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....?