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Horse Regressing After Bonder

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Marv,

I purchased a 4 year old Arabian mare, green broke, in April. She had been started beautifully and would move flawlessly at liberty in an arena with her trainer. I was especially impressed with her reaction to fear. Instead of fleeing, she would just spread her feet square and drop down a few inches. It was great, especially under saddle. I've ridden her some, but she is very hot and quite barn sour, so the last couple of months, I've mostly been working on ground work and lunging since I didn't have a round pen until recently. I've felt it was wise to gain more control through these means before putting myself in danger on her back.

Wise choice.

I personally feel that dropping and squaring is but one split second away from fleeing. I actually feel it is more dangerous than fleeing because it often lulls the rider into a "Whew! I think it's over!" state and momentarily causes a drop in the guard.

I would expect her to move freely at liberty in an arena with her trainer. The trainer's experience would play a huge part in this.

Generally speaking, many Arabs have a lot of body tension. Some have so much body tension that their whole body quivers and trembles when touched. This tension creates more tension and it continually bleeds off in a manner that creates the "crazy Arab!" persona held by many horse folk.

This also quite often causes them to "react first, assess later." There is so much tension it pushes them to react before they would normally be expected to.

I don't know if this is a factor with your horse or not. I'm merely saying this could be a part of what is going on with your horse.

The problem I'm having with her concerns trust. When I got her, she was a big puppy dog and followed me everywhere. She's the only horse I have now and there are no others within several miles of us. She's in a 3 acre pasture 24/7 and seemed to be very glad to see me when I would appear in her pasture. She always galloped to me immediately from any distance. About a month ago, she quit coming so eagerly. She would still come, but it was more of a "Oh well, I have nothing better to do" attitude and she would mosey on over after awhile. Then, it went to "If you want me, come and get me". She would come up to me after I got within 20 feet or so but not till then. I was excited to find your "bonder" online, and used it right away on her. It took close to an hour before she began to show me the mouth movement and lowering of head and when I let her stop, she did come to me and follow a few steps, however, once she was released from the round pen, she ran to the opposite end of the pasture again.

I'm a little fuzzy here. From what you write I'm assuming this was pre-bonder behavior and the bonder was performed after she began exhibiting this attitude.

So yesterday, I did it again. This time, she showed the "submission attitude" fairly quickly, and followed me well around the pen so I started working with her, again in the round pen, without restraints. When she would move away from me, I would drive her away until she again showed submission and then repeat the action I had been doing with her. I would keep this up till she would stand quietly for whatever I was doing. Today she wouldn't come to me again till I went to her. I took her to the round pen and groomed for a bit, which she stood quietly for, but when I started to work on lowering her head with pressure to the poll (which she knows thoroughly) she would move away from me. So I immediately chased her away and kept it up (seemed like forever) before she showed submission. When I quit and walked across in front of her, instead of following me, she ran from me and showed fear. I sent her off again and she showed submission within a minute or two, but again ran from me. It was quite some time before she let me get close enough to get a lead rope on her. When I did, I picked her feet and just moved around her calmly for a short while and then released her from the round pen at which time, she again ran to the far end of the pasture as quickly as she could.

What do you think I'm doing wrong? I feel like I've utterly failed and stand a good chance of ruining a wonderful friendship with this horse.

I'm not sure that you're doing anything "wrong." With herd dynamics you are only wrong when you don't gain anything from your experiences. In this case you learned that there are some things that need a little adapting so that they can produce the results you are after.

Once she becomes compliant that shows that she has the program. One of the beauties of herd dynamics is the horse ALWAYS has the right to change its mind or test. This is one way the horse communicates ("I'm not sure I want, or am able to go through with this.). It is up to you as leader to acknowledge this communication and act accordingly (Okay, let's take a moment hers to refresh our positions (Go that way a couple rounds. Now go that way a couple rounds. Stop. Now, do you want to try again?).

You will be stunned at much your confidence and relationship improves when you realize that at any time the connection appears to be slipping or even broken, you can re-establish it.

At one point you said when you "released her from the round pen at which time, she again ran to the far end of the pasture as quickly as she could." Since with horses so much of it is mental and literal, exactly what does release mean? If she is released isn't she free to do as she chooses? In order to get horses to more easily do what you want you need to present very clear images of what you want. If you wanted her to casually walk away or whatever, you need to know what you want and if you don't get it you need to think of the enclosure as a larger round pen and duplicate the leadership actions you used in the round pen.

Horses are herd animals who instinctively understand and demand herd dynamics. Herd dynamics is what gives horses a sense of place and builds confidence. Horses who have a sense of place are not barn sour. They are content wherever they are as long as there is an obvious leader.

I think she is telling you that while you walk the talk there is some little part of you telling her you are unsure. You just need a little more practice to convince yourself that you are indeed capable of being a leader. Once you are convinced, she will be.

If I remember correctly you have some of my videos. Go through them again and I'm sure you'll see the very situation you write about in there somewhere.

I received this update...

Thanks Marv, for your thoughful answer to my question.

Yesterday, I took her to the round pen, but just spent the time grooming, tacking, etc. She began to calm down around me after a short time of this. I didn't do any more bonding exersizes. Today, again, I didn't do any exercises, but when I was next to her, she was again, very calm and didn't try to move away from me even with cinching the saddle which has always been a problem before.

She continued to be so calm, that I decided to ride for a short while to see how deep this new attitude was. I kept your advice of exhibiting confidence in the forefront of my mind and she did amazingly well. She stayed in a good forward moving walk with no hassles and when she would start to speed up to a trot, a quiet "easy" would slow her right back down. The reins were almost superfluous. I left the pasture then with her and rode toward the river and as usual, she became extremely tense as we left the comfort of her own area.

Again, I concentrated on staying totally calm and confident, not tensing up myself, and keeping my breathing slow and steady. When she would become overly agitated with rapid breathing and tensing to flee, I would stop her and make her stand still until she noticeably relaxed, at which time we would move forward until she would tense again. As the ride progressed, it took less and less of these stops and a much shorter time for her to calm. Finally, I turned her towards home, and instead of constantly fighting me for her head, she walked calmly all the way. What a difference!

Thank you so much!

The main reason for two day events is so that folks can see the easy rapid results they get from connection work carries over.

A secondary, extremely close in importance reason, is that if we have a horse that just doesn't seem to get it and shows no apparent improvement or on rare occasions appears to be worse (Or regresses, sound familar?) there is almost always a remarkable improvement the next time. It is almost like someone or something got into the horse's head and laid out the program.

What has occurred here is an improvement in communication on a level most horse human relationships do not experience. I was not there but I can assure you it was the ultimate in give and take interaction.

Click here to check out my very reasonably priced DVD inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.

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