Friday 13 July 2018


So it's been a crazy couple weeks to say the least.

Kachina leaving the hay bale to come say hi

My last two posts on goals were pre-written drafts that I was planning to add photos etc. to before they went out but didn't get the chance. I like goal posts for tracking myself but they also seem more impersonal as they don't accurately talk about what's going on in the here and now.

I love the way she comes up to me these days

What's going on in the here and now? While I have had good rides and work with Kachina lately, we still struggle with having her stand. This has been a long term problem that I've been trying to address basically since day 1. I finally think I have more information about the problem and a better plan to tackle it.

Paddock buddies eat from the same side of the bale now

Here's the deal: Kachina tends to stand like a normal horse when she is away from home, either tied or in a stall, but cannot deal when she is tied inside a barn at home; she doesn't pull back but she dances around, paws, and is very tense. For most of the time I've had her, home was my old barn, where the indoor arena/barn was admittedly a bit spooky (shadowy, motion sensitive lights that would go on and off, skittish cats running around, a half wall high enough that horses couldn't see over, and a quiet barn with no indoor boarders so Kachina was usually the only horse in there). I worked with her for a very long time on standing behavior in the barn. She did get better, learning that she wasn't allowed to invade my space while she was dancing around and teaching her cues to stop pawing, but these were changes in her body's response, not a change in her headspace. She never truly relaxed until I asked her to move her feet and gave her a job. The change was sometimes super dramatic: she would be a bundle of nerves while I was tacking up but as soon as I mounted up and started riding she would breath deeply and completely relax over her topline. After a long time I eventually moved because I thought that the setup at the old barn was just not working for Kachina.

Tense pawing mess tied at old barn

Enter the new barn. New barn is somewhere that I had been to with Kachina before for lessons or clinics and a place where she would be damn close to falling asleep while tied in the aisle way. My first week there she was much better at standing for grooming and tacking up and I thought I had solved the problem. Of course nothing can be that easy with horses. As the weeks went by Kachina's behaviour worsened to almost as bad as it was at the old barn. Not quite as bad, so the physical set up does seem to make a bit of difference, but she still regressed enough that the problem was still very much present. The barn move was still useful though because it gave me information I was missing before. What happened in the weeks from arrival at the new barn until the bad behaviour came back? My handling hadn't changed (I really monitored that), and she hadn't had any bad experiences in the barn. The only thing I could figure is that Kachina bonded to her new neighbours and pen mates and the new barn became "home". The Chinook show was our first time away since we've moved to the new barn and Kachina was very calm in her stall at the show all weekend. It confirmed that the problem is with standing inside at home.

Standing like a normal horse in new barn before it became home
(at a haul-in lesson years ago)

Why is that? I don't know. My two hypotheses are that either A) something bad happened to Kachina inside a barn at one of her previous "homes" or B) Kachina has a slightly odd presentation of herdboundness. I say odd because Kachina does not seem to match the typical symptoms of being herdbound: she happily follows me from the field most of the time, she doesn't vocalize much, she doesn't mind being ridden away from friends, and doesn't rush home on trail rides. However, despite this there is still a chance that being tied away from her friends and not having enough instruction to take her focus off of that is the combination of factors that brings out the problem. A) is also a possibility as it does seem like Kachina had some rough treatment in her formative years. I am not sure which cause it is but I think the solution is the same: I need to get Kachina to learn to self-sooth inside at home. She already knows how to relax if I am being a leader for her (like when I ride or do work in hand with her) but she needs to learn to relax for herself. I had thought of this a bit at the old barn but I didn't have a good set up for it there. At my current barn I have a nice safe stall that I can use in the main barn aisle. This is an ideal place to set Kachina up for success. It's a light and airy location, I can equip her with food and water, she can poke her head out the stall door to look around, and it's a busy barn where she will see horses come and go all day so she can't rely too heavily on any one horse but still not be isolated. It's also an easy location for me to set up with a book and a camp chair to keep an eye on her without being actively involved.

I think it's a good plan, but I need a weekend to execute it. Well our Chinook Bronze show was 4 weeks ago now (I still want to post more about that). The weekend after that I was out of town for a dragonboat festival (my other sport). I'm part of a great team and I love almost every thing about it except that it takes away my horse time on festival weekends. The first weekend of July was supposed to be a long weekend for Canada Day and I was all geared up to spend all weekend at the barn. Instead, that Saturday I got a call from work that a major component had failed. I was covering for two coworkers on vacation so suddenly I was the prime person running a major repair project. I've been working ever since, putting in 10-13 hour days for the last two weeks straight. We finally got things up and running again and I am super excited to spend this weekend at the barn instead of at work!


  1. Hope you enjoyed your barn weekend and got some relaxation in! :)

  2. I've been thinking about this - I wonder if clicker training might help her figure this out.

    1. I love the concept of clicker training. However when Kachina is so tense in the barn she won't eat a treat half the time, much less work for it. I can't find any positive reward that is strong enough to work through her tension.

  3. Maybe she has a checklist running in her head of all the things she has to do that day lol :P