Working with a Suspicious Mare – When Food isn’t a Motivator

In February, 2018, I started working with an 11 year old mare named Corazona.  Prior to this point she had been a brood mare.  However, this year she is not pregnant.  Seeing as she is a very nice horse, athletic and sensitive, we decided, although we have a bit of a late start, perhaps we can start her under saddle.

February 22 notes.

Although she’s been exposed to clicker training for some husbandry stuff she isn’t what I’d call ‘keen’ to the idea.   When I work with clicker training, I like the horse to really ‘get’ it.  You can tell that the light bulb is really on when you click and they stop everything.  Shaping behaviors with a horse like that is so easy.   For Corazona, her worry cup is a little too full to be able to just relax and enjoy training.  So, this is going to be an interesting challenge.

She is very friendly and approachable — unless you have a halter in your hand.  Then she just leaves.  I suspect that for much of her life, humans arriving with halters have resulted in unpleasant experiences.  Can you say, “poisoned cue”? So once I do get a halter on her she won’t even take food, much less be open to new training ideas.  I do encounter horses from time to time who are more motivated by scritchies than food.  That’s cool, everyone is different.  But this gal doesn’t indicate much interest in scritchies either.

So, these last few weeks have been a process of getting to know her by experimenting with different ideas.  Meanwhile, as so often happens, the Universe arranged for the arrival of a Teacher.  In this case the teacher is Warwick Schiller.  I’ve enjoyed watching the many videos in Warwick’s library. (It is a subscription based library but definitely worth the $29 for a month of access).  I’ve especially come to respect the journey he’s on and how his approach to horses, especially uptight horses, has evolved.

For Corazona, I want her to learn, 1) good things happen when I show up and 2) how to calm herself down when worrisome things happen.  It is a fact of life that worrisome things happen.  Even for us humans, the trick isn’t to avoid difficult situations, it is about how we choose to handle them which determines if we live with constant angst or let the angst go.  For the first, I decided to put some time into connecting the halter with good things.  First, I take the time it takes to get her to agree to being haltered.  That might take a few minutes.  Then, I just carry on with feeding breakfast or dinner as the case may be.

A week ago, I discovered that while any old scritching was ‘ho hum’ when I got my fingers right up between her teats, well, that was a different story.  She learned I had something to offer after all.  The best part was yesterday she tentatively offered to scratch me back.   It felt like a step toward greater trust.  So, I was happy to see it.

As for the second thing, I’ve been thinking a lot about Warwick’s process of watching and waiting for the horse to process and let go of her worry.  (Which is reminding me very much of Jim Masterson’s work – I do love seeing great ideas overlapping!)  Warwick will say, if the lips are twitching, just wait.  There is  nothing more to do because the processes of letting go is underway.  We have to not interfere with that.  Her reactivity makes her very ‘light’ to aids (still working on the ground!) but any sudden or unexpected move can put her over the top.  So, when worry goes up, I get her attention and go then go very still while we focus on her letting that worry go.  I love seeing that work.  And she’s definitely getting more relaxed overall.

This is only the beginning of our journey together down this path.  I’m excited to see where it takes us.  I will continue to post updates on Corazona’s progress.

 

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