Tuesday 10 April 2018

Real Talk

I've mentioned many times on here about how Kachina's ground manners can be problematic, about how she had a rough past, is an insecure horse, has trust issues with other people, and some things like trimming her feet need to be done with a lot of tact. I haven't been hiding these issues, but I know I'm not the only blogger to not reveal exactly how bad a problem is until they are on the path to fixing it. That means now is the time for some real talk and deep honesty. This is how bad the problem was:

Exhibit A
Video of Kachina standing tied in my old barn.

This is the same barn that she has been in countless times over 3.5 years. A barn where she has never been hurt in and a barn that does not house horse murderers (despite what she may believe). This wasn't feeding time or a storm or any complicating factor. This is 100% a representative sample of what Kachina was like the majority of times that I tried to tie her inside the barn or arena. Note the stress pooping, the pacing, the pawing, the nervous jaw opening/nose wrinkling (a unique tell for Kachina), the shifting of the weight, and the continuous alertness. She respected the tie and wouldn't pull back but aside from that she would get herself into such a cycle of tension that she would just tune me out. If I tried to restrict her movement in any way (including holding a hoof), her tension would escalate even more. 

Exhibit B
When I moved barns, Kachina was at over twice her normal trimming cycle. Is this bad? Yes, she absolutely needed a trim and she got one last week, but before you rake me over the coals for horse neglect please know that she has good feet, is barefoot, in light work, and her feet grow slowly especially over the winter; in short, she looked like a horse due for a trim, not a neglected founder case. 
Why has it been so long since her last trim? Because the weather and footing has made trimming outside impossible for the last few months, and see Exhibit A for why trimming inside the barn is not an ideal option. Could we have gotten it done? Yes. Could we have gotten it done without undoing several months of work in improving her trust in the farrier and having her feet handled? No. I simply had to choose her mental health over her physical health in this instance. (If it had gone any longer my Plan B was to haul her to vet clinic to drug her for trim). 

Summary: It was bad. I've never totally given up but I have to admit that this winter was rough (summer is easier because she is 500% better when I can tie her outside). It was physically and emotionally exhausting every time I would come out and have to deal with an anxious horse to groom and tack up. I developed ways to get it done as quickly, easily, and safely as possible but it was never relaxing for either of us. The barn is supposed to be my place where I can relax and recharge from a stressful day, but I had to keep myself home when I wasn't 100% in the right mind frame so that I wouldn't lose patience with Kachina. I generally think patience is one of my strong suits as a horsewoman but even I was struggling.

Before you ask "did you try _________?", the answer is Yes. It's been almost 4 years guys, I tried everything. I exhausted my own training toolbox, tried working with 5 different trainers at various times, and even exhausted every approach from good old google that sounded remotely worth a try. Besides the training side of things I also looked at food, supplements, had multiple vet appointments to rule out physical problems, etc.

(Note that these problems were totally related to standing still inside. The second I would start to lunge or ride Kachina she would blow out her tension and give me great, focused work. But of course you have to stand still sometimes to put on the gear required for lunging or riding. Also, visits in the pen were fine and chill, but there's only so much you can do out there when it's freezing.)

After trying so many other things, I eventually decided to move Kachina. I sometimes ask myself why I didn't decide this earlier, but I truly wanted to address the root of the issue and I felt like moving was just going to hide the problem. Finally though I realized that you can only work to make a horse braver and more comfortable if you convince them that they are always safe and slowly expand their comfort zone. In the winter in my old barn, Kachina didn't have a comfort zone. You can't expand a comfort zone if one doesn't exist. I realized that I need to build lots of good experiences to teach Kachina that standing inside a barn is okay, and then gradually expand that to include barns and areas that make her uneasy. This means I needed to find a barn where Kachina is naturally comfortable in. That's where my new barn comes in. This is a video of her standing in the new barn during her very first day there after the move:

The problems aren't solved. I still need to do a lot of work with Kachina. She is reasonably happy in one barn aisle but the one on the other side of the arena is currently a no-go zone. At least we finally have a starting point to build from though; that's worth a lot.