and are pretty even. Mares, not so much.

But the beauty and the wonder of it is when your mare turns loose - even for a split second - and gives you her heart out of willing submission. You can command a geldings respect but you must win a mare's admiration.

I love my mares. My Cricket has taught me more and brought me to a higher level of horsemanship than I ever imagined.

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

I love so much all that you share. I only wish I've had camp/clinic experiences as you have...some day I hope to find the time, funds, and opportunities. I truly take this statement you made to heart (makes me all warm and fuzzy) "You can command a geldings respect but you must win a mare's admiration." Wow.


Lisa said...

I don't think it's coincidence that Pat plays mainly with mares and stallions and you rarely see him with a gelding.

The Bedouins prized their mares above all others, evening bringing them into the tents with their families. The bloodlines were traced through the maternal lines.

Lola will teach you more about being in the moment and adjusting your plan and "bad mare days" than you ever imagined. Be excited by the possibilities!

Diane said...

Thanks for sharing Michelle. I'm sure you voice many mare owners similar concerns. I have a mare as well and I love her more than words can say. She is not a mean horse and is somewhere in the middle of the hierachy with her pasture mates. Many people have commented on how well we know each other and the strength of our relationship and still to this day, after 8 yrs of being together she will try to challenge me.

Lisa, you said it perfect.."You can command a geldings respect but you must win a mare's admiration."

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Thanks, Diane, I appreciate your input. Lola and I have a lot more work to do but, I feel like it is all well worth the journey. Both of us will come out in the end as better partners.