Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Cooper Report #2
As I explained in an earlier post, Land-Shark! Cooper is a miniature horse, as cute as they come. But he comes with baggage.
With Tanner's help (Tanner is a horse), I managed to lure Cooper into the round-pen.
I have worked with several horses in the round-pen. I have written about Gracie in The Work of Grace. She was a big alpha mare who needed to express her wild side in the round-pen before settling into her work.
I've written about my own mare, Belle, The Horse that I Grew Up On who bucked me off years ago; I worked with her in the round-pen to assert my control, earn her respect, and re-establish trust between us.
I've written about my Palomino, Tanner, Pain, Fear, Memory, and Compassion who was a rescue with a chip on his shoulder and a horrid attitude toward being ridden. We worked a lot of that out in the round-pen.
I won't bore you with the details of round-pen technique; let me just say that I stand in the center and hold a long whip, which I use to threaten the horse if he's ignoring me, to conduct the tempo of his gait, and to indicate a change of direction.
I rarely touch the horse with the whip, unless they are convinced that I am constitutionally incapable of asserting myself and I catch them actually laughing. Most of the time, I crack the whip, or wave it around, and bring it down close behind them.
Most horses, unless they're feeling poorly, have some go, and don't mind moving forward when asked. If they're not moving well, and their energy never picks up, I tend to think there's something wrong and they're having an off day. We take it easy then.
Cooper, in the round-pen, wouldn't move at all. He turned his head toward the wall where he could see his friend Tanner and hunkered down, ready to take whatever punishment he had coming.
At first, I didn't understand the depths of his commitment to passive resistance. I thought I could motivate him with a bigger and louder display of heroics. I waved the whip around and let it land on him once or twice to let him know that I was serious. But, I did not hit him repeatedly, and I did not hit him hard.
I could picture myself from the neighbor's perspective, flailing away like a fiend at this small darling animal. (From a certain angle, you could not be sure that the whip was falling beside or behind him, and not upon his rump.)
Cooper didn't come to us with physical scars, so I can't assume that he had been beaten. But, man, the way he hunkered down with such resignation, prepared to take whatever I could dish out...It seemed really sad and troubling.
The lesson ended as soon as I realized that what had worked out so well for other problem horses was not going to work for Cooper at all, and I'd have to figure out something else.
Of course, that lesson set us back. In Cooper's mind, I just demonstrated that I meant him bodily harm and was not to be trusted.
I had set out to do what I believed would be the most useful and helpful exercise for Cooper, and our relationship. In my experience, horses responded very well to this type of groundwork. It gave them a chance to blow off steam, express their rotten attitude, burn off excess energy, and literally make a fresh start.
It also established me as the lead horse, so to speak, which is usually a relief to horses who don't have any kind of real agenda. I also prefer to follow, but I've learned from hard experience that if I'm going to ride a horse, I have to lead.
For all of these reasons, the round-pen was Plan A.
I had no Plan B.
So, for the time being, I continued to carry a stick when in the barn or pasture to defend myself against Cooper charging at me like a bull. He would either charge forward with teeth bared, or turn his rear end to me and kick out with lethal force.
Plan B...Sedate him.
After hours researching various herbal remedies, I drove to the feed-store and bought an equine calming supplement. Active ingredient: tryptophan. I added it to Cooper's feed.
I took note that one reviewer of a popular calming supplement wrote that it had done nothing for her troubled rescue horse, and that she had found no substitute for spending many hours with him in the pasture, sometimes reading a book. The trust built up slowly over months.
And that approach would be fine, except the vet is coming next week, and Cooper needs to be dewormed, and his feet need trimming soon...And I can't even get a halter on him.
So, while I've set up a daily care routine that makes us both feel safe and secure, I still don't know how next week's visit with the vet is going to go. I'm thinking we might have to sedate him, because I don't want to use force, I don't want to man-handle him, I don't want to add more trauma.
On the plus side, I do see improvement day by day.
Cooper no longer charges at me in the pasture. He tolerates me being in his vicinity, shoveling manure.
The other two set a fine example. They come running from the back pasture to see me. They want to be petted, they want this, they want that. They're bored, they want me to entertain them. They see me as an asset. I'm a popular mom.
I have to assume that Cooper observes this, and it blows his mind.
Tanner was the first to take Cooper under his wing when he was just a complete dork. Cooper didn't know anything about horses, and he was high on crack--all that testosterone whirling around his system. Fire wouldn't give him the time of day.
But now, Cooper has somehow weaseled his way into Fire's heart and stall.
Fire allows Cooper to stand beside him in his stall--a fantastic development for Cooper, locked up in a stall by himself all those years. The door is always open, his big friend Fire is always there...It is a wonder to behold.
Predictably, Fire's interest in Cooper has renewed tensions between Fire and Tanner. Herd instincts dictate that Cooper kiss up to the dominant male.
The good news is that Cooper no longer sees himself as the dominant male, which wasn't the case one week ago.
Fire and Tanner have managed to teach Cooper how to behave in a manner that is acceptable for a horse of his stature.
Yesterday, I opened up a section of fence in the back pasture. Fire and Tanner immediately walked out of their pasture and set to eating the grass along the periphery. They didn't have a halter on or anything, but they stayed right next to the fence.
Cooper saw that the fence was open, and he could walk right out of the pasture and join his friends; but he chose not to. Perhaps he wasn't sure what would happen if he left. Would the fence close up behind him? Would they all be spread out into chaos? Would someone grab and haul him off?
He wasn't going to take any chances. He stayed where he was and nibbled the same old grazed-over lawn, keeping a close eye on the other two.
The fence was down for fifteen minutes. Cooper never showed any interest in leaving.
I brought Fire and Tanner in with carrots.
I believe that experiencing freedom is good for horses, but I also know that Fire and Tanner won't run away. They are happy where they are. They simply want to eat the grass that's always greener on the other side. Because, in fact, it is.
It was nice to see that Cooper did not want leave the pasture, where he felt secure and at home, and which he valued even more than a taste of freedom.