Missy summer 2008
The following is a sort of journal entailing my journey working with "Missy". Formiss, or "Missy", is a palomino 2004 Dutch Warmblood x Quarter Horse mare by the late Holland-imported Dutch Warmblood stallion Formaat and out of the QH mare Blue Jay's Queen. I received this mare mid-July but did not commence work on her until August. She was halter-broke but otherwise untouched. For those familiar with the Parelli Natural Horsemanship "horsenalities", Missy is a Left-Brain Introvert (like her half-brother Koolaid) but with right-brain tendencies due to past handling.
Day 0 August 12
I walked the fenceline with Missy in her new home before turning her loose with the other horses. Koolaid has beautiful movement, but this mare left both my mom and I speechless. This is the first time either of us have been able to really see this mare move out. We both stood in awe as she seemed to float above the ground. At the trot, her hooves would hesitate in the air for an eighth of a second before coming down and when they did come down, it seemed as if she simply "walked on air". When she began cantering to show off for her new friends, I had to snap my mom's jaw shut and remind her she was supposed to be taking pictures (so hopefully we caught some good ones!). Lol. Later we actually moved her to a smaller pen that was a little more suitable for our work and to Missy's safety.
Day 1 August 13
We worked in the arena alongside two other horses. She whipped through her 7 games with ease, even braving the gap below one of the doors (hey, never know when it might reach out and grap ya!) to play the Squeeze game with me. She would tend to get right-brained at times during the Circle Game, but as I remained relaxed and simply kept repeating my directions in a quiet manner, she was transferring over to the logical (left) side of her brain regularly.
Day 2 August 15
She is reacting (right-brained) FAR less now and is instead learning to think (left-brained), particularly in the Circle game (where she is asked to circle around me) as well as in the Friendly game (an exercise which involves my tossing ropes and such over and around her). I have also found that once I broke that initial trust barrier with her, she has allowed me in 100 percent. When I first brought her home, she was so head-shy if you so much as THOUGHT about touching her ears, she'd freeze, head held high, eyes wide in panic. Day two she actually ENJOYS me scratching and rubbing them! Rub her throat and that little mare is in your pocket. Lol. It is only her 3rd time going through the games (only her 2nd time going through all 7 though) and already she almost has them down to a T. She is already up to Level 2 on the ground. Kudos to such a bright mare! Today we were the sole inhabitants of the arena so we worked through all our games - 3 times each side each game. She has learned to read my body language well and so does her games with ease and near-perfection. She was pretty relaxed and since yesterday I desensitized her to my bouncing at her shoulder and kind of hanging off her side (one leg gripping her loin, the other dangling in the air as I gripped her mane and neck - yea, kinda awkward, almost monkeyish, looking lol), I decided she was ready to take it one step further and actually get up onto her back. I took it easy and made sure she was relaxed and calm with each step. First I simply hung myself over her back, like a sack of potatoes. Each side, several times per side, rubbing her neck and chatting away to her all the while. I waited until she was lowering her head and licking her lips before boosting both legs up and lying my entire body along her back, my feet dangling together off her hind. Few times each side, wait until she is relaxed...finally I sat up. She seemed slightly surprised and cranked her golden head around, nosing my feet on each side as if to ask how it had gotten there and what in the heck it was doing hanging there! Hey, and what role did this bucket here on the ground play in all this? Maybe if I chew on it...lol. She spooked once: she was a bit startled when my leg brushed her side as she moved forward and so started zagging with increasing anxiousness - she just was not used to my movement and weight up there, which is obviously to be expected. I quickly swung off to collect her on the ground but she relaxed instantly, so I hopped back up and we continued with no more issues. She is pretty trusting in a leader and while she may (at this stage) spook at something, once she realizes what it is, she no longer questions the object ever. Easy desensitization! Within 10 minutes this mare was walking quietly, completely at ease, on a loose rein. She quickly learned to stay on the rail and respond to my legs (she is getting pretty light in her Porcupine - an exercise in which she learns to move off of pressure - on the ground as well, so she simply transferred our ground work into the work on her back). She flexes beautifully (with fingertip touch) both laterally as well as at the poll!! She also does easy turns on the hind, though I did not ask on purpose; I was simply asking, on a direct rein, for a turn and she responded instantly and lightly with an easy pivot on the hind! I am absolutely shocked at this mare :)
Day 3 August 15
Missy is progressively picking up that my carrots stick (a 5' or so rigid fibreglass stick with a 6' string on the end) is simply an extension of my arm and that I am not going to beat her over the head with it (I know, shocking, you would think that is what I carry a big stick for, to beat people and animals, right? lol). It is going to take some time though before she fully trusts me or my stick (she's almost there, she trusts so much but has the odd moment when she's unsure and reverts to being reactive). Our Friendly Game (desensitizing to different movements, objects, etc) was pretty good, she can read me well and is learning to rely upon my consistency (that I am not out to hurt her) and to trust me that when I say things are alright, they really are. Her Porcupine Game (moving away from finger pressure) is improving even more as well - most of the time she is at Phase 2 (touching her skin, light pressure) or even 1 (just brushing her coat hair and she moves), which is awesome, especially in 3 days! Her Driving Game (I "drive" her out of my space using body language) is awesome and consists of near-perfect pivots on the hind and fore. She even backed up today on Phase 2 (wiggling my wrist) of the Yo-Yo Game (I "yo-yo" her backwards and then comb the rope and ask her to come back in to me)!! Her Circling Game (the goal is for her to circle until I ask her to stop, 2-4 laps) is doing well but clock-wise she tends to get reactive and explode sideways to evade pressure. It took awhile to work through some of the kinks on that side today but eventually I had her do two laps without an issue so we ended our ground games there for the day. I also used the Circling game today to get her through the barn door. She was a bit suspicious so I just ended up asking her to touch the door etc with her nose (which she did almost without hesitation!). I guess it ended up being a bit of the Squeeze Game as well but she eventually followed me in pretty quickly. Anyways, afterwards I hopped up and had her walking along the rail (bareback with a halter). Everything was going pretty well (a couple of explosions during which she'd tense and dart out from beneath me, but once she realized what was going on she was quick to calm down) and then Buddies walked in. I heard their feet walking through the barn several seconds before Missy realized what was going on and wanted to see how she'd react (I think she heard them too but didn't quite know what to do). Well she tensed then shot out from beneath me. I went with the flow and leaped off, landing on my feet (no point trying to sit her and just getting her even more agitated). As soon as she realized everything was alright (I spent a second or two calming her down) she relaxed, I remounted, and we continued. All in all she did very well :)
Day 4 August 16
Our games went REALLY well today, she picks up real fast! She now picks up all four feet without much resistance (she's still learning to balance herself a bit) and allows me to bang on them as a farrier would during shoeing. Our Circle Game was the only game that has really posed any issues (just minor though - she still tries to explode sideways when trotting clockwise) and it took hardly any time today for Missy to relax and get the game down to perfection! I am sure we'll still have some ironing to do but she made huge progress today in relaxing and thinking rather than reacting so today we also did the Sideways Game (yesterday we skipped it as she had made so much progress at the time I did not want to push it - the game: I ask her to move sideways using body language) and the Squeeze Game (I ask her to move through small spaces etc) - she did real well with both! Actually when I pulled her out of the paddock at first she did not want to walk past a vac truck and through the narrow space into the barn (there was also other stuff lying around, as an oil change was being done on the machinery). At first when I tried to lead her in she stopped, tensed, and started backing up. She is the type of horse (like many though) that you cannot push - you push her and she will panic and fight (that fight or flight instinct kicking in). So I move to drive her and she moves up a bit but stops and wants to react. So I walk in first and kind of (by accident) yo-yo her in and she starts following me without hesitation!! See, you learn new things each day!! Lol. It was just a matter of me communicating more effectively; once I started yo-yo'ing she walked right in past all the machinery (a HUGE step for her in her placing trust in me!). I just never thought that I could apply our games so quickly, but she catches on almost instantaneously; it seems anything I teach her is then applicable to real-life situations. Today we also played the Circle Game with my english saddle and pad on the floor of the arena. At first she was a little suspicious but pretty soon she was circling with her full attention on me (rather than the equipment on the ground), her body bent in a nice arc along the circle. So we went through the saddling process (rubbing the saddle pads over her body until she was comfortable, getting her comfortable with the saddle on either side, playing the Circle Game with the saddle cinched up, then with the stirrup leathers flapping, etc) and she let me mount up. She did EXTREMELY well today: we worked on flexion (laterally and at the poll), patterns (particularly the cloverleaf), and the trot! The trot scared her a bit at first (just carrying that weight and having extra movement from above) but she was pretty quick to relax and trust. I picked up my western saddle so tomorrow we'll work on more trot and such under western (multi-discipline for her, more secure seat for me in the event she jumps or ducks). No bucks, though there have been several occasions I felt she may have been ready to (simply out of fear) and so I had to back down the pressure real fast and allow her a moment to process things and think. Once I allow her that moment, she is always great to try again, which is awesome (she is a thinking horse and returns to left-brain - logical thinking - rather quickly). I am having to be ultra careful to ensure that I keep her occupied and progressing, but that I am never pushing her. If she does buck then I have pushed her further than she was ready, so I am trying to walk that thin line. She is still getting used to people moving around the barn but is doing well and progressing real quick!!!
Day 5 August 17
Really picking up on those ground games, though we are still struggling a bit with our Circle Game (exploding sideways still while going clockwise). Today was Day 1 under the western saddle and we re-started the desensitization process with the western saddle as if she had never seen a saddle before. The size of the western saddle caught her eye a bit (as well as a foam pad I use), but she quickly relaxed. She instantly allowed me up and we practiced patterns at both the walk and trot. She was slightly nervous at times in the trot and so her pace was rather quick due to her tension, but for her first time, she did awesome!! She also flexes very nicely both laterally and at the poll and is responding well to pressure (PNH rope hackamore and leg pressure).
Day 6 August 18
Missy is doing extremely well: she is on Phase 2 (feather-light pressure) on most of her ground exercises and was very relaxed at the trot under-saddle (western) today. We also got in a half lap of canter each direction! She is extremely light to both rein and leg aids, even quickly picking up turns on the forehand and hindquarter. Her back-up is extremely soft: she flexes at the poll as she backs up to a light touch. We also sorted out our former miscommunication woes at the Circle Game, which is now going real well. Our issues were sorted out when I figured out she needed me to communicate clearer to her by simply taking a step backwards so that I was behind her shoulder line. Once I was behind that line it allowed her to move forward, which enabled her to eventually no longer feel "pressured" away from me and out sideways. All in all, she is doing very well - we even stirred up some dust today in the arena cantering at the Circle Game (ground) and doing serpentines at the trot (under-saddle) the length of the arena.
Day 7 August 19
Today the arena was a little busy: two other boarders working in the arena and plenty of spectators so lots of distractions ;) A little step back as far as respect: our Porcupine and Driving Games were a little rough (Missy was a little annoyed I felt I should be leader - she wanted to take charge and visit everyone lol) but most was sorted out over time by the end of the session and our Circle Game was awesome! I thought we might go through the "I don't respect you" phase, as Missy is identical personality-wise to Koolaid, her half-brother ;P Oh well, lol. Otherwise all went well! She did well under-saddle at w/t/c (walk/trot/canter) and was performing beautiful turns on the forehand and hindquarter today at Phase 1! She was pretty tense under-saddle at the trot though and so the speed of her trot reflected her tension - it is just going to take time for her to become accustomed to strangers marching around. Now just to continue advancing her, work on gaining that respect to a higher level, and getting her accustomed to strangers :)
Day 8 August 21
Today we went through our ground work pretty quickly, focusing primarily on our Driving Game to establish stronger respect. Our under-saddle was a little rough today, as she kept running through my leg aids. Going into a corner off the wall, she'd bend nicely to my hand, but would simply move sideways, ignoring my leg pressure. She also bit me today in response to my ignoring her requests for me to do up her cinch in slower phases...independent mare puts ignorant human in her place lol. Otherwise though all went well, though I think I've got some respect to earn and some more Porcupine Game to play.
Day 9 August 22
Our ground games were alright, though Missy is starting to creep in on her Circling Game. She also seems to be quite po'd when I ask for her respect during the Driving Game. Our under-saddle work was also rough, as she continued to run through my leg aids (respect!). We finally ended on a half-good note where she was bending nicely and collecting herself soft and supple on smaller circles, though we were both pretty tired and sweated up by that time (lots of hard work at the trot!).
Day 10 August 23
We worked on all our ground work today, though we really concentrated on the Driving Game (earning that respect). I also incorporated some of the Driving Game into our Porcupine Game, as Missy was intent on ignoring my "porcupines". Her Friendly Game is awesome, her Yo-Yo Game is almost down to Phase 1, and her Circling Game was PERFECT! No more explosions (though she still tends to lug in, but more respect will correct this and in the mean time I simply drive her out) and she even cantered a lap in either direction (which, for such a HUGE powerhouse on such a small circle, requires a great deal of balance!). Her ground exercises are also becoming more and more applicable in "real-life" situations (almost ready for trailer-loading). Under-saddle, she was pulling the same "I have no idea what you are talking about, and while we're on the subject of ME, I think I'll go over here". So I hopped off and we did some Driving Game. After earning a little more respect, I handled the issue from under-saddle: every time she decided to trot, bent, in the direction she wanted, I would ask her to move her hind end around, which effectively straightened her out so that she was facing the right direction (ie. if we were cornering to the right - cutting the arena in half, on a 20 meter circle - trotting clockwise she'd bend to the right but lead with her shoulder and move her body to the left; so I started applying my leg to her right hind, which would drive it around towards the left, which would face her to the right...where she was supposed to be!). This sort of po'd her some (apparently she does not like her plans thwarted lol), but it (combined with some work on respect under-saddle) worked. The respect under-saddle involved having her be responsible for herself - responding with a "yes ma'am, how far, how fast?". Whenever I asked her to pick up the pace or to maintain a pace she'd dropped, I increased my assertiveness (ie. increasing my "asking" phases more immediately). I also had her trot and canter (responsibly ie. with minimal direction on my part) to and from various letters in the arena (ie. different arena points), moving out exactly when I asked her to, and halting on the exact point I asked. Next, I got her working on some patterns: we worked on serpentines and on achieving soft, supple, small circles, then expanding those circles to larger sizes (half the arena, which is where we were having our troubles because she'd want to skip off to the opposite side of the arena, to the gate). By the end, she was responding AWESOME to my leg, was soft and supple, and was trotting more engaged. She also cantered a lap nicely in either direction, even balancing nicely at the small ends of the arena. Lastly, she also pivots nicely (and softly!) for turns on her hind and fore. This horse is so incredibly smart - as hard as it might be to believe, it is hard to stay ahead of her (and obviously, at times, I DO fall behind lol)! She is definitely keeping me on her toes, which is challenging, but she is doing so well :)
Day 11 August 24
Our ground exercises today went well, though I had to once more incorporate a bit of Driving Game into our Porcupine Game to increase her level of respect towards pressure. Our Yo-Yo Game is at Phase 1 (wiggle my finger), though she is almost down to Phase 0 (glare at her and she backs up). I was pretty assertive with our Driving Game today as well. Her Sideways, Squeeze, and Circle Games all went off without a hitch. Today we saddled up english (still the PNH rope hackamore though) and worked on her being soft and supple. She did awesome! She was very responsive to my leg and hand and was also very responsible for herself today; we even got a lap of canter in either direction! Her turns on the forehand and hind are also awesome. I finally caught up lol so now she's going to have to re-outsmart me to re-challenge me hehe.
Day 12 August 25
Both ground and under-saddle went well today! Down to Phase 1 on most of our ground games and we had great response to leg aids (turn on the hind, fore, circles, serpentines, sidepass) under saddle. Afterwards I tried her out with the bridle for 10min or so: she was not too keen on pressure being applied to the bit and so was a bit stiff at times but we ended on a good note where she was relaxed a few times on and off. Just a short side note: after our last few sessions I've been applying the bit and bridle during tack-down and our grooming at the end of the day so that she could get used to it; yesterday was the first day she seemed completely at-ease with the bit and bridle so I felt today would be a good day to start using it under-saddle. All in all, a great day! I pushed her a bit when she was tied later though; I was trying to spray her mane (even though I knew we needed to work on the friendly game with spray bottles) and thought I could get away with a couple of quick, light sprays... well Missy definitely thought otherwise lol and blew up. I happened to be in the way and...well I do not remember too much after that, except that I would STRONGLY suggest that no one EVER check out the Urgent Care Clinic here in Airdrie. I would particularly avoid a certain RN named Dena (as well as some of the other nurses). After a concussion I am now pretty close to normal. Mistake on my part!
Day 13 August 29
I went out to see Missy today; I took her into the arena and did some ground work, as I am still recovering and not quite ready for under-saddle work. She was a bit reactive at times but was almost back to her old self by the end.
Day 14 August 30
Today Missy's ground exercises were slightly reactive at times, but I felt she was left-brained enough by the end to work with her under saddle. Under saddle we just did light work at the walk and trot (due to my concussion, not due to her). She was awesome, even with strangers around in the barn! She was very responsive and worked very well :)
Moved Missy and Sonny (our 2004 OTTB gelding) to their new boarding home! Missy, whom we have had troubles loading due to her past inexperience and poor past experiences, walked right in after me without hesitation!! Last we loaded her, we actually had to run her in to the trailer, loose. I've put so much time into developing a partnership with her based on leadership, respect, and trust, that she was able to blindly follow my leadership...and it is certainly paying off.
Day 15 September 6
Missy was slightly reactive today but after a few moments of play she was very calm (despite the new surroundings, people, and animals). I brought her into the arena (two others working in it) and she worked like a dream!! She ignored the strangers watching her, the horses and people in the arena, and two German Shepherds running about, nevermind the new surroundings! She was a bit spooky of the new arena but did as she was asked with little hesitation and with much willingness (and with absolutely NO explosions!!). She was pretty calm and even relaxed after a few laps of the ring and was working very nicely at the trot. She was also extremely responsive to my hands and legs. She has never been placed in such a challenging situation yet she handled it like a pro - so proud! Unfortunately though she was a little sore due to a stone bruise, so we called it quits for the day.
She is going well though my time with her has been rather limited as of late. Her flat work is going great though and she is working nicely under-saddle; we're working on a lot of lateral work and circles to keep her supple.
I have not worked with Missy since the beginning of this month, as she is to return "home" to Kamlooops, BC sometime this month. I would have loved to have put some more work into her but am so caught up right now in work and the other horses that she is simply enjoying her time playing with her buddies out in the field. Overall though she had well over two months of work put on her and was doing fabulous by the end - looking forward to seeing her next spring when she returns for a "brush up" and to be sold.