This is a new thread about the work we have done with Rodeo; a 16.2hh Irish Sports Horse.
I first met Rodeo in the Spring of 2018. His owner contacted me asking to help out while she was away, I agreed and went to meet him. When I pulled up, I saw a beautiful, large chestnut in the stable, with a full blaze which reminded me of a paint horse, a truly majestic presence.
Getting him out of the stable was quite the issue, he was very full of himself and needed some time and space to release energy and then come down. I used my more limited toolbox of the time to get him working and hoping that by getting him thinking that this would reduce his anxiety. However, he wasn’t really in the space to either listen or make decisions. But considering everything, I managed to help him calm down and turn him out in to the field over the road.
The second call I received was that he needed to go to the vets for a scan, they couldn’t get him in the box and asked if I would go over. Sure enough we did a little more of the work we had covered previously, only this time he calmed down much quicker and I calmly boxed him within a few short moments. I knew then that we had a rapport.
Coming To Stay
It was later decided upon that it would be best for Rodeo and his smaller equine buddy Ben to come and stay with me for a few weeks while his owner was away. It became clear that Rodeo had a lot of trouble in his mind from past experience and needed a great deal of understanding and change of approach. I had only completed my equine psychology diploma a few months prior and my knowledge was much more limited to where it is today (and I hasten to add that today I am limited in comparison to what I could know tomorrow).
The first days were so important, transitioning two new horses in to the herd, making it as safe as possible and again taking Rodeo out of the stable down the road alone…Which may not sound difficult, but at this time Rodeo had proved he could lash out with his front legs and lunge with his mouth when excited, with much lesser signals that I was prepared for.
Ben needed to be kept in much of the time due to an allergy, do it was important that Rodeo was able to settle with and without him. Our two minis Dolly and Daisy helped with this, one of them would go in the stable and keep Ben company when it was sunny.
The following few months were extremely interesting. Rodeo displayed a range of emotions, very unpredictable at times. His range of triggers came from different levels of both previous training and trauma. He received monthly care from an Equine Sports Masseuse as he had been ridden hard for show jumping, without the right condition.
I watched Rodeo every day, eager to see how he would interact with the horses. I wanted to know his story. Was it just humans, how would be be with other horses?
I quickly learned that he and Teddy would get in to more than just a little play fighting around feed times, so in the end I would separate Rodeo from the herd during meals and he seems much more relaxed. He would always be fed last and every time it was his turn, he would mosey on over to his corner, I’d put down the food and close the gate.
(pictured- Rodeo & Teddy fighting / Rodeo eating in peace)
After dinner they could share hay together.
Over time we began to bond and Rodeo learned to trust me a little more, I think from seeing how the other horses reacted to me and we only did positive association type work together such as foraging, taking walks, grooming (which he enjoyed) and of course food!
(pictured- Rodeo foraging / Rodeo targeting the halter / Mike & Rodeo sharing a moment)
A New Training System
Rodeo would watch the training sessions I had with Teddy and the herd and on one occasion jumped the fence to join in. I noticed that in the beginning if I used any negative reinforcement techniques, Rodeo would react angrily, putting his ears back and grinding his teeth – the warning a bite was coming if I didn’t stop. I did all I could to listen to him and find levels of “pressure” that he could tolerate. In the end I decided that it wasn’t worth fighting anymore and we started using purely positive methods. Below you can see how impressed he is with training …..
It was using Positive Horsemanship methods that I was able to redirect Rodeo to a more curious and positive response. He stopped being angry and started joining in. It wasn’t long before he was showing the whole herd how it’s done. His super fast mind, curiosity and growing confidence proved he was able to do so much in liberty and agility type work.
Rodeo took his new skills to showing off all around the place! He would join me poo picking in the field and offer behaviours even when we weren’t training.
At that time Rodeo was still undergoing massage therapy, it was thought now would be a good time to give him a rest over Winter and see what next Spring would bring.
This brings us up to our current point in the chapter . The goal here is to take Rodeo from a horse who has experienced many aversive methods and tack – and re-train him using force-free and pain-free methods.