On February 21st I looked at a horse for friends who were in the market for a second horse. Ranger had been recommended by another friend who had ridden him on an 8 mile trail ride and had fallen in love with him. She wasn't in the position to get a second horse but really wanted to see him in a good home. I rode him under saddle and found him willing and unsure what was expected of him. I loved his try and desire to please. He felt safe, just a bit nervous. There were moments when he didn't want to go forward and wished to turn around. Instead of keeping him going we paused and waited, still facing the direction I wanted to go. He settled and would move forward when he was ready, more softly and rhythmically. I was happy to find him able to mold to my legs and looked forward to trimming his toes. They were long and made it feel awkward to turn.
I recommended that my friends buy Ranger with the understanding that he would need about six weeks of further training just with me. They decided to go for it and Jefferson and I picked him up on leap day. We decided to have our first session be trailer loading. Ranger didn't especially want to leave the beautiful facility he had been staying at while for sale, and as far as we knew he had not had much experience with straight ramp load trailers. Jefferson took over and discovered that Ranger liked to be led onto the trailer beside a person instead of following and that he had at one time loaded by himself. I appreciated so much having someone with me who was willing to take the time to let the horse show them what they knew. I often as a "trainer" want to show the horse what I know and ask them to do it my way. I love working with Jefferson and value so much what he demonstrates.
When we unloaded Ranger at his new home for training with me, he was a perfect gentleman. He seemed to me a horse that is very confident in who he is, but still unsure about what would be expected of him. My horses were incredibly eager to meet him and after they settled down, I introduced them to Ranger over the fence. He was non-confrontational and polite so I brought him inside after 10 minutes or so. It was gratifying to watch my horses curiosity and know that they would still listen to my guidance. Since I was in the middle of all of it I had them meet one by one and not surround us. They settled within a minute or so and I let Ranger go. He immediately went on an exploration of the pasture while Cora followed him and Errowood and Evita stayed with me. I asked them not to corner him and all was pretty peaceful. His new owners came to meet him, but by that time he was well into interacting with the other horses and exploring. I was not able to catch him again and was curious to see if that lasted.
2016-03-01 When Jefferson and I arrived the next morning it was apparent that Ranger had established himself in charge of Cora and Evita. Even from the road looking down into the pasture we could see that Errowood was not allowed to get within 200 feet of everyone else. We got two halters and Jefferson took Errowood while I led Evita. It really highlighted for me the lack of real leadership I have with Evita. She so quickly looked to him for guidance, even though he was herding her around and making it a little difficult to go where she wanted to. He wasn't so insistent that she never got there, it just took longer. She also appeared to be coming in heat so was hormonal I am sure. We walked down to the hay ring and the girls began eating right away. Errowood was upset enough to not eat and had to make a couple of laps around the hay with Ranger moving away from him (because Jefferson was going first) before he settled and began to eat. We talked about how Ranger had, from our understanding come from several lack consciousness situations. The first that we knew of was a couple who ended up not being able to feed their horses. His guardian angel (who my friends purchased him from), stepped in and found him a new home. He happily stayed there until that owner had to move unexpectedly and couldn't keep him any longer. Once again his advocate purchased him and wanted to rehome him quickly so that he wasn't a burden on her resources. This was really interesting to talk about because Errowood and Cora have such different histories. They have been in the same family since birth and have always been provided for. Evita seems to lean a little more in Ranger's direction of consciousness but has been in our family since she was four. I am speaking of consciousness here because horses truly are a reflection of the environment they are in. They are completely at our mercy to provide for them and they also are expected to perform and behave in certain ways. This produces a real pattern of thought which becomes consciousness; a way of life. Jefferson was moved by how sensitive and kind Errowood is. While I had seen only Ranger's excellent mind and potential, Jefferson questioned if his change in consciousness should happen at the expense of other horses experiencing the stress of his.
This brings me to the next experiment in behavior that I am interested in. I have in the past changed herd dynamics and would like to document the time frame that it takes to do so with Ranger. I have often heard people watching horses reworking hierarchy when a new horse is introduced to the herd, say something like, "they just have to work it out". I have absolutely said the same thing! But in the back of my mind I have experiences with my own horses that produced radical change in behavior. When Cora and Evita first arrived in Tennessee, TIgger wouldn't let them anywhere closer than 100 feet from Luna. He chased them off until they stood in a corner of the field warily watching him. I wished so much to have a peaceful herd that I decided to try changing the dynamic myself. I got a 20 foot line and kept TIgger behind me while I approached Evita and Cora. Of course he wanted to be right with me or even go ahead, so intent he was on meeting and moving them away. Instead of letting him do that, I moved him to the very end of the 20 foot line and kept him at that distance behind me while I approached them. They relatively quickly saw that I was in leadership of Tigger and allowed me to touch them and Tigger to get closer. When they did let him get close as soon as he postured toward them I would back him up. After we hung out for awhile at a more peaceful horse bubble distance I changed the halter over to Evita. Tigger is quite good at liberty groundwork and I used this to again control his feet while Evita followed me. They were all much more confident and close together when I left and I committed to doing as much work as necessary to complete the change. Amazingly the next day they were a happy family and I never had to revisit it. I have not had the opportunity until now to try this again and am really curious to see how it turns out.
Ranger and I are missing the history and relationship that Tigger and I had. When Cora and Evita arrived, TIgger had been living with us for 3 1/2 years. In this situation with Ranger, Jefferson and I will need to establish a relationship that is solidly based in trust and at the same time demonstrate our expectations about our ideal herd dynamic. After having a time out in stalls and Ranger getting his toes trimmed, I began this work by getting a halter and 20 foot line on Ranger out in the pasture. Once he was in my hands, Evita, Errowood and Cora wandered off. It also began to rain a very cold rain. Ranger was upset that the other horses were leaving and showed me by attempting to follow them. I directed my energy and sometimes the end of the rope towards his ribs and shoulders as they bulged towards me. He quickly reoriented on me and then picked up momentum into a canter on a circle. I began walking back up the hill as I wanted to test Ranger's circling and he continued around me. Impressed but not wanting him to continue and lose focus on me I began asking for him to disengage. Once he realized what I was asking for he licked and chewed and followed me up the hill, where I put a sheet on him and gathered sheets for the other horses. I really have to highlight how well behaved he is with people. At no point yet have I felt unsafe or that I cannot trust his choices. I appreciate that so much about him and praise him for it often. When we got to the round bale my horses wanted to say hi again and posture a bit. I redirected them back to eating hay and asked Ranger to do the same. He was completely cooperative and I was able to drop the 20 foot lead and put sheets on the others. Evita and Cora were a little tweaky but what a great applied training moment! They know me well enough to realize that I won't give up and I got their sheets on with the tiniest of fusses. I left all the horses eating peacefully around the hay, hopeful that this would make a lasting difference that I would see the next day.
2016-03-02 When I arrived this morning the horses were standing by the gate. Errowood was off to the side but not nearly as far and there was no evidence of tears on the their sheets. I prepared their meal and brought it out to them. I put the 20 foot line on Ranger again and ended up tying Evita to a tree after she wandered off outside the pasture. Again, I noted how there lacks a bond between Evita and I. There is a kind of cooperation and respect. I don't doubt that she likes me. But she is independent and will take some work to really engage with me the way I would like her to. I then fed them. Everyone wanted Ranger's food since he still has pellets but it was a peaceful meal. After they finished I had Ranger practice standing with Errowood while the girls wandered around or stood on the other side of Errowood. He again wanted to leave but was incredibly easy to redirect and settle. After he committed to standing I decided to put Evita on line. Once I brought her back up to the gate where Errowood and Cora were, Ranger moved to make space and push Errowood away. I moved quickly to head him off and he stopped. I brought Evita up between Errowood and Cora and talked to Ranger, inviting him to come stand by us. He didn't get much closer but after awhile all of my horses began yawning and releasing. When I let Evita go she did go stand by Ranger, and he moved her further away from Errowood, but everything was still pretty peaceful. Again, I see how both Evita and Ranger stay in my presence obediently when I have a halter on them, but neither want to hang out the way that Errowood and Cora want to interact. My hope is that by establishing a better relationship with the two of them, much of this behavior will disappear.
That afternoon I came back, and saw the same dynamic. Errowood, not far away, but Ranger vigilant about every move that Evita made. Cora was in the middle, confused and curious about why this horse was keeping her mom away from her brother. When I called them I was happy to see Evita first begin to come up. When she moved toward me so did Ranger and since Errowood was between us he arrived to me first. I could tell the perimeter that Ranger had established because Errowood attempted to move away from him while I was putting the halter on him. I changed his forward momentum into a turn and faced Ranger who then stopped and I finished putting Errowood's halter on. Cora then came up so I decided to work with her and take Errowood with us. They were happy to be out. Ranger and Evita called intermittently to them and when I put Errowood in the ring by himself he stood facing them in the pasture. He continues to want to interact with Ranger while I am around and giving him a boost of confidence. He seems curious and unaware of how big he is. After our sessions, and their return to the pasture I got Ranger. When I first brought Errowood and Cora back into the pasture he forgot himself and wanted to get again between Evita and I shooed him off. After that I went to catch him and he thought I was continuing to drive him off. Masterfully he realized his mistake and turned to face me while I talked to him. I easily walked up and put the halter on. Again, he learns so quickly and is so aware. I worked with him outside the pasture, playing with energy and relaxation online as well as draw, which I had noticed was lacking. He learned everything very quickly, almost as if his life depended on it. I focused the most on relaxation and boundaries once he realized I wanted him to come to me. He began to remind me of Tigger in his exuberance and tension to do the right thing. We ended with some moving massage which was the most challenging for him. Letting me get anywhere near his drive line produced tension and when he did release that tension I could feel a big difference in his ease.
We returned to the pasture to find the other horse's napping. I did not wish to release him and lose that peaceful moment so I decided to practice my friend's meditation with horses. I had no idea that it would last so long. Ranger settled after 10 minutes or so. I don't at all mean he was moving, but his thought level was pretty high and he was looking around. Once he softened he let go, but never went anywhere near the relaxation the other horses felt. They all had completely closed eyes, sometimes flat out and often dreaming. It was fun to see Evita dream. One interesting thing was how Ranger flattened his ears back while going into deeper relaxation. I wondered if he was dreaming too, even though his eyes were still mostly open a majority of the time. We got relaxed enough that I sat, and then laid down and napped very briefly. I was determined to wait until the horses got up on their own timing and about an hour later they did. When they did, Ranger came back to attention and nickered at the girls. Cora, being the friendly sweet thing she is, nickered back and Evita ignored him. Cora came to say hello and Ranger went into posturing. I asked him to back up and then after Evita came over and he squealed I took him away. I tried to embody relaxation as I walked him slowly in a circle. I didn't want to lose the peace we had all experienced and it was still very close to the surface. After he turned around and lowered his head everyone yawned. Fun!!! It was nice to see him let go another notch. Again, when I let him, go he went back to guarding Evita. One other thing of interest is that as I worked on the dynamic, sometimes Evita would approach with ears laid back, wanting Ranger to leave. She was never able to follow through with the drive, but I could see glimmers of how she may feel really feel. She doesn't enjoy being taken away, but allows herself to be, as it is the path of least resistance.
I did a little internet research after, and was reassured by a vet the first day he arrived as well as by another friend who is a former vet, that he is most likely a gelding with some feelings towards certain mares. As long as he was obedient and willing they thought that time would work it out. I was glad to hear that as I do not at all wish to put his new owners in a dangerous position. After these three days, I think the changes will continue. The most interesting thing I read was that the adrenals can produce testosterone as well and that really hit a note for me. It would make sense with all of his changes and recent stress that his adrenals may be a little over-active. Again this reassured me that by helping him find that calm place he will settle. Realizing everyone's actions are motivated by the desire to feel better and be at peace, showing a horse how to find that place within himself is my favorite calling.