Ace had forgotten how to lead. Well, not entirely... he is led back and forth to the indoor arena where he runs in and out everyday. But that is pretty routine, and there isn't much room for error. What he had forgotten how to do was to walk along shoulder to shoulder with me without dancing and prancing and giving me the hairy eyeball while he weighed his choices.
a) put one front hoof on each of my shoulders
b) grab my ear and twist
c) take off and do something more interesting
So, today we had a refresher course. I put a shank over his nose mostly because running it through the side ring is a close to getting it up out of his reach as possible. I put a long whip with a short lash in my other hand trailing it behind me. Then, I tried walking around with him in the arena. At first it was pretty disorganised as he tried to put one front hoof on each of my shoulders, grab my ear and twist, and finally to take off and do something more interesting. Nippy little b-----d. I very patiently continued walking with little reminders "no don't bite the shank" "waaaallllllk" "stop dancing". I kept him along the wall to prevent his fishtailing around and if he lagged behind I would reach back with the whip and tap his bottom. Within about five minutes he had remembered his lessons and was plodding along on a loose lead at my shoulder working his jaw and looking around. Pretty unusual for a weanling who goes everywhere at a dash. From time to time we practiced "whoa" while I scratched on his withers and told him what an excellent little guy he was being.
Then we tried the off side. I haven't tried leading him from the off side since our last battle of wills on the matter. The last thing I want is a horse who will only circle around me to the left. If nothing else, it makes it more difficult to teach them to longe later on. So, I went to his off side, positioned him against the wall again, and tried to get him started up. It took a few minutes to get him started up and walking on a loose lead, but we got it accomplished without so much as an exchange of strong words. Again we "whoa"ed and had a wither scratching. Such a good boy. And having to use his brain and do what he was asked seemed to calm him and give him a sense of satisfaction.
Now, on the the thing that has been bothering me the most. Socialization. Ace is still being turned out alone. He can see other horses all the time, and he gets to socialise with them over gates but that is it. Ideally, we would have at least one other horse his age, or maybe a yearling to turn him out with, but no such luck.. He is an only child. To make matters worse, there are no older horses suitable to turn him out with. Our choices are:
a) Copy ~ obvious problem. We've gotten past weaning. It will be a long time until he is turned out with her again, and he will be gelded for sure.
b) Hairy ~ Hairy is so submissive that Ace was wearing him out. Hairy's stifles have been bothering him since late summer, and he doesn't need to be chased around all day. And Hairy was only reinforcing Ace's belief that he is king of the herd.
c) Face-Off ~ very dominant, grouchy and physically violent. He would hurt Ace and we don't want to cripple him for life before his first birthday.
d) Grey ~ Also very dominant (he and Face-Off were prepared to fight to the death) but not as grouchy and mean. Mostly foolish and poorly socialized.
I've been aching to put Grey and Ace out together for some time. Since both of them were mellow and quiet today (and since it is a weekday, so a vet call would not have weekend charges on it) I thought it would be a good time to try. I put them out together in the 50x50 indoor with the doors closed so they wouldn't be ramming in and out of doorways. They played for a minute or two, then (as expected) Ace decided to mount Grey. Grey bellowed in indignation "you presumptuous little s--t!" and ran backwards kicking. Ace caught by surprise, made tracks in the other direction. That was the first time anyone had objected to THAT! In fact, Mom seemed to like it.
They played a little cat and mouse for a few minutes. When Ace got too pushy, Grey put him into the wall and tried to kick him. It would be better to have a larger area to introduce them where they wouldn't be as likely to have to cross paths, and where the underdog could escape easier. We only left them together for 10 minutes. They did have some friendly moments, and were beginning to relax. The best part was watching Ace stand off to himself and study Grey and begin to process the fact that there was someone bigger and pushier than he is. We'll let them process this for a couple of days, continue to socialize over the gate everyday, and next time I feel it is a good day to, we'll put them to gether again and see if we've made some progress.