A few weeks ago my Fell Pony mare Lunesdale Silver Belle played a dominance game with me at morning feeding. Now that some time has passed, it’s interesting to look back on that game and realize that I won it better than I expected. And we’ve now moved onto the next incarnation.
On the particular morning in question, Ellie didn’t come to me to be haltered prior to getting her feed bucket, so I worked with her until she showed me some sign of respect. I had a pretty good laugh the next morning because not only did she not come to be haltered, she didn’t even show interest in her feed bucket. I let her be disinterested, figuring she was making a choice that I could live with for one day. She watched at a distance as the rest of the herd ate then when I threw hay, I made sure she showed interest in that so I at least knew she was healthy and just playing a game with me. The next morning is when I realized I won the game better than I thought I did because Ellie came to me to be haltered before getting her feed bucket. And she’s come to me every morning since then.
Now we’re working on waiting respectfully for her feed bucket. After I halter her and tie her to the fence, I walk back twenty feet to get her bucket then turn and walk back to give it to her. She has a habit of pawing, moving around, and tossing her head while I’m approaching. In a conversation recently with my friend Doc Hammill, he mentioned having a dominant mare who was showing disrespect by pawing in anticipation of her feed bucket. Doc explained that every time she pawed when he was approaching, he would stop until she quit. He would only proceed to her with the bucket if she stood quietly. If she couldn’t be quiet, she didn’t get her feed bucket that day.
I’m putting a similar strategy to work with Ellie. She has already figured out that I’m willing to withhold her feed bucket entirely, so she’s doing pretty well not pawing but only after she makes sure that I will reward her for it. In addition to her not pawing, I’m also asking her to look at me with both eyes and both ears and to stand still. At the moment, it’s hard for her to look right at me with both eyes, keeping both ears pricked toward me. She typically starts out with one eye with her head turned or gives me one eye with the other hidden behind the little tree where she’s tied. I then can get two eyes but not always two ears. Eventually she gives me all four, but I’m having to reward instantaneous tries rather than prolonged effort. She gets a little better every day. I will feel truly successful when she stands quietly and patiently and gives me all four in a sustained way. This is a good test of our relationship.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012