About three weeks ago, I received a request for help with an 11-months old Appaloosa filly who was getting a little bit ‘too big for her own boots’. Given her age, her owner Lisa was keen to nip certain unwanted behaviours in the butt early on in the youngster’s education.
So I met Lisa & Pixie a few days later for the first time, and Lisa filled me in about some of the difficulties she was experiencing when handling the filly in and out of the stable. Pixie was very inquisitive, as to be expected from a baby, but also a little pushy in the stable. It didn’t take long to teach her to back up and establish personal space between us. Well, once out of the stable and in the arena, Pixie didn’t hold back…
Initially, I walked Pixie around the perimeter of the arena on a loose, smiley rope in a cavesson head collar, giving her an opportunity to explore and familiarise herself with the surroundings. We had a few snorts and stops at various things such as a roll of fake grass matting laying on one edge of the arena. With patience, and a little positive reinforcement, Pixie quickly figured out that the fake grass was nothing to be worried about. As I continued to walk her away from the arena edge, the filly’s behaviour suddenly changed. She started to rear, cow-kick towards me and push herself into me. I must admit that I was a little bit taken by surprise the first time, as I had not anticipated this kind of response. I quickly responded by asking Pixie to back up, and once she stood quietly, I taught her to lower her head forward down, as well as asking for lateral bending of her head/neck, all the way through her body to the right and left retrospectively.
Then we walked on again, and Pixie repeated her explosive behaviour, with her launching herself towards me as she reared. Lisa told me that this was pretty much what she was dealing with on a regular basis, hence her call for help. There were a couple of ‘hairy’ moments and I was very aware of my respiratory & heart rate going up, so I had to really dig deep and focus on staying calm and relaxed, as to not to add to Pixie’s heightened physical, emotional & mental state. I focussed on my core energy and projected it in an assertive, firm, yet empathetic manner, not being intimidated by her actions. And that paid off, every time Pixie ‘performed’ her little escapades, I backed her up and brought her to a place of calm and quiet. She soon caught on that nothing she did would make me lose my cool or change my attitude or intention towards her. We ended the session on a calm & positive note and took Pixie back to her stable to relax and digest our interactions. It was great to hear from Lisa afterwards that she could already see little improvements and changes in Pixie’s behaviour and responses, which was very encouraging.
Lisa worked with Pixie throughout the week on finding that place of calm and relaxation if Pixie became excited or anxious about something, triggering the explosive reactions, and her diligence really showed during the following session. We also tried a different head collar, using the Dually (credit to Monty Roberts), which works on the pressure & release principle and gave us just a little more control. I repeated walking Pixie around the arena as I had done during the previous session, on a loose, smiley rope, and this time the little filly was much calmer and relaxed, respecting my space. We did have a couple of ‘moments’ again, but the backing up/lowering the head forward down routine really gave Pixie & me as the leader the space and time to relax and refocus and – just be. After about 20 minutes I handed over to Lisa, giving her guidance as she continued the session with Pixie in-hand. Being a little tense at first, Lisa soon relaxed and they both worked well together. It was so amazing to see so much change in such little time – in both Pixie & Lisa. Well done both of you! J
Having been on holiday for a week with my family, I’m now looking forward to our next session this Saturday. So watch this space….