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Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

I received this email from a reader who is considering using an equine shock collar on her unruly gelding as a last resort. I wrote about equine shock collars as endorsed by Julie Goodnight here.

Hi,

I was considering buying equine shock collar for my horse and came across your article. I’m keen to understand what the alternative is when you have exhausted every avenue in terms of seeing if the horse has physical pain and it seems it is purely behavioural.
My gelding is not on the extreme end of the spectrum I am sure but is at times dangerous enough to the mare he shares a paddock with and to me that I have considered selling him.
He generally bullies the mare and when she comes into season he becomes quite aggressive towards her, last time pinning her down with his teeth by her neck while trying to climb on top of her.
With me he is generally pushy and argues about anything I ask him to do, and if I am out riding and other horses are running around, he then puts on his best stallion impression, tail up, neck arched, screaming at the top of his voice while plunging and spinning around.
I have had countless people of all sorts of therapeutic disciplines look at him and almost all have concluded there is not a huge amount wrong with him. Vets too and I recently had him tested as to whether he is a rig and his testosterone levels came back as lower than a normal gelding would be.
So here I am, trying to work out what on earth I do. I have had a trainer out who has given me some great things to work on with his behaviour toward me (basically me being a stronger more consistent yet fair leader) and I can see that over time this will work.
However I am at a loss of what to do with him and the mare. I am fortunate to be on our property now so can separate them but this is obviously unnatural and not a nice long term solution for either of them. Most of the day they graze happily together and he even lets her share his food, but in the afternoon, when he is bored, he just starts pushing her around and bothering her. And as I say, when she comes into season this escalates quite dramatically to the point one or both of them are going to get seriously injured.
If you disagree with shock collars, what would you suggest I do?
Many thanks in advance for your response.

I don’t believe there is ever an end to the opportunities for change in a horse. A shock collar is not going to make a lasting difference because horses, like people and other animals, cannot learn while they are in pain or afraid. And that’s just what a shock collar produces.

Imagine being shocked by a stun gun at what you believe are random times during what you consider perfectly normal behavior. How would you make sense of what is happening to you? I think it would take a very long time and a great deal of inductive reasoning. I’m not sure horses are either capable of or willing to apply this degree of reasoning to painful, seemingly random events like those produced by a shock collar.

The fact that you have had your gelding checked out extensively is commendable. But in terms of exhausting every available avenue to improve your horse’s behavior, you may need to consider that there is more to the behavior of a horse than physical or training-based behavior. If you have tried a wide variety of training solutions that have not worked (have you given them enough time for your horse to really learn?), then perhaps what you have is a loosely related group of behavioral reactions caused by fear, anxiety, or the fear of pain. These often are principal causes of “mis”behavior in horses.

It might be helpful to list the “mis”behaviors and group them according to whether your horse is acting aggressively, defensively, overly playfully, or just blowing off steam. Which ones seem to be most prevalent? What happens before “what happens happens (so to speak)”? What happens when you try certain solutions? What works and what does not? Keeping such a log even for a week might show you useful patterns in finding a solution.

After reading your description of his antics, I am reminded of my gelding Buster, who everyone said was too much horse for me. He was. At 17hh (I’m only 5′) and absolutely loaded with personality and great gusto for causing trouble (play) and breaking stuff with his teeth [(investigation) (hence the paddock name)], Buster also enjoyed imitating stallion-like behavior when it suited him. And it suited him every time I felt less than confident in handling/riding him, which was quite often!

In fact, Buster nearly killed me one afternoon as we rode back home along a fence line of fillies and I tried, mistakenly, to rein in his airs above the ground and “look at me I’m such a stud” antics by exerting “control,” rather than just doing the sensible thing and getting off, asking him to drop his head, and working on his body in such a way that I would connect with his limbic system to engage his attention, calm him, and make the situation safe. I should have and could have accomplished this easily with Tellington TTouch© bodywork and a few maneuvers from the ground. There is so much I regret about how I handled Buster, but I did not know at the time that connecting with his emotions through his body could effect such a profound change. In the intervening years, I have seen astonishing changes in just this kind of behavior in all sorts of horses with consistent, calm, quiet work with the TTouch Method.

Reading your descriptions of your horse’s behavioral issues makes me think it won’t help at all to get into a battle of wills by asserting yourself as a consistent, firm leader. This just won’t work. In fact, it has not worked, according to your own admission. So why not try something else? Something different, that affects animals in a completely different ways through different pathways?

Here is an article my friend Caroline Larrouilh and I collaborated on to define TTouch. I hope it helps you to see the possible benefits for you and your gelding.

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience
by Caroline Larrouilh and Kim Carneal

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler. Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

The electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence.

Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via

Mirror Neurons form a large part of how we relate to others.

Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do.

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings. TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.

* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From Dictionary.com:
coherence (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

First, I suggest moving the mare for the short term, for her safety. If you are not her owner, you are at risk of being held responsible for any harm that might come to her through his hijinks. I would not worry at this point about what is “natural” and not natural.

Second, how old is he and how much exercise is he getting? A young horse (like my Buster) with tons of energy and not enough exercise is somewhat like a bored kid with too much Mountain Dew in his system and no hall monitor. “Eeee! What’s next? What can I do with all this energy?”

If he is not getting consistent workouts in interesting and stimulating environments (I am NOT talking about being run in a round pen or W/T/C around, around and around in an arena or lunging) enough to tire him out, then it’s only natural that in the afternoon he would seek out his own stimulation. “Buster” busted a lot of stuff, including me, and eventually, himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

As far as escalation with mares in season, I suggest that after you take a serious look at TTouch bodywork and groundwork, and if you choose to try some out, that you ask him to lower his head and lead him past mares in season using TTouch ground work methods. If you have to stop along the fence line and get him calm, do so through the use of bodywork. It’s quick ad simple, and the calm focus it creates cannot be beat. You are not then in danger of being injured in a battle for control.

Once you have success with a fence separating the mares, try working him (use a partner to work the mare, for safety and to reduce the possibility of mayhem) with the mare that is most familiar to him. If you have even a small success, then you know you are going in the right direction. Keep it up.

What I am suggesting is a methodical examination of how, when why and where his problems occur and what you have done in response. What works, what hasn’t. Follow this by an equally systematic connection with your horse’s mind, body and spirit in a way you might not have done before.

I truly feel that you will not have to resort to a shock collar if you try out these suggestions. Please let me know what you think and if you find a solution. I wish you the best of luck and safety!

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Mindful Monday: On Impermanence and Winter Weather

Mindful Monday: On Impermanence and Winter Weather

For many reading today, it’s the depth of winter. Getting out and riding can be difficult, unless you are blessed with a heated indoor arena. I always had a really hard time making myself do more than visiting my horses on the short dark days of winter, particularly when it was raining or snowing. You may even feel guilty that it’s hard, and that the weather and the shortness of days has sometimes prevented you from spending adequate time with your horses. I say, don’t.

Solomon’s message, ❝this too shall pass,❞ or the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence (Pāli: अनिच्चा anicca; Sanskrit: अनित्य anitya), reminds us that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux. Nothing, absolutely nothing has a permanent state. I find this a comfort when enduring painful times or even when I’m just plain uncomfortable.

Someday soon, it will be spring. Not only will it be physically easier to get out there and play with horses, but it will also become a kind of instinctive call. Nature will summon us to enjoy the warmth of the sun and share the company of our warm-blooded outdoor friends. It’s a biological, evolutionary imperative for humans. For the time being, for those of us who are daunted by the prospect of entering the dark frozen landscape, no matter the reward outside, it will be a kindness to ourselves to hold in awareness the knowledge that this too shall pass. Instead of feeling guilty or forcing yourself to do something that makes you dreadfully unhappy, consider the following:

• If you hold in your awareness the fact that this time is impermanent, it may be easier for you to get out there in the cold and visit or ride.
• If it is essential that you feed, clean stalls, maintain the facility, then you have no choice. Having no choice is an excellent opportunity for practicing radical acceptance. Reminding yourself that “this too shall pass,” even while fully experiencing each moment, the coldness of your fingers, the dry icy intake of your breath, the damp footing in the aisles, places you in greater contact with the flux of reality.
• If you cannot force yourself to get out there, it is no great disaster. Do not feel guilty. If your horses are lucky enough to be in the company of others and to have the care of hired professionals at a boarding stable, then know that they are receiving the care you have generously arranged for them. They are in their natural company. They are taking care of themselves, and probably welcome the break. You need add nothing more. Take care of yourself.

While you’re waiting for the thaw, here are a few things you can do with your horses if you can’t ride.

1. Groom, groom, groom. I have a friend, Debbie, who has used the bad weather to elevate the grooming her horse Laddie to an art. Not only is Laddie the most beautiful Belgian cross around, but he also gleams with the joy of Debbie’s close contact and touch.

2. Massage. Do bodywork. Find the elusive magic scratching spot. There’s no time like the present to practice what you have been learning in those videos you rented. If you haven’t, get some! Your horse will thank you. He gets plenty of exercise outdoors. Maybe he doesn’t get enough muscle love from you.

3. Perfect that special braid you’ve always wanted your horse to sport. Equine Ink has two excellent posts on braids. Check them out. Do yourself a favor, though: wear some fingerless gloves.

4. Learn to trim your horses’ hooves yourself. This is a long term project requiring lots of education. It’s worth it.

5. Try something totally new. Something you would NEVER try when you are in work. Maybe something you can do right there in the stall. Clicker Train your horse to do a useful trick like lowering his head for the halter or even kneeling for mounting.

Maintaining an awareness of each of those moments, celebrating them even as we are mindful of their impermanence honors our lives and those of our horses. Got any more ideas to help take advantage of the moments we will never experience again this winter?

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Tuesday's Touch: An Introduction

Tuesday's Touch: An Introduction

I’ve been thinking about this new series of posts for a long time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I have perfected the concept before I deciding to bring it to you. So I ask your patience as I refine my ideas.

Tuesday's Touch1 with titleEach week I plan to introduce and discuss how body work can enhance your horse’s life with reference to either a particular part of the horse’s body or a common area of soreness. Often, simple bodywork procedures can alleviate behavioral issues related to pain and fear of pain in those areas as well, and I will recommend those.

As we all know, finding suitable images for use online will be tough, but I hope to get permission to use what I need to demonstrate the all-important HOW TO segments.

This will not be an extended lesson on Tellington TTouch. While it will figure prominently (it’s always nice to write about what you love), there are many other bodywork methodologies that appeal to a wide audience, and I’d like to explore a great many of them.

WHAT TOPICS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE COVERED ON TUESDAY’S TOUCH?

This will evolve, as all blogging projects do. Please let me know by commenting here if there’s a topic or a particular area you’d like to see discussed here, or if there’s something you would like to add. Guest posts are welcome!




© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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Netflix for Equestrians: HorseFlix!

When my daughter was away at college, I was able to dispense with television entirely because, well, I hate it. It serves no purpose in my life other than to introduce noisy and offensively mindless material into my home. I have never been able to understand why people keep the thing on endlessly and even eat in stupefied silence in front of it. What happens to family life? To conversation? Or to the life of the mind? How can you develop your mind (or stillness of the mind) if you are so busy filling it with garbage?

Ok, enough ranting disguised as rhetorical questions.

I’m a huge fan of Netflix. I get to choose Netflix among a large variety of independent film and documentary, and on the rare occasion when a guest insists on a horror flick or my daughter is home and insists on SciFi, she can have that, too. On a limited basis. Hooray for a limited basis.

I can never find equestrian instructional DVDs on Netflix, and now I don’t have to keep trying.

Now, there’s HorseFlix, an online/mail video rental service for equine/equestrian videos.

Here are some of the categories offered:

Bits
Clicker Training
Documentary
Dressage
Driving
Eventing
Feature Films
Foal Care
For The Rider
Gaited Horse
General Interest
Grooming
Health – Horse
Hoof Care
Horsekeeping
Hunter
Jumper
Natural Horsemanship
Pony Club
Saddles and Fit
Travel
Trick Training
Western
Wild Horses

There’s a lot of good stuff in there, and there’s also some questionable stuff, but not much of it. I would very much like to copyedit the site, but that’s a bad habit of mine, so ignore that statement. I am thrilled to see that there are five Mark Rashid videos. *doing a little happy dance* and I can now watch Chris Irwin, which will make Shoshin happy.

Take a look, see what you think. Let me know what videos YOU most would like to see.

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