Friday, December 18, 2009

It's All About Spider

Spider is probably one of the strangest horses I've ever worked with. He's a good horse to work with: kind, great work ethic, sensitive and athletic, but some of his personality quirks are just plain odd. People who know him have classified him as needy, co-dependant and histrionic, as well as several other less flattering descriptions. For the most part his odd behavior doesn't bother me much. He works hard for me, so I can overlook the weirdness. Unfortunately, when I need to work with a horse other than Spider, his "quirks" start to get old quick.

You see, Spider is sort of a one person horse. He hates people he doesn't know well, won't let them near him. I have to personally "introduce" him to people so that he'll accept them. I guess I never have to worry about him being stolen. He also takes on the personality of whoever is handling or riding him. It's great for lessons, he's sort of like a tattle-tale. If the person on him is calm and confident, Spider is calm and confident. If the person on him is tense, Spider is tense. If they get scared, Spider gets scared. However, he never really gets comfortable in lessons or sessions with a trainer. He would much rather have someone he knows on him or handling him. It makes him more comfortable to have "his" person with him.

For now, the person he's decided is "his" is me. Which is a great thing when I'm working with Spider. Spider would do anything for me, all I have to do is ask. Loose in the pasture, he follows me like a puppy. I can direct him around with nothing more than gestures. Great, right? He will also beat the crap out of any other horse that comes near me if I let him. I don't pretend to know what his motivation is. Perhaps he sees the two of us as his "herd" and feels the need to protect the herd, or maybe he doesn't want to share attention with the other horses. At any rate, in order to do anything with the other horses I have to chase him away, and watch him, as he will sneak back up if given the opportunity. Since the other horses usually only get groomed once a day, I've never really seen the need to get to the root of the problem. I just make him stand back and ignore him.

Now that I've started working with Matilda regularly, Spider is really letting his freak flag fly. He really could care less that Matilda no longer lives in the pasture with him, but when it comes to me taking her out to groom and lunge he throws an absolute fit. We're talking about running the fence, banging the gate, screaming, crying toddler-worthy fits. He behaves this way when the farrier visits, also. Not when he sees the farrier, he's quite happy and content to be away from the others when it's his turn. But when Vinny gets taken out, the fits start. It's sort of embarrassing. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it from a horse. I've seen herd sour horses behave this way, but since he doesn't care where Matilda is when she isn't with me I don't know that I'd call it herd sour. Unless he thinks I'm his herd, but then he doesn't care if I go in the house, only if I'm paying attention to the other horses and not him.

I hate to anthropomorphize, but if we were talking about a human I would call his behavior jealousy. Behavior really boils down to a few simple motivations: fear, aggression and reproduction. But since humans love to over-complicate things, we've come up with a thousand shades of grey to describe our "emotions". Horses do not over-complicate things, so Spider's motivation is fear, aggression, reproduction or some combination of those. Right now I'm working off the hypothesis that's it's herd sourness centered on the wrong herd (me). So I'm treating it like I would any other case of herd sourness: keep doing what I'm doing and ignore the offender. The only problem is that, after 15 minutes or so, a screaming, crying, banging horse starts to get really annoying. Did I mention that the gate faces the ring? It's actually right next to the ring, so Spider can cry and have his fit right next to me, up close and personal. I find it takes all my willpower not to throw the whip at him.


  1. I think you're right - just ignoring him is the best option. I do believe horses can be jealous. When I first got Promise, her stall was across the barn aisle from Noble's, and whenever I would bring her out and put her on cross-ties to groom her, he would have a fit - pinning ears, baring teeth, even bucking in his stall.

    Here's an interesting experiment to see if it's really about you - have someone else take Matlida out and see what happens if you're not around.

  2. I agree. Horses certainly can be jealous.

    Spider does sound to be quite the character, and very much a Thoroughbred. He is a very sensitive, intelligent, and perceptive creature. Do not underestimate his feelings.

    And, by the way, he is doing a great job of training you. *lol*

  3. Poor little Spider!!!!! I would find that a difficult issue to deal with. I wouldn't know where to start but I like Kate's suggestion. Good luck with it! How is little Matilda doing? Photos of her please!!!!

  4. Did you take that picture of Spider? It's gorgeous.

    My TB mare used to get jealous when I worked with other horses. I just worked her first, or if she had the day off, I gave her a treat before I got the other horses out. That seemed to make things better, but she's not quite as ...interesting as Spider.


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