Training with thanks to Temple Grandin.
No horse feeds another horse treats.
We all accept that in nature, horses, unlike dogs, primates, birds etc, will not feed each other. Well up to a point Lord Copper. Horses don’t feed each other treats, the route is one way. Mother’s feed foals.
I can’t produce milk, but I can produce food out of my body, OK out of my pockets, but is this a significant difference to a horse, or a mule?
I am working with a rescue mule called Winston, who is very green, and very very scared. but feed him treats, and he likes you. Not only does he like you, he becomes progressively more babyish, and starts to headbut you, as foals headbut their mothers when he is scared, or stressed.
This gives an instant feedback of his feelings, and allows me to take him on towards new experiences, or back to familiar areas, according to his stress levels. When the stress is high, a lorry has zipped past, or even worse a strange person has approached; he is butting at me, eating treats like a lunatic. Under severe stress, 2 or 3 grassnuts every 5 seconds is required.
Serious hand pocket coordination is required here. As the stress eases, the feeding frequency reduces and he will start acceptinng scratches as a substitute and then, the curiosity returns, and he is ready to explore again.
Temple Grandin’s phrase “curiously afraid” sums up the situation perfectly. He loves exploring, but the new things he finds, worry him while he tries to assess the risks, but tucked up against mummy, suckling, he feels safe.
Of course he knows I am not mummy, count the legs dummy, and since my ears are totally inadequate by horse standards, to a mule they must appear ludicrous. But his behaviour to me is becoming more and more babyish. Again I return to Garndin who quotes extensive research on the dog wolf relationship.
Basically dogs are Peter Pan wolves, adult in years, but children in behaviour and appearance. Domestication produces neotony, the continuation of infant characteristics into adulthood. By feeding Winston on demand, and particularly when he is stressed, I appear to be allowing his babyish character to be exposed.
He feels safe playing, and the minute we get back to known home territory, though he has only known it for days, he gives up the childish headbutting, and pretends to be a big savage adult, charging me with ears back, until that is, he is close enough for a handful of grassnuts.
Then he decides to be a proper mule, dig his toes in, and refuse to move, but a hand in my pocket and he comes forward, then remembers how grown up he is and attacks, until again he gets a scratch or a grass nut.
I’m not even using pressure release, it’s body language, engaging in the games, playing grandmother’s footsteps, until a car, or a person, or an echoing courtyard scare him and he headbuts for food and reassurance.
I don’t know how the system will end, but I intend to go to London with him in about three weeks, from Exeter, with him in a standard Saddlechariot, and Obama in the Bannedwaggon. If my system is right, it’s going to get a baptism of fire, but it works so far.
It is an update of the GODMOTHER concept which grew out of Grandin’s explanations of Jaak Franksepps theories on the rleationship between PANIC and seperation anxiety. I will be trying to make sense of the theory, which is evolving daily, in this blog.