Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Is Outside The Fence Different Than Inside The Fence?

In thinking about it, it wasn't really accurate for me to say in my last post that Rogo wants to be with me all the time. He pretty much wants to hang out with me when he's in an enclosed area - stall, riding ring, pasture - but last summer he ran from me when I was leading him on the beach with a halter and lead line. He also, after being very good to load and unload since I got him, decided last summer to race off the trailer and he ran from me once when he did this and almost went on the road in front of a truck. So, the point is, that just when I need him to be most obedient, for the sake of his safety, his obedience goes out the window.
I've taken lessons at least weekly and sometimes more since I went back to riding and they included lots of ground work and learning to train a young horse. I read extensively - reference books, magazines and blogs. I subscribe to and watch on-line training videos. I work with Rogo at least four times a week and often five or six times. I started leading him and doing ground work as soon as I got him as a two year old, before he was backed, and he was very well behaved. As a two year old I'd lead him for walks in the woods and he never tried to run away. Joan taught me leading forward, turning, halting, where he should be in relation to me, etc. and he did it all, frequently and well. We did nothing but ground work for over a year and he was as good as gold - not one issue or incident!
I think the root of the problem is what happened when I started lunging him the fall he was three and a half. He didn't want to be lunged, especially faster than a walk, so he'd pull the lunge line out of my hands and run to the barn. I had to close the barn doors, block off his escape, and elicit Doug's help to hold him. Unfortunately he'd learned that running from me was an option, and since he really didn't understand a bit at this point (he'd worn a bridle, but not been ridden or long lined) I didn't want to put a bit in his mouth to hold him. I used a lunging cavesson. I tried a hackamore, but that didn't work (he'd pull through it even to the extent of rubbing the skin on his nose), so I continued with the cavesson. For some reason being lunged made him nervous and want to take flight. He'd literally pass manure five times in ten minutes (I timed it), so I know he was upset, although I have no idea why.
Next I tried round penning him without the lunge line on when he ran from me (I was at an indoor for the winter by this point), i.e. running from me = hard work.
I could go on describing things, but you get the point. I realized that Rogo had been perfect in his manners and responses for more than a year because I'd never asked him to do anything he didn't want to do, outside his comfort zone, in all that time. He wanted to walk with me in the woods, walk and trot beside me in the riding ring, etc, so he did. I thought I was training him, but he thought we were hanging out together having fun (not mutually exclusive of course). When it came time to do something he didn't want to do, be lunged, he ran from me insistently.
We overcame it, but to this day I wouldn't consider lunging him in a strange place without the lunge line attached to his bit in some way. We've gone months without him running from me on the lunge, only to have him do it again in a new situation. When Cheryl started lunging him he did it to her, after being over it for a long time (I'd thought it was fixed at that point), and this brought it all back again.
So, he has in his head he can run from me if he wants, and he wants when he gets outside an enclosure. I wonder if he could do it under saddle as well. Cheryl insisted I let him hop out of the riding ring and gallop up a grassy slope when he first went outside at her place a year ago. I can't remember exactly why, except that she'd yell "let him go, let him go". It had something to do with making him enjoy cantering? Even though it scared me and seemed like a bad idea, I went along with it, but now I'm wishing I hadn't. It may come back to haunt me, given his propensity for taking off, but I digress.
Back to the problem at hand - what stymies me is how do you safely work on getting him obedient outside of an enclosure? All the ground work in the world inside an enclosure isn't going to make a difference. As I mentioned I did it consistently for over a year, without a problem and he still acts completely different outside an enclosure. He's so good when fenced that he'll 'lead' without a lead line (at liberty) and has since I first worked with him. He'll follow me in zig zags, away from the barn, away from other horse, halt with me, stand while I go do other things, etc.
Currently (since he ran from me when unloading last summer and almost went on the road in front of the truck), for the sake of his safety, I use a lead line with a chain when loading and unloading him outside the fence and I put the chain in his mouth. I know this is very frowned upon, but I'd rather hurt his mouth than have him run over or kill someone. He is completely respectful with the chain in his mouth and behaves well. I don't have to use it. I've never even used a chain over the nose on a horse before him, so this is new to me.
If anyone has any thoughts/advice on how to safely work on leading outside a fenced area I'd really appreciate them. As I mentioned, he's as different as night and day inside and outside a fence, so work inside a fenced area doesn't do it, and once we're outside safety is an issue. Also, I should mention, although his behavior is dangerous he's never tried to hurt anyone (strike, kick, bite, buck, rear, etc.). His bad behavior involves avoidance - running.

12 comments:

Barbara said...

I have had three horses in a row that were apparently allowed to be bullies on a lead line and I was not happy when I got them. I put a stud chain on, carried a whip and worked A LOT at manners being led etc. I corrected for any tiny mistake and praised and petted for good behavior. I made them walk in exactly the place I wanted them, stop immediately when I did, keep their attention on me and not on sightseeing and stand still as long as I wanted while I talked to people, admired the trees, tied my boot etc etc. Nina learned fairly quickly and lost the stud chain in about a month. It was new to Scotty, he took about a month also. Shorty had gotten away with it for a while and it was 6 months before he gave up all his tricks. Also they all need a little tune up every once in a while, make the time to do it. I had a trainer tell me many many many years ago that most bad behavior (including lunging in a strange place and loading on a trailer) boil down to the fact that the horse is NOT BROKE TO LEAD. The fact that a horse will follow you happily 90% of the time proves only that he is a herd animal. If he will follow you off a cliff - he is broke to lead. I take this seriously and my horses are safe to handle anywhere - after doing all the grunt work, of course.

Carol said...

Thanks for the prompt response. My other two horses lead so well, and my horses as a youth led well, so this is new to me. Coincidentally, my last horse as a teenager, Trigger, would follow me off a cliff :) I'd lead him over the edge of a cliff (about 30 ft. high) and he'd sit on his rear end and slide down with me so we could ride on the beach and come out on a road miles away. Probably not a great idea, but I was a teen!
I guess what you're saying is to put the chain on, go outside the fence, and work on it. I will!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I don't see anything wrong with using the chain when necessary. If you have to keep him and others around him safe. It is better to have a sore mouth than be dead. I've never really had to use the chain either but it's handy while you're training a young or unruly horse. Most times our horses don't even wear a halter and we just lead them by a the lead around their necks.

I think Rogo has to get more comfortable on the lunge because for some reason he's feels unsafe. I'm not a trainer or great at problem solving but if he learns to not be fearful while lunging then perhaps you could go on to more 'outside the fence' work. If he works through his confidence issues one by one in small steps his confidence will build. With lots of praise and treats and he may be able to earn a little more trust from you. He's still young and needs more experience in the world at large. Just some random thoughts on my part, don't know if it will help or not. Good luck.

Kate said...

It sounds like he starts to worry when he is in a new situation and feels "trapped" and that provokes the flight response. It's partly a trust issue, I think. I'd approach it that way, I think. Try taking tiny steps at a time - don't go for too much at once. I don't really think it's a leading issue - it's a fear/confidence issue. He needs to learn to trust that staying with you is safe.

I'd be inclined to work on things like ground-tying - starting in the arena and then progressing to being able to do it near the barn. Then I'd do a lot - a LOT - of just standing around work near the barn - to the extent that he's falling asleep next to you. And when you start leading work outside of the arena, pay very close attention - only go a little ways and if he shows even the slightest sign of nervousness, immediately turn back - the objective is for you to be directing him before he thinks about taking matters into his own hands (hooves). Only very gradually extend the distance, and only take him very slightly out of his comfort zone before bringing him back. Very much like the ridden exercises for a herd-bound horse.

And work on leading exercises to focus his attention - bridal march, cone work, etc. If he's thinking about what you're directing him to do he won't be thinking about being worried. He sounds like a horse who needs you to be there every moment - if he feels your attention isn't there and you're not directing him, he feels unsafe and has to take matters over from you.

I'd also expect that you're carrying some anxiety into these situations and he can feel it - work on your own breathing and relaxation.

Check out some of the patience, self-calming and leading exercises on my sidebar - I've found them very helpful in the situations you describe. You might also try ground-driving as well - it requires you to give a lot of direction and you can vary what you're doing a lot more than you can on the lunge.

And when you have to lead him somewhere before this is fixed, do use a chain for safety - if you put it over the nose wrap it around the noseband of the halter. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Shannon said...

I agree with what everyone else has said, you've gotten great advice. Rogo has learned that when pushed outside his comfort zone, disobediance is an option. That has to be unlearned for your safety and his. You need to start thinking three steps ahead of him to prevent the behavior before it happens.

A word of warning about chains: they are a tool, but cannot replace respect and manners. I have worked with horses who were very well mannered with the chain on, but knew when it was off and would get up to shenanigans. I have also worked with horses who had learned to run through a chain. Respect doesn't come from the chain, it comes from the hand on the chain. Good luck!

Dom said...

What they said ;)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

It was good to read everyone's suggestions. You said you've tried a lot of things. Did that include flexation exercises in which you pull the horse's head to the sides with a lead rope and release as soon as the horse gives to the pressure? My horses get very frightened in new environments, but usually when they hit the end of the rope, they turn back toward me. I'm not going to say that they haven't ripped the rope right out of my hands and took off, because I had that happen to me just the other day. I also had to spend a lot of time walking Gabbrielle outside the paddock using a whip to cue her to stop beside me. When she was younger, she'd get so excited about being in a new place that she'd forget I was there, so I needed the whip to bring her focus back on me. I'd tap it on her front legs to stop her from pulling. I'm also starting to experiment with the idea of playing games with your horse. If the horse knows the routine of the game, such as touching a target with its nose for a treat, you might have an easier time keeping its attention when in new environments. I don't know which of these ideas would apply to your situation.

smazourek said...

I would also dial way down with the lunging. Have him walk a circle around you, change direction and walk another circle, then quit for the day. If you start out slow and easy you can find the point where he starts to get upset, kiss it, then back off.

I also wonder if he's not as flexible and balanced as you think he is. That could cause a freak out on the line.

Annette said...

Everyone else has posted advice that is really good so I won't repeat it. Don't feel bad about needing the chain. It's a tool. When my Friesian was on rehab from a torn tendon, I had to walk him everyday. Other than his short walks, he was on stall rest. He was an athlete - he wanted to go, and he was huge and strong. I used a chain - over the nose or over the lip - until he learned to control the energy. I didn't love using it but it kept me safe and it kept him from running on that leg.

Carol said...

So much good advice and so kind. Thanks for taking the time to write lengthy advice and encouragement. I was hesitant to post this, because some people are so quick to be critical (not blogger friends!), but I got some great feedback.
One note of interest is that Rogo may be unbalanced on the lunge and thus runs. He isn't now (or not enough to warrant running off), but now that I think of it I think that may have been the anxiety at the beginning. He didn't canter on the lunge for almost a year, but trotting made him nervous. He was soooo awkward and unbalanced when he started to work. He actually fell down with me on him one time when he spooked.
Thanks again!

Jan said...

Carol, You've gotten a lot of really good suggestions on this issue. I hesitate to throw in my tiny two cents worth, but I will. When Buckshot gets a bit nervous at an outside location, I immediately start doing little exercises with him to get his mind back on me. It can be as "simple" as walking five strides straight, then turn to the left, five strides, then halt, then five more strides and a turn to the right. Add a small circle, add a larger circle. This is to get him/ force him in a way to think about these exercises, not what is going on in his mind. It usually calms him down in a few short minutes, but I stay observant in case I need to redirect his mind back to me. Hope it helps. Good luck- you've got some good suggestions to try, and you are doing well at addressing it and asking for some additional guidance!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Carol - I really admire you for putting these issues out there. Everyone deals with them, and we're all in the process of refining our skills :)

SO much really good advice already...
I would like to add one thing that worked well for Val and I. He seemed not respect me or my space at all when I first got him. Ran over me, knocked into me, took off countless times with the lunge line.

Being able to have him back out of my space immediately when I ask him (lots of treat rewards) as well as disengage his hindquarters, seemed to improve the situation.

I agree with Kate about fear / confidence issues - in my case the fear and lack of confidence were mine. I would add respect as well - until Val didn't feel my fear and lack of confidence he wasn't likely to respect me.