Fig’s shoulder

I was training Fig today, still working on her calmly walking TOWARD the pasture. She is interesting in that she is eager to come out and train, waits at the fence for “her turn”, and calmly lowers her head into her halter when I go in to get her. Once out of the pasture she walks slowly and calmly away from her paddock, but she is often inverted and slightly high headed. In the barn she is a bit antsy and eager to work for her treats, but does a good job in the cross ties and is improving each time with standing still with her head low. BUT… on her way back toward the paddock, whether she is 70 feet away from the gate or 2 feet away from the gate, she gets very tense and walks out ahead of you. If you put pressure on her face she pushes into the pressure, throws her shoulder in at you and barrels around until she is facing AWAY from the pasture. Once there she is calm, you can back her up, lower her head, walk her all the way back to the barn if you like with her complete compliance. Interesting…

Not that it matters a lot, but my guess is since she was seldom taken out of her pasture and not really in relationship to any human in her previous life; I imagine when she was taken out  she was eager to get back to her herd. Since she was more excited and anxious on the way back, and most people choose to jerk/yank when horses move just past the line of their body, I think she learned to “power through” the correction. That’s my best guess. And she just seems worried, a little angry, like she is expecting a fight. I don’t want any of my horses expecting a fight. That’s not safe for anybody.

Today I let her circle, let her steamroll her shoulder like a buzz-saw – but I kept my own elbow pressed into her shoulder, lightly, as a guide, until she opened up some space between us. I didn’t trap her with the halter, I didn’t push back and I didn’t escalate my behavior in any way. When she opened up some space, I clicked and treated her even farther away from me, to reinforce that position. I also fed her while still moving as it appears the stop right now is a punisher, even with the carrot reward. After two or three tries, she started to open up lots of space and, FASCINATINGLY, her head came down. Suddenly, she was able to walk next to me, but out a few feet to my side, head low and truly relaxed. We were able to walk toward the paddock on a loose  lead, unemotionally. Hmm… so I have a chicken or egg question, I suppose. Was  her yielding her shoulder to me something that reflexively caused her to relax? Or the fact that I took any pressure/escalation out of the situation and let her be at a distance as well?

The natural horsemanship camp would have said  space and yielding space is what matters. They also might have said: “That horse is disrespectful”  or “That horse CAN’T be allowed to do that” or “That horse is telling you what she thinks of you”. Believe me, I know the standard fix for this sort of thing and I am in no way willing to use that amount of force to stop a horse’s shoulder. And I also know you can get a horse’s body to yield without  ever touching their mind or their heart. A good trainer yields all three.

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