Tail Swishing

Fly Swishing
I thought it would be good to look into this particular body language in horses a bit more closely. I find it discussed quite a bit and thought I'd share my experience with it.

Horses and cats share a common expression with their tails with the exception of horses also obviously use their tails for fly protection as well as communication. I have observed horses tail swishing for a number of reasons.
  1. Annoyance
  2. Pain
  3. Dominance
  4. Communication with other horses or animals
  5. unique momentary communications
  6. Frustration
 In order to understand the source of the swishing and the communication behind it. I usually observe very carefully the exact time the tail swishing occurs.

I am working with a mare right now who swishes her tail in the canter because it hurts her. She also bucks in the canter so she is giving a communication of discomfort and therefore a warning that she may buck thereafter. This is clear communication. I learned this by observing her carefully at Liberty and on a Lunge line and noticing precisely the timing of this communication. It is helping know how she feels about things as I am rehabbing her for her owners. I also observe when I am grooming if a particular area I touch gets a swish. I need to see if this is a painful spot or if the horse is defensive/protective of a spot for some reason.

I have observed horses swishing at each other in their herds when they are communicating over various interactions. A horse may move another horse and swish at him or the horse being moved may swish at the request of being moved.

This leads me to dominance and swishing. Sometimes when we make requests that are new or are learning to be better Leaders, our horses will not be so thrilled at this change in the pattern of things. I often work with new students and their horses are quite content in their postion of "Leading their person. There may be some Swishing around Leadership Exercises and requests that usually diminish over time.

Sometimes in training when work is challenging or difficult, there will be momentary swishes. If this were to carry on with regularity, I would examine the practice and see where it needed to be adjusted.

Horses being very sensitive in general are likely to swish and new things touching them or touches that feel like flies or bugs landing or biting. For that matter they may even kick out or bite at it. Once they understand a touch or feel they will most likely stop unless they are extremely reactive types.

In instances of Annoyance or as I sometimes say a horse is Miffed. They can be expressing toward you emotions that are unique to that horse and it is on us to really tune in and "Know" our horses to interpret that communication. So watch for this body language in your horse and observe and see if you can find the different meanings. More oats for thought.


Horse Journal: Django's challenge

Friesian Liberty
Sharing Territory with Django
Django has gone back home to his person and I had a lot of fun with him. He did pose an interesting training challenge which Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Ritual work held the only solution.

His person was not able to work with Django and I together more then a few times while he was with me. She lives out of state and it was difficult for her to come as often as she and I would have liked.

The challenge was/is an interesting one. Django had been with his person from 6 months old and though she did as much foundation work as she could, he had established some difficult behavior patterns with her.

He was dragging her around on the lead, he was very much in your personal space a lot and not easy to move (in fact quite opinionated about it!) He was extremely pushy around food and or feeding time. These are not difficult patterns to work with, but if you don't have the tools, they can be very frustrating if not dangerous.

I set about doing what I do over the time he was with me and we had some conversations over the Waterhole Rituals about how Django could maybe allow me to Lead him (I mean that literally and figuratively) and we got along great and he thought training was fun and showed up at the door each time I came to play with him.

I would text his person about how good he was and how much fun we were having and she saw his video updates as well so she could watch and learn how I was working with him. Then when we did get the chance to work together, she had some ideas about the exercises we were working with.

The challenges arose around the leading and line work. I actually had never had much issue with Django as I laid the foundations down for each stage of the Liberty, Line , Mounted progression. BUT when I would hand him over to his person to try what he had learned he would revert back to square one. He would pull her all over if not yank the line clean out of her hand and go where ever he pleased. When she would get the line back, he would just do it again and again and again. I also observed that he was still pushy with her around food despite how polite he had now become with me.

I knew some of this was because we hadn't been able to work together, but even to me it was excessive and disrespectful. I could see what he was doing to her was a pattern they had that was more deeply ingrained then I had anticipated. It was the way he saw their relationship. So how do I fix this??

I would work with him the day after she came and he would be perfect again! This is how patterns are established with different people with horses. When Django came to me, we had no patterns established. He didn't know me or the barn people so he had to establish a new pattern with us. That pattern was a good one of how to fit in with the way we do things at the farm. Over time he became better and better to work with.

When I watched the way Django treated her it upset me as I would be upset with another horse being unfairly treated in the herd. He was bullying her just because he could. I knew he was playful and young but I also knew that in the time he had been with me, he had learned how to treat people nicely. I decided the only way to help him understand that he should not treat her like that was to show him how I would like this other herd member to be treated.

I did a couple things to show him this. One was I had her hold treats or food and if he went to push into her rudely to get it, I would be the one to back him up or send him away. If I didn't like the way he came toward her, I requested that he not come any closer. When I liked how he approached, I let her feed him. Now in his mind, he had to respect our fellow herd mate the same way he respected me. I then asked her to protect me from how he approached when I had food so he would see that she had leadership control over how he treated me. I could see he understood that the leadership I had with him also carried over to his person not just me. This was the first step toward changing their pattern. I had to show him how to treat her. I feel it is my job as a good leader to maintain harmony and balance in my "herds" My herd includes many animals and people.

This proved to be a much bigger challenge then training him which was quite easy and fun! I am used to horses being different with different people, but this was a very tough case! I will continue to work with them at his own place to help them continue to promote their new relationship patterns. I'll keep updates on progress.