I will write about what I did today for training, but first I want to talk about the power of herd dynamics to a horse. I already understand how important this is to a horse, but I had a reminder while sitting with Timber drinking my coffee and reading a book while he was eating next to me.
When I let my other horses out to the pasture in the morning, Timber is very watchful while they go out. If they get far enough away, he gets a bit more animated and sometimes whinnies to them. This morning they were out of sight and a neighbor decided to go out for a walk. Timber noticed this and got quite upset. He jigged around the pen looking at the two-legger walking down the road, circling the pen, looking again, circling, looking, etc. He completely stopped eating. Note that the road is a good 200 yards away from his pen. This should not have been a major issue, but it was. He didn’t settle down until the two-legger was completely out of site. And even then he watched for a long time. About 20 minutes later, the human reappeared retracing his steps back to his home. This time Timber barely reacted. What was the difference? Had he gotten over it? Nope, here’s what happened. The first time the human went by my other horses were out of sight. Timber could not see them and determine if they were concerned about the human so he had to default to his “flee now, ask questions later” routine. The second time, the other horses had moved into sight. When the neighbor reappeared Timber looked at the other horses, saw that they weren’t worried and decided he didn’t need to be worried either. This is the power of herd dynamics.
At this stage in Timbers training he has not yet fully accepted me as a herd-mate. He is not looking to me for safety or to determine if he needs to be worried or not in a given situation. My other horses do look to me for that, but Timber is not there yet. But, I know he will get there.
Here’s what I did for today’s training. I went out 5 or 6 times and took my carrot stick with me. I approached on his right side and spent a minute rubbing him on the neck, side, head and rump. I did the same thing on the left side. When he was accepting that calmly, I walked off and that was the end of the session. I did not let him run to escape me. Each time he started to run by me I blocked him. I need to get him to stop thinking about running and consider standing still when I approach. This got a little better as the day went on. However, in the very last session of the day, just prior to getting his dinner, he seemed to be a bit more prone to wanting to run again. He was also getting more difficult to get to on his left side. He figured out a new strategy to try to block me from getting there. I was able to defeat his new strategy but it got me to thinking what this day’s training approach really accomplished and what I will try tomorrow. Stay tuned to see what I decided to do for the next session.