Zeno’s Horse Training

This is to update Our Story So Far, which leaves off last summer. Rodney continues to make huge improvements, and yet get no closer to our original goal of the AEC victory circle [How]. Hence today’s title.

On the up side, it has been ages since he suddenly acted as if he was afraid of us. This used to be his go-to move when he was in pain. Now, he waits for us to minister unto his boo-boos. He’s decided that we may be the crazy people, but are generally well-intentioned ones. Nor has he pulled a full-scale giraffe for a while. Oh, he still hops and fusses and throws the occasional wing-nut. He will always be a Thoroughbred and a horse with his knobs dialed to eleven.

To get here, we did two important things this year.
One: we raised his meds.
Two: we took him off his meds.

Back in February, we tried to wean him off his gastric medicine. That didn’t work, so we raised his dose [Rodney Update]. The changes that we noticed back then have stayed. He seemed to take a deep breath and finally, finally relax. Equine ulcers are usually treated for a month, heal, and everyone moves on. OTOH, there are people who take antacids all of their lives. Perhaps Rodney’s endocrine system produced an acid that disagreed with his digestive system. We talked about some day, maybe, possibly trying him without to see if he had healed or was chronic. Way far in the future.

Then in the Fall, the meds dealer raised prices x4. Seriously. It wasn’t cheap to start with. Not Gastroguard prices, but not sugar cubes either. Now, the cost was ridiculous. If these were life-dependent meds, I like to think would do the right thing. If it was the price of keeping him in work – harder decision. To make a slightly more content pasture ornament? No way. We tapered down rapidly and stopped.

Wonder of wonders, he was fine. The bigger dose apparently got ahead of his ulcer? gastric distress? whatever? and healed it. In fact, he is better than fine. He got brighter, without getting flaky. He became more engaged, more interested in his world. He has always been a curious and friendly horse. Now he is even perkier. Perhaps the meds had some nature of mildly sedative action? Something that blurred the edges of his world a bit? We don’t know. OTOH, one doesn’t take chronic, systemic medicine without expecting side effects.

In the spring, we also added yeast to his diet [Tiger Whistle, Diet Change]. The meds healed him and the yeast reset his system? The meds alone? The yeast alone? Who knows. Although there is no way to investigate the counterfactual, any horse I own will be on yeast from now on. A permanent tip of the hat to Karen Briggs/Writing From the Right Side of the Stall for the nutrition advice.

On the down side, none of this understanding seems to translate to work. He still objects after hopping over a cavelletti, sometimes to the point of having hysterics. It’s quite exciting to see 17 hands get all four feet off the ground. He still gets nervous if walked too far from the barn. He’ll go to the ring but not be happy about it. Sure, I could ride him, but if he’s tense being walked or lunged, adding tack isn’t going to improve the situation.

For the record, I have nothing against disciplining horses. Have you seen how they treat each other in the field? On occasion, one needs to have a meeting of the minds. Previous Horse was gelded late and could be a turkey. I never did anything with him without a short bat within reach. The fear of retribution was the only thing that kept him civilized, i.e. not biting or kicking on a whim. However, one can’t discipline fear. That just makes it worse.

So what’s Rodney afraid of? We don’t know. We suspect pain. He has lingering body issues from his savaging as a foal [Daddy Dearest] and from a later run-in with a stall door latch. Both incidents were well before our time but have left significant scars. We are coming to think that this entire adventure is rehab rather than training. He such an otherwise happy horse that if we get his body unkinked, the behavior will fall into place.

That’s the current theory.

3 thoughts on “Zeno’s Horse Training

  1. Really good point that you can’t discipline fear. It also takes a good horseperson to recognize when to discipline and when it’s just adding fuel to the fire.

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