1-4-14- I made a trip out to Westport to see the Rescue Horses again today and thought I would blog about my experience with Carob the Arab.
To catch you up to date on this guy, he was a "breeding stallion" in the herd that was seized by Essex County in NY, along with 40 other horses. Carob is VERY handsome and a flashy mover! Now a gelding, there have been a LOT of changes he's had to go through, hormonally, emotionally and physically.
The first time I worked with him, I understood why he had not been adopted yet. Intensely unsure about humans and other horses' intentions, reactive, impulsive, defensive, quick, tense, wide eyed with every breath sounding like a snort. So sad"¦..
Because the remaining horses were so disturbed (at that time), I decided to use my hobble on all of them, as a way of getting them to trust me- To show them that I was not going to hurt them, but that I could be an assistance to them by taking the restraining devise off of them, when they looked at me for help. Of all the horses, Carob was in the most need of this - Desperate needs, need desperate action. On his first hobbling, I remember his eyes, in complete terror, thinking "this is it, I'm about to die!", when suddenly, like a super hero, I swept in and saved the day and took it off. That was the day he started thinking differently, as little as it was, that humans may not be all that bad.
Carob's biggest fear is being confronted dominantly and has learned to react back in a dominate way towards humans, in order to stay "king of the herd". IMO, in the human/horse world, there is a confusion and separation of philosophies on how to deal with this. Some "natural" trainers preach that humans need to know the language of the horse AND communicate back to the horse that THEY are "dominant leader". This method works splendidly when the human involved is really good at what he does, and never lets his guard down, but with a timid person or beginner, people will eventually get hurt.
In a wild herd of horses, the lead stallion is disliked by most, but respected by all. When confronted, the stallion uses his hooves and teeth to take the offending horse back down the pecking order "where he belongs", or is taken over by a more athletic, stronger, younger stallion, and gets run off to find a "bachelor/old horse herd" to then become part of.
So the other side of this, is the concept of "Passive Leadership". A passive leader, if to be compared to a wild herd, would be the older, experienced female of the group. This mare is well respected, but TRUSTED to HELP in the herd's survival. It would be like our elders are suppose to be in our society. The older ones who have experienced life and can teach the youngers the right and wrong way of doing things. Compassionate, but firm when needed. Well loved and looked up upon as educators and care givers. You wouldn't hit your Grandmother, right?
Ok, so back to how this all fits in with Carob. I noticed that he was starting to trust me, but there was this slight suggestion that he was conveying to me that he was still on top, playing the game of being the dominant one. Heck I'm just a weak human in the presence of a strong, possibly dangerous horse! He was doing this by walking toward me and offering me the front of his face, but as soon as I step aside to approach his side, especially his haunches, he veered off in a panic. With every horse being different, it required me to adjust my response, and ESPECIALLY my thoughts about the situation. It takes two to fight, so without "submitting", lets just say I played dumb and pretended not to notice his intentions, but placed my body in a more neutral place and changed the subject by asking him to disengage his hindquarters, or just stop and breath. It confused the heck out of him at first, because why would he punch someone who didn't have it coming to them? For safety purposes, PLEASE, if you feel uncomfortable and in danger when around a horse, and you don't have the experience to protect and guide you"¦.. ASK FOR HELP. Helene and I are well seasoned in equine language and psychology. You know the saying "Green on Green makes Black and Blue"!
I played around with using a whip with a plastic bag attached to the end, first just walking ahead of him while hitting the ground ahead of me. His first thoughts were to back up, away from the scary action, but when he realized it wasn't directed at him, he started to lead forward. After a little while, I used the "flag" in more of a game. Facing him, I presented the plastic bag towards his nose as if I were sharing a new discovery. LOOK AT THIS! His first reaction was to shy away, but I carefully followed him until he couldn't help but to at least LOOK at it. I quickly dropped it to the ground. Some of you may know this as the Show and Retreat game. What eventually starts to happen is the horse starts to feel more in control of the situation, not dominantly, but more curiously. Like "WOW, I can get that thing to move away from me by acknowledging it!" Its quite the sight to see a horse realize this!
This blog entry seems to be getting quite lengthy"¦. I hope you are still with me!
After putting the saddle on and off a few times and putting a nice rubber snaffle in his mouth, I tied some bandages (see pic) around his girth area. This is to desensitize him to conforming pressure, and also a bandage around his flank (a super sensitive area on horses). The remaining length I tied under his tail to give the feel of a "crupper". Something interesting that I have figured out is that the tension in the tail corresponds with the tension in the mind, so putting a crupper like feel under the tail reminds him to breath a little more- In order to release the tightness of the clamping of the tail over the material, they have to lift their tail slightly, which in turns releases the neck and head down and to become softer.
I finally went to the round pen and turned him loose and was pleasantly surprised to find that he had suddenly turned into "magnet horse", following me around like a puppy. Every time I moved him away, he was instantly waiting for me to ask him back. It was poetry! The most incredible thing about my day with Carob, was witnessing the amount of yawning that he did. A RECORD in my history with horses! Carob yawned more than 40 TIMES!!! This action is the biggest compliment a horseman can get from a horse, and this is not a physical tired kind of yawn, but a complete release of the mind kind of yawn. The movement activates the TMJ (which stands for Temporal Mandiblular Joint) in the jaw, up by the eyes. I need to do more research on this, but I know when a horse yawns it release endorphins and pressure built up in the body. Its quite the reaction! The eyes soften, the ears flop a little, the neck lowers, lip gets droopy and an all over relaxation suddenly appears. Beautiful!
I really feel confident that this horse is going to go far in life! He could even make it as a youth show pony with the continuation of this practice. Please consider donating at www.gofundme.com/essexhorses
so we can continue making visits with these horses! Even $5 would be much appreciated, but mostly, if you are looking for a new horse, please consider adopting one of these animals.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. I encourage questions and comments about my writings and hope you come away with a little more understanding of the mind of the horse. Night! ~Nicky