Wow, today was a bit of a longer day with the horses! I spent a lot of extra time with the three stooges today (Twist, Sunny, Gypsy), namely talking with owners, taking Twist out on a ride on the road, and chasing Gypsy around her pasture for a good 20 minutes before she finally came in to where I could pen her. Aaaaah.
The now mustachio-less man was my first up of the day - we did a couple of games (circle and driving) before I clambered on up into the saddle and we headed out for a short ride on the road (where we encountered *gasp* grass/gravel footing transitions, tractors, vehicles...and Aly, barking at a skunk - and being subsequently sprayed, though by a different skunk). He was actually very good, a little unsure at times, but mostly relaxed and willing. A couple of times his feet got a little "stuck", at which point I just lightly tapped him with the end of my hackamore lead, and we were back off calmly!
At one point, Twist's owner approached us with the tractor (at a fair pace), I could feel Twist seize up beneath me, wanting to bolt. I didn't feel I could take him into the ditch, due to the long grass obscuring our view and thus judgement of the footing and slope - the last thing I needed was to guide a near-panicked horse into footing neither of us knew. Also, the ditch is only so wide and paralleled on one side by a barbed wire fence. Not exactly my favourite type of fencing to be run through if a horse panics, and Twist is not entirely trustworthy yet. So, I dismounted and led Twist along the road as the tractor passed. Twist did panic and almost bolted over me, however I was calm and he was thinking enough to respond to my cues on the ground. As soon as the tractor passed I re-prepared Twist and mounted up.
On a related note, I have been doing a lot of pen work with Twist, as opposed to riding him out. I am not all that sure where I could ride him out in the first place, other than the road, as all the fields are now filled with crops; I am not all that familiar with the property. The road is great (I love that it provides a "path" to the horse, which certainly helps), however it is gravel, so I am careful of the time I spend on it with a horse. Also, while I had felt that trail riding was important at the beginning of Twist's training - for this specific horse, after our issues in the field (where he was rather rebellious as opposed to reactive), I had felt that it was time to further cement some basics (and thus his trustworthiness). While Twist is not a show horse every horse, regardless of its future career, needs a basic foundation. They need to be relaxed and fluid under-saddle (which relates to bending on circles, etc), they need to know what "woah" and "go" are, they need to understand how to handle themselves (ie. turns on the forehand/hind), etc. By teaching these things, not only do you provide the horse a solid foundation of knowledge, but you teach them confidence. A horse who feels like he is successfully learning, grows in confidence. You may then take that confidence and use it for whatever - out on the trails, in the show ring, etc. It makes a huge difference to a horse, particularly a reactive one such as Twist. The other major factor (why I chose to work on more basics with Twist and why I dismounted with the approaching tractor) is that I don't want to get hurt. Why push a horse into situations I know he is not prepared to handle, at the risk of my own safety when he blows?? Pushing the horse past the point where he blows also constitutes a negative experience, which can be detrimental to that horse's experience under-saddle. I realise people used to rope down, chuck a saddle on, and bounce into the saddle of a young horse to "break" him in, but that's not how it has to be - we know better. Regardless, that is not my way and I like my bones staying in one piece thank-you very much, so I go about things a little differently ;)
The big paint man was fantastic today - we did our ground games while he was tacked up today, prior to my jumping up. He was very calm throughout the whole ordeal under-saddle - I actually ran out of things to do with him (at this point) under-saddle! We did circles on the rail, figure-8's, halt, back-up, turns on the hind/fore (a little), etc - all our basics. He was very calm and relaxed in the rope hackamore and I felt he had a lot more confidence today - I certainly had a lot more confidence in him! His owners seem very pleased with his progress (they watched him a bit today) and have opted for another 30 days (as per my recommendation). He is doing extremely well and I feel like maybe they could start riding him now and take over the rest, but I would really like to further cement this new mind frame with Sunny - I just get the feeling that he is just past the tipping point and that he could progress really easily and quickly, but could also revert back to his old ways easily yet if a mistake or two was made. Another 30 days should produce a very solid horse whom his owners can take over easily. He (Sunny) is very knowledgeable (leg aids, etc), so it really is just a matter of building his confidence and teaching him to be relaxed, as opposed to teaching him any basics. I am quite proud of this one, as I was seriously concerned over the first couple of weeks that this horse could be beyond my skill level (or that perhaps he could never be "fixed"!), yet he is turning out beautifully.
I saved her for last after being unable to catch her in the pasture and therefore penning her while I worked with the other two. When I finally got around to her, I started off by roundpenning her a bit. She did keep wanting to come in to me, and she was allowing me fairly easily to approach her and such, but I didn't particularly feel we were getting all that far. I finally caught her with a halter and rubbed/patted/desensitized her all over. I also worked a bit on her tail - a horse's tail is a huge tool for communication, and if it's pressed in tight to their hind end, you can bet their spine is also very rigid, and thus their entire body is tense as opposed to relaxed. So, I played around a bit with her tail, just gently manipulating it in an effort to get it relaxed. It seemed to work though! I was talking to Sunny's owners about her as well - this horse is the most fearful of humans I have ever met, and I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do with her (continue as I have been, or do something else?). I've never spent so much time with a horse on the ground. They voiced their thoughts too, that she was just going to take a long time to overcome whatever it is. She is making progress, but unfortunately it's at a snail's pace - she's just not willing to let me in at all, to let her guard down. Something has made this mare absolutely terrified of humans. Unfortunately, I get the feeling her owner doesn't understand the time it takes or where this filly's really at - he wants me to throw her to the ground and desensitize her that way. I have considered throwing her, but I am not all that handy with ropes, and so for me to do it would be fairly traumatizing to her - the last thing she needs. I need someone who could put her down extremely gently. On the other hand, I'm not even so sure that that wouldn't make her more distrusting anyways. On a related note, desensitization is important and possible without laying her down, but in steps, starting with what the horse CAN handle and progressing the horse forward.
I have to admit I was a little frustrated with the TOAM today, as she kept asking - every single time we passed it - to leave the arena via the gate. Continuous - stupid - questions get annoying after they've been asked the 20th time or so! On the other hand, she did do w/t/c nicely on the ground as well as some patterns (oh, and we did a couple of games before I mounted up) - quite a bit of impulsion today. Her work can be cleaned up a lot though via leg aids, so we spent the rest of our session working on that. Tomorrow I will do some carrot stick riding with her to establish those leg aids better. Once she's got those down, she'll be all set to go. She was very willing today and while the new gullet plate I put in the saddle unfortunately did not quite fit her, she still worked well. Tomorrow I'll put the next size wider on the saddle, which should definitely fit her.
Anyways, that was it for the day! It was definitely a long and dreary one, but we lived to die another day. Off to bed so that I can work more horses tomorrow! Tomorrow I've got the usual 4 plus I will work with Link and give mom a lesson on her OTTB, Sonny. I'm trying to fit Silver into my days as well, but they've just been so long and my excuses not to work with him are endless when I'm exhausted after such a long day..