One of our volunteers, Debi, has a small boarding facility in Clearview and she has a Parelli instructor named Michael Sparling come to her barn and do clinics. She spoke to Michael about Dexter and he agreed to work with Dexter at no charge to SAFE. Here’s a synopsis of how the clinic went, from Debi:
I am grateful to SAFE for allowing me to take Dexter for the weekend to participate in a Natural Horsemanship clinic I was hosting. I thought the experience had the potential to be a very positive experience for Dexter, who I happen to have a crush on. I picked Dexter up from SAFE early Saturday morning. He loaded politely after just a moment of surveying the unfamiliar trailer, and unloaded at my barn just as easily. Off to a good start!
I let him run around a bit in my arena, then started playing with him with some toys/obstacles. He definitely seemed to be feeling a little confused about where he was and why, but aside from having a little trouble staying focused, he did not act up at all. It was pretty easy to confirm that he has respect issues. His favorite maneuver is to shoulder into your space with some energy. I’m sure it has been very successful for him in the past to discourage silly humans from requiring anything of him. Not today! We worked on respecting my personal space, and then started to work on moving off of pressure. This was quite difficult for him, his stubborn streak was in full force, but after a couple of hours I could see real improvement. I let him rest up and settle in, surveying his surroundings and the other horses.
Sunday morning the fun began. Horses, trailers, people, loudspeakers…it was a very busy place for Dexter to hang out. We did some more work on respecting space and moving off of pressure. I could tell he was remembering the lessons from the day before. Around Noon, Parelli Professional Michael Sparling took Dexter for a demo in front of the group. I had made up some copies of a mini-Bio for Dexter, showing his “Before” and “After” pictures and elaborating on his history and issues. Everyone at the clinic agreed he was adorable, and deserved another chance at being adopted into a forever home. While Michael worked with Dexter, he kept the participants informed about what he was asking from Dexter and what he was seeing in response. It got a little interesting when Dexter was introduced to the blue tarp, but even that didn’t faze him for very long. All throughout the demonstration, Dexter demonstrated a clear willingness to try, and showed that he is smart and able to learn. He also demonstrated his dominant personality and had a bit of a snit when he realized that it wasn’t going to get him anywhere with Michael! Overall, the session with Michael was uneventful but was another step in helping to establish for Dexter that humans can be effective, fair leaders. At the end of Michael’s demo, he stated that while Dexter clearly had some dominant behaviors he wasn’t nearly as bad as he had expected. And he agreed with me that he was a very adoptable horse (with the right human, who is willing and able to exhibit the fair, consistent leadership that a dominant horse needs!)
After the clinic was over and everything settled back down, I noticed Dexter was slightly agitated in his stall, where he had been very mellow the first night. I think he was pretty stimulated by all of the activity of the day, and seemed to be processing all of the learning from the two days. I’m not sure if he had trouble getting to sleep that night, but I kind of picture his head whirling a bit!
Monday morning, Michael was back out at my barn to teach a private lesson…and I was fortunate enough to be able to join in. So Dexter and I had another 1 ½ hour session with Michael. While it wasn’t nearly as busy as the clinic, there was a mare at the other end of the arena going ballistic for pretty much the entire session. That proved to be a significant distraction, and allowed me to ask Dexter to step it up to the next level. We continued the groundwork; asking him to move his feet, hindquarters, and forequarters when asked. He responded well nearly all of the time. There was a point where he looked as though he was fed up and wanting to prove to me that he didn’t have to do anything I asked. He momentarily considered rearing to escape this annoying human. But his attempt was unsuccessful and he decided it was best to go back to working cooperatively with me. At the very end of our session, Michael spontaneously hopped up on Dexter’s back and rode him around for a few minutes bareback. When he was finished, he again reiterated his feelings that Dexter was a very adoptable horse.
I can say with certainty that Dexter learned a LOT in the short time he was here. I hope that I get the opportunity to continue working with him to improve his chances at finding an outstanding adoptive home. If anyone is considering Dexter as a possible adoption, I would be happy to offer my time to assist them in establishing a leadership role with Dexter which would set them up for a successful partnership. He is so worth it!
I want to be clear that Dexter does have some training issues that are fairly significant and need to be worked through by a confident handler/rider. Most of the time, this horse, while a little dominant and stubborn, is calm, compliant, and easy to work with. However he does still have some issues that show up from time to time that will cause him to melt down — sometimes it seems to be a herdbound behavior in new situations where he gets over-stimulated, other times it can be triggered by being around a mare in heat. We haven’t found a clear pattern yet, and he obviously was being a very good boy for the clinic. Since his behavior issues have caused him to be returned 4 times, we are being very careful about only offering him for adoption to someone who is experienced, aware of his issues and can demonstrate the ability to work through them.