Monday, June 12, 2017

An Unplanned Test for Tex

Tex has been moving back and forth between being brave and not-so-much.  Honestly, I was getting a bit frustrated, annoyed, perplexed, tired.  I couldn't decide if Tex was stepping back and choosing not to engage because of fear or chutzpah.

So, I called Robin.  One of the cool things about my clinic with Robin is that I can still access her wisdom post-clinic.  She is continues to be my trainer, although my lessons are now conducted via telephone.  I asked her why Tex is blowing me off more -- because he doesn't seem scared and he isn't rude; he just chooses to step out of reach when I approach.  I thought he was playing alpha games with me.  But, its more complicated than that.

Robin reminded me that Tex's behavior of avoidance has served him well for many years.  It has protected him from contact with people -- who have not historically been a good thing for him.  He is learning that we are different; that I bring him good things and that I'm fair.  But, the neurons in his brain need to be re-wired.  Its happening, but its a slow process and there will be times when the old wiring will speak louder to him than the new.  My job is to be consistent and to keep the parameters constant -- good things only come with engagement.

Last week, most of our interactions went like this:  I walk past the pasture.  I have cookies in my pocket (in case).  He sees me and turns to face me.  I go to the fence and call him.  He walks over, but stops a couple feet away; out of reach.  I invite him closer.  He declines.  I leave.  No cookie.

Yesterday, we had some bizarre weather.  In the middle of June, we had a day full of hail storms and drenching rain.  The wood stove burned all day.  We decided to bring the horses into the barn since the stormy weather was expected to last well into the night.

The girls were standing in their run-in shed; basically dry.

Tex and Flash were initially running around their pasture as the hail pelted them, but then they took refuge under an oak where they were shielded from the brunt of the fury.  Jackson was in his round-pen.

Brett and I stood under the barn eaves, waiting for the hail to turn to rain.  When that happened, we went to the boys pasture.  I wasn't at all sure that I'd be able to catch Tex -- between the weather putting him on edge and the past week's un-interest, I figured he would be spending the night under the tree and not in his dry stall with a sheltered run-out.

Brett and Flash left the pasture, closing the gate behind them.  Tex stood near me, watching them go.  I approached him.  He stepped back.  I turned and walked toward the gate.  I heard hoof beats splashing through the mud behind me.  I stopped and turned.  He touched his nose to my hand and I stepped toward him; he backed up.  I walked away -- faster this time.  I felt his nose at my shoulder, walking with me.  Again I stopped and turned.  He stood like a rock while I slipped on the halter and led him to the barn.  Brett had filled the grain bin in his stall with alfalfa cubes so got a nice reward when I slipped off his halter in the stall.

And, I ran inside and called Robin to tell her the good news.  Its a long journey with Tex, but we are making good, solid, lasting progress.

7 comments:

  1. I think that this consistency will, and is, paying off.

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  2. Well, he came through in a pinch! Good for Tex! I'm wondering about the other part though. I started bringing treats out with me, too. My horses haven't been much interested either. In their case, I chalked it up to not being hungry enough. The grass is tall and rich right now, and just a couple hours morning and night is satisfying them completely. Could that be the same with Tex?

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    1. That is part of it for sure; and in Tex's case he is also reluctant to leave Flash. If you remember, I initially put him in the arena without a buddy and without grass so anything I brought/offered was a much better option than staying alone and bored. Now, I am competing primarily against Flash. The grass in the pasture is nibbled to the nub and I can take him to patches of thick green grass and clover. With Lucy, I can motivate her by scratching her favorite spots. Every horse is different. What you offer has to be better -- so that choosing you means they are choosing the best option for them.

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  3. Interesting dynamics. Well done! That is great you can still access Robin to help with bumps in process.

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  4. Sometimes we need to meet them halfway, or partway. I choose to reward the slightest change and the smallest try. Tex faces you and comes towards you. He shouldn't always have to give you 100% to be recognized. Just my 2 cents...

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  5. Tex is always rewarded for trying but if he steps backwards, and I follow him, he steps further back or turns and leaves. I don't want to encourage that response. If I walk away, he has to think about coming to me or following -- not about leaving. If he follows me, I always stop and let him try again. And, I tell him what a brave boy he is the whole time he is trying to come forward. Its not about giving 100%; its about him choosing to engage. He always has the choice -- engage or leave. I want him to choose to stay and engage. If he chooses to stay, but can only give a tiny bit, that is fine; in fact, for him that's huge. And he is rewarded.

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  6. An American in TokyoJune 13, 2017 at 5:33 PM

    Sounds wonderful!! Stay on the path, Tex!!

    I have discovered that I think our people-hating club horse is extremely shut down, and the way some of the staff approach him is not helping!! I think they are going to try a sort of aggressive approach with him, but I really wish they would give me an opportunity to "talk" with him. I bring him carrots every week and I want him to learn that all people are not bad, but it's difficult. He won't even look at me, his eyes are very distant. I feel so sad for him. I keep hoping the best for him, like I do with Tex whenever I read your blog!

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Thanks so much for commenting! I love the conversation.