Thursday, March 18, 2021

Relationship classes

The silver lining of Yoshi's lameness is that we definitely need some help and time building our relationship on the ground. Under saddle he is an extremely uncomplicated, straight forward horse. Ask and you shall receive. This was our second ride together, going over a small course over jumps he had not seen before. 

When I brought him home he was dancey-prancey in the crossties and while getting tacked up. Once on? All business. Steering was just fine, and he was walking, trotting, and cantering when asked. My friend rode him during the week I was out of town right after getting him on trial - she said the first day she didn't ride him because he worried her with his antics in the crossties. The second day she got on him and said he felt like a much more trained horse than she had anticipated. 

He works hard to understand new concepts - when we introduced leg yielding in my dressage lesson we started down the centerline and asked for a leg yield. Leading outside rein, soft inside rein just to maintain bend, and then inside leg. Faster walk. I half halted and applied inside leg. Faster again. Half halt again and then a "bump bump bump" with the inside leg and lo and behold we moved sideways. The next centerline he moved sideways with the first application of inside leg. 

On the ground? Well, I'm not quite sure. He started out basically not letting me groom basically behind his shoulder. He would pin his ears, swing his head, and dance. I attributed a lot of it to half of him being raw skin from getting bit by his pasture mate. Unfortunately even with new pasture buddies and now multiple changes in them, this seems to be his perpetual state of being. Having watched him antagonize other, more dominant horses, I am unsurprised. I switched to using only the tiger's tongue grooming block (brush? scrub?) on him instead of even a jelly curry. This seemed to be mostly okay. We even had one day where he actually started to relax and enjoy getting groomed. His lower lip went floppy and his eyes were half closed. Since then we have ups and downs. Right after starting 24/7 turnout, he seemed genuinely happy to get groomed all over. Since then he has gone back to occasionally swinging his head at me and picking up hind legs. Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe that was because the first day I came back into town he hadn't been groomed in a week. Might've been kind of itchy and therefore more tolerant than usual. 

I don't want to force things on him that make him physically uncomfortable. But at the same time, expressing feelings by swinging your head with your mouth open is not acceptable in my book. I've been trying to strike a fine balance - I listen and watch basically the whole time I'm grooming. If he starts to look uncomfortable, I switch from the brush to just gentle stroking with my hand. Trying to establish that he has to allow touching everywhere, but it doesn't have to be uncomfortable. However, trying to keep an eye on him while grooming all the parts of him is more challenging than it sounds. And it turns grooming into a fully focused activity. I can't chat with anyone while I'm grooming him or I stop paying close enough attention to his signs and end up with a horse who looks like he'd like to take a chunk out of me. 

I clicker trained my mare before him starting with target training. She thought the game was fantastic and quickly figured it out, including the keep your head to yourself part. Yoshi thinks the game is fantastic and also thinks that mauling my hands and the treat bag are part of it. I started both of them in the same way - target near the face, when the nose bumps click and then treat with head straight forward. Yoshi gets the target part, but then the head straight forward is really challenging. I am obviously the main problem here, my timing is not good enough to click and also give the treat to him only when he is straight forward and relaxed. My mare made the whole thing much easier, but she had a much sweeter disposition. The difference either coming from their different backgrounds or natural dispositions, which is unclear at this point. So I've taken a step back now and started trying to JUST reward the relaxed behavior, target removed all together. He is only vaguely interested in engaging with me when it is challenging for him to figure out the question he is being asked. I'm hoping more engagement will come as we get to know each other and as he learns what is being asked. 

His pasture backs up to the barn, and as far as I can tell, he spends the whole time he is out by himself during the day (he gets friends at night) bothering the horses through the backs of their stalls. He started out with his head in the stall of another young TB who mostly loved to chat with him, but he has now moved on to the older gelding who belongs to the barn owner and has zero desire to constantly have company in his stall, even if it is just a head and neck. They squeal and charge at each other over the door. Yoshi has actually started pulling his head out of the stall to stare at me as I walk up though, the first sign of interest that he's shown. It does help that right now basically everything, other than grooming, that we do together right now is definitely positive and fun. Hand walk to good grass? Excellent. Clicker train while in the round pen? Still excellent, there's usually grass to pick at and hay scraps in there even if the clicker training isn't super fun. Get put back in field? Excellent, here comes lunch of soaked alfalfa cubes. 

I'm sure we will get to the easy-going positive relationship at some point, it is just interesting and confusing to me how he is a whole different horse on the ground. Even after establishing leg yields under saddle, a request to step his butt over on the ground was met with ears pinned and tail swishing. Strange stuff. I'm curious to look back on this post in a few months and hopefully see big changes to things! 


  1. oh my goodness he is CUTE! good luck with the whole relationship/trust building stuff too -- it can be such a long road. my horse had a lengthy racing career as well and came home to me with some unexpectedly defensive reactivity on the ground. it took a few surprise broken crossties and halters for me to understand what sort of movements triggered his responses, and ground work was super important for us too in figuring out how to communicate from our own respective 'safety bubbles.' never really had to go through that same process with a horse before, but it was fascinating and so so worth it!

    1. That is really interesting/good to hear, from what I've read you guys seem to have a very solid relationship now, so it gives me hope that it will come for us too! Also thank you, he is super adorable when he's sound.

  2. He seems like a sensible dude and I can see why you chose him :)

    1. He really is, he's mature beyond his 7 years! I'm hoping he will at some point also be sound though :/