Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pushing Thresholds & the Monster Rock

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Ours was full of family and fun, but without any real horse-time. Family left yesterday so it was “back to work” today!

Both *Red and *Beau were fabulous today, allowing me to push their thresholds. Last week was *Red’s first time working with me and the wand. Today he showed just how much he remembered. I use, not only physical cues, but verbal cues as well. I ask for movement with the horse’s name, as in *Red, Walk on” and I ask for a downward shift in motion, or stop, by drawing out the word “and” then adding on the gait I’m looking for, such as “and trot”. *Red showed that he recalled that very well! The first time I said “aaaannnnnnd whoa” he stopped on a dime! By the end of our time together he was stopping with the wand swinging in toward his chest and the beginning of the word “and”! I was thrilled.

*Beau was also on top of his game today, even remembering that just because you need to walk past those sexy mares you don’t need to talk, you DO need to pay attention because you might be asked to do something!! This may seem like no big deal but it is something he forgets when he is first near the ladies in the fall.

Last up was *Jack, and today I added in backing up while I was standing to his side. He is used to backing up when I face him; he knows the word “back”, he understands pressure to the nose or shoulder. Today, we started backing up and trying to stay straight. What I’ve found is that when they first are asked to do this, because they are used to facing you, they tend to back out away from you, so that they stop and are facing you. With the help of C/T we got it right many times. The most fun, however, was when he spied the ROCK. “Oh my, what is that big white thing in the field? I’ve never seen it before!” he said (it was a snow covered rock). So off we went to examine it. He’s so brave, that one! Marched right up with me and when I asked him to ‘touch’ he reached his nose right down to find out what it was. I love it when we just have to go touch that “boogie monster”!

All in all, we each had a good time!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Adrenaline Rush

Today was all about establishing good leadership with* Suncatcher and Dude. First, let me explain that it is one of those days where you think to yourself: “Self, should I really work with a horse in wind like this?” But then you say, “Sure, it’s a perfect time to establish good leadership.” The only thing you’ve forgotten is how hard it can be when there are THOUSANDS OF HORSE EATING MONSTERS and the horses have forgotten that you really are as good as you’ve been telling them you are.

That brings me to taking *Sun for his walk and today I saw a different side to *Sun than I’ve seen before. *Sun lives with 3 others: Dude, *Jack, and *Leo. All geldings, all somewhat goofballs in their own way; oh, and all of them hold up their hoof and yell “Take me, take me” when you walk in with a lead rope. So, actually walking out with the correct one is a feat in itself!! Having made sure that I had *Sun on the other end, we proceeded down the drive toward the lower pastures, walking and whoaing the whole way. That is, of course, until we had to pass the area where we have tractor equipment stored covered by a huge piece of tarp (tarp blows very nicely in a strong wind if you didn’t know...). *Sun was NOT so sure I was as smart as I keep telling him I am. However, we managed to go past it without it eating him, so perhaps I am okay. We then walked all the way down to the lower field without incident. Yes, he was very aware of his surroundings, but he kept his focus on me. We went to the round pen and walked one way around it. As we nearly completed the circle something ‘blew up his skirt’ as they say, and he charged ahead, got to the end of the rope, turned, snorted and looked at me. “What was that?” I asked; “Did you see me get upset? Did I tell you there was danger? Nooooo, you’re fine.” And I proceeded to walk on straightening him out as I went. We did another circle and walked out of the pen and turned left to go once around the outside of it, and he exploded! However, he did so while always being mindful of how close he was to me. He pulled out, moved his rear away from me, leapt into the air and cow-kicked. I asked him, “What was that?” (It is a favorite question of mine). He immediately came back in and inserted his head in my arms. I told him, again, he was fine, and we started to walk again. About six steps later, he again exploded by pulling himself out from me, leaping, kicking, then rearing, and kicking, then rearing again (he’s pretty impressive actually...have you ever noticed that while something like this is happening part of you is noticing the oddest things?) This time, I looked at him, swelled myself up to about 18 hands (which is good considering I’m only a bit over 15H) and said “NO!” I pulled him back in (actually pulling isn’t right, reeling is more like it) and asked him to walk and whoa over and over. He has recently been learning clicker, so now it was time to highly employ it. As we began to walk back up to the winter pastures, when he walked calmly and attentively next to me, I C/Ted. We did this all the way back up, and I am happy to report that he stayed “with” me the whole time. I deposited him back in with his cohorts, and took a breather.

Next up was Dude. Now Dude is typically a very calm fellow, but he is also an introverted horse. You need to pay attention to him as his eyes and his nostrils say it all. Dude, too, was very aware of his surroundings. That wind is a tricky fellow and it makes all sorts of things move around. Dude is, though, definitely one who likes to check out the “boogie men”. He’ll be startled, do that really cute splay-legged move, stare at it, then say “Let’s go look at it!” He also is VERY clicker-savvy. So, going past the moving tarp over the equipment was a definite eye-bugging process, and unfortunately, I couldn’t let him check it out, as much as he wanted to, because we haven’t been able to use a metal detector on the arena base yet. I’d hate for a horse to get anything in their hoof. Other than the covered equipment, Dude seemed very keen to go for a walk, and I thought we’d make a trip around the field, but we’d no sooner gotten all the way down, than he too, exploded. For Dude it was no aerial theatrics but moving forward. So I fed out the line and let him trot around me. I could tell he was not happy (those nostrils you see), so I made the executive decision to not push it today. He did ‘stay’ with me, he was aware of where he was, where I was, but he was past his comfort zone. Once he had settled, I moved to walk back up out of the field and he felt he was most comfortable with his head towards me, and his butt away, side-passing up the hill. We did about 10 feet that way and he decided it was too hard. So, he turned head first next to me, but then thought I wasn’t going fast enough. I tend to go slower when that happens and it didn't take long for him to realize that he needed to not pull and walk beside me. Of course, I used C/T to tell him when he was “correct” and “correct” he stayed, until we got to the equipment. Then it was a discussion, “I want to see!” “Sorry, Dude, too dangerous” (and repeat for the number of steps it took us to pass by). Once past, he thought about exploding again, but decided against it, and he was very ready to go back into his paddock.

So, I’m left with thoughts: Was it because of the wind? (Could be) Was it their lack of trust in me? (Could be) Perhaps they are herd-bound? (Could be) I’m thinking it was all of the above and all that means is that I have to keep working at it little by little.

I can say though, that wind is whipping pretty powerfully.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The long drought

It’s been two years since I could think about seriously working with the horses. Two years is a long time in which to lose confidence, and a long time for them to forget that you really DO know what you know.

It all comes down to establishing leadership once again. If I make the commitment to talk with you, my readers, about what I’m doing, as well as, actually begin to accrue RAC** points, I believe it will not take long in their eyes to once again be the leader I was, rather than simply the food-bearer.

Today, I began my NEW job. The job I’m happiest at doing, even if I make no money at it. Thankfully, I have a loving and wonderful husband who is extremely supportive. And today, *Beau, *Red, and *Jack were reminded that I really did know what I know, and they honestly needed to listen to me as much as I will listen to them.

Amazingly, neither *Beau nor *Red, who are much older than *Jack, could pass their thresholds. My job, of course is to bring them to that threshold and encourage them through it. For *Beau, it was the top of the hill over looking the lower pastures. “Nope, too far!” he said. I encouraged him again, “Can’t do it!” So I suggested side-stepping and eating some grass. “I can do that”, he said. After relaxing, I asked again, “Go down?” “NOPE!”. “Okay, what if we go over here.?” And off we went. So then we worked our way back up toward his paddock, maintaining attention to me.

*Red was funny. All excited to get out of the paddock and then lost. “Where we going?” “Let’s walk down the drive. Can you ‘whoa’?” Yep! Walking and whoaing established. “Turn left” “Sure!” “Turn right” “Sure!” “Whoa” “YEP!” “Walk beyond the arena” SCREECH “I halt good don’t I?” So we worked on approach and retreat and relax, then into the arena and back to the paddock.

Last out was *Jack. He and I have been buds since he was born, and he naturally accepts my leadership, but I pushed his boundaries today, and we came out winners on the other end. “Where we going?” he asked. “To the lower pastures.” “Okay….OMgoodness look at all those turkeys….I dunno…..” “Oh Jack, come on, you know turkeys, they always run away.” “Okay, if you say so…..” “Um, Adria, did you notice there is grass?” “Yes, and let’s see if you can listen, I’ll tell you when to eat as long as you don’t dive for the grass.” So around the large 12 acre field we walked…going, whoaing, and eating grass. As we began to make our way back toward the way up, Jack got a bit faster, so I went slower. “Why are we going so slow?” “Because I only have 2 legs, you have to stay with me.” “Oh, okay” Relaxing himself, he kept pace with me and we slowly worked out way back up to the winter paddocks. We walked past his, then back to his gate, just to make sure he was still with me.

All in all, about an hour and a half’s work. I expect that as time goes by, each horse will get more time, but I believe in taking the time it takes with them, so sometimes more, and sometimes less will be taken. I have 6 boys to work with and hope to work with each of them twice a week. I have one mare to work with, and will work with her at least twice, if not three times each week. Feel free to bug me if I don’t tell you what we’ve done .

**RAC=Ride a Curly Contest; read about that on Curly Horse Country.com