Tuesday 25 August 2015

All because Elvis left the field - problem solving...

In my last blog, I was talking about Tigger and his lamentable lack of social skills, more evident that usual when Elvis left the field and Tigger's social life was turned upside down. 

Not really relevant here, but this picture just sums
Tigger up for me - always a bit different!
Usually during the summer, Tigger either comes when you call, or you have to go and fetch him, and he is quite happy to come in once you’ve reached him.

A few days before Elvis and Paddy were due to return to the big field, Tigger didn’t want to come in any more. His attention was glued to the mare and foal, and he didn’t want to leave them.

What now? The first thought most of us would have is probably a training solution – carrot or stick – fairly literally in this case. But neither would be a great idea.

Treats for the wanted behaviour (leaving the foal) would most probably not work – as he gets further from the foal he becomes increasingly anxious, and treats would not be a sufficient incentive, nor would they really address the problem. Safety wise also not the best – Tigger might well move further from the foal than he is comfortable with in order to get his treat, which might the trigger an explosive dash back to his buddy.

So – maybe a schooling stick or his bridle? In this situation I’d say not. He is clearly worried about leaving the foal, and putting more pressure on him will not help matters. Firstly, safety wise it’s a really bad idea – the field is deep and muddy in places, and ‘picking an argument’ with a horse on bad footing is just daft J .  Secondly, particularly in the deep and muddy bits, you are likely to fail – Tigger will return to the foal leaving you stranded without your wellies, or worse! Finally – you might get him in from the field, but if it’s not an emergency what is the point really? You’ve risked your safety and the horse’s, done no good to your relationship, probably stressed both of you quite a bit….

Think again… another option would be to bring the mare and foal in. Tigger will doubtless follow, not get stressed, this will be safer and more likely to succeed. Nothing wrong with this solution, except than in this situation, the mare and foal aren’t mine, and I don’t have anywhere to put them once they are in! So an option in an emergency, with permission from the owner, but not ideal in this case.

And we think again… and find the lazy solution, which always suits me well J Does Tigger really need to come in at all? I can check him in the field, he doesn’t need fed, and I’m certainly not going to try and ride him while he’s so distracted. In a few days Paddy and Elvis will return to the field, and they will most likely fix the problem for me. Once field life is back to normal, Tigger should get back to normal too, and we won’t have done any damage in the meantime. If things don’t settle down, we can think (yet) again.

Sure enough, the ‘not coming in’ thing stopped a few days after Paddy and Elvis returned to the field, and we’re all back to normal now.

A good example of how each ‘behaviour problem’ is so individual – we need think before acting,  understand the causes and find a solution appropriate to that unique situation. 

Sunday 23 August 2015

All because Elvis left the field...

Tigger, whom we love dearly, spent a lot of time alone until he was 3 years old, and has, to put it mildly, very poor social skills – he just always seems to be saying or doing the wrong thing around other horses! In a stable herd he does OK, make changes to the group and anything could happen.

So, about 6 weeks ago Elvis injured his leg, needing stiches and rest in a small non-muddy paddock for 4 weeks. Paddy and Flynn were nominated to keep Elvis company, taking turns to stay in. Elvis, who has very good social skills, adjusted to this change in routine remarkably well. He didn’t show any great desire to go back out to the big field, and led out nicely in hand every day for some grazing. The only change in his behaviour was due to being fed treats while he was getting his dressing changed every day – he is much more interested in people approaching than previously, and nickers at the sight of hibiscrub and bandages J

So, all was well in the small paddock. Out in the big field… in the absence of Paddy and Elvis, Tigger finds new horses to hang out with. This causes all sorts of problems. Tigger has an ill-founded burst of confidence, and starts challenging horses whom he has always steered clear of in the past. This doesn’t work out too well for him and causes all sorts of trouble… he then becomes very attached to a 3 month old foal in the field, and doesn’t want to come in any more.

Now we have a fairly calm and content Elvis, but a Tigger who is distracted, unsafe to handle and having fights with other horses!

Elvis, Paddy and Flynn are now back in the field, and things have more or less settled down again. The video shows Elvis being turned out for the first time after his ‘paddock rest’. Elvis is a confident pony with, as I mentioned, excellent social skills, and it really shows. He enters the field, turns back for a treat, says ‘hi’ to the horses and ponies he hasn’t seen for nearly a month – all pretty relaxed. Meanwhile Paddy is back in the field also, and the drama is not Elvis rejoining the herd, but Paddy separating Tigger from the foal – and having to put a lot of effort into it – usually Paddy just flicks an ear and Tigger moves. The last clip is day 2, and you can see how much less Paddy has to do to tell Tigger to leave the foal. 

Any point to this? 
Firstly, that good social skills make such a difference to your horses social life - just as they do with people. With horses, there is so much focus on social dominance hierarchy, and how that affects their behaviour, and far too little focus on their social skills and how these may affect their behaviour towards other horses and people - and how badly a lack of social skills may affect them emotionally. 

Secondly, to be aware of how changes to the social group can affect a horse, particularly one like Tigger. He changed very quickly from a rideable, manageable horse into one you could not even safely bring in from the field - all because Elvis left the field.