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

Monday, January 02, 2012

Honesty and Reaching Out in Horsemanship

So, my blog is written from the vantage point of complete and utter openness and honesty. This puts me in danger of being judged but, I hope that my posts help others otherwise it just wouldn't be worth it. It is very difficult for me to reconcile challenges and failures in my life (my perfectionism makes these things hard) but, today I reached out to Parelli for help (which means I am really needing input). I decided to post here too to get feedback too. I am really upset, feel sad, guilt, anger, and much more. In my emotional state, I fear being judged as a bad person and bad horse person (even though my logicial brain says otherwise). Below is the scenario and questions I posed to Parelli today. I'll be sure to follow-up with their response. I'd love to hear what you all have to say as well. Please be honest.

Dear Pat, Linda, and/or Parelli Pros,

I am writing in ask a question about a horse that bites. She has only bitten during feeding time (maybe once while I was mounted she tried to bite my foot) but it can be quite a nasty bite during the feeding incidents. She also makes ugly faces as you pass by her when she is eating and she is defensive about food towards other horses (but not all of the time). The time I'd say it is worse is if I give them food in their buckets. I don't typically feed grain but will give alfalfa pellets and stuff like that so to her, it may as well be grain. When I first got her (two years ago), she used to also kick during feeding time. Initially, I haltered her during feeding time and every time she would make an ugly face, kick or act nasty, I'd back her, pause, then ask her forward again and allowed to eat. I repeated this exercise many times and eventually stopped as she seemed much better. She no longer kicked, bit, nor did she make an ugly face all of the time.

She is back to biting and I mean she will reach out and grab you (particularly if you have things in your hands/arms). I can walk with grain in my hands and she will follow me and not be nasty (this is when I am walking through with chicken feed). I've been bitten twice in the last several months and it hurt quite badly when I am either feeding her or getting ready to. Although I know I am not to take it personally, it is hard to as I am trying to connect with her and we seem to on many levels but there is still this disrespect thing going on. She has however, accepted my leadership in other areas (usually) but I have to say that this is a constant challenge balancing our leadership where I am on top. She can be a challenge and I like that. The horse I refer to is Lola and you have her horsenality report on file.

I've unfortunately found myself chasing her out of the barn when this happens (our set-up is that the horses can come and go as they please from the rear section of the barn), I've found myself throwing the buckets at her (that were in my arms when she nailed me), and even whacking her on the butt with the carrot stick in retaliation. I know this must be terribly wrong and an emotional response on my part and it makes me very upset and I because I am trying really hard to totally connect with this mare, I love my horses, but it seems to me, a partner wouldn't bite you like this. Just yesterday we had a lovely session and I trimmed her feet with no issues (in the past, she'd be a total jerk). I've looked into her history and all accounts show that her previous owner was a real carrot person and I can see where she'd perhaps be able to walk all over her. I was told by a Parelli instructor and other endorsed person that she was glad to hear I had this mare and that I'd do well with her and for her, that we should be a good match. But right now, I feel like I am failing somehow and that my response is not the sign of a good horsewoman, and I need your help, please. Would you have any other suggestions? Should I just go back to the exercises? Am I missing something?

Before hitting publish this post , I remembered writing a post over the summer, her is that link http://naturalhorselover.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-horse-bit-menow-what-to-do.html, I have reread my thoughts, I guess I should have done that sooner! Ah, the joy of horses.... :)

Just a follow-up. I went to feed tonight. My mare Lola was a perfect, respectful angel, no ugly faces, light responses when asked to move her feet, she wanted to be with me, all was really good. I guess I did something right.

Another update, today (1/3/12), Lola was really sweet during feeding time with Rick this morning and was excellent with me this evening. I think that when time permits, I will be sure to continue to work with her with an open mind, and enjoy what comes of things. I'll also be more careful to watch her cues and not be in the reach of a bite should that be the case (hopefully not of course). BTW, nothing from Parelli yet, no surprise, they probably are really busy after the holidays.

Update: (1/6/12) Parelli got back to me and sent me two articles, one on biting and the other on blocks. I've read it and this was information I already had. Throughout this post and the comments, we pretty much covered things. (Lola and I have been doing very well.)

Update: (5/3/12) Parelli posted this article on biting, "Horse Biting Problems -a Horse Training Article by Pat Parelli."  I thought I'd share it here should you want to read it.


Anna Mae Gold said...

How interesting!!!

I am not a Parelli Professional, nor am I a horse expert. I do however coach people to live their dreams.

It all starts with an intention. I'd encourage you to spend time thinking about what you'd LIKE to experience with her. What would you like your relationship to look like? Who do YOU want to be? How does it FEEL? Get really clear in your mind, first!

Then... allow everything that you need to achieve that dream to come to you. Inspiration, either from within or through horse professionals and others, books, resouces... Also, look for signs in your horse that the relationship is moving into the desired direction. Focus there! Feel joy for the smallest step in the right direction. Reward the smallest try!

Most of all, stay within the feeling of ackomplishment as much as you can... Have fun with this!!

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

So much of what you said is really things that people like myself in the Parelli mind-frame say, thank you so much for your words of wisdom, very good reminders and ideas!

inchwormwv said...

Hey Michelle, I was going to say "sorry you are going through this", but I realized that maybe this is exactly what you are supposed to be doing. I have a lot of confidence in you and your ability to learn in any situation - you GO GIRL!!

Shannon South said...


First - congratulate yourself for reaching out for help. While you may feel youself to be in a vulnerable place - my guess is many admire your values as a student and your committment to be the best partner for your horse.

Second - (again, I am not a PP, just a student like you) - her biting appears to be a leadership issue. If you watch her with the other horses, my hunch is some days she goes after them, teeth bared and some days ... she is just nice and sweet. But something for you to consider might be that she doesn't think of you as her leader 100% of the time - just sometimes, in certain situations. Going forward, your first goal should be safety. Consider making a diligent effort to keep her out of your space at all times until you can assess where her head space is. If the majority of the time the teeth come out when food is involved - consider focusing on feed time as play time. An idea might be to put on her halter and line - some feed or treats in a bucket/bowl about 6-8 feet from you and circle her to the bucket ... IF she approaches the bowl sweetly with ears forward and a pleasant expression allow it - if you get anything else but exactly what you want ... yo-yo or drive her back FIRMLY with your best weigermiester face and make her stand and wait. Then politely and friendly ask her to come again. If at any time her expression, attitude or demeanor changes from respectful and pleasant - back she goes. Be very particular - don't accept anything less than exactly what you want. Just a thought for you of a task/game that might help her realize that you control the food and are her leader during feed time. Another suggestion would be to carry your carrot stick when you are doing chores etc. so that you can defend your space and have the means to promote your leadership with her at all times - might mean you get your chores done a lot slower but ...

Do you have a PP near you that can give you a hand?? Remember that your Parelli family is here for you and we've all been where you are on some level or another. Your posts make me smile - what a challenging horse you have!! Makes the journey extra rewarding! Keep in touch as always - are you going to one of the Tour stops in 2012??


Lisa said...

My gut reaction is that this not a lack of respect but rather a lack of confidence. I'm not sure where Lola falls in your herd but this type of behavior seems more like "the best defense is a good offense." She may be asserting dominance in order to ensure she gets her food.

I don't tolerate poor feeding manners. Not because I demand total obedience but because the alpha horse controls all access to feed. Period. All the food belongs to the alpha until he/she permits the lower herd members to eat.

Can you separate Lola to feed her and play some dominance games with her? Defend the food bowl as if you were an alpha mare. Pushy behavior results in "banishment" and polite behavior gains her access to the resources.

Confidence is not always built with love. Sometimes it takes strong leadership to convince a horse he is safe. When you feel confused, sometimes you want clear direction not just a reassuring touch. Make sense?

I'd also head it off before it starts. Before she has a chance to be in range, back her off. It stops the emotional response. When you bring out feed, get all the horses out of the space and back away from you. It make take time, but you can teach them where to be in order to get the reward they seek.

I've been there/done that. It's been hard not to take some of Cricket's behavior personally. While I know it's not about me, it is about the relationship and that IS personal. Don't beat yourself up because you got emotional in that situation. I look at it this way - if a subordinate reached out and bit Cricket, by golly she'd whomp 'em with little or no warning. An quick outburst is not wholly inappropriate. It's only inappropriate when you chase down the horse and continue to retaliate.

Hang in there, keep calm and savvy on!

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Thanks, Lisa. Things are going well but I believe these dominance games are a great idea. My other horses not only know where they are to go to eat (and she knows where her location is too) but, they know to back away, allow me to put food in the bucket, and wait for me to allow them forward. I suspect, in hindsight, that I probably allowed some bad manners from her that I never allowed the boys. All great information and feedback. I love blogging because I can get out the information I need to process and the feedback is equally valuable. Thanks again! (Wish were were closer--we'd have all kinds of horse fun!)

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Thank you, Tenley. I have to agree. I am being presented with a new challenge and I think it is a good thing. Your support and confidence is very much appreciated. I miss playing horsey with you! I hope you and yours have a lovely new year.

Lisa said...

I allow all sorts of nonsense from Cricket. I allow it because I love her and I know her well enough to feel safe. But if I think about it, it's not fair. She will slowly push the boundaries until I've had enough and snap things back. I need to keep the rules simple, clear and consistent. When I do, everything gets better. Being complacent with her does her a disservice because it establishes my leadership as flimsy and wavering. And then I wonder why she pins her ears when I want to ride or pops little bucks when I ask for forward, etc.

I try to think of feeding in terms of herd behavior. The dominant horse eats first. That's me. Then the dominant horse allows the next horse to eat and may even fend off other herd members. Since you like playing with your horses as a group, can you build a game with one feed bowl and 3 horses? Invite one to come forward and insist the others stay back. Then send that one back and invite another. If it gets too rambunctious, send everyone away and leave (with the food.). It may take time but I can see you with three well-mannered horses, standing calmly and awaiting their turn to come eat.

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Hi Shannon - after having several days to think about this, I believe that I may have gotten lazy and complacent perhaps. Also, I've not had a ton of time with the horses and she was probably testing the waters...let's see what I can get away with kind of thing. Safety first for sure and it's time to put my skills back in action and stop being mostly a waitress! LOL I am recommitting ot the horses and freeing up time on my schedule to ensure that this is a reality. Perhaps she was giving me a much needed wake-up call. (PS. No Parelli people near me at all.)

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

This is so true, " I need to keep the rules simple, clear and consistent." I do too. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your game idea! I am going to give it a try. I do similar things with them so I think they may enjoy it! A challenge will awaken their minds, help bring focus and clarity to our herd, and it will be time well spent. Thanks!

Lisa said...

I don't know if you've talked in depth about Lola's horsenality but I'd also sit down and go through her report and think about her biting in the context of her horsenality. It may help you figure out how to approach your solution.

The idea is to find a way so you both come out winners. Her behavior seems to be motivated by some level of anxiety or irritation. Don't forget she's a mare and that matters.

How can you set it up for success? How can you feel like a fair and just leader? How can Lola be a good herd member? How can you construct feeding time so you both enjoy the time together?

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Thank goodness one of the things I am working on is studying my materials over the winter months...horsenality report, here I come! LOL

Lisa said...

Keep in mind the problem wasn't created in a day and won't be solved in a day. Lola feels she has permission to act the way she does and you have to take the time required to teach her that behavior is inappropriate. Regardless of your level of awareness, your actions (or lack thereof) have set the stage. You need to shift the balance incrementally, helping her find behaviors that are more positive and not causing her to be wrong.

And never close the door on possibility. I got locked into thinking Cricket's headshaking was behavioral. I was frustrated and scared for so long. When I opened the door to possibility, I was able to discover the root of the problem and find a real solution. Same goes with her bucking.