Thursday, March 25, 2010

What We Make Of Them

There is no such thing as a "good horse", just like there's no such thing as a "bad horse". A horse is just a horse, he depends on us to mold him into what we want him to be. "Good horse" and "Bad horse" are subjective words that humans have invented to describe how well we have accomplished this.

I was reminded of this concept today by the smallest of my equines. Miss Matilda The Bald decided to have a "bad horse" day.

Yesterday, while I was roaching her mane, I noticed her feet needed a trim. I trim Matilda myself, since she's not a riding horse and I'd feel really bad making my poor farrier stoop down to trim her. It's uncomfortable for me to do, and I'm short. My poor farrier would have a rough time of it, I think.

Since I had already spent an hour cutting her mane, I decided I would put off trimming her feet until today.

Today arrived, and I went out to get Matilda for her trim. To be fair, I really haven't done much with Matilda since the last time I trimmed her feet. And by "haven't really done much", I actually mean "haven't done anything". Which is bad. Especially since, in the last two days, I have chased Matilda around and made her stand tied for an hour while I stripped her of her mane. She was just about sick of me and decided to make it known.

First she didn't want to walk up to be tied. This was easily solved. Matilda is small, all I have to do is loop the rope around her haunches and pull her forward. This made her mad, but it got the job accomplished. Then I started trimming. I got the front feet done with no problem, but when I came to the back, she was just done. After not being handled for weeks, then chased around, robbed of her mane, and finally roped up to be tied, Matilda decided to pitch a royal fit. Anyone familiar with miniature horses and ponies knows that they can pitch fits like nobody's business. Matilda is no exception.

She got it in her head that there was no way, no how that I was going to pick up her back feet. She sat down on her haunches. When I made her get up, she reared up and tried to break free. When she realized she couldn't break free, she sat back down. We went on like this for some time. Had she been a full sized horse, it would have been scary. But she's tiny, so it was mostly just annoying. And I wasn't getting the job accomplished.

During one of her more extravagant tantrums, I stepped back to think about the problem. While I waited for her to calm down, I realized something. Matilda is small and easy for me to push around, but what was that really accomplishing? Nothing. I wouldn't treat a full sized horse like that because I couldn't treat a full sized horse like that. With a full sized horse I would be gentle and patient, but I was just using brute force on Matilda. By being a bully, I was able to pick her feet up, but I couldn't get her to stay still enough to trim them. As soon as I reached for the nippers she would try to get away. I had to change my plan.

So I treated her just like I would any other horse. I scratched her withers until she settled down, then reached down and picked up her foot. When she tried to pull it away I let her, but then I picked it right back up again. I didn't force her to keep it up, but every time she pulled away I picked the foot right back up again. If she sat down or struggled, I calmly waited for her to stop, then picked the foot right back up. Eventually she realized that I wasn't going to fight her, but she wasn't going to get her way either. And so she let me trim her back feet.

A valuable lesson was learned: just because you can push a horse around, doesn't mean you should. Matilda may be little, but she deserves the same respect as the big boys. And from now on I'll make sure to set aside time in my day to work with Matilda on her manners. I wouldn't expect any horse to remember their manners if I don't work with them. Horses are what we make of them, good, bad or nothing. In this case, I have been making nothing of Matilda and I got exactly that.

3 comments:

  1. Very good thoughts - it isn't about just getting it done - it's about how you get it done, which often turns out to work better in the end! And the consistent work is the key, as you point out.

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  2. There are good and bad trainers, who can wreck good horses who turn bad, and there are many uneducated horse-owners, who also wreck horses by spoiling them.

    The result can be "bad" horses, ie horses who have been so damaged that they cannot be EASILY re-trained.
    IMO it is what makes a "bad" horse is one that resist the training from a competent trainer. One horse who always be a pain in the neck to work with.

    Sometimes it is the breeding line ... the mare cannot be trained so just "let's breed her", so then you will two untrainable horses instead of one O_o

    There are many out there, who finish in the slaughter pen, because they are HARD to train.

    In conclusion it is more how trainable is your horse, instead of how "good" your is.

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  3. What a perceptive post! Well done with the little girl. Matilda will appreciate being handled like the true horse she is.

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