Asad has been here for a week. When he showed up he was a bit dehydrated and exhausted from his trip. For the first few days he drank, licked his salt blocks, ate and slept. His eyes and nose were both drippy so I figured he had shipping fever, which basically means he got sick from stress. In this first week I learn a lot about the horse’s previous living situation.
This stallion epitomizes the reasons why I decided that, if I wanted to help perpetuate Colonial Spanish Barb Mustang etc bloodlines, the best use of my time, facilities and know-how was to train stallions that are at risk of being gelded or slaughtered. A well-trained well-mannered stallion has a much better chance of finding a long -term home than one that is not. I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that while Asad’s previous buyer might have been attracted by his breeding and his looks, they backed out at the last minute because they did not want to deal with a 15 year old stallion that was hard to catch and hard to handle.
Asad will come stand by his feeder when I show up with his hay. But the first few days he shot backwards snorting and rolling his eyes when I dumped it in his feeder. I finally figured out that he backed up when I faced him directly, but wll come up to eat when I stand sideways. I can guess that he was taught to ‘respect’ people by moving away when they turn to face him.
The problem with that is that he is hard to catch. When I walk up to catch him, this rear view has been his usual response to my approach. I wouldn’t have rushed haltering him, but he had tremendous dreadlocks in his mane and forelock.
He had bashed his head right over his right eye at some point on the trip, and it was bruised and swollen. Along with drippy-ness from the shipping fever, the flies were seriously swarming on his eye. The dreads on his head were bouncing off his irritated eye, getting full of goop and making the eye worse.
As I walked up with the bottle of fly-spray, he turned his back, cowered in the corner and shook. So I sprayed some on the side of the stall so he could decide if he wanted to stand in the shade near the fly repellent or not. It soon become his favorite shady spot.
I did not want to do much with him while he was feeling lousy, but I needed to take care of his eye. I finally had to corner him in a stall and slip a rope around his neck. Once the rope was around his neck he was willing to stand, as long as I didn’t move too fast or put my hand on him.
But when I touched him his whole body shuddered. Three reasons for his reaction jumped to mind. One is disposition. This bloodline does tend to be snorty and reactive. One is isolation. When mammals, including people, are isolated for lengthy period of time they can develop somato-sensory-affect disorders which are basically a neuro-hormonal over-reaction to any kind of stimulus. The third reason is nutritional. Horses can be extremely jumpy and reactive if their calcium/phosphorus magnesium ratio is off.
I spent some time scratching his withers until he was wriggling his nose in pleasure before I did anything else. Then I combed out his forelock so he did not have a hardened bat of forelock hair and gunk bashing his eye every time he moved his head. Then I mixed up some anti-inflammatory with some electrolyte powder and put it in his feeder.
I did not bother to mix the powder with feed as he had already made it quite clear that he would eat exactly what he wanted. Making a pellet mush with pro-biotics was kind of ok when he first showed up. But when I added garlic to it to help discourage the flies, he refused to touch the stuff. I figured if he needed it, he would eat it.
Asad won’t touch apples or carrots. But green apple flavored electrolyte, basically salt and magnesium sulfate, with anti-inflammatories is just the thing for now. He is eating enough of it to take down the swelling over his eye and with the added magnesium, his involuntary jumpiness is gone.
His poor opinion of humans remains however. As long as I can corner him in a stall I can get a rope around his neck and then put his head gear on him. I have been using a longeing caveson instead of a halter so I can take him in the round pen and we can practice avoiding the human then stopping and socializing with the human.
If he wants to zip around the round pen, I can admire his movement and encourage him to transition between the trot and canter. We can even change direction with cheers and enthusiasm. When he gets a little tired and confused, I ask him to stop. If he takes off again when I approach, we repeat.
Once he is willing to stand, I tell him he is wonderful, give him a handful of timothy grass pellets and take him in the shade where I can work more of the dreadlocks out of his mane, clean up his eye and find the itchy spots on his withers. I anticipate when he looks like he is getting restless. I step back and send him off around the pen again. We stop for that session when he will walk a few steps and then stand when I say ‘Whoa’ and stay standing while I come up to him.
Asad needs his hoofs trimmed and his teeth checked as well. But if I want to be able to keep up on his care without drama in the future, I first have to establish enough of a relationship with him that he welcomes the human interaction that comes along with the small daily activities of feeding, grooming, and socializing. Horses do assess how credible human beings are so if I want Asad’s good-will I I need to behave in a way that is consistent, congruent and credible.
Grazing and grooming are activities all horses engage in when they are relaxed. So when I give Asad a handful of pellets, I am communicating that there is no reason to be alarmed. When I initiate grooming, I am communicating that I am confident and calm.
For those who are curious, the learning theory that I have found to align most closely with my experience in horse training is scaffolding. You can click here learn more about scaffolding as it applies to horses thru my Light in the Saddle series.