Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Draft Animal Power › Horses › Dancing, Prancing and General Agitation
- March 31, 2017 at 5:28 pm #90246
Hello. I have a wonderful Percheron mare who is normally calm and willing but recently I’ve had some issues on occasion. We recently did a small logging job for a week, as I’m just trying to get my foot in the door in that industry in our region. Nobody is horse logging around here. She worked hard and was awesome so when we got home at the end of the week, she got a couple days off. I also needed them. I was achey!
Anyway, we got back in harness the other day and did our usual livestock chores, some light garden work and then I took her for a ground drive. She was totally fine except for whenever I would turn her back in the direction of our barn. Even if it was not visible. She would begin prancing, shaking her head, really in the lines. She was clearly bothered. I was flumuxed. If I turned her around and went the opposite way, she settled immediately. I was even able to drive her without the lines. Slipped them over one shoulder, she plodded along normally and she readily responded to any voice commands. Come around facing the “home base” area of the farm and she did it again. Prancing. Is this what some folks call “herd bound?” We were only out of harness for like 3 days. She’s done this before after a couple of days off from working. She settles down if we work every day, but shouldn’t I expect that she’d know the drill by now? We’ve been partners for over a year and working all the time. This is long winded enough. Thanks anybody for some insight.
LarsApril 1, 2017 at 10:30 am #90253
I call it “Barn Sour”. It may be just that she had a long week of work and then she felt the “release’ of that work by being back at home. Now she is seeking the release and wants to hang out on the couch. (that is overly anthropomorphized!)
It shouldnt be a big deal as long as you can maintain a calm steady control and get the work done that you need to. It might be worth working on finding some other forms of release throughout your day so that she can trust that you will give her the breaks she needs “before” she needs them.
If you and her were both beat by the end of the week of logging, you might have been pushing it too hard for the condition/experience you both have.
All that being said it sounds like you will be just fine, the more you both work off farm the easier the return home trips get. I have a very on and off work schedule for logging so I run into this a lot. It never really escalates it just gets better with experience.April 1, 2017 at 10:44 am #90255
Thanks Jared. I think after the logging, I was definitely more beat than her! But I think from what you’re saying that it’s likely the case that she is feeling the release. It’s what I suspected but I like seeing what other folks with more experience think. Glad to know I’m not alone and that its not so much of a “newbie” problem. Thank you for your input.
LarsApril 1, 2017 at 11:46 am #90257
I struggle with this too, and not with a lot hard days for them. When they want to fuss going home we try to give them more work at home and/or (depending on how much time we have) tie them up in harness when we get home, so they may be home but are not back to leisure time. If they think rushing to get to the driveway is the answer to get that release, we remind them that it doesn’t work that way all of the time. Eventually with more work and a settled routine they are content to make their way home at a reasonable pace.April 3, 2017 at 8:52 am #90265
I agree with all of the above.
I usually try to spend less time trying to figure out why, and just concentrate on what I want to see. I think it is a very slow lesson to learn, that just because we have limited time, and specific tasks, that the horse may need more foundational attention.
I don’t mean that she is lacking foundation, just that I don’t want the prancing and dancing, and when it arises, I need to work on ways to alleviate it. And by this I do not mean that I will work on it now to solve it for all time, but I think Jared’s point about finding really acute ways to demonstrate release throughout the day is key.
I have found that even after heavy work, my horses often will demonstrate even more energy headed home…. well, I have been working hard. Presumably I’m done with the task, and ready to move to something else…. am I going to have time to correct this behavior? No.
It can be frustrating, but calm consistent reassurance of the appropriate pace is really the best approach that I have found. Then over time with regular work, and not giving in to the distraction, the behavior can be adjusted.
I have found benefit from having my horses comfortable with the day-end routine at the barn, so I am not interested in interfering with that. The main thing is that during work there are enough opportunities for them to find comfort that they do not find the barn, or being out of harness, or not working, to be the only place for comfort.
This is where I also try to change my pressure of initiative. Rather than pushing horses through tasks by command, I try to be an active partner….. like leading in a dance, not because someone has an idea and is compelling the other to comply, but because with one leading, and one following, the two can move as one.
I have found that it is not an easy balance. When I have limited time, and the horses are my power unit to get the work done, it is easy to fall into the rut of :”go there, go here, stop, do that”, not unlike driving a tractor. And then there is the need to be efficient, and any distracting energy from the horse is unhelpful, which can lead to the need to correct and reinforce their responsibility to respond appropriately.
I have found however, when I resist the need to have them respond as I expect, and instead be mindfully present, to move with them based on how they are actually responding, then they become more comfortable just because my communication has improved immensely, and they are more interested in cooperating with me precisely because I have shown them I am interested in communicating with them.
So this is a long way of saying that in the moment this can seem distracting, and perhaps even chronic, but just keep working with her to show her that you are there, and that she can count on you, and you will find the results you seek….
CarlApril 3, 2017 at 9:35 am #90266
Oh, I also meant to say that I almost didn’t read this thread, because the first time I saw the title I thought it said “Dancing, Prancing, and General “Equitation””… I thought is was about show horses….
CarlApril 3, 2017 at 1:49 pm #90267
Mud and my wife being out of town have kept me on daddy duty and the horses out to pasture for almost two weeks. I hooked the horses last night to move some brush and debris out of the field. I had this thread on my mind because I knew I was going to have the “heading home prance”. Because I knew it was going to happen it didnt cause any issues. It might have been slightly worse because I was analyzing it in my head and maybe projecting the energy towards the horses. I have been getting in the routine of parking the horses facing into the brush where I am working instead of keeping the lines near by. They know this routine well and when I put them nose first into some of my brush piles they fell into the old habit of chilling out and taking a break. Long story short, after two hours of work and over-analyzing that is all I came up with. figure out what part of your routine is a nice mental break for you both and use it regularly for both of your benefits. AKA you are probably just fine 😉April 4, 2017 at 6:45 am #90272
When my dad and Grandfather worked horses hard every day Sunday was well looked forward to. It was a day of rest for real not like today. Saturday night they would make a bran mash with some molasses for the horses and feed them. That was their cooling out feed. Sunday there was no grain just good hay and if possible lot time for exercise. They always felt that when a change in the rate of work happened in the horses life the change in diet had to reflect that. Sort of like a marathon runner eating high protein, high energy food every day even though the marathon is over and he is couch” potatoing” it. Monday morning the transition back to work was smoother not to mention healthier for the horses.
RonApril 4, 2017 at 9:31 am #90273
Have had this thread in my mind over the past few days around my place. We keep a lot of horses, and while they aren’t new to me, owning/working draft horses is. I’m a well established routine guy and admittedly a bit stuck at times in how I do things. Horses are a great way to break one of that habit! Routine in safe handling techniques, harnessing, when feet are trimmed, or a feeding schedule may be beneficial, but other routine behaviors I see are not. I’ve definitely experienced “barn sour” behaviors resulting in the way I work my horses, and its amazing how simple changes, like those mentioned here, have great effect.
Its also amazing how easy it is to fall into simple routines that horses come to expect, then demand… Classic on my farm is the horse that is ready to go outside in the morning before others that stomps, paws or kicks. Its natural to fall into the trap of getting that horse outside first, which just reinforces those behaviors when what that horse needs to do is stand and wait. I see this amongst the Boarders who keep horses with us too. “My horse was agitated/uncomfortable, so I put him in his stall.” Pretty soon I’ve got a horse that doesn’t want to be outside when the wind blows. Mentally this horse is building a dependency on the comfort routine its Owner uses when around, which I have to handle the rest of the week.
Being a routine guy I benefit from the feedback above for sure. Including changes in feed ration with work load. Applying simple changes to my routine has been fun and helpful. Thanks.April 6, 2017 at 9:45 am #90276
Thanks everyone for the input! I love this community. Simple reassurances have more than a few times gotten me feeling like I’m doing okay and to not be discouraged.
May and I have had opportunity to do a lot more work this week, and taking several people’s advice, breaks and rest were figured into the work schedule. Also some rewards for hard work and cooperation. Both were results from what I think Carl described as her willingness to cooperate because I communicated more effectively.
She has pretty much stopped the agitated prancing and “barn sour” behavior. I guess I was surprised by it when it was happening because it had been a LONG time since she’d done it and we’d just been at regular work for a good stretch. Oh well. Always a learning game. That’s part of what I love so much about this.
Next up in the Equipment Forum, Lars asks dumb questions about setting up sulky and walking plows! Stay tuned!
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