The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Letting off Steam and More Fun with the Wheelbarrow

Maire recently wrote an interesting post about an incident where something triggered anxiety in her gelding. His response was to buck his rider off and gallop away in a panic. In processing this incident, Maire felt that if a horse in this state of mind is restrained, the inability to release stress can cause panic and ultimately affect the horse's mental health. There needs to be a way for the horse to safely discharge the emotion.

This ties in with something I've noticed with George. When I bring the feed into the pasture at dinnertime, George is very polite about not crowding me and not trying to get at the food until I've scooped it into his bucket. However, on very cold days when George is extra-hungry, it's all a bit too much for him. On those occasions, he will vehemently charge at the nearest mare and see her off, before returning to my side, his good-boy manners restored. He has figured out how to release his frustration without frightening me.

Yesterday, Bridget and I were hanging out in the pasture. I decided to work on some proto-dressagey type stuff. Bridget stuck to me for a good half-hour as I tinkered with her, asking her to bring her head towards me, to put her leg under her, to pay attention to her shoulders and so on. I did all this without a rope or halter, and she was free to stay or go as she chose. She chose to stay, except at one point - knowing I was trying to communicate something and not knowing what that was - she felt a little frustrated, and spying the dog sitting nearby, she ran at him - something I've never seen her do before. The dog was alarmed, but Bridget was clearly restored to good humor, and she walked back to me to resume our mysterious activities.

If she had been restrained - unable to leave because I was holding her by a rope and wouldn't let her go - I doubt very much if she would have been able to resolve the issue to her satisfaction and resume working so willingly. Imke Spilker talks about the horse's willingness to work voluntarily - what a priceless thing that is, and all too easily damaged.

When I was "working" with Bridget (in quotes because I'm a neophyte when it comes to this new way of working and am feeling my way forward like a toddler learning to walk), I had a stick which I used to point to and touch different parts of her body. She reacted instantly to each touch - turning to look, raising a leg, twitching. Sometimes Bridget wanted to hold the stick. I avoided trying to control her head, as she resists that. We are trying to find ways of communicating, things to practice, a modus operandi. It's ok for me not to know exactly what I'm doing, because Bridget is free to express her opinion. We can take the time to work it out, because Bridget is willing to stick around while we do. Spilker says that horses are very interested in movement - so I hope that by working on movement, we are doing something she finds rewarding.

Something she definitely finds rewarding is playing with the wheelbarrow. After our "practice," I did some more manure-shifting, and once again Miss Bridget wanted to help.

Here she has tipped the barrow towards her.
But the manure doesn't spill out when you tip it that way. Bridget knows it's supposed to tip sideways, and she got a little sad when she couldn't figure out right away how to do that. So she walked away. After a few moments, she turned around and saw me still standing by the wheelbarrow, waiting. She walked back over and tried some more.

That's how it's done!
Then she wanted to work on setting it upright again.

She got a little sad again when she couldn't manage and stood looking sleepy for a few moments. Then she got back to work.

After her success, she amused herself by rocking the barrow towards herself, chewing the rim, letting it go, and rocking towards herself again.

I used my foot to rock the barrow forward, by stepping on the handle and pushing it to the ground. Whenever I let it go, Bridget nudged my boot to get me to do it again.

Finally, Bridget went back to join the others at the pile of hay. But she'd sacrificed a lot of good eating time on a cold and hungry day to participate with me in our joint ventures.


  1. Minnie will charge at our dogs and cats and she means business too. They all know it and will fly before her. When Cassie lunges at her, Minnie will discharge that by chasing whichever of the cats and dogs is nearest. Is Bridget lowest in hierarchy in your herd?

    Cassie will leave her hay too to come play with me and she is very food oriented. I think it's because they are always free to come or go.

  2. Bridget is actually #2 in the chain of command. She's normally very non-aggressive and gets what she wants without much display. I think she charged the dog because he was the closest and the first thing that caught her eye.

  3. Bridget is demonstrating just how clever horses are if we only give them the chance. George's reaction under the stress of being extra hungry is very similar to Ben's.