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New and unusual behavior for my mare.

Hi, I have a 16 hand Appendix mare (approx 14 yrs old) who came to me through a friend. This friend had her when she was born, raised and trained her thoroughly. She spent most of her training focused solely on dressage and spent many, many hours doing so. When she came to me I was informed that she is very "mareish" and to avoid her on "mare" days and is sore in the shoulders. Well, I have been riding her now since September 2004 and LOVE HER!! She is the greatest, sweetest horse anyone would ever know and is very considerate. We ride well together and I barely need the reins at all with her.

However, last week I rode her (I am in Delaware and it has been very cold) and before riding I sometimes lunge, not always and this time I didn't. Well, let's say she did not want to work. She purposely tried to get me off by bucking, kicking and charging the wall in the arena. I waited until she settled a little and then jumped off. I did get back on and I was very cautious. She rode horribly the rest of the hour and was completely out of sorts. She swished her tail the entire time I was on her. I made sure I was light on the mouth, balanced in the seat and went through all of the checklists to make sure I was not doing anything to make her uncomfortable but she was still very agitated.

I am wondering if there is something I can do to ensure her comfort. I am told that the previous owner and her had an experience where she pushed the mare to do something really hard for over 40 minutes until the mare finally got burnt out, reared, fell on the previous owner (who broke her pelvis) and since then has been hard to train anything new.

Thanks in advance for any advice, Tammie

Hi Tammie,

I guess she was really having a Œbad day. When was the last time you had one but was forced to go to work anyway? Actually, unless the behavior continues, I would chalk it up to a bad day. I would also like to suggest that there is more to the ground work than merely warming your horse up.

It is the ground play before you ride where your connection and bond is really formed. Besides warming up the muscles, tendons and joints, ground play should warm up your hearts together, yours and your horses. Perhaps if you had done that before you rode that day you would have sensed something was wrong with the mare and things would not have turned out as they did. If you want to insure her comfort, and I believe you when you say you do, be with her consciously when you do the ground play.

It will be more fun and meaningful to you both and your bond, communication and relationship will continue to grow faster and deeper. Relationships happen first on the ground with horses. Riding them is an unnatural act for them. It is something we have imposed on them and they have agreed, more or less, to allow it to happen.

The previous owner was insensitive to her horse. If someone pushed you the way it sounds she pushed that horse you would have reacted strongly as well. The Golden Rule, as it applies to humans, applies to horses as well and to the horse/human interaction and Œdance. I have rehabilitated older, abused horses, retrained them to trust and therefore willing to partner with humans again. I have yet to find a horse that cannot be retrained through the establishment of trust.

Some of the ways we establish a high level of trust with horses is to always be consistent around them. Also, to always have the horse's sense of safety as our main agenda helps us to be trust worthy to horses. I like to use the analogy of being the "great parent" for the horse is the way to be a great horse person. A great parent is many wonderful things. Among these things are kind and compassionate always towards the child, forgiving, loving, caring and somehow strong in a very quiet way. The ability to say "NO" and make it stick without going to abuse is very important also. These are some of the qualities of the "great parent." Who wouldn't want that kind of leadership in their life?

So you see there is a lot you can to help keep your horse comfortable. Being sensitive to her having a bad day is also one of them. They are entitled to have an off day just like we are. Let me know if she is doing this habitually. That is another matter. But for now, unless there is more to the situation I do not know, cut her some slack, do more conscious ground play and make certain you and she are having fun when you are together. What you and she are doing has to be fun for you both and not a battle of nerve or wits. In order to play games the players need to be really connected otherwise its not much of a fun game. Also its nice to remember to always end any time with a horse on a positive note. To do this, before you put the mare away, no matter what has occurred, ask the horse to do something very simple, on the ground like leading, turning, backing and stopping. The requests should be soft and light and so should the horses response. When the horse tries to do this, she gets praise and then put away. She will be glad to see you again the next day (I promise).

Let me know how it goes and your thoughts. I am beginning an on-line coaching service called Virtual Horsemanship/Developing a Sensitive Touch. I can really more much more helpful over a bit of time than in a single email. It seems folks are interested in this effective and highly sensitive way of being with and training horses. Please check my website in about two weeks if you are interest in going deeper with this training philosophy and paradigm. Or, let me know and I shall email you when it is up and running. Thanks again for your question. I hope this has been helpful.

Sincerely, Franklin

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