A new mare came in for training recently. Rima is a young Lipizzan mare who had fallen through the cracks after her original elderly owner had to give her up due to failing health. Bay is a rare color in Lipizzans but it does occur.
Rima is now four or five years old and has ended up pretty confused and frustrated with human beings. When she arrived she was hard to catch, hard to halter, head shy, and would present her teeth and feet frequently, including when you were trying to catch her. No farrier would work with her and she had become dangerous to be around.
I started her on the basic ground work exercises described in The Better Deal. These are what I use with any horse that comes in, as they get to the root of any problems large or small. I don’t worry about the horse’s past, but just present everything very simply and clearly. Anxious or aggressive horses soon start to settle down with this approach. They start to relax when they know exactly what I’m asking them to do and realize my responses and actions are going to be very consistent.
After a week and a half of work Rima will now lift up all four feet briefly, without kicking. She won’t hold them up for more than a moment, but it’s progress. We are doing a lot of yielding exercises on the ground which will help her with picking up her feet. Yielding builds trust as well as balance, both of which impact a horse’s comfort with letting you hold one foot off the ground. That’s a very vulnerable feeling for a horse.
Lowering the head is a big trust building and softening exercise. Today she did it for the first time. Up til now each time I’ve asked her first reaction has been to fly backwards and try to get away. We have just kept calmly coming back to the exercise. Today she dropped her head instead of pulling away.
More on Rima’s story to come… Thanks to Bobbie Wynne for the photos.