I have an arrow for that!

7 Mar

As I’ve mentioned previously, over the last few weeks, Corona has begun to pin his ears whenever I bring him into his stall to groom him. Initially I had thought he was sore because the first time it happened I found a fresh bite mark on his neck, so thought maybe he had been involved in a paddock scuffle. However, the next weekend, the exact same thing happened, he would pin his ears whenever I’d touch him (with a brush, with my hand). Due to the weather, last week just happened to be the first week that I was able to ride him. I was a bit hesitant to put a saddle on him because I wasn’t certain if he was sore or not. I decided to do some experimenting to see what his reactions would be so I took him out of the stall (safety first!) and put on cross-ties. I did up the girth loosely (expecting that he would have a reaction if he was sore) and he didn’t flinch. I finished tacking him up and then we had a great ride with no issues.

This past Saturday I went out to the barn and his aggression in the stall increased from the previous 2 weeks. The stinker lifted a hind leg at me and half kicked out in slow-motion, and at one point he turned towards me to bite me. He would also turn away from me (and block me) when I went to go in front of him to get to his other side. Once again, I put him on the cross-ties to tack him up and then he was perfect for our ride.

At this point, I was fairly certain he wasn’t in any physical pain, mainly because the ear pinning came and went and he didn’t care at all when I rode him. The bugger was just being dominant. I shouldn’t say, “just” being dominant…it’s not a minor issue when a 1,200-pound animal decides to boss you around!

At home on Saturday, I proceeded to Google this behaviour and what could be done about it. I also asked for some advice from fellow Haynetters (thanks Lorraine and Elaine!).

On Sunday, I had a breakthrough. The more I thought about it after Saturday, the more I drew a similarity between what was happening in the stall, and what Corona does in the field. He is out with two other geldings and Corona is definitely the dominant one, or at least tries to be – the other two fight back occasionally, but for the most part it is him who is #1. There is a round bale in the field, and Corona clearly thinks he is the boss of the hay; he drives the others away from it and then will eventually let them come and eat. When I bring Corona into his stall, there’s normally hay in there because we’ve just mucked out and prepared the stalls for the night. This made me think back to the previous day and how he would block me from getting between him and his hay. I decided that I would take the hay out of his stall just to see what happened. Surprisingly, he was 95% better just with that. I actually groomed him in his stall, and he just watched the comings and goings in the barn, no ear pinning, no teeth, and there were no threatening leg lifts!

I put him on cross-ties to tack him up and there was some ear pinning and head tossing when I put his saddle pad on. Instead of moving away, I stood my ground beside him, talked to him and went out of my way to look relaxed. After about a minute, he stopped his head tossing, ears went forward, head went down and the lovely boy started yawning and chewing. I rewarded that and then put the saddle on and he didn’t even flinch. I felt like I channeled my inner Pat Parelli at this point and was pretty darn proud of myself. We proceeded to have a lovely ride through the snowdrifts with CG and Gracie.

After our walk, I had to sweat his leg (we’re still sweating his knee to try and get the last of the swelling), so I put him on cross ties and groomed him again. He began pawing quite intently. This isn’t a new behaviour, he doesn’t do it all the time, but it seems to be when he is frustrated or fed up with being on cross-ties. Regardless, each time he did it, I asked him to move over. It continued off and on so then I decided that if he wanted to paw, I’d just pick up his foot and hold it. This seemed to work well enough that eventually he stopped (it did take about 10 times of me holding his foot), but whatever works!

I also tried to reinforce the good behaviour on cross-ties with treats. We’ve been working on groundwork so I thought we could practice on the cross-ties and use it to my advantage. I would walk about 10 ft. in front of Corona, and ask him to “back up”, when he did, I’d give him a treat. Clearly the ears were forward at all times when this was happening.

I’m excited to see what this weekend brings, regardless, I’ll have my bag of arrows on and ready!

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