Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Over-analyzing and catering to horses

Part of training horses is learning how to negotiate each specific horse - learning their quirks and how to work with each horse as an individual...tailoring your method to suit each "horsenality". Each horse has a different way of learning, a different way of interpreting things, different needs and wants, etc.

With Missy, this means keeping my hands soft - earning respect from her but remaining soft and quiet. With Sunny, this means never fighting with him and making things his idea (which is actually very common with horses). Try to fight with the big bugger, and he will make sure that you lose. Little wee bit of stud horse left in that one, lol. Today it also meant changing how I use my leg aids on Sunny. For the last while I have been desperately trying to teach him to be supple under saddle, and to bend around my leg. A number of factors, I feel, have contributed to his reluctance to do so. A stiff jaw. A stiff body that he is insistent remains straight as a board for quick prey flight. The distraction of working outside. A studly brain. Who knows what really goes on in that head of his - deciphering a horse's thoughts can be one of the most difficult parts of my job! Another factor I figured out today though, seems to be how I use my legs. Typically, I slide my outside leg forward just slightly to cue the horse into a circle, tip the horse's nose in a little towards the center of the circle, and apply pressure with my inside leg to bend the horse into an arc and to ask them to lift their shoulder. Sunny seemed to be ignoring my cues to bend his body much of the time though; he easily responds to an outside, directional, leg cue, but have him bend around an inside leg? Not happening. So today I changed things up a little. I still held my outside leg to ask him into the circle, but I lightly bumped, or rolled my heel, against his inside - as if I were wearing a spur. He instantly moved out. Admitedly not all that consistently, but still, it is a start! So, that was the basis of today: lots of circles at the trot, working on bend, working on leg aids (directional), and sharpening up our stop (I drop my reins and "stop riding", he halts). He's coming along well. One more day and I'll be out (hopefully); his owners will take over this weekend, and I will return for a last couple of days on him next week.

Speaking with Twist and Gypsy's owner today, he seems very happy with Twist (he took Twist out to the mountains and had a very successful trip), and also seems very happy with Gypsy's progress. I was convinced he would not be happy with where she is at, that he had higher expectations of her, but he's just as convinced as I am that someone has delivered that little filly a good beating, and is just really happy he can catch her! I've got her now picking up all four feet, am slapping ropes all over her, having her move off of pressure (both tactile and body language), having her walk between me and the fence, having her circle around me quietly, and having her yo-yo away and back to me. She has come a long way. I recommended her owner continue with her all that he has been doing (even take her out to the mountains and pack her - his idea but I completely agree the experience would be beneficial to her), and then start her under-saddle next year. By then she will be a little more built and will have some better experiences with people under her belt. A couple more sessions with her - one tomorrow and the rest next week, and she will be done as well. I could continue her work, but I feel her progress would be so slow her owner would be better off just to continue what he is doing, rather than paying me to accomplish essentially the same (or similar) to what he can accomplish himself. By next spring she should be more relaxed and desensitized to people for better progress.

Missy and Cody have been goin' at it a bit over the fence (pipe fencing, with thick wire mesh in between the top pipes, surrounding Missy's paddock), and Missy seems to have paid a bit of a price with her violence towards said fence. I came out today to see a few nicks on a front leg, as well as some larger hairless schemes on her right hind. It appeared a bit puffy (the hind) and when I touched it, it felt warm to the touch. When I asked her to move out on it she was not really lame, but I could tell she was just a tad sore on it. So, I gave her the day off. It was minor and appeared superficial enough that she probably could have done w/t, but no sense in creating a cranky horse because she's feeling a little sore and resents having to work. As I cold-water-hosed the cut, she darted about, so she ended up getting a whole bath. Her skittish reaction to water has now henceforth earned her a bath after each work so that we can desensitize her to bathing. Maybe she will appreciate water in bath format (pun intended) when she is all sweated up on a hot day? She stays pretty clean, hence the reason I have yet to bath her, but if she is going to a new home, bathing should definitely be on the list of things she does. Such a simple task that most people expect a horse to have ;)

Silver did great tonight - just a quick little work on the norm. I rode him in a different (better fitting) saddle though and felt he was actually quite rough - he just felt very short-strided to me. So, it's off to the chiropractor for him when he returns. Unfortunately he does have to wait until then, as I doubt very much the existence and availability of a chiro in Tomahawk. Remember: a couple churches, a bar, and a gas station. Tomahawk's entire make-up. I wish I could do it sooner for him. In the mean time, I will have to take it as easy as possible on him. Dad even rode him a little afterwards, in the arena ;)

Fantastilicious was the word of the day for Cody today! Dad is really smitten with him (he says I owe him a horse, since I technically stole Silver as a 4yo back in 1999 from him, haha - at the time, Silver had been intended as dad's new cow horse, but they sold the ranch and Silver went to me when I needed a new horse with more athleticism), lol, and came out to see how he'd (dad, that is) hold up back in the saddle again, with the hopes of riding more this year. Cody and I played around with the first 6 Parelli games, at which he did well. Little nervous here and there, but he is gaining confidence and was much more noticeably relaxed today. If he were a client horse, I would have left off there, but since he is ours, I wanted to see where he was at under-saddle. I can't help it, I was curious to know how fast I could be working him regularly up in Tomahawk. I can just picture him gettin' down low and cutting cattle and can't wait! I was careful not to push him, and to always ensure I had his permission to move on to the next step (last thing I wanted was to create a poor experience for him on our first ride), but he allowed me to carefully saddle him up and to even get up (took a minute, but after a moment or two he stood still and allowed me to step into the saddle, on a loose rein). Once in the saddle, he felt a little unsure to me, but he walked out and even did a little jogging for me, pretty relaxed and with plenty of lip smakin ;) I confess I don't know how the last person(s) trained him (whether through force or not), but he seems to understand leg aids and to want to be fairly soft. At first, he simply walked through my rein aids (using the equivalent of a rope hackamore), but after a moment he started listening to what I was asking. He kept wanting to stick close to Silver for security, but he did really great - I am really looking forward to working with him further! I even rode him outside the arena and up to the tack-up barn afterwards as well - he was quite hesitant and keen on following Silver's lead in the dark, but he never once spooked violently or rocketed out from beneath me. I love it when a horse uses their head and actually naturally thinks through situations. It is fun to teach a horse to think (just to see that transformation from reactive to thinking over time as you work with them), but heck it's nice when they've already got that sort of mind naturally and you can just build further off of it :)

We've been delayed another day and are now supposed to be leaving for Tomahawk with the three horses tomorrow evening. So, wish us luck, and if you don't hear from me (all you three readers, lmao), you'll know I did not actually drop off the face of the earth, but that I am just in Tomahawk, with limited internet access. Talk to ya when I return, if not tomorrow.

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