Beaugart aka ‘Bogie’ is a young arab X NSH that came to Resting Heart Farm last winter. From the start he has been difficult for me to read….hard to catch, head shy, evasive….sometimes anxious, sometimes curious, sometimes over-reactive. He is a rescue and I don’t know alot about his history, but I can see he has some old wounds on his legs, and asymmetric eyes, so there has been some trauma. The question is….does the old trauma create his current state of mind or did his innate way of dealing with life make him more likely to have accidents. Doesn’t really matter, I guess…I have to deal with the horse that is here right now. And where we are right now is, well, complicated. Last summer, I was working pretty successfully with Bogie, or so I thought. I wrote about it here. Over the winter, our partnership started to deteriorate. He became impossible to catch without chasing him into a stall and cornering him. I can hear you all, rolling your eyes, in exasperation thinking…. ‘TELL ME YOU DIDN’T!’ Yes, I did. I let my task oriented nature make decisions. He had to have his feet trimmed, he had to see the vet, go to the trainers, etc….and my agenda forced the tactics. What I got for my trouble is MORE trouble. He now totally mistrusts me and we are back to square one. On the one hand I feel ashamed that I put that kind of pressure on him…a failure in my stewardship toward him. But one thing I know for sure about horses, is there is no place for feelings of regret or shame. I am either building trust, rapport and respect or I am tearing them down. Its a simple choice which side of the equation I want to be on.
Bogie spent the past month with Neal Perry and Bekah Bailey at Perry Farm in training. My fears were confirmed when they reported very slow progress with Bogie. Some of their comments: He seems scared and tense most of the time….over-reactive. He has some trouble with his vision on the left (something I was beginning to suspect prior). He adapts to new objects or situations quickly when a human is not attached…very slowly if a human is present. Every teaching session seems to have to start with alot of review, like he is retaining the previous lesson poorly. He seems extreme in how he reacts differently with people or objects in either eye or switching from one side to the other. Very hard to catch and halter without alot of resistant behavior. It wasn’t until the last week that Neal thought he might be ready to put a saddle on. He also does not seem to transfer learned behavior between people, so that if he learns something with Neal, Bekah could not necessarily start from the same spot and certainly I could not. But it was not ALL bad news. On the positive side, they thought he was smart, a beautiful mover, and had the capacity to be a great problem solver if he could be convinced to think instead of react. They also thought he was very kind. Not the type to purposefully hurt you, kick or strike no matter how scared he was.
All of this feedback was worth the training fee. I realized I had gotten into trouble with this horse a.) because of my agenda and lack of time, b.) because I was misreading him in many ways and c.) because I had talked myself into believing that ‘he was just not MY type of horse’ and gave up on the partnership.
So I brought him home a few days ago and we are starting over.
I’ve dug hard over the past two weeks, reading, watching old PNH videos and thinking about how my approach needs to change to fit Bogie’s horsenality. I did his chart. While he is primarily a Right Brain Extrovert, I see behavior all over the chart, which is why he is hard to read sometimes.
I have little experience with Right Brain Introverts, and I think that is where I am getting into trouble with him. But in truth, in order for this to work, I need a strategy that will set ME up to succeed as well. I’m very task and goal oriented, though I have learned over the years with my Left Brain Introvert, Manny, I can tone that tendency down by breaking any task down into tiny tiny steps and removing any timeline. But I have to have things to check off a list….its just how I am built.
So I have built a temporary paddock for Bogie, down by the chicken and goat house where he can be across the fence from the main herd, but not loose with them. Its a place where I spend a fair amount of time doing chores that have nothing to do with him and as such can serve as ‘undemanding time’ without forcing me to sit still (which would make me quite anxious). I have removed the water trough and plan to be his only source of water. So this first stage will serve to restore trust and rapport, the ‘goal’ will be to be able to approach Bogie and halter him without being resistant or bracey (either of us). However, if I just go directly to haltering, I will fall right back into the old pattern and get no where. So I have broken down the steps into microsteps, first bring water to Bogie, then taking him out to the water trough first with a collar and then with the halter, using a consistent pattern to help us both stay calm, focused and connected. So the steps might look like this:
1. Can he approach me and drink water from a bucket
2. Can I walk in a circle around him while he drinks…in both directions. No touching. Big circle at first (whole paddock), make it smaller as his threshold allows.
3. Can I touch his body all the way around while he drinks his water without him leaving.
4. Can I snap the lead line on his collar while he drinks.
5. Can I snap the leadline on his collar and lead him to the bucket.
6. Can I snap on and lead him outside the pen to water and then back again.
7. Can I put a halter on and lead him out of the pen, to the water and back again.
Each step might take a day or a month….and I might find there are other even smaller steps between these that I want to explore. Once we are getting close to the goal, we’ll add some distractors, like obstacles, balls, balloons or barrels. In truth, I believe if I can attain this small goal, the partnership will come very easily.
So the rules I am setting for myself: Never leave his paddock when he is braced, tense or anxious. No task can be checked off the list until it is consistently soft and responsive for 7 attempts in a row. Expect alot, accept alittle….every day.