Thursday, June 13, 2013

Catch Up: Hard to bit

A week or so ago, I agreed to help Miss Jordan, who bought Orion from me years back (my first horse for new readers), with Orion's newly developed I-hate-the-bit routine - which could also be referred to his I-believe-I-am-the-world's-best-giraffe impression. He has no dental, skeletal, or muscular issues. This is strictly a behavioral issue. And he's not violent about not wanting his bit, he has just learned that he can evade Jordan if he thrusts his head waaayyy up high. And evading bitting is evading work in his mind.

Jordan is hands down one of the best entry-level horse people I've met. She's got really good instincts about what is right and wrong. She's not afraid to ask questions, not afraid to search for her own answers among reputable sources, and not afraid to ask for help when she's uncertain. Traits that are very admirable and that I wish more people (myself included) possessed more of.

However, she's still new to the whole owning a horse game. Newer than most new folks even. See, Jordan didn't have the luxury of growing up around horses all the time or having lessons and constant interaction like many of us (I fall into the lucky group, here). Some of the intuition around horses comes from time spent. The longer you spend focused within a certain subject matter, the more subtleties and idiosyncrasies you notice and become accustomed to that will help you better understand. Learning is never (ever ever ever  - getting back together no we-ee are never ever ever getting back together) ending.

And thus, small warning signs of Orion's developing aspirations to be the world's greatest giraffe-horse may not have been as obvious until he had truly perfected the art of giraffitude. But no worry, we know he was once capable of being a true horse and not a giraffe, so bringing him back to his roots shouldn't be impossible, right? Right.

I really had no idea where to begin with this pursuit.  I figured cookies should be involved. A head down cue perhaps? But its not like he wouldn't put his head down per se. He'd put it down. But then as soon as the bit came near - like very near on the cusp of entering his mouth - he'd go into full-on giraffe-mode. Stick his nose way up in the air and just leave it there. You take a step to counter this he takes a step to counter you. It seemed he'd turned the entire bitting process into a game.

So how did I experimentally approach this?

My goal was to evolve this game into something else entirely that he would hopefully find more fun. Cookies if he let us simply slip a finger into the corner of his mouth. Excessively. Get a finger or thumb in and just hook his cheek as you would a fish. Cookie if he dealt with it without being a giraffe. If he was a giraffe leave finger hooked until he brought the head down. He realized [relatively] quickly that we weren't going to play his game any more. He couldn't merely "escape" by being a giraffe. Within 20 minutes he let us put the bit in his mouth with zero issue.

We'd taken his evasion game and instead turned it into this fun game full of praise and cookies. The issue became a non-issue in well under an hour - versus prior it was taking an hour plus for Jordan to even put the bit in his mouth! I think the video I took for her at the end was a whole 12 seconds in length from me saying, "I'm filming" to her having the bit in his mouth. Hurrah!

I let her know she'd likely have to pursue part of the cookie game each time she was ready to put the bridle on for a week or so, but that she'd definitely be able to wean him off cookies quickly. So happy (and surprised) that the experiment went well and solved his "issue". I think he agrees, too, cookies are always a plus.

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