Sergeant is trying to gaslight me. I swear, it’s true.
Our set-up here is not typical: our pasture is also our yard. There is no “this is the horse area”, “this is the dog area”, “this is the chicken area”. It’s all one big happy area. In theory.
I didn’t think twice about this as we awaited Sergent’s arrival; all I thought was, “Oh, cool…Sergeant will be able to look right into the lodge windows.”
No one warned us. No one told us that this might be problematic, but I don’t blame them. I blame myself, because…that’s what I do.
I should have seen it coming. I listened as Horse Debbie told me of her cat who has to go all the way around the perimeter of the pasture so Dixie won’t chase her and scare the living daylights out of her. I should have figured that a predator/prey friendship was going to be difficult, even if the predator in question is or own placid, non-barking, world-loving Miss Billie.
But I didn’t.
Consistently, if Sergeant was in the pasture/yard, and I brought out Billie to do her unmentionables, on leash, mind, Sergeant would pursue us, no matter how much distance I attempted to keep. I couldn’t say for certain there was hostile intent, but he would come right up to me. Right up to me. He’d stop at my “whoa!”, then try to go around me to get to Billie. Poor Billie would be cowering behind me, terrified of this new 1,000 pound aggressor who was trying to keep her out of her own damned yard, thank you very much.
Clearly, something had to be done, and I was not doing it. When The Man took Billie out while Sergeant was unstalled, I asked him, eagerly, “Did he do it? Did he pursue and crowd you?” The Man looked at me quizzically, with no idea of what I was talking about. Sergeant had been the perfect gentlehorse.
When I took Billie out yesterday morning, Sergeant followed us right into the barn. I brought Billie through the narrow opening to the chicken coop hallway, thinking she’d surely be safe from harassment while I looked in on the girls. Sergeant came right up to the hallway and stuck his head through the opening, as far as he could. I thought Billie was going to shit herself.
Once back in the house, I ran to The Man “Did you see that? Did you see that?!” He looked at me, bemused. Occupied with other matters, he hadn’t paid attention.
There was one more chance for redemption. Our horsey friend, Melissa, was coming over to spend an hour with me and Sergeant, to show me how to handle him, both physically and psychologically. Not a moment too soon! I prayed I could recreate the behaviour, so she could show me how to change it. We went into the pasture/yard, Billie in tow.
Did Sergeant pursue us? He did not. He did not so much as look up from his hay.
In the end, it doesn’t matter, because Melissa had a solution for me. When I bring Billie out, on leash at first, I go immediately to the barn to get the longe whip. This is the instrument used to longe the horse, not to whip him, but to be a visual cue. The whip is just a tool, neither good nor bad, and can also be used to desensitise the horse to rapid, close movement, as well as to caress. Fear is not the objective.
The whip is quite long, and is also useful to show the horse the distance he should keep from you. It’s a personal space bubble measurer. Sergeant saw me holding it in one hand, with Billie on leash in the other, and miraculously stayed where he was. It was magic.
After Billie had peed, which, can I say, has been a nerve-wracking activity for the poor girl of late, Melissa told me to let her off leash. Wait, what?! Yup, while Sergeant was in the pasture. Keep myself between Billie and Sergeant, holding the longe whip in the hand closest to Sergeant. Should Billie approach Sergeant (unlikely, as she is now thoroughly terrified…not a bad thing), I could use the command “OFF!!” to get her to steer away.
And it worked.
I plotzed. Plotzed, I tell you!
We worked on other things, as well: putting Sergeant in crossties to groom him, picking up and cleaning his feet, getting him to move to the side, or back, as directed. And then, unexpectedly, Melissa asked me to longe him. This has been The Man’s purview, and I hadn’t thought to do it myself for a while, but it went very, very well. I just need to learn the coordination of the two arms, so that I can relieve pressure when he’s doing what I ask of him. This is called negative reinforcement.
He is such a good boy, everyone thinks so, and he is getting used to us. He is lonely, I’m sure, but not urgently so. He doesn’t pace the fence line or call out or exhibit neurotic behaviours. He has been reluctant to go into his stall, but, now that we’re shaking a red bucket with a very small quantity of sweet grain in it, he comes at a trot, right into the stall.
Why, no, I’m not above bribery. Why do you ask?
But…could I replicate the results on my own?I took Billie out this morning, on leash, went straight to the barn to get the longe whip, then took her out to her favourite area. She peed…and I let her off leash. Not only was it fine, Sergeant didn’t move from where he was eating hay, and Billie even got to do a few zoomies.
Is this the end of the issues? I doubt it. But at least my poor girl can relieve her bladder in relative peace. And, you know what? She was here first.