Big Bad Bunny

Working Together
by Sara Light-Waller

While hovering over Mathilda like a chick-obsessed hen, I have had no time and less energy for anyone else: husband, dogs, cats, other horse. Husband has understood. Dogs, cats & other horse, not so much. For example, today was the first day I found the enthusiasm to give Rodney a thorough grooming. On the upside, I’ve had a week & 1/2 to observe without interacting.

What I Learned
Rodney is not sulky. This constitutes a glorious change from Previous Horse who could have sulked professionally. While Rodney might prefer more attention to the Thoroughbred, he’s not going to get crabby about the lack.

Rodney is curious, when he feels safe. If you are trying to shoo a horse away from, say, another horse’s hay pile, you have to balance getting a reaction with scampering out of the barn screaming that the sky is falling. Rodney defaults to sky-falling, even to what I consider a gentle gesture. He is, however, open to being soothed and deflected from his headlong rush.

The Point Being?
I need to learn to move with Zen-like patience. I am not advocating being mean to a horse. Ever. But an aggressive horse must be met with equal assertiveness on the part of the handler. If a horse plans on testing your boundaries, you better be prepared to defend those boundaries immediately and effectively or you’re gonna get bit. Rodney, on the other hoof, is more likely to go into his startled bunny routine [Know You] than threaten me with pinned ears. ZLP is going to be hard at home, impossible at a show.

I’ve noted before that Rodney accepts funny objects [My Two Horses]. Now, I’ve started to deliberately use his curiosity to defuse his panic attacks. When he overreacts, if I physically step back and give him time & space, he will climb down out of the rafters, even coming over to me to see what’s what. If I can figure out how to work with it, his inquisitiveness will be to my advantage. It will be interesting to see how translates to under saddle.

Your horse, bunny or biter?
Today’s illustrator, Sara Light-Waller, can be found at Sacred Touch Healing & Flying Pony Studios.

7 thoughts on “Big Bad Bunny

  1. Just had a thought, and don’t hate me for suggesting this. Remember that I buy into existential b.s. about as much as you do and I have absolutely no patience for those who would rather spend their lives doing the “porcupine game” with their horses than actually getting on with it. But. Considered doing some clicker training with Rodney? Only thought of it because I have found it gets through to some horses with both a fear and a curiosity factor. Seems to help defuse the former and play into the latter. Spells out what you want more clearly to some horses, which cuts down on their confusion and puts them in a comfort zone. (OTOH, when I tried it on Toddy, he just looked at me like I was contemptibly insane. But still.)

    1. Great minds think alike.

      I’ve read Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog & Lads Before the Wind [] multiple times. Too many. When I try to clicker train, my mind is swamped with theory and I attempt to keep track of clicking & timing & cuing & modeling & intermittent reinforcement all at once. The plan is to do agility/liberty work with Rodney using gestures, body language & whatever seems to work most naturally for me. Then, I will do clicker training with the mare. She’s very food motivated & if I get it wrong, I can hardly mess up our relationship. That’s the plan. I’m good at plans.

  2. They have a saying in dog training that goes something like this: “Train the response you like.” In other words, only respond to the correct reaction and ignore all others. I have a highly reactive, autistic, OCD cattle dog. His response to everything good AND bad is just like Rodney’s. I’ve discovered through quiet observation that he often reacts, then looks at me to see what MY response to his drama will be. When I turn my back on him and completely ignore him (sometimes even walk away and go do something else), he stops reacting. When I speak to him, either to console or ‘correct’ him, he ratchets up his drama. It took a while of ignoring his reactions for him to get it, but he eventually did. Obviously, I always encourage any appropriate response that he has, thereby rewarding the behavior that I like! I don’t know how much crossover there is between horse and dog training, but it might be worth a try. I think dogs have a greater desire to please and jump through the hoops for their person than most horses do (yes, I’m saying most horses are basically lazy), but it might work. Clearly, you don’t ignore REALLY bad behavior, you correct that. But I know you understand the difference.

    1. Yes, I need to observe, see what works & not get swept into his mindstorm. I don’t get the feeling R is a drama queen. He’s either not smart enough or too good-hearted, or both. I think much of the “existential b.s.”, see below, is based on the fact that animals are really, really good at reading body language that we are not ever aware we give out. We rely on words too much.

  3. Another key with the clicker training is that is gives you a project you can check off as forward progress. I’m stuck in the mire, but rooting for you to keep moving!

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