Join Up

So where was I?

Oh yes.  Joining up with Orion. :)

Sunday morning, I went out to the barn around 8am.  It was 30 degrees, there was frost everywhere, and Orion and Jake didn't look like they'd started moving for the day yet.

Needless to say, Orion was kind of cranky.  It was just like waking someone up and making them get out of bed before they were ready.  He did what I wanted him to, but he was a butt about it every step of the way.

I was by myself and didn't have a time to leave by, so I was able to do things my own pace, and it was nice.  I gave him his food (which is always the first thing he gets since he's still gaining back weight - plus, he expects it now by this point), and tried to get him to lift his feet for me.  It didn't happen.  I leaned on him, he leaned back twice as hard.  I pinched and pulled and talked to him - nada.  He wasn't having it.  So I brushed him down and started working on his mane and forelock, since he looked like a unicorn and the top half of his mane was a solid chunk of burrs.  He wasn't having that either - every five minutes I got a sideways head-butt to the side.  He was trying to be sneaky about it - you could tell - he'd lift his head from where he'd been looking for grass, slowly move it sideways closer to me, little by little, and then WHAM.  I either got the air knocked out of me or almost knocked over, and usually stumbled back a few steps.  Brat.

Eventually I got tired of being beat up, so I decided to try lungeing him to get rid of some of his pent up energy - he was being a huge handful.  That went badly.  I don't think I ever did get him around in a full circle.  Every time we started out, he'd run for the gate like he did Saturday evening.  Grrr.

After three times, I got frustrated, but then something from Monty Roberts popped into my head - "Don't make him go away a little, make him go away a lot." Ha!  I hadn't even thought about trying join up that day yet.  I wasn't even sure if I wanted to right then, until that saying came to me.  So, I decided to try join up.  He didn't want to listen, he didn't want to do anything for me, he was showing no respect or willingness - not just with the lungeing, but with everything that morning.  It seemed like the best option at the time - and is something I've wanted to do with a horse for years now.

I walked over to where he was grazing by his gate, collecting the slack lunge rope as I went, and unclipped it from his halter.  I started pitching it toward his hindquarters and got no reaction, so I went back and got Chelsea's lunge whip and started snapping it on the ground about 8 feet away from him.  That got his attention.  He jerked his head up and watched me for a second and then started pacing the fenceline next to him, looking for a way back into the field and to the other horses, who were all the way on the far side of the pasture.

The point was to chase him away so that he would be singled out and by himself, without a herd.  It sounds mean, but the basis is that a horse's instincts tell him that he needs a herd.  To a wild horse, it's dangerous to be completely alone - it leaves them vulnerable.  To domestic horses it usually isn't such a big deal, but the instincts are still there.  So me chasing him away from me, but not hurting him, should have shown him that I wasn't an enemy but that I wanted his respect.  When a horse decides on his own that he'd rather work with you than against you, which is what put him on his own in the first place, that is when a strong partnership can be formed.  That is what I tried to do on Sunday, and it almost worked.

Back to the present(ish), Orion was pacing the fence, and every time he started to stop, I snapped the whip on the ground again.  After a minute or two, he spun and ran to the other end of the paddock.  I walked around the barn to where he was on the other side, and found him trotting the fence line there too.  He began to slow down, and I snapped the whip again.  He ran back to where he was to start out with, next to the gate, then turned and ran around a pile of logs that lies next to the gate, back around the logs again, back to the other end of the paddock, back to his starting point again, and then he stopped.

This time, I let him, because he had had one ear fixed on me for the last five minutes or so, the first sign of a horse paying attention and engaging in the process.  This time when he stopped, instead of dropping his head to graze as he had every other time, he just stood and watched me.  Since he was doing something different, I wanted to see what he would do next.  So I just stood and watched him from about fifteen feet away.  We both stood like that for a couple minutes, and then all at once, he dropped his head lower and started making chewing motions with his mouth - the last two signs of join-up.  It's the horse's way of saying, "I want to work with you."

I dropped the whip to the ground and turned away from him to wait for him to decide to join me.  Everything was silent.  I could hear birds chirping in the trees and the occasional car pass on the road.  But for five minutes, everything else was quiet.  I couldn't hear the pull or ripping of grass, so he wasn't grazing.  I couldn't hear the crush of dry leaves, so he wasn't moving.  I snuck a glance back at him a couple of times, and he was still just watching me, head high now.  After five minutes, I heard him take a couple of steps in my direction.....and then Ed drove his van into the paddock to pick something up from the barn, and that was it.  The magic was shattered, because now Orion was too distracted by the big white metal monster on wheels that was moving in his direction.

The amazing thing was, even though the process wasn't completed, he still worked so much better for me after that.  He didn't fight me at all.  I let him graze while I talked to Ed, and then Linda came down, so I talked to her for a while too.  She suggested I try to get the rest of his burrs out while he was eating and distracted, so that's what I did.  His mane was smooth and neat once again (as if it would stay that way once he was back out in the field, ha.  I liked it though.) and he no longer had a unicorn horn.  I let him graze a bit more, and then I tacked him up, and rode for about thirty minutes or so.  I only rode him around the paddock since I was by myself, and I didn't want to push it as far as exercising him went.  He'll have to be eased back into riding for longer periods of time.  He didn't give me any problems for the rest of the day, and I was one happy girl.  

Next time I go out, I'm probably going to try again.  I can't wait to see how much better things get after he actually does a full join up.  I'm trying to get Chelsea to do it with Kit too.  I think it would help their relationship a lot - Kit can be an extreme pain in the ass, and it's fully intentional. sigh  She'd be a good little pony though, if only she would keep her act together and not try to be difficult about everything.


You can definitely expect there to be more join up stories and more riding stories later on! :)

I'll also be doing more research on different things I can do to help Orion's balance and things to do just for fun to improve my riding, so watch for that too.


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