Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mixed Signals - Jekyll and Hyde?

Work has been busy this week and will be busy next week so there's not much horsing around as of late. I was out last Sunday and didn't get out again until yesterday evening. He was in and munching his hay. The feeder was there but running a little behind schedule so I gave him his grain. He's only getting a pound per feeding now (and maintaining a good weight) so I let him finish and after a few minutes of him back to munching his hay I put his halter on and let him out to the cross ties. He seemed perfectly willing to go. You may remember that I've been dealing with remains of his lesson horse attitude during grooming. He will let me yank the crap out of his mane and he still picks up his feet really well, but brushing has become difficult. More so on some days than on others. Some days I put the mit/curry to his shoulder and he swings his head like he wants to bite, or spends the entire brushing session dancing around like I'm using a hot poker. I'm not, trust me. Yesterday as I was grooming his right rear hip he actually kicked out at me. It was slow-motion but unlike his previous antics of just lifting the leg as a warning he actually pushed it out at me. I HATE when this kind of thing happens. I have terrible mixed feelings about how to handle this type of behavior and I'm constantly worrying that I'm doing the wrong thing. But bottom line is that under no circumstances is he allowed to do that. My current (surely flawed) philosophy is to reprimand the behavior itself so that he gets a clue that what he just did is not allowed, THEN very carefully investigate the possible reasons why he might have feel it necessary to behave that way, trying to rule out real physical pain, especially. So I gave him a swift slap with the rubber grooming mit, took him off the cross ties (he already had the look of "oh shit, now I've done it"), took him out to the arena and sent him out to the end of the lead trotting. Partially to see if he was in any way sore to rule out actual physical reasons why he was unhappy with grooming, and partially to remind him via simple exercises that he is not in charge. He looked just fine and listened just fine. I then made him practice showmanship until he was listening and watching me and calmly doing the job correctly. Then he got a good pat and we went back to the cross ties, licking and chewing.

The only thing any of us could conclude is that possibly his sheath needs to be cleaned and he's somewhat uncomfortable. During my physical exploration he was most tense while I was near that area. I don't usually linger in that area anyway, and he's never really comfortable with me there, but realizing now that I've only cleaned his sheath once in the 2 years we've been together makes me feel horrible guilty feelings. I hope to get that accomplished on Sunday while it's supposed to be 86 degrees. Sheath cleaning is not on my list of confident skills so I will be begging for the help of my barn friends. It is highly doubtful I did a thorough job the last time. Oh the guilt. SOOOO tempted to have the vet do it from now on, but money is money, so we'll see how Sunday goes. :(

I went ahead and rode and he was absolutely wonderful. He is still missing cadence with his left hind, but Monet said he'll continue to do that until that side is stronger. He only does it tracking left. Now that I know it's a strength issue and not some terrifying other thing I don't worry about it, I just keep riding. Since Monet's lesson I've been riding in just my Myler snaffle without the chain. I was surprised to discover that he is responding well to every cue without any leverage. This was not possible earlier in our work. Until I began using leverage he was a bit of a giraffe, but he's rounding up and stretching forward just on the snaffle. That makes me SOOOOO happy! I thought I had a horse that needed leverage. (Because for a long time I did) But now I seem to have a horse that will take on whatever posture, collection, and speed I ask, in just a snaffle. WIN. Now I am certain however that at a show he will not be as relaxed or attentive as he is at home, but he did jog pretty nicely for me at the Cowboy Challenge so maybe I'm wrong there too? He is always fine for UNtacking/grooming sessions so I still think it's all attitude and nothing really physical.

Tomorrow is an Equine Behavior clinic at the barn and I'm going to participate. (I have rehearsal all day today) The clinician specializes in the behavior of therapy horses so I was already planning on asking her about his grooming/tacking manners and now his recent kick gives me more questions. He's currently being used for a few lessons every other week and he has been behaving just fine by all reports, but fidgety for tacking and grooming. Under saddle he remains a saint.

I guess I would rather have a horse that was a bit of a pill (but manageable) on the ground but a saint in the saddle than the other way around. None of them are perfect. I was told that his breeder was somewhat afraid of him. I was too, when I first got him, but I thought we had come so far before last spring's over-used-lesson-horse meltdown and we've just not recovered fully.

I still love him though. I just want to figure out what his problem is.

Here's a couple of Chloe's awesome pictures to tide you over until she takes more of Junior. :) The palomino is a solid paint gelding named Hef. Yes, as in the Playboy guy. He's owned by a cool teenage girl back at our old place. Not sure if she reads this blog or not...


  1. Could be he's just super-sensitive and you might need softer grooming tools; could be muscle soreness; could be ulcers? Very hard to tell with these things. Is he girthy when saddled? That would make me think ulcers as well.

  2. I've pondered ulcers and skin sensitivity before, but he has a very very low ulcer-risk lifestyle and he does not exhibit any of the other ulcer symptoms. He does not have the same behavior AFTER a ride, only before, and it's not every time, even with the same tools. I've tried all amounts of pressure/tools and there is no consistency. He's been perfectly angelic if there is somebody working in the arena that he can watch or if he thinks he needs to go visit a horse on the other cross ties he can be worse than normal. He's only girthy if he's not distracted, and it's the same sort of reaction he has to grooming his neck, but if his attention is focussed elsewhere I can girth him all the way up in one motion without him even flinching. I know that doesn't rule out ulcers completely, but all the people that have seen him do this in person have come to the conclusion that it's probably behavior more than a real physical reaction. That's why I'm hoping the behaviorist will help us.

  3. Sheath cleaning is icky and AJ makes it nearly impossible because he's quite bashful. My vet charges $35 to clean it for me and I always have her do it when AJ is already sedated from having his teeth floated. She's much better at it than I am and has all that nice cotton to use to make it easy. Totally worth it as far as I'm concerned.

    I think Junior has just developed a bit of an attitude about grooming. If it was just an 'out of the blue' kind of thing I might think otherwise, but I bet it's from the lessons he was doing before. As much as he was being used, he might equate grooming to work, or maybe he was being groomed too hard and he remembers?

    I'm surprised, though, that he does it with you and took it as far as he did.

    Does he have a super itchy spot you can work on? Lilly has one under her belly that she loves to have scratched. If he does, maybe when he gets cranky you could quickly hit his itchy spot with the curry and try to get him to enjoy the grooming again. Not sure if that would be like a reward for being bad or not, though...

    It makes me sad... Grooming is usually something they really enjoy and it's a good way to spend quality time with them. Hopefully the behaviorist has some suggestions for you.

    I'm glad your lessons are going well!!

  4. awwww my Hef!!!! hahaha those pics are so funny!! =] glad my pony could be your model!

  5. I do think they sometimes associate grooming with work, so I try to keep mine guessing. Sometimes I go out to the pasture and just give them a treat. Sometimes I bring them in,groom,tack up and work hard. Sometimes I tack up and amble around and sometimes I groom them and put them back out in the pasture. I always take my time with the girth. I do it the same way all the time. I rarely have trouble with grooming or tacking up anymore.