Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Training" horses is quite possibly hazardous to one's health

Feb 21

Already there was a huge difference in little Chicka today. Yesterday when I brought her in she sashayed nervously back and forth from the spot where she was tied. I walk up to this little horse not knowing how she is going to respond, if she's so nervous that she might accidentally crush me against the spot where she's tied, or if she might try to kick me out of fear. Larry Stewart writes in a short bibliography that "It didn’t take me long before I realized this was very hazardous to my health..." He's referring to rodeo work, but that's how I felt as I walked up to that mare. "This could be very hazardous to my health," was what was running through my head at that moment. I took a deep breath though, strode up to her and started grooming. There were a few times I wasn't sure what she would do and another few where I had to avoid being crushed by ducking under the railing she was tied to. All in all though she enjoyed being groomed and did calm a bit. At the end of our session she was much much calmer and I feel I returned her to her pasture in a better state of mind than when I had taken her out. Today though she was calm when I brought her in! She actually even casually walked into the arena first (upon my direction), Link following behind and myself behind both of them. She was completely mud-encrusted but most of it came off with a little elbow grease (okay, actually a LOT of elbow grease haha). Good thing no one came into the arena at that time, as when I went to wash up afterwards I found I was now encrusted with a nice thick layer of dirt, of course mostly on my face. Nice. Real nice. So back to Chickadee.

Our 7 games went real nice today:
Friendly game: used the small blue tarp! Chicka's still a little convinced the thing might swallow her whole but we made a lot of progress - by the end I could rub her all over, flap it a bit around her, and lay it across her back (as long as it wasn't going to slide off!). She definitely is more aware and reactive to it on her right side though, so we'll have to work extra hard on that side.
Porcupine game: she was exceptionally light at her front end (ie. nose and chest), was pretty light doing a turn on the hindquarter (only moving the front end around), and was alright (but improved!) moving her hindquarters around.
Driving game: she was actually very light with her front end (seems to be catching on a little more) and was alright disengaging her hind. Her hind I think will improve too as she becomes more and more comfortable with the games; part of her trouble with disengaging I feel is that she doesn't want to because by disengaging now she cannot take flight should she feel the need to (ie, she is a little defensive of her hind).-+
Yo-Yo game: I tend to skip this game with my own horses (I do it but I usually only do it once then move on) and I realised how important it is and why I cannot just overlook it like I normally do when I was working with Link last night and trying to use it! Our first try at the Yo-Yo today Chicka tried every answer she could think of: go sideways, go forwards, go this way, then trying that way...finally she settled on back-up and I rewarded with a release. It's like a light-bulb went on. This is where I normally would have moved on, but trying to learn from my mistake I instead played the game with her twice more (usually I do everything three times each on each side when it comes to the games or such). That light bulb had definitely gone on and doing it those two other times, I felt, really really re-inforced what she'd just learnt!
Circling game: she seemed a lot more comfortable with this game, so much so that I did have to correct her a little more often to stay at the jog for two laps. We expanded into spiraling, direction changes, and traveling...a little rough but it'll come with more time! For only our second time together I felt we both did pretty damn well together.
Squeeze game: sort of neglected that one this time but we'll pick it up (thinking over some barrels possibly?) next session. We did do a bit of it inadvertently when playing the Friendly game with the tarp haha but otherwise we'll pick it up next time!
Sideways game: little rough around the edges, but she seemed to pick it up fairly well. I think too that next time I should make sure I do it three times on each side as well, as I did not do so this time.

At this point I thought I'd toss the saddle up onto Chickadee so that we could start working on under-saddle and ground work simultaneously. We played a bit of Friendly game with the blankets and saddle - she did not seem entirely comfortable with the saddle, particularly on her right side, but I felt that she wasn't about to blow up RB on me so did continue quietly. Afterwards I wanted her to get more used to the feel of the saddle, including when she moves out, so we did our Figure-8 and Weave patterns wearing the saddle. She performed both patterns a few times (at the walk) - all perfectly!!! I was so proud of her for doing so well on only her second time!

Lastly I did some bouncing at Chickadee's side until I felt she was comfortable with me there before mounting up. I usually rub my leg over the horse's rump in sort of a Friendly game - eventually one day you are going to kick your horse's hind as you mount up and the last thing you need (and that I see all the time lol) is your horse spurting out from beneath you just as you're only half up. Lol. So it pays off to get them used to as much as possible. Well Chicka disagrees. Obviously she wasn't entirely comfortable with my being up there, her trust in me is not yet full, and so she did spurt ahead a bit when my foot rubbed the top of her tail. Immediately she halted and I removed my foot, but it's something I know we can work on during our next session! I felt this session though that I maybe was pushing her a bit so we just did a few minutes of quiet work with under-saddle before I dismounted. I asked her to bend her head to my knee as well as to do a little bit of disengaging her hindquarters (part of a three-part maneuver - bend to the knee, turn on the forehand, turn on the hindquarter). I found she was so light on the leadrope (just the halter and lead on at this point) that I (accidentally at first) had her do almost an entire turn on the hind just using that halter (she does not yet really understand leg aids at this point)! It was crazy how light she was! I also had her move forwards in whichever direction she chose. By the end actually (which only totaled say 7 minutes or so) she seemed actually quite comfortable with me in the saddle for the most part, even licking her lips and lowering her head. I got this sense that allowing her to move forward at whichever pace (which was a walk anyways) and in whichever direction - by allowing her that control, that that caused her to relax more with me. So we'll continue next session under-saddle as well, though I want to make very sure that I challenge her but not push her, so we'll probably take more time incorporating the Friendly game with our under-saddle session. Last but not least, we played a bit of Touch-It with the large orange tarp on the ground! This time Chicka actually went up to the tarp pretty easily. I am really trying to bring out her curiosity and teach her to naturally seek things out curiously rather than flee from them; it took a little convincing (via Driving game) but pretty quickly she walked up to the tarp, mostly of her own accord (later, after I had initially drove her towards the tarp), grabbing it with her lips. A couple times too I walked her away from the tarp before it was her idea to do so, which made a huge difference. Afterwards I just stood by and let her play on her own - lipping the tarp, pawing at it and placing one foot on it, then pawing at it and placing the other foot on...pretty soon (completely of her own accord, I just stood there relaxed) she had all four feet on the tarp. Putting those hinds on the tarp though frightened her a bit and so she ended up shooting off the tarp, but she went the entire way across it rather than shooting backwards or off some side! I was pretty damn astonished and proud of her progress!! We finished on a good note with her back lipping at the edge of the tarp. More progress to look forward to tomorrow!

Not too much new to put here, though he did absolutely amazing today! I felt today that, for whatever reason, I was just in the right frame of mind to work with him too, like I knew what to do with what he presented me and such. I was a little discouraged when, during our 7 games (and expansions of the Circling game) - which were mixed up today to keep it interesting for him - he kept reverting to being RB with me but I accepted less from him this session and continued on to our patterns nonetheless. With our patterns we did the Figure-8 and Weave maybe twice on the 12' line before trying out the 22'. Each time he did the Figure-8 correctly I took a step back, until we were at full length. A couple of times I did have to step back in closer but we finished off with a bang, with his completing the pattern successfully at the full length of the 22'! First though I started off by removing the string at the end of my stick. I feel like this horse really needs me to be as quiet as possible, not for fear of spooking him or something (that's what the Friendly game and such is for of course, if that were the case), but because he wants to work at the lightest phase possible. I feel like when I have the string on the end of the stick with the patterns (and possibly with my other games??) that even something so small is like "shouting" to him, and that he wants me to just "whisper" instead (for now!). I am really really working hard to tone down my language in everything that I do with Link, but I felt this was one place to start. So first off I removed the string, only flicking the stick at him say a couple of inches in his general direction (from its near-vertical position at my side) when I needed to direct him, never actually lifting it up really. Second, a couple of times he did take off to the left after coming around that left barrel, trying to take flight around and then behind me in a large circle. On previous occasions I think I was reacting too loud, like I was shouting to him by standing up with assertiveness, pointing in the opposite direction, and trying to "drive" him back the opposite way and thus change direction. He'd of course react RB and then we'd really have a fleeing prey animal on our hands and a frustrated predator on the other end of the line, probably looking like she was about to pounce (without meaning to!). Great, first thing the poor RB horse needs is a frustrated predator holding him down via a rope! While I have been using the Yo-Yo to direct him around the barrels when he needed it, I find I cannot really use it when he takes off from a barrel, as when he is in that RB state he just runs through anything at the head (like yo-yo'ing or tugging at the rope) - in fact, it seems to make him more frantic. So today instead I left his head pretty much completely alone and instead really focused on being soft and quiet and just driving his hind around to disengage by focusing on his hind with my body language (no stick really) and leaving the rope slack. Other times when I finally got him stopped and turned he would then frantically bolt towards the barrels. This time however he waited for direction, I'd quietly point a finger towards the barrels, and he would just walk towards the barrels calmly!!! A couple of times I was able to intercept him before he took off at the left-hand barrel just by quietly zipping my hand up the rope for a soft but steady feel when I pointed towards the barrels, then releasing. I found out something about myself too today - with Link so far away on that 22' I feel like I have to still have that control, I can feel my entire body tense (I'm sure, to Link, that at that point I look like a predator crouching in preparation to spring lol) because I'm scared to lose control at that distance. I had to keep reminding myself today though that it didn't matter, that I did not have to be in control and that it did not have to be perfect!!! I know my entire demeanor really really made a difference in Link today! Not only did we complete the Figure-8 at full length but we also completed the Weave at a fair distance!! It just felt different, like we were working more in partnership this time. Afterwards we did roughly 5 minutes at the Circling game. A couple of times Link took off in a full-out gallop, he'd pick up speed from the trot and then suddenly just let 'em rip! Poor guy was desperately trying to gallop full speed on this 44' diameter circle, at times in deep-ish sand lol. I wanted to get him out of that pattern though so immediately I would (again, doing absolutely nothing with his head and keeping the line loose) turn and focus on his hindquarters. It was absolutely amazing, because not only did he leave the RB state to become LB, but he TROTTED right up to me!! He was pretty high on adrenaline, snorting in my face lol and a couple of times I had to ask him to disengage more than once, as he'd run up to me then excitedly take off in another direction (though he'd never move more than a few steps before disengaging again when I asked and so returning to me) but it was an amazing feeling! We ended on such a great note for the day - more fun to come tomorrow! Oh, and on a side note, Link has been meeting me at the gate each day the last couple of sessions! Not sure though if it's just because I have Chickadee with me (lol) but he does always seem genuinely interested in me and happy to see me, which is a great sign.

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