Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good news, bad news

Yesterday I was reminded of the fact that we can never fully let our guard down with young horses, and that no matter how well we think we know our horse, they can always surprise us for better or for worse.  We started the day off early with a group lesson which went very well after the first 15 minutes (this is the time it takes for me to relax and for her to focus), then afterwards I gave her a good brushing out (she worked up some nice sweat during the lesson) and finally I walked her with my friend Belén and her gelding Cancun to a nearby field to let them graze and run free until lunchtime.

I was really pleased with how the day had gone and even got a few compliments on how well she behaved from some of the other ladies in the class.  I specifically remember that at one point when I was talking to them I said that the really nice thing about having trained your horse yourself is that I more or less always know what to expect and that "there's really not a whole lot she can do to surprise me at this point".  If only I had kept my damn mouth shut...

After lunch my friend Virginia and I were doing some poo picking and she decided to leave a bundle of freshly cut green hay in front of Starbuck's stall since it's shadier there.  As she squatted down to leave the hay, Starbuck stuck her head out inquisitively and Virginia decided to blow a raspberry on her nose.  The first time, Starbuck just kind of startled back and then craned her neck down to look again.  So Virginia blew another raspberry, but this time Starbuck lunged toward her with teeth barred and ears back, hitting my friend smack in the face and knocking her backwards.

I was shocked!

So shocked in fact that for a few seconds I was completely paralyzed and couldn't even give Starbuck a good smack to make it clear that biting people IS NOT OK.  After I made sure that she hadn't bitten Virginia's face off, I shooed her out of her stall and let her know that I was not happy with her actions.  I was completely at a lack for what to do, I know that after a few seconds punishment doesn't make any sense but I didn't want her to get the idea that this is something she can EVER EVER EVER repeat.  Virginia's gum was split open by the impact and it bled a little and she has a bump on her forehead too, I feel absolutely terrible about it and keep asking myself how I could have prevented it, or what I would have done if it had been a child or someone I didn't know.

I think this was definitely a dominance play of "I don't like that, get out of my face", and I've noticed her acting more dominant with other horses too.  So apart from getting her really sacked out all over her face, I'll be keeping a close eye on her and as soon as she starts getting even the slightest bit pushy or tetchy with any humans at all I'm gonna be on her like white on rice (that phrase isn't racist.  I checked).  For instance today I was feeling up her little udders which I know for a fact she doesn't like and she just lifted up her leg as in "keep doing that and I'm gonna kick out" which I'm usually patient with as long as she doesn't actually kick, but today she got a slap on the hip and a sharp word.  I'm also conniving with Marina the barn owner to stick her in a paddock one of these days with the most dominant horses at the stable, so she recognizes that her real place in the pecking order is NOT as the boss of everyone but me.

Anyhow in the end I think it's nothing to obsess over as long as I make sure it doesn't happen again, but it is an effective warning that my sweet little filly isn't as sweet as I always think she is and that she can turn nasty in a heartbeat.  And that the only thing I should expect from her is to be constantly surprised.

Do you have any biting stories or advice to share?

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