Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Armed and...Confident

I went to the stables on Friday to groom my boy. I can’t remember him ever being so dirty! We had a lot of rain late last week and I believe most of the mud that was in front paddock ended up caked on Gem. I had to go over him three times to reach some semblance of clean. It took over an hour.

After the grooming marathon on Friday, I decided to take him for a walk up and down the lane way to stretch his legs. He got excited about being outside and started getting pushy. I regretted not having my crop with me. We have five new horse in for training, two in his barn and three in the arena stalls. The ones in the arena stalls started squealing as we walked past, which made him even more pushy. I had to stop and back him up numerous times. Small circles were also incorporated into the walk. He started pulling on the sleeve of my jacket, coming closer to nipping than I would obviously like. What was supposed to be a nice quiet walk turned into a wrestling match.

As much as I can sympathize with the new horses adding to his confinement grumpies, I am now officially tired of this bad behaviour. Enough already!! I don't want to be pushed or pulled or nipped!! I don't care if he is grumpy!! He's making me grumpy!!! I am not the enemy!! Whaaa! When my dogs would start exhibiting undesirable behaviour, I would simply grab them, flip them over on their back and tell them NO! It’s a little more difficult to do this with a 1300 lb animal! :-)

I thought long and hard about it on the drive home Friday night. I certainly don’t want to use my hand as a weapon to discipline him; my hands should be for love and softness. My elbows have been used to try and stop his mouthiness, but I think it turns into a game for him. I have growled at him, I have used backing him up. My voice does have some affect and he understands No! How can I reinforce my voice?? Then I remembered my water bottle!

When I arrived on Sunday morning, I dug out my pump water bottle. It's actually an old detangler product bottle that I cleaned out and put water in so I could spray Gem's hooves if I was having a hard time dislodging solidified mud. This water bottle is now going to be part of the disciplining program for Gem. I believe that there has to be a balance and if you discipline for unacceptable behaviour, you have to reward for good. Everyone at the stables has told me not to treat Gem because he's mouthy. Sigh. But, giving him scratches does not seem to be enough in certain circumstances. I am going to do what I think Gem will respond to. I know he likes treats (what horse doesn't!), so rewarding him with a couple of little kibbles for good behaviour seems like the right approach.

Armed with my water bottle and a pocket full of horse treat kibbles, I carried my saddle down to his rack. He has started biting the horn again, trying to pull the saddle from the rack. A well-aimed squirt from a distance of about 6 feet connecting with his nose followed by NO! got his attention. He flinched, backed away and thought about it. He tried biting the saddle again while I was arranging his grooming gear. Another well-aimed squirt followed by NO! He backed away. Now, he's wondering What the heck is going on?? When he stood quietly, I gave him a couple of kibbles and a Good boy!. He didn't touch the saddle again. Sometimes, when I walk in front of him while I am grooming, he will nudge me with his head. Recently, these nudges have been a little more assertive. The first time he nudged me on Sunday, I squirted and said NO!. He immediately backed up a couple of steps. I purposely walked in front of him a number of times and when he stood still, he got a reward and a Good boy! Towards the end of our grooming session, he did nudge me again and got the squirt routine. After letting that soak in for a minute (pardon the pun!), I allowed him to redeem himself and he got rewarded for standing respectfully while I walked back and forth in front of him. He's testing boundaries and I am trying to show that pushing them out is no longer an option.

Getting ready for lesson last night was calmer. He did not grab the saddle. I did have to squirt him once when he reached his head out of his stall to grab my arm as I walked by. He backed up immediately. After a few seconds, he came back to the door and put his head out. He stood quietly and he was rewarded. When I groomed him, he nudged me once and got the squirt routine. He stood quietly and respectfully for the rest of the grooming routine and was rewarded a number of times. He was calmer when we walked to the arena. Walking back from the arena and untacking after lesson were incident free. Have I finally found the magic combination??!

Using the water bottle as a tool to reinforce a verbal reprimand so far has been good. You don't have to be next to the horse to discipline; you can be 6-8 feet away. It's harmless and invisible. I don't hold the bottle out in front of me when I squirt him; I actually try to keep the bottle hidden as much as possible so that he doesn't associate the bottle with the squirt. I wouldn't want him to get shy about me spraying product on him. :-) I have used a squirt bottle to help with behaviour modification with one of my dogs who used to bark incessantly when outside and, coupled with rewarding for good behaviour, it works. I suspect that I am going to have to keep the water bottle handy for a little while yet. Consistency is key, but Gem is a quick study. Perhaps my new found confidence is having a positive impact, too. :-) Here's hoping for a quick resolution to the Spring Grumpies!

What was I thinking....?


  1. I will be excited to see if it keeps working, Sugar has been really mouthy with the barn walls fact I'm waiting for extra charges from the barn owner! This could possibly work for her!!!
    Do you watch the Dog Whisperer? Sugar used to walk out in front of me and get all worked up, but I've been using his calm and assertive technique and applying it to my works! lol I still sometimes do circles and some lateral work when she gets a little anxious, but it really helped!!

    Please keep us updated on how the spray bottle does as time goes on!!!

  2. I think you've stumbled on a good idea here, it's certainly much better than putting a chain on his face and giving it a yank every time!

    Honestly I might even borrow this idea for dealing with a certain nasty tempered mare that lives with my horses...

  3. Minus Pride - Gem used to walk in front of me, and we worked it out. It's only recently he has started rushing me again. I will definitely post an update of his progress. :-)

    Shannon - This will absolutely work on your nasty mare. You can squirt her from a distance. Since I pulled out that bottle, I have saved a cross-tied Gem being bitten on the butt by a horse being lead past him and I have stopped a horse from chewing on the new wall to his stall. :-)

  4. Interesting, I never thought of a squirt from a water bottle to discipline a horse. I've heard of people doing it with dogs that chase cars squirting them out the window. I guess whatever works. He'll probably get the message quickly and be less grumpy when they get turned out regularly again.

  5. Oh I just thought of another thing if the spray bottle doesn't work, after GHM commment about chasing cars!! They have collars for dogs that vibrate instead of shocking them, to kind of "snap them out of it"...maybe I'll try that for Sugar!!! I'm getting all these good ideas!!

  6. Squirt bottles, the tool of professionals! Wolfie, it's the only way I've ever been able to train a cat, but I never thought of it for a horse. Good going!

  7. Morning!

    GHM - I have never heard of squirting a chasing dog, but it makes sense! :-) I am sure Gem's attitude will change once he gets more turnout. I have been letting him get away with more!

    Minus Pride - They have vibrating collars for horses?? Would you have to be present to activate them?

    Muddy K - I am smiling at your comment....You actually trained a cat??? I didn't think training a cat was possible. ;-)

  8. I'm not looking forward to seeing how filthy Piney is when I pick him up in a few months. The last time I saw him he was pawing a big muddy puddle, splashing his whole body. Spring grooming is the worst!
    Almost as awful is the spring grumpies! Luckaliy Pinecone's behaviour doesn't change a WHOLE lot in the spring. he's pretty mellow year round. But awesome idea using a squirt bottle. I may have to stash that idea away in the old memory bank and I may have to use it on my Boston "Terror" :-)

  9. Good Time to Review - I can't believe how dirty he is. If you pat his rump, big clouds of dust appear! I have three terrors...I mean terriers...and the squirt bottle has been a great training tool...along with liver treats as a reward. :-)

  10. I like to give treats too, but got away from it. Now I only treat if we are doing a "trick". It helps to focus them appropriately, IMHO

    Sounds like the squirt bottle is working. One note about the saddle. Make sure it fits. My horse started biting the saddle and I found out it was starting not to fit (my boy has grown). Happened twice, two different horses. So just make sure he isn't trying to tell you something.

  11. Hi Breathe - Yes, I think the treats are helping him focus on the good behaviour. No worries about his fits......he's just curious and mischievous and wants something to play with. He pulls at the blankets, bridle, anything within reach. :-)

  12. Wolfie, the horse whisperer ;o)

    I've heard of using squirt bottles for disciplining dogs & cats but never occured to me that it might work for horses.

    At the end of the day, I believe that you go with what works for you & if that involves a treat system, then so be it. Keep us updated, won't you.

  13. I swear we have the same horse. Same pushiness rearing it's ugly head (again). Same grabbing my sleeves or sweatshirt when he's a little nervous - culminating in a nip if he's really stressed out. Same walking ahead of me and needing much backing up.

    I've had to cut back on treats (again) - only for rewards for a while. I wonder if an actual squirt gun would be easier to "conceal" lol. ;)

  14. Joy - I was away this weekend so I didn't get a chance to work on it, but I will definitely let you know how we progress!

    Calm - Yep, I think we may have the same horse. :-)