Up until last week most of my attraction based training has taken place with the horses I own. Each time I hear of a difficult horse for sale, I literally enlist the help of my friends to remind me that I do not need another horse. It’s the difficult horses that are my biggest weakness.
For me, their troublesome baggage carried out by bolting, spooking, kicking, just to name a few, is like an archaeological dig or a great mystery novel. These horses have great stories to tell. If I’m able to listen, through validation and helping them feel good, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world to see these wounded creatures open their suitcase and tell me where it hurts. It’s my delight to help them lighten their load.
But alas, at this point, my tiny acreage only allows me to support a small herd of four. When my friend called and said she had a new Paso Fino that had a few issues my eyes lit up. This could be a chance to work with another horse without owning it! Also, to see if these methods I’ve developed for the baggage carriers will work for other owners who have horses that have a storage unit bursting at the seams or simply an unwieldy carry-on.
Meet my friend Barb. She has three horses that she and her significant other, Larry, enjoy riding on the trails. Dante, her new gorgeous Paso Fino, makes number four. If you’re given to the reincarnation theory, to be reincarnated into one of Barb and Larry’s horses would be like heaven. In other words her horses receive not only the utmost care, but lots of love and attention.
So for starters Dante is one lucky horse. Barb and I will be keeping an online journal of Dante’s journey.
Here’s Barb’s description of Dante:
Here’s some background on Dante’. He came into my life about 5 weeks ago. He apparently had been a rescue horse, supposedly ridden by that person and then was purchased by the woman I bought him from who never rode him and had him about 5 months. She fed him very well and loved him but did no training. He has wonderful ground manners but is very fearful and I feel he is obedient more from fear than from respect. He appears to have been show trained as evidenced by his hyper behavior when under saddle and mounted. He is very quiet while being saddled and cinched. The hyper behavior occurs when mounted. He seems to be very spooky and is difficult to catch in the pasture.
Here’s how I would describe Dante:
When I first saw him my jaw dropped. To me he looks as much like a Lusitano or Andalusian as he does a Paso Fino. He’s unusually tall for his breed. He has no papers but I wouldn’t doubt as Barb suggested, he’s got a show background.
He feels like a horse that was taught to behave or else. He has impeccable ground manners, but the tension in his body tells me that he’d rather be someplace else. He can obviously walk the walk as far as behaving like a gentlemen, but if he were to talk, I bet he’d say, “I’ll stand here and be good, but I sure as heck can’t wait for you to leave me alone, or get off my back, or stop touching me, or stop doing whatever you’re about to do to me.”
I then asked Barb if I could lead him around. As I expected, he has had some experience either with lunging or round penning. As I watched him, it was easy to tell that the experience obviously didn’t feel good to him. He performed flawlessly, but with such tension that all I wanted to do is hug him and tell everything will be okay.
From what I’ve gleaned over the years about traditional Paso Fino training, it’s all about the gait, and nary a thought about their mental well being. Most Pasos are bred specifically for brio and the ultimate Fino gait, which is a four beat rapid footfall about the speed of a caterpillar. I call it going nowhere fast. The brio trait (hot, hot, hot temperament) seems to encourage this rapid footfall. I’ve heard that these horses are often punished if they are too calm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Paso Fino for sale advertised as suitable for beginners.
However, on the flip side, I thoroughly enjoy my two Paso Finos, Romeo and Juliet. There is never a dull moment with them. I think Romeo was a Fino reject. His bloodlines suggest he should Fino like a mad man, but I just got the mad man behavior and no Fino. His brain bursts with brio, but his body doesn’t match in terms of having the ability to Fino, or gait consistently. I actually think this frustrates him that his brain tells him that his body should do something that his conformation doesn’t allow. Romeo has taught me volumes about understanding the Paso mind.
It’s my hope that the discoveries with Romeo can help me with Dante.
Dante, however looks really well put together. I can sense he’s smart as a whip and knows the right answers. Not a huge guess that he’s a horse that has been reinforced through correction or punishment for doing the wrong thing. To me it looks as if he stands in fear of what bad feeling thing will happen next. He clearly responds to even the slightest hint of pressure with with so much brio it will make you dizzy.
This makes him easy to handle and direct, but to continue to handle him in this method would, I think, retain his tension and he’ll just continue the cycle of being hyper, spooky and difficult to catch.
Here are Barbs goals for him:
1. Learn to target
2. Head down, calm down cue
3. Hips over
4. Shoulder over
Areas she wants to address:
2. Calm down while riding
3. Be able to catch him easily
My first goal is to help Barb change Dante’s mind about what being with people means. Right now, from what I can tell, being with people is very difficult for Dante. He’s like an introvert trained to be an extrovert and then has a melt down after being at a large party. He’s trained to act like a well-behaved horse, but inside his desire to bust out of this mold manifests in hyperactivity. Also, Paso Finos generally are very sensitive and reactive, especially if they’ve been shown, or their dams were shown.
I want Dante to want to be with Barb. If every moment he’s with her and wants to get away, even if it has nothing to do with Barb, just his past programming, it’s simply reinforcing his thoughts that people are to be tolerated or endured. My theory is that if you make a horse’s life joyful, it will be their joy to carry you on their back. I personally want any horse I ride to want me on its back, not simply tolerate me or look forward to the dismount. I love watching my horses, especially Romeo, after I untack. He follows me around as if he’s saying “But wait, we’re not done.” I feel like I leave him wanting more and he really looks forward to our next ride.
So lesson one is to help Dante decide that Barb is good.
I absolutely can’t wait. Barb and I get to be the good guys. We may be the first in Dante’s world to show him, through a dialogue of attraction, that life and interaction with people can be wonderful. And the bonus for me is that I don’t have to fight temptation. He’s not for sale and has the best home you could imagine!
Stay tuned for Dialogue with Dante: Lesson One, coming soon.