Saturday, October 3, 2009

Trailer loading on a mission

I actually forgot to mention something that happened with Cody last week that I found interesting. I was working with him on some of our groundwork – doing the friendly game at the time, tossing the carrot stick and its savvy string over his back. Or I should say I was trying to, rather. He was pretty suspicious and we made slow work. At one point however, one of his forelegs touched the rope I had been tying the dog to when we first arrived at the ranch, to teach her to stick around the house. The rope was loose and had a lot of play (no danger in him becoming entangled in it), but it lay across his coronet in such a fashion that to him, it might have felt snug at first. I first checked to make sure the situation was safe – I hadn’t really been paying much attention to where we were working (not on a conscious level), as we tended to move about quite a bit. Cody hesitated and did not budge a step, so I proceeded with caution. Did he think he was caught? He went on to allow me a lot more than he usually does, and I could see him thinking. He wanted to move away, but didn’t feel he should; you could tell he was unsure whether it was safe or not to pull his foot away. Is he hobble trained?? If he is, I doubt it was done for legitimate purposes – given his past, I am willing to bet that if he was hobble-broke, it was done in a gruesome fashion, to keep him still for whatever else he was forced to submit to. I finished our game up prior to removing the rope so that he felt he could walk around once more. It was pretty neat, and I am still not sure whether he didn’t move because he was just being cautious, or if he has been trained with hobbles. Today, when I placed a rope around his fetlock and asked him to move off, he did, but very carefully – all the while checking out his foot to make sure it was okay; he moved very slowly and with great care and thought. *shrug* well, it is nice to have a horse so careful with his feet!

A couple of weeks ago I had to cross a downed fence on Cody. To have gone around would have meant a lot of time lost, and I had no way of cutting the fence to make a hole to go through. Either way, the fence was down enough that I felt it would be safe to walk Cody over it (else I would have sacrificed the time) – all the strands of wire were together and were either in the ground, or only an inch or two off of it. Still, I was very careful going over the fence. I halted Cody just before it and gave him his head so that he could see what we were about to go over. I gave him his head and nudged him forward, but I kept my hands and seat ready to stop Cody if I had to. He lifted each of his feet carefully and navigated over the downed fence very slowly, of his own accord. He seemed extra careful and also prepared to stop should he accidentally step wrong. A horse so thoughtful and great with his feet, who doesn’t panic in situations where he is, or could be, caught, is hard to come by!!

Today I ran into town and got done everything I needed to before returning home, saving my long ride with Cody instead for Monday, when the weather is supposed to be at its best. Tomorrow, we should even see rain and snow apparently! Upon returning home, I caught up Cody – a much easier feat today than has been the norm. We probably spent a good two hours on the ground working out our 7 games. The circling game he wanted to take off from – he’d just stop and if I went to ask him to continue the circle, he’d back and then try to turn away. Eventually, we settled on doing the game where he wanted to, in front of one of the barns. Actually, Cody wanted to go through said barn back out into the fields and away from me and my work, but he finally settled for doing the game in front of the barn (lol). From there, once we got the game going well, I asked him to do the game now where I wanted, in the open and away from “Cody’s barn”. By that time we were working well together and he properly understood what I wanted (with some work), so he humoured me and did as I asked. With a lot of additional work (and body language!!), I finally got Cody to side-pass on the ground as well (game 6)!! Afterward, I felt it was finally time to also introduce game 7 – the squeeze game, via use of the trailer (go big or go home, hehe). It took a bit to get Cody in the trailer without my leading him in (and by that time, though our games were going well, he was a little skeptical of me due to all we had worked through and all the challenge I had asked of him, and would not follow me in anyway): a lot of friendly game interspersed (to re-acquaint Cody with my “arm extension” aka the carrot stick, and to remind him it wasn’t a tool with which to beat him), plenty of changes in direction via driving game (reminding him to be responsive when I asked him to move in a particular direction rather than to block me out and move in the opposite direction*), and lots of circling game (reinforcing to move forwards when I asked). Basically, we were breaking everything down as we found “holes”, and fixing it (the basics), to create a successful squeeze game. Finally (though it seemed like eons, it probably all took only about 15 minutes) I had him loading – it had never really been a question about the trailer, but rather a question about my leadership (which is always the case anyways, but moreso with Cody). The trailer itself, Cody was confident with – once he put one foot in, the other three followed easily and he stood quietly in the trailer. Our next big challenge was getting him to back out, rather than to turn around in the trailer (which can lead a horse to come out on top of you one day). It took a bit, because Cody again was not quite fully willing to trust my leadership on a sufficient level to back out when he cannot see much as he backs and has to feel his way out! Finally though I had him load and unload a couple of times, each unload being better than the last. Last challenge I thought I’d take on was to load all three horses into the two-horse-slant stock-horse-like trailer. It can be a challenge for the second horse to load when he thinks he doesn’t have enough room, and it can be an even bigger challenge for the third horse to load when there is only room for exactly one horse – no room to spare, so it looks to the last horse like there is not enough room. He has to trust that you know what you are doing in sending him up there and just go up there. Much to my surprise, Link loaded very easily when I pointed at the trailer and directed him in, to stand calmly next to Cody (no backing out or anything!). Next up, I sent Silver in. Within a few seconds, all three horses were standing in the trailer, door still open, calmly and without moving. I couldn’t have been prouder! I let them soak it up for a moment or two before asking them, one by one, to back out again.

*Horses are prey animals and as such, often automatically want to do the opposite of whatever a predator (us) wants them to. So if I want Cody to go right, he is going to try to go left. He assumes that there is a reason I want him to go right, and that reason could mean his life (especially to a horse as fearful and mistrustful of humans as Cody), so he is going to make sure that he goes anywhere but right! This is where I had to work on a lot of changes in direction with Cody, because he would go in the opposite direction and just take off – blocking me out completely. Changes in direction are not something I usually work on with a horse until a little bit later, especially with a horse with too much 'drive' (they build a lot of 'drive' - and the last thing you need in a horse with already too much 'drive', is more 'drive', lol), but it came up with Cody and he caught on quick. It really got him thinking and eventually enabled me to gain more of his partnership.

By this time, Cody was pretty sweated up – he’d worked hard and had been forced to think even harder! I decided though to tack him up and take him out so as to end on a good note as well as to get more hours in under-saddle. He was about the same as usual leaving – a little skittish, but nothing to worry about. Actually, I was also on the phone while I directed Cody to head out past one of the cattle herds and out onto the property, and he still moved out readily! For the second time now in a row, he picked his way through the sucking mud in the creek to the other side (rather than jumping the creek); it was great to feel him so comfortable with the mud and water! The rest of the ride (all at a walk) went fantastic, with Cody walking out comfortably and spooking only occasionally (and then, only a body shiver and maybe half a step to one side) in the crisp and breezy evening (pretty good, as the horses were all pretty frisky and spooky on their own all day!). He even humoured me when I took a half a gazillion photos (have to return when the sun is out for some more shots!) and it took us twice as long as usual to get home as a result, haha. All in all, a pleasurable ride and I look forward to a few more before our season here is done!

On the note of “frisky horses”, Link and Silver have become quite inseparable, and I think today (after actually putting some thought into it) I finally figured out why (from the first time they saw each other). Energy levels. They both have nearly identical energy levels. While Cody (a Left-brain Introvert) is quite content to chew away at grass and meander about, maybe toss in the odd canter here and there, Silver and Link are racing around, tails in the air, bucking and playing – constantly. I watched them play today, for a good 10 minutes, nipping at each other in play. That was prior to them tearing around for no good reason other than to stretch their legs, lol. It will be nice to see them back together again one day, when we have some property of our own :)

Our weekend in the mountains was almost cancelled, as our guide had to rush out on an emergency and could no longer take us. Fortunately, I was able to make reservations at a nearby lodge instead, where we can keep the horses for the weekend! It will be nice to head out on day rides over the weekend, to return home to a nice warm room and a glass of champagne! From this location we can head into the Ya Ha Tinda, which is known for its gorgeous country. It should be a fabulous weekend.

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