Problem Horses - Aslan's Story 2 - Overcoming his Flight Instinct [Slideshow]
I still work with him in the pasture because I want to have a certain degree of language and trust before I take him out of his known environment.
Acceptance of the flag while moving
Unfortunately, we don’t have pictures of the second session where he touched the flag after about 10 min and progressively allowed me to touch him all over his body.
During this third session, I started to work on his acceptance of the flag while moving. This can be a big step for many horses – friendly games might be ok while standing still, but as soon as the horses are moving, things tend to get difficult. Aslan still takes a very long time to lick and chew and to relax on things.
I help him to process better with the use of repetitive sequences – I will explain with the picture what I mean with this. Aslan is a high spirited Right Brain introvert/extrovert Horsenality, so he needs a lot of repetition and consistency.
The technique of repetitive sequences
It doesn’t work for him to keep doing a friendly game until he would show signs of relaxation – so I chose the technique of repetitive sequences. I repeat exactly the same thing about 3 times in a row, then I give him time to think.
This worked a lot better – he kind of realised with each repetition that I was not hurting him and that he was still ok afterwards. So yes, I quit a lot of times when he is not 100% relaxed, but as he makes the experience that he was ok, he relaxes about it afterwards and is way better the next time I repeat the sequence.
Here are the pictures with description of Aslan's third session.
I start the session with some grooming and allowing him to graze. Making friends is very important.
I start with touching him with stick and string on the left side, starting at the shoulder and progressing towards the hindquarters. I also go down each leg on the outside and the inside. I go through this 3 times on this side. I like to keep one hand flat on his forehead – it somehow creates a stronger connection and calms him down.
I repeat the exact same thing on the right side. Again I repeat the motion 3 times – meaning I touched him with the stick everywhere 3 times.
After this, he let out a big sigh and put his head under my arm. It was a significant moment in our relationship – it was the first time he truly connected with me and I had the feeling it was the moment where he decided to trust and give it all a try. He stayed like that for quite a while, licking and chewing.
Then I presented the flag, I wrapped it around the stick as it was so windy and I didn’t want to upset him unnecessarily. He allowed me to touch right away
I start the same sequence as I did with stick and string. Touch shoulder and back…
Front legs – still difficult. Then I continued to the hindquarters.
Asking for permission to touch the right side.
After touching neck and shoulders, I go down the front leg – look closely, he is licking and chewing right there!
Then progressing over the back and hindquarters stroking down the very sensitive right hind leg. He did a great job tolerating it, but watch his tail all tucked under and the ears pointing backwards pretty stiff.
Time to relax. As he had such a hard time to let go of tension, I decide to allow him to graze in between sequences. It helps him a lot to relax.
Now it is time to help him accept the flag while moving. He is quite ok with it on his left side while walking – even above him.
Flag on his side touching his flanks.
Even on the right side he was pretty ok at first – maybe you notice his “quiet” look and the ears pointing both back on this picture. This look is often confused with the horse being bored or really cool and ok with things…. which is not correct in this case!
I go on to the next step, which is doing soft changes of direction, this is pretty challenging for him: Typical stance and posture of a right brain introvert who feels very worried: Tail tucked under, one hind leg “at rest”, ears tight and pointed slightly back, front legs braced and neck as well…
Here we go – that's how it looked 1 sec later. As these kind of horses are very obedient, they will often tolerate things even several times before their fear finally takes over. He has been resistant in the change of direction – not because he is stubborn, but because he is unconfident with the flag on his side while moving. He would rather keep the flag in front of him, where he can see it better.
Here I make contact with the flag. So, if we have a sensitive horse like Aslan, should we stay away from reactions like this? I don’t think so, we much rather have to show our horses how to deal with scary things. Of course we have to stay in control of the situation and make sure we reach a positive outcome...
He is still in flight mode – that’s why I keep the flag there. As already mentioned in the previous post, he has developed a very strong habit of flight. It is a very natural response for horses, but it is not very safe and beneficial in human world. He is learning now a different response, which is slow down, confront, think and then relax. In order to achieve this, I have to stick with it until he finds relaxation.
Now this looks way better. Compare with previous picture. Way less tension in his body, head lower, tail relaxed. He accepts the touch of the flag while trotting.
Now it is time for the other side. Of course I expect to get a similar reaction. Notice that I keep my hand open. It is important that they don’t feel trapped.
Everything is a bit easier for him on the left side. Aslan is still reacting strong on it, but less than on his right eye.
That’s how we ended the third session. He accepted the flag at the trot, touching him all over his body. Watch his body language here. His head is low, the ears are more relaxed, one ear pointing attentively towards me and not back to the flag. The rope is loose. He made lots of progress in just 3 sessions.
Time to think about all that – the most important thing for Aslan will be that he starts to see me as a friend, his caretaker and protector in fearful situations – even if it is me who presents things to him.
Read more about Aslan