I've been asked to help with one of my liveries' horses as her owner is getting increasingly scared of her and another livery who handles her regularly is struggling to manage her now. I think she's going to be very interesting to work with and I really enjoyed my first session with her tonight, so I'll document how we get on.
Heidi is a 14.1 rather cobby rising 6yo who we were told came off The New Forest originally. She came here with the Fell Ponies I bought 2 years ago, from the same dealer's yard. We don't know how or when she lost her eye but it's obvious that it was professionally removed and the opening very neatly stitched up.
She had just had a foal weaned from her when she came here and was in very poor condition. She was well halter trained but unbacked and her feet and legs hadn't been handled much. She was very quiet and easy to catch and lead.
As she rapidly improved in condition with her new owner her true personality gradually came to light and she got more and more dominant with other horses and feisty in general. Dogs are particularly at risk around her but she's never been aggressive towards people although she has nipped her owner on occasion.
Last summer a quite experienced and very lightweight friend of her owner decided to back her and had great plans for her. I wasn't especially happy about the odd session I saw but, typically for me, I didn't want to upset anyone or be thought to be interfering so decided it was none of my business and looked the other way, hoping for the best.
My biggest concern was that practically all I ever saw in preparation for backing was Heidi being encouraged to gallop flat out, mostly over jumps, on the end of a lunge rein in the school. I couldn't see how this was going to prepare her to be sensible and quiet when she was backed and ridden on a lunge rein in the same place.
I now feel very guilty because when she was backed, although she was no problem when led with a rider on top, almost as soon as she was let out on the lunge rein she exploded and her rider had a very bad fall and unfortunately had to be taken to hospital by ambulance with a punctured lung, from which she still hasn't fully recovered.
Since then Heidi hasn't been worked at all and has become increasingly difficult to deal with. She tries to gallop off when being led and rears and throws tantrums when restrained from doing so. She's been especially difficult in the high winds we've had lately and I had to rescue the person trying to lead her in the other day.
I picked up an electric fencing stake and held it in front of Heidi to stop her trying to charge off and indicate the boundaries of the space between the stake, me and the fence that I required her to stay within. It had the added bonus of focusing her attention and getting her head lower, as she instinctively concentrated on the unfamiliar and slightly scary white object, and she led in like a lamb!
I had the first ever clicker session with her in her stable tonight and began with introducing her to targeting. This went very well to begin with but then she began to get worried and suspicious of the target. This may be because, as she's usually so bold, I wasn't careful enough about taking the target away slowly and tactfully after the click. Whatever the reason I decided to change tactics to make sure the rest of the session was successful and enjoyable for her.
I swapped to clicking her for moving backwards away from me as I stepped into her space, which she was very quick to respond to. This has the bonus of being submissive behaviour which is definitely to be hugely encouraged with a feisty pony like Heidi!
I then alternated between clicking her for stepping forward towards me when I moved away from her, then backing up when I moved towards her, beginning a little dance together, with loads of strokes and "good girl"s along with the treats.
When this got too easy I waited until her weight was placed towards the front leg on her blind side and moved to the shoulder on her eye side and asked her to step over with her front foot, crossing it in front of the other foot to stand momentarily cross legged. If she was slow to respond I tickled her leg to get her to lift her foot and crossed it over myself, then clicked her. She was incredibly co-operative about this and I got the impression that she was thoroughly engrossed in, and entertained by, trying to work out what was going on!
After a total of about 25mins I made a big fuss of her, clicked her for letting me give her a hug and a kiss on the nose, and left her for the night. A very successful and enjoyable first session for both of us! Although she's been here for some time I really don't know her as a 'person' at all and I'm really looking forward to getting to know her properly and thoroughly, as you do quite rapidly when clicker training. Finding ways of communicating from her blind side is going to be very interesting too.
My aim at the moment, and all I've been asked to do, is to try to get her more co-operative and manageable to deal with on the ground. I probably won't offer to do more than that as my days of having a go at re-backing other people's disasters are long gone and I don't bounce like I used to but if Heidi gives me the confidence in her to do so, then you never know!!!
I'll take some photos of her tomorrow.
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