Today was my first training session since Dragon was so oppositional/emotional. I gave him a day off knowing: 1) if the sugar was a contributor that it was likely to still be in his system 2) The likelihood of him trialing the same behavior the next day was high 3) There were thunderstorms yesterday as well. He came to greet me in the pasture as usual and put his nose right into his halter, but once I got him in the barn, he was swishing his tail here and there, lifting his back foot (a sure sign of anxiety/conflict) and swiping at me with his mouth – a behavior I have not seen in so long I identified it as new before remembering he used to do it quite often. I ignored the undesirable behaviors while using the expression of them as a barometer to judge his focus and the effectiveness of our lesson. I clicked for good behavior and kept my own energy even. He was calmer by the time I had him saddled and bridled, but there were already three horses in the arena, so I knew I would have to keep him busy.
When I entered the arena, we immediately began the prelude to the “capture the mounting block” game using cones – walking to a specific cone, stopping at the cone, lifting the rein so the horse gives the hips, c/t, then back up from each side. He did well with the behaviors but still swiped at me with his mouth once or twice. We continued until he was quiet and more relaxed, then moved on to the actual “capture the saddle game”.
At the mounting block, his initial attempts were good, but when I dressed the reins or put weight in the stirrup I got a leg cock and tail swish, another residual behavior from 2-3 years ago. I was not silly enough to get on, even though he began to do fabulously with presenting the saddle to me and did not need any adjusting. I continued to work until I could “capture the saddle”, dress my reins and put my full weight in the stirrup with no reaction except calm with a lowered head. C/T. I achieved three beautiful repetitions of this behavior where he said “yes” to me getting on and we ended on that calm, confidence building exercise.
I will be keeping a tally of his behaviors that indicate anxiety for him: head shaking, tail swishing, swiping and raising a hind leg in (soft) threat. I would expect to see the behaviors decrease as the week goes on, and I would like to see a complete return to our previous quality of work within 14 days. I will not longe him until the conflict behaviors have subsided as they are a sure sign he will fall apart on the longe.
I think it’s so telling that you still got some of your conflict behaviors even in a totally different exercise, using different equipment.
Everything about today’s training was different from the previous training session: carrots instead of mints, bridle instead of halter, no whip, no longe line, saddled, “crowded” arena instead of alone.
Even with the day off!
Sounds like things will be very clear in your next couple sessions if, indeed, the sugar was the biggest contributor to Dragon’s change in behavior. I hope so!
You’re doing a great job keeping a cool and calm demeanor around him, and I know it’s been so frustrating to see these old signs of conflict pop back up. But you’re a good trainer, Jen, and have such a passion for both Dragon and these hard challenges.
I know you’ll figure it out 😉