Monday, December 7, 2009

what I want to know is are you kind?

This snowy picture is from Saturday morning. The boys are barely visible in the pasture. Brian and I planned to ride thinking it would be very picturesque, but I soon discovered it was nothing but rain in snow's clothing. I told him that I would never ask him to ride with me during a rain storm so we postponed our snow ride for a "real" snow day!

Above is our little house, "Nutmeg Cottage" in the same Saturday morning snow.

I rode Sovereign this morning and we had a lovely time, other than the fact that I was freezing! All my blogging friends are dressing smart for winter riding, but I was not dressed properly. It was 31 degrees, which isn't so bad for December 7th, but it was overcast and penetrating and I was cold.
When we finished, I grazed Sovey and philosophized about my "problem" with being "too nice" to animals. Twice last week, I was told that I am too nice. Last Wednesday, my farrier trimmed the boys. My farrier is quiet and kind, but he is admittedly partial to Quarter Horses. He doesn't understand what I see in Thoroughbreds. I can't really explain it to him, so we muddle forward with our monthly appointments. Pie and Sovey stand well, but it is apparent to me and to my farrier that they are antsy within their bodies. My farrier slowly and calmly tells me stories about shoeing horses and I hold each horse on a lead. They stand and submit to him with little fidgeting, but I know that they are wound up inside and wish he would hurry. I try to calm them, and I think I am very successful, but they are not asleep like a Quarter Horse might be. They hold their legs for him, but I don't think they want to be there one second more than they have to. When they are finished I walk them into the stall. On Wednesday, Pie had had just about enough of being good. He walked into his stall and calmly turned around. He lowered his head and I slipped off his halter and I walked out of the door and...then...he reached forward and bit my arm. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly. Here is the part about me being too kind. I don't know what is wrong with me, but I was born without the knee-jerk reaction of hitting or slapping. I don't stop myself - it just never comes. I can't do it because it just doesn't happen. I never react that way and I never have. I think I would be ok, morally, with performing a slap across the chest of a horse that just bit me, but I can't do it. It doesn't "happen" naturally. I just stared at Pie in disbelief. He backed up and I shut the stall door. My farrier said, "You are too nice. You have to show him who is boss here." Now, I agree with his assessment to a point. I agree that horses are looking for a person who they can trust to lead them through difficult and scary situations and that person can't be wimpy or weak. But, I have a problem with the hitting part. I don't actually believe that would convey my strength. If anything, I think that would make me look little, especially the way I would do it because it isn't me. I would be a fake. I just can't muster enough anger to hit. I am not proud of this fact. It just is.
Now, stop there, and fast forward the same idea to the next day. My father-in-law has started keeping chickens. He has 4 hens and 2 roosters. He asked me to take a few photos of them for his Christmas cards this year. I got a few good shots and one of the hens befriended me. She doesn't seem particularly bright, but she was sweet and friendly and kept "snuggling" up to me. Well, "Big-Man-on-Campus-Rooster" was having none of this. He started attacking me (I guess it is called flogging in chicken circles). He was really driving me into a corner with his jabbing and flying. My father-in-law was yelling, "Kick him," in between his hysterical, doubled-over fits of laughter. Again, the "kick him" reflex was absent. I just could not kick that rooster. I made my way over to a stick and sort of held him at bay. I walked to the gate and got out. It just seemed ridiculous to kick the rooster. My father-in-law said, "You are too nice".
Now, is this true? Am I really too nice? I have a very strong disposition. I am occasionally "bullied" by aggressive people, but I only take so much, and then I am definitely not "nice". I can be a real bitty, if pushed, I think. So what is this all about with animals? My father-in-law claims that the rooster would never do that to him. And, I know my farrier would say that Pie would never do that to him ever again. I don't know if Pie would bite me again, but I admit that I did nothing to tell him that the behaviour was unacceptable. I am not sure what I should have done.
I was thinking about all of this as I was freezing, grazing Sovereign, after our fabulous December 7th ride. I only walked and did not lunge or do anything to make sure Sovey was calm. We rode without a bit all around our farm. I believe that both horses are good for me under saddle because they do trust me and they do think I am a strong leader. They both put an enormous amount of trust in me, if you add up all we have done so far. I suppose it could be argued that that old rooster doesn't think too much of me, but is it true, can you be too kind?


  1. If a horse bites or threatens to bite, I "chase" - move towards them rapidly and drive with my body language. I don't think hitting is very effective, but moving the horse out of your space sends a strong message. Also, with some horses who have learned to be aggressive, if you hit them, they sometimes escalate the problem.

    I don't know if you're too nice or not and it doesn't really matter (well of course it does and I expect you're a nice and thoughtful person) - it's more just a matter of dealing with things in a matter-of-fact way immediately as they arise. I'm not a big fan of the "show them who's boss" school of training, but do believe in staying safe, and I think horses are much more comfortable with the leadership of someone they trust than someone who is rough with them or scares them - they may comply for such a person until the chips are down and then they won't.

  2. Your post really cracked me up. Because sometimes I get the feeling I am too nice too! But can that be true? Can a person really be too nice? I think your body and mind will do what come naturally and what makes sense to you. Maybe spanking just doesn't make any sense! There have been a few times when Bill's horses were overtaking me in the pasture that he said I needed to haul off and give them a mighty whack, but I couldn't do it! I think they were just getting friendly but then they realized that as they were getting close to me, they were in each other's space too and the alphas didn't like that! Two's company, three's a crowd! Bill assured me I would not, (indeed, could not) hurt them. So I ended up tapping them kindly on their shoulders which did a whole lot of nothing!! hah! Bill was probably shaking his head at me!
    I think Pie had held it in as long as he could and just had to somehow get out some energy and your arm was the nearest opportunity! But am I making excuses for dear Pie? well, that's what people in the Pie Fan Club do, I guess!!
    I love your nutmeg cottage! It looks so cute--it reminds me a little bit of my own house, but much cuter and with better windows!

  3. Your farrier sounds like my farrier! Mine thinks my TBs are a money pot with to many special needs. He's been my farrier for 15 years, and when we first started, I was letting my horses "walk all" over me and getting pushed, nipped, shoved, etc. etc. He taught me how to create "my space" and how to teach my horses to respect my space.
    generally, I don't ever have to slap or thump them.
    I don't think you're too nice at all; do what you're comfortable with doing. He probably knew he'd done wrong anyway. I'd rather be too nice than be one of the people that is too harsh, jerk a knot in their horse and regret it later.

  4. I have the same problem, too. Although when I need my horse to mind, I don't tolerate his bad behavior. He's almost always pretty good. But the other day, after leaving the lawn where I was grazing him, he was feeling feisty and pranced a bit and leaped up slight, striking out with his right hoof (I was on his left.) I jerked on the lead and raised my voice at him, backed him up a step or two and regained control. He kind of sighed like oh, alright. He knows I'm boss, he just tests me and I have to give him a little reminder. I like the idea of moving towards him, or at least raising your voice and stomping your foot, to show that he's done something not very nice. Hitting them back can work against you- if you aren't quick enough anyway, you aren't punishing his behavior. And a "nip/nip back" kind of thing happens when two horses spar, so if it was a playful nip, your "slap" would have just been an invitation to keep up the game. I think your lack of reaction was more of one being caught off guard, not that you just let your horse bite you because you are too nice! ;)
    Thoughtful post. Stay cozy in that darling cottage!

  5. I just love reading your posts! They are always so insightful :)

    I think there is a different in being nice and being timid and horses know that. You can be nice and still have the respect of your horse but you can't be timid and have the respect of your horse. I also think we can show/communicate with them in other ways than violence. My Splash knows when I"m angry or upset with demenor changes as well as the tone of my voice. I have learned, over time, that I can be a leader in a similar way that a boss mare can be a leader...and I don't mean the kind of boss mare that strikes first and asks questions later :):):) Now this same boss mare will probably really lash out if the other horse does something that really endangers either of them. :)
    I would imagine that Pie definitely knew what he did was not appropriate. I also get the feeling, from what you say about Pie and Sovey, that Pie was playing and just expending excess pent-up energy.

  6. Oh..I soooooo relate to this post. It is perfectly written! I too, have a farrier although he is GREAT in our fight vs laminitis, questions me all the time "Why did you save a OTTB??? You should have gotten yourself a nice QH." and I find myself screaming "B/c I DIDN'T WANT A QH!!" Now I looove QH's, all breeds of equiness, but there is something about the stoic beauty of the vintage TB!
    So-being too nice. That is a nice problem to have and I think you were just created to be a wonderful, animal loving person/mom, etc. That being said, I agree with Kate with the large body language so Pie/whomever doesn't think he can do that again. I think of my training with Laz, as this: I can tolerate if he does it to me, but if he does it to my nephew,future children..not ok, not safe. So, I don't hit though. I find it heartbreaking when I see a head shy reaction from a horse that has been smacked, and he shows that. What I do, do is get as BIG AS A BEAR and show him that was NOT OK!!!! Puff up and move forward with arms up and BIG DEEP voice (which is hard!!!) but it seems to work. I'm not a trainer and am still learning constantly but it's what I do.
    Great post!!!! :)

  7. Thanks everyone for all the advice and comments.

    Kate - Thanks - I will try being big and moving toward the horse. Hopefully, I won't have to use this method, but if I do, I will try it!

    baystatebrumby - You crack me up like you are me! Bill would be laughing at me because I would probably "tap" the horses out of the way in the pasture. I thought, too, that Pie had extra energy to get out and he grabbed my arm.
    As a charter member of the Pie Fan Club, you completely "get" Pie and understand his personality! Thanks for the nice comments about our Nutmeg Cottage!

    Hosanna - Reflecting back on it, I agree, I think Pie knew he had done something wrong.

    Pony Girl - You are totally right about the nip/nip back play that can start. Your Boy is an angel boy. Thanks for the kind words about our cottage. Hope you are cozy out west - I think it is cold out there too!

    SplishSplash - Thanks for the kind comments about my posts! You seem to understand Pie's little puppy personality!

    Kristen - I will practice being a bear if necessary. If I had Laz, I think I would give him a great big BEAR HUG!!!!! Thanks!

  8. HI again!
    Well, I too was like that with my mare and I got in big trouble from my sissy and some of the barn folk( when i boarded with onlookers)
    Then my horses theripist came out and she too scolded me. She told me to get a "Hand Slapper" litterally has a hand shaped wide peice of leather on a smal bat sized crop. I put it in my boot or my pants whenever I had Wa or pantz my sissy's pushy mare. It is about being the leader not being human. They have a different language and knowing where they fit in is all they wish.
    Your horse jsut told you it was leading you...and that could be dangerious-FOR YOU!
    It is not about being nice and is about being the leader and I had to learn it too! I wave my arms and if a horse face gets hit because it has forgotten that waving arms means outa-myspace...well then lesson reitterated!
    The training stick also works well fort me...I just tap it on the ground and Wa back up.

    So, knee jerk does not havbe to be random reaction but...planned traing issue resolved..not mean at all..just savvy!

  9. Ha ha! You ARE awfully nice, Juliette! But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, it's just who you are. And if you were "too nice" you wouldn't be able to ride/keep two OTTB's. They obviously respect you and you have a good relationship - everyone has a bad day or does something out of character once in a while. As long as Pie doesn't make a habit of nipping you, I personally wouldn't worry about it much. He got out of your space, so it kinda sounds like he might have said "Whoops!"


Thanks for taking the time to visit Honeysuckle Faire!