Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Invitation only

All horses (and people) have a need for 'personal space'. I'm sure you don't mind your favourite pals getting up a bit close, but if that creepy guy in the supermarket starts getting in too close, I am sure you start feeling rattled. Grace is just the same.

I am trying really hard to make our work together 'invitation only'. Unfortunately I suck at the finer points of equine body language. So for anything involving Grace's stable I make a point of waiting by the open door for her to come into my space. Then we have a go at the task of the moment. If she retreats to the back of the stable I don't follow her. I either wait for her to come back to the door or invite her to do something I know she understands. Targetting is a firm favourite because she understands that if she presses her nose on the target she gets a reward and she appears to enjoy the activity. Then we might have another go at the more challenging work if all seems well.

When she is tied up then of course she doesn't have the chance to remove herself from the activity, so I try to only do things which I know she understands already.

To be honest this is frustrating. It would be so nice to just march up and do whatever it is that needs to be done. But because Grace has been taught that when she is restrained people have a habit of doing things that alarm, or hurt her, or both I don't have that option. Not unless I want to undo all the trust we have built up so far and possibly get us both injured.

Which leads me to reflect on some human behaviours I have seen recently. And I find myself wondering why is it that people chase a 1,000lb flight or fight animal into the corner of its box where it has no escape so its only defense is to lash out or bite?

We have options when we work with animals; we can work cooperatively and have a willing companion who throws themselves into the relationship/work and who enjoys our company, or we can have an animal that maybe does all we ask, but no more and is resentful every step of the way. Shame that I see so many of the latter and the dumb animals and horses don't know any other way.

Although the patience required is stretching my nerves a bit, Grace's learning progresses so much faster when she has chosen to

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