In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Monday, September 14, 2015

Vibrissae, etc ~Equine Behavior Q&A

Question: I recently rescued a 16.2hh Warmblood gelding, and he is sweet as pie. However, as a yearling, he was left in a pasture by himself for 4 years. He suprisingly has no problems with seperation from other horses, but when I (and only I) leave, he gets very nervous. Also, he follows with or without a lead, but either way keeps his nose against my back. It\'s not a hard press either, just a slight touch. He doesn\"t bite or nip, so is this behavior okay? Also he is in training to be a jumper. I have read about horses getting very hot from that. How can I help retain his sweet nature?

It seems you and he are pair-bonded! Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses and humans.
Please make sure you leave his vibrissae intact. The vibrissae are the long whiskers on the nose and over the eyes. Horses use their specialized and treasured vibrissae to identify objects they cannot easily visualize. Horses use vibrissae to drink and graze. You hear from the veterinarians about all the eyelid and nasal lacerations they sew up, and all of them are on horses with clipped vibrissae. Think of the vibrissae as eyes, as they help the horse feel (see) everything around their lips, eyes, nares, and chin. As well, the whiskers detect the rate of acceleration, lead, and location of horses running in close company with other horses. We like to leave all sensations in the horse intact for safety reasons. If your horse had intact vibrissae, he could sense where you are without touching you as he does when being led. The behavior is not too big a problem, however, and as such, need not necessarily be corrected. Let him have his vibrissae, however, please. They are essential sensory organs.
Sid Gustafson DVM

Question: I have a 10-year-old thoroughbred x connemara (3/4 x1/4) gelding that was left in a herd but was bred for cross country/eventing. I purchased him two years ago. When I purchased him he didnt know what Velcro was and spooked at it and other things. He is extremely smart and learns quickly. I work at his speed as I believe he has potential.  

The issue is: For the last year I have tried to back him but he almost panics when something is higher than his head. He will line drive, lunge (with and without the line) as the ground work has been laid even with voice commands. Other than having somebody *buck him out* which I am not inclined to do, do you have other suggestions?

FYI: vets/chiropractor has checked him for pain points>he is clear

You have to make getting on his back a good deal for him. You have tried to rule out pain, so now he has to be gradually desensitized to all moving things above his head. This requires finesse and horsemanship, as well as patience and an extensive knowledge of learning science, along with a month to two of regular training sessions that are fun for the horse. The training always has to be a good deal for the horse. He is not yet properly prepared to be mounted or ridden, ‘backed’ as you say. There are no shortcuts. I think you need to brush and groom him for an hour each day to develop a closer bond and familiarity with one another. An hour or two of hand grazing a stabled horse each day results in a horse that will let you do most anything, you know. 
If a previous bad experience has caused this fear of things above his head, he has to be gradually counter-conditioned utilizing positive reinforcement. An object such as a flag on a stick is incrementally introduced, but never so fast as to exceed his flight threshhold. In each progressive step, he is rewarded when he tolerates the incremental heightening of the flag. When it becomes a good deal for him to have flags waved about above his head, and he is carefully and incrementally habituated to cinches and saddles on his back without exceeding his flight threshhold, he is within sight of being mounted. Looks like he is a month or two away with regular daily work that enriches his life while he is taught that nothing you do will threaten or hurt him.

Question: Is aggressive behavior on the trail towards other horses innate or changeable ? I have a 1/2 Mustang gelding who exhibits dominance in both pasture and trail environments. Is there anything I can do to modify this behavior?Thanks.

This behaviour is easy to modify when riding the horse if the rider is an accomplished horse person with impeccable timing and a keen feel, one who understands equine learning science. When your mustang exhibits aggression, he has to be disengaged immediately, which is turned to the side; put in a position which makes forward impulsion difficult for the horse by disengaging the hind legs. First, the horse has to be taught to disengage, first in hand on the ground, then seated atop.

Set your self up to succeed by avoiding the situations that you have previously allowed him to be aggressive. Ride at the back of line, please, until he is taught it is better to please you than chase others. Each time he makes an aggressive move, he is tightly turned with a direct rein until his hind end is disengaged. Correct him in both directions. One, then the other. Mix it up. Not harshly, or painfully, please. You have to release the pressure, as he soon as he disengages, of course. No hanging on the reins, please. No harsh bits, por favor. If your timing is perfect, he will soon learn that it is easier to remain passive than aggressive. Horses always take the path of least resistance, you know. Hold the oats, no grain for horses except those in race training or a similar athletic endeavor, please. An accomplished horse professional will rectify this rather easily if you cannot manage to alter the behavior. Where we have more trouble managing aggression, is when we are not riding the horse. When we are riding the horse, we can directly use learning science to effectively change this behavior first hand. Timing is essential, and timing is what most horsemen lack. Horses teach horsefolk timing, and it takes some time, folks. 
Get rhythm.
Horsemanship is all about moving with the horse, and never against her.

Question: I have a 22 yo Arab gelding, pretty spooky and not ridden but when i ask him to do something, he will do the baby jaw thing. Not sure what you call it. He throws his head up or around his body and rolls his eyes and starts making his jaw go up and down but not closing his jaw. Its what babies do. Why is this old man acting like a baby?

Senescence perhaps, no?
 Dementia some might say. 
Not that unusual altogether, and not problematic, it seems to this equine behavior teacher.
This lip smacking behavior signals neutrality and appeasement to others.
As animals and humans age, they yearn for youth, you know, sometimes trying to reinvent it.
Maybe he just knows how to stay limber at his age.
Let’s consider it okay and normal for his age, no problema, yet. Let him do it, please.
Sid Gustafson DVM

Question: I have recently become an owner of a lovely cob gelding. Before he came to me I saw him being groomed and easily picking his (very big) feet up to be picked out. Since then he will not give up his feet to me at all. He stamps and moves forward, or with his hind legs he just kicks out. What am I doing to offend him ?
You have not yet adequately pair bonded with him. An hour or two of grooming and hand-grazing each day before attempting the feet, please. There are universal cues to ask a horse to pick up his feet. For the front leg the chestnut on the inside of the forearm is gently pressed. Many horses are taught by horsemen to give the leg to this cue, like the thousands of thoroughbred racehorses I taught during their pre-race exams in New York, Washington, Montana, and California. To ask for the hind leg, we touch the point of the hock. This is after we have thoroughly familiarized ourselves with each horse we handle. The amateur way to ask for a hoof is to go straight to the fetlock. This can aggravate a Cob. Start with the nose, work your way up the head and around the ears, down the neck, shoulder, back, hips, tail. You are getting close to establishing a relationship that allows a hoof to be picked. Work your way down those legs, carefully, slowly, with finesse and feel.
You are not asking for the feet like the other people were, it seems. You have to make picking the feet a good deal for the boy, my goodness. Your horse needs to know more about you. This takes time and efforts on your part to enrich and fulfill his life. I am not sure what you did to offend him, but it was surely something, probably not getting to know him well enough before asking him to do a bunch of stuff. Horses forgive, so you have to earn each hoof. Get brushing. Hand walking and green grass grazing work wonders for a human/horse relationship. Horses are happy to please folk who know how to please horses. You have to please him more than you have, that’s all.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266

Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

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