Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Horse-sick and camera-less

I'm horse-sick (you know, like homesick?) It's been getting to me the last few days. I've been working everyday (except Christmas day) of the last couple weeks because I have a lot to catch up on. Also, I'm one of the few people remaining around campus, so I have the whole lab to myself, which means I'm also a bit lonely, despite the fact that I've been getting lots of work done. Plus, I see no point to taking time off...I have nothing to do here. My family are all in Wisconsin (I just saw them for Thanksgiving), except my boyfriend (but he's been working lots lately too, and we've not been spending much time together). And I have no horses to spend time with anymore! I still of course have my dogs, and they'd really love it if I took some time off to take them someplace fun. I have been taking them for walks, but sporadically. So I'm horsesick...because I'm lonely and I've been reading lots of horse-related books lately, which really makes me itch to get out and do something with a horse. Re-reading my journal from training Catlow also makes me itch to get out and do something with a horse. Although we've been having such crappy weather here lately that I doubt it'd do much good if my horses were still here. But then, at least I could wrap my arms around them and bury my cold fingers into their big warm wooly manes.

Also, my camera broke. I have a Kodak z710 (10X zoom) and it appears that the mechanism that powers the lens has become stripped (like a screw) or burned out or something. When I turn it on, it tries to push the lens out, but it can't so just gives an error light and turns back off. I wasn't able to get any pictures of the new snow (which isn't new anymore) because that is precisely when it broke. I might be able to get it replaced, but I'm not sure. I have to contact the company. This is the second time this camera has broke on me. I already had it replaced once (A gentle fall while in the very protective case actually cracked the LCD screen, and Kodak replaced it no problem). Since it's caused me more than its share of headaches, I'm thinking of getting a different kind of digital camera. I'd appreciate knowing what you all use to take your pictures. I like to have powerful zoom (10X (not digital) preferred) and between 5-7.5 MP picture resolution. I'm partial to Canon. I have a really nice SLR film camera that I LOVE, but it's one of those types that you only get it out when you are on a trip special for photography (it's too big and expensive to just throw around and drag with you on hikes or horseback rides). I was really resisting going digital for a long time because I was a film snob, but now I can't fathom living without the ease of my digital camera! And they generally aren't super expensive, so I don't feel the need to keep it wrapped in a bubble. I'll put it in my saddle bags or let it bounce around my neck on hikes.

So please, all my horse friends, what is your preferred digital camera (brand and type)?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

February 7th, 2008

"Post from the Past"

February 7th, 2008

The weather today finally warmed up. We got lots more snow last night and it was really windy today, but upper 30s and around 40 degrees in Moscow today. Tonight I worked with Catlow for 2 hours. I caught her outside. Even though it was windy and very difficult to walk (I was stumbling through the snow), Catlow let me catch her and showed no interest in moving away. Not that she usually does, but sometimes I feel like I have to be careful how I approach her.

I worked on lateral flexion and dropping her head first. She remembered pretty quickly from last time. She responded to me pinching her poll immediately, which pleased me. She is still not as good at dropping her head with pressure from the halter. We’ll have to work on that more. I bet that if I move the halter up closer to her ears she might respond better. She is getting really good with pinching her poll. I don’t even have to pinch very hard.

Her lateral flexion is getting better. She is still better with flexing to her right side, than to her left. She is actually stretching back much better from both sides, so I’m asking more of her. I’m asking her to reach farther and farther each time. She is beginning to attempt to touch me, or her side (whichever is closer), and she’s doing it with just pressure from the halter now. She is bringing her head around nicely and I just need to apply direct pressure when she gets all the way around to ask her to reach further. She waits a second or two, sometimes several, before she actually reaches back, but she’s actually doing it. Last session, she was really lax about reaching further and it took quite a wait, with shuffling around to make her uncomfortable, before she’d give slack in the rope. She’s improved quite a bit.

I also brought treats this time, and gave her a treat when she would approach me, or look at me, in the beginning. I gave them out more and more sparingly toward the end of the lesson, but they peaked her interest. I think that treats, combined with only trying to win her trust (by not chasing her around yet), is what is helping her to want to work with me and do what I ask. She is definitely more willing this time than she was last time. Her wall is coming down just a bit.

I played “jump rope” with Catlow and the lead line (basically, I just stood back and swung the 14 ft lead line as though she was holding onto the other end (with her head) for an invisible person to jump over). She did really, really well with this…it didn’t faze her at all, even though the rope would slide around her nose and tug at her halter. I progressed to tossing the rope around her head, and also snaking it at her body so that it touched her on the chest. She didn’t even flinch, jump, move, or give me that suspicious hard look. This was my biggest surprise, and it made me feel very good…she’s improving. She seems to do better when she’s looking at me with both eyes, than with just her left eye…her right eye makes her trust me. Her left eye doesn’t quite trust me fully.

I also did a bit with asking her to yield her forequarters. She is getting more forward and stepping across in front more consistently now. I think that is also a factor of trusting me more, and also me having better position when asking her. Our communication is getting better; she’s understanding what I’m asking. She’s funny, cuz when asking to yield to the left, she will try to pivot on her forelegs and walk around with her hindquarters. I have to tap her on the shoulder to loosen her up and get her shoulder to move. I didn’t work with her much on this, but I will need to more in the future.

I also attempted to spook her by unexpectedly jumping and hissing. She only raised her head the first few times. She’s caught on with that, and she’s not overreacting anymore. I danced like a crazy person, waving my arms around and jumping, and she raised her head and eyed me suspiciously at first, but didn’t move away. I alternated doing stressful things like jumping and spooking at her, with asking her to flex and drop her head. She went with both exercises well. She would raise her head up when I jumped around, but would drop it immediately when I asked her to. I was pleased. She was altogether much more relaxed this session than last session. She wasn’t raising her head suspiciously with that hard look in her eye every time I moved to do something else. That’s a big step.

I worked a lot with desensitizing her to me tossing the rope over her. I stood on her left side, and started with her rump and hind legs. That’s no problem for her, although the first few tosses, she was bobbing her head up and down. She will cock her leg when I stay behind her withers, but when I move up to her neck, she bobs her head, raises it up, looks around to the other side…anything to avoid actually accepting me tossing the rope. I tossed over her neck repeatedly, until I was getting bored with it. She just doesn’t relax. I was trying to watch her really closely and see small signs of slight acceptance or relaxation, and that’s all I got. She kept her head up high, but she would actually look at me once in a while (because once I stopped tossing when she did that, so she tried it again). Her eye wasn’t quite as hard, so I decided that was a good stopping point on that side. Then I moved to her right side, and what a difference! She had her head lower, and was totally accepting me tossing the rope up on her neck. It wasn’t because I had just been doing it on the other side, because she hadn’t really accepted it on that other side. She’s just really lopsided. I was shocked, but I guess that really illustrates that she has this wall built up on her left side, for whatever reason. I’m glad I started with her hard side, because I worked much longer at it than her good side. After the rope tossing, I went through the motions of jumping up on her back from both sides, and she really accepted that. It doesn’t bother her at all. If only I could jump higher, I’d jump up on her back and hang over her. After that, I let her be, and played with the dogs. She was a few feet away from a salt lick, and moved over to lick salt. I spent about 10 minutes with her while she licked salt (I don’t think they have a block in the pasture right now because of all the snow). She continued to lick while I messed with her and jumped around her. I took that as a sign that she’s more comfortable with me.

She’s doing really well. I think that I need to continue with the desensitizing for many more sessions, until she responds automatically with dropping her head and lateral flexion. I think that I should also wait to start lunging her until she completely accepts the rope tossing on her neck. I want her to trust me before I start driving her away from me, so that she isn’t confused. We need to build up our communication before I ask her something that she might mistake for me chasing her.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

February 3nd, 2008, 8:30pm

"Post from the Past"

February 3nd, 2008, 8:30pm

I worked with Catlow for about 2 and a half hours today. I did not end up round penning her because I focused mainly on desensitizing. I had planned to desensitize her, then round pen her, then desensitize again, but as I started working with her, she was not responding well. She was doing okay with me tossing the rope at her (after the first attempt when she skittered all over the round pen). She settled down pretty quick though. The problem arose when I started asking her to flex laterally. She was really heavy. When I would pick up on the rope, she would respond and turn her nose toward me a bit, but I had to pull her head all the way to the side…well, I didn’t pull it all the way, just around to encourage her to flex to me and touch me or her side. But she wasn’t into flexing. She would just sit there and lean on the halter. Sometimes she would give just a bit, creating less pressure on the rope, but not slack. I’d reward her for that, but it didn’t encourage her to try harder the next time. The next time, she was just as heavy and would just hang there on the rope. She felt like she could hang there forever. I got sick of standing there and holding her head around, so I started moving around, kicking my feet, or waving my other hand. That actually seemed to make her want to find relief from the pressure. I’m not sure why she was okay with just standing there and hanging on the rope forever. My theory is that she doesn’t quite understand that I’m trying to ask her to cooperate with me. I think she might think that I’m just subjecting her to “torture” and that she needs to just put up with it until I quit. Giving her the reward of relief from pressure (like releasing the rope when she gives me slack) just wasn’t getting through to her as a good enough reward. But after I started making it more uncomfortable for her to just hang there (when I started moving around and waving my free arm around her face), she actually sought the reward because it was a greater reward then. Then she seemed to realize that I was asking her to give to me and try. After that, she would reach toward me and give me slack in the rope without me having to wiggle around. But it really took quite a while to make that happen. I feel bad that she doesn’t want to try with me…like I’m subjecting her to “torture” by working with her. She’d be perfectly happy if I just pet her once in a while and left her alone. But I think that what this means is that I just have to be more creative to find ways to show her that it will be more fun for her if she tries to do what I ask. As it is now, I’m asking (or rather, telling) her to do things, and she is only obliging because she has to, not because she wants to.

She is so different from working with Chico. I worked with Chico before I worked with Catlow. Working with Chico is like cutting butter with a hot knife, where as working with Catlow is like trying to cut frozen meat. Chico wants to be with me. He likes getting messed with. He is very willing. He also felt good today, not having been worked with in so long. I turned him loose in the round pen, and then I just stood in the middle. He started off and began cantering around immediately. I wasn’t asking him to do anything. He just went round and round. I ignored him and messed with my rope and he continued to alternate between cantering around and coming in to see what I was doing. (Catlow just stands by the side and watches me, not interested in moving or coming to investigate me). When I finally did begin working with him, he went easily, listened to what I was asking him to do, making trot-canter and canter-trot transitions easily. He also turned in and changed direction with vigor. Chico is a little bit one-sided so he likes to come off the fence when traveling to the right, but not as easily when traveling to the left (he needs a little bit more encouragement to come in and if he’s pushed too hard, he’ll turn to the outside). He came into the center when asked and I flexed him. He did not even need me to pull on the rope to ask him to flex and touch his side. He did it all with slack in the rope. He yielded his hindquarter when asked and also his forequarters, but he needs a little more work on the forequarters. I tried to spook him, and he did jump but only the first time. He’s not afraid of me. Then I did a new activity where I ran up the rope toward him. He looked at me like I was crazy and backed away, but only a few steps and he didn’t attempt to run away. It was fun. I would back away from him, and if he made an attempt to follow me, I’d just hold up my hand and say “whoa”. He’d stop and wait watching me as I backed up. Then I’d run toward him, sliding the rope through my hands as I went. He’d watch me intently, and back away as I got closer…mostly because he didn’t know what I was doing. We’ll have to work on that some more, but his first few times were okay. He was awesome for not having been worked with since last October. The thing that I liked the most was how when I would relax, he’d come right in to me. I’d love on him a bit. Then when I pointed out to the rail, he jumped to attention and headed the direction I pointed. I’ve never had to be harsh to get him to respect me like that. It’s a good feeling.

Okay, back to Catlow. I also asked her to drop her head just like I did yesterday. Yesterday’s lesson wasn’t so good. It took her a long time to “get” the drop head lesson. I asked her using two different cues. The first cue was a downward pull on the halter that puts pressure on her poll. I’ve done this before, but I’ve never consistently worked with her, so most of these lessons have been tried before, they just don’t stick with her. The second cue was pinching her skin on her poll. She seemed to understand both cues almost immediately, but then after a while of practicing, she seemed to not understand anymore. Maybe I was not giving her enough reward time before I started asking her again, so she didn’t think she was doing the right thing? Or maybe she got bored and didn’t want to play my game anymore. Or maybe it just wasn’t uncomfortable enough for her to want to find a way to relieve the pressure and she wasn’t interested in willingly cooperating with me. Whatever the cause, I tried to end on a good note yesterday, but she wasn’t being very consistent. Well, today when I tried both cues, she got them right away. She didn’t drop her head all the way to the ground, but she did drop it when asked. I didn’t try these cues until after I had been working on lateral flexion, so maybe that helped.

A really good thing that I noticed was that after she started flexing consistently and dropping her head when asked, she got really relaxed. That is a really good thing because if I can get her to respond immediately to those cues, then when I ask her to do that under pressure or when she gets worried, it will help her to remain calm. I think that will be a very important thing for this horse.

The thing that I really didn’t like about our lesson, and something that I think will take a lot of work to “fix” and is really just the manifestation of her lack of trust, was that every time I would move to do something else, or just move in general, she immediately raised her head up, got stiff, and got that hard look in her eye. Even after I’d ask her to drop her head and relax, the next move I made would elicit the raised head response and the hard eye. I hope that this is something that will go away as we continue our work and she learns to trust me.

So, today we worked on relaxing and not responding to random “spooks” and stimuli such as swinging ropes and stick and string. I was pleased with how the session ended. I gave her a few handfuls of grain as a reward at the end, and I think that I would like to do that next time, too. Just a little “thank you” for putting up with me. I’ve decided that I need to once again revamp my outline to work with Catlow. I think that I need to keep her on a line, and keep her with me. I don’t want to drive her away in the round pen without any control over her. I think that the line will keep her looking to me for direction instead of feeling like I’m chasing her. So, the next time I work with her I will do the desensitizing exercises again, and if there is time, I will move onto some lunging on a small circle. The lunging exercises will basically be geared toward getting her attention, listening to cues, and changing directions lots. I plan to stick with doing desensitizing first thing every lesson, then if there is time, we will progress beyond that. I expect that desensitizing will continue to take a long time in the beginning, but as she actually improves, I will have time to move onto other things. Lateral flexion and dropping the head will be part of the desensitizing routine that will turn out to be really important for keeping her calm.

I think that it will work, but it will take time, and I’ll probably have to revise my approach multiple times.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

February 3nd, 2008, 2:30pm

February 3nd, 2008, 2:30pm

Yesterday, the farrier came out and trimmed everyone’s hooves. Cody’s weren’t so bad, but she does have unbalanced front hooves. The hairline on her right hoof is much less angled than the hairline on her left hoof. The left hoof looks okay…the hairline angle is about 30degrees like it should be, but the right hoof looks about midway between 0 degrees (or parallel to the ground) and 30 degrees…so I guess about 20 degree’s maybe. Catlow’s front feet are just really short. They are wearing much faster than they are growing. Chico’s are also wearing fast, and unevenly. Could it be the snow? He has always worn unevenly at the toe and right now, the inside wall is much shorter than the outside wall on both front feet. They are also quite short, so not much can be done about it right now, but hopefully we’ll have lot of grass this spring and their hooves will grow out fast.

After the farrier left, I wormed Chico and Catlow. I worked with Chico a bit out in the pasture. Just a little bit of lungeing and turning and yielding hindquarters. He loved it, and really remembers all his exercises. I love that Chico likes to be messed with. He gets a really beautiful look in his eyes, and he’s very respectful.

I also worked with Catlow. I didn’t quite follow my outline because I sort of didn’t feel like working with her (it’s hard to start something that you haven’t gotten into yet when you are not sure how to succeed or how successful you will be).

I started by round penning her. She actually did quite well. She doesn’t want to come off the fence and face me when she is going around to the left. I’ll have to be sure to focus on that side more than the other. It was obvious that a couple of times she was just plain disrespecting me…ignoring me when I asked her to move faster. And so I did reach out with my rope and smacked her on the butt. I noticed that she is definitely afraid of me, but she also will push into me with her shoulder (being defensive, I guess). So I think I need to focus on the draw more than the drive…even though she does also need the drive. So, my compromise will be to in future lessons, desensitize before and after the round penning exercise. I think that is key. I did not do that this time. I half heartedly started the round penning lesson so I didn’t do that before. I also need to make sure that I have a clear goal in mind when I am working with her, because if I don’t, she feels it and will be confused. It’s very obvious…when I start thinking about asking her to turn in and change directions, but waiting for a different spot in the round pen to do it (I notice that I tend to pick the same spots over and over, so am making an effort to change), there must be a change (lessening of drive) in my body language because she will often try to stop before I ask her. So, I need to be very clear and consistent…this horse is going to teach me that, I think.

Another thing that I noticed is that I need to work her longer in the round pen. In the past, I think I did not work her long enough and I didn’t change directions often enough, so she wasn’t getting the message that I was asking her to read me. I worked her until she sweated up and was breathing hard…lots of direction changes. I need to pick a cue (cluck and kiss, or trot-trot and canter). I think I’ll stick with voice because I feel it is less forceful and I’ll be able to stick with it better. After she was looking for rest, I asked her to stop while facing me, and I approached her by walking back and forth in front of her and asked her to face me while I walked around to her side. It took some repetition. At first, if I directed a little energy to her hindquarters, she wanted to just leave, so I cut her off and tried again, or more forcefully asked her to leave and then face up and start over. Eventually, she did start pivoting her hindquarters and facing up when I directed energy at them. It doesn’t take a lot of energy to get her to move.

When round penning, I need to make sure that exercise is more stressful than being with me. I was occasionally getting the feeling that she’d rather run around the pen than come in and be with me. I think the key to “fixing” that is to be sure to do lots of direction changes when I am round penning instead of letting her run zombie-like around and around.

So, after I asked her to come in and started touching her and tossing the rope at her, she was scared to death of me tossing the rope. She also jumped anytime there was a loud noise and when other horses ran past the opening of the barn. Anytime anything touched her, she jumped. I think this will become less of an issue (her being scared after I round pen her) if I keep consistent with her when working at the round pen and do lot of desensitizing before and after. She just doesn’t yet understand what I want her to do. I continued to work with her and asked her to yield her hindquarters and her forequarters. I also tossed the rope and purposefully tried to spook her by jumping, and even dancing like a crazy person. At first she freaked out, but I kept doing it and she eventually stopped and stood, although with her head raised high. By the time we were done working, she was no longer jumping when I tried to spook her. I think I just need to keep that up. I did notice though, that she gets that wrinkle under her eye when I ask her to yield her forequarters to the right (I’m on her left side), but she’s much calmer and more obliging when I ask her to move to the left. I need to work with her more from her left side…her wall on her left side is much thicker than the wall on her right side. Not sure why this is since most horses seem to be better from their left side.

I was overall very pleased by the time we were done working. So, I need to desensitize before, then round pen, then after. I need to be consistent and do it for so long that she gets bored. She’ll eventually see that it’s easier to not react, and that she doesn’t have to react.

So, I am going to go out and work her this afternoon too. I will try to stick to my plan this time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

January 30th, 2008

The next "Post from the Past"

Yesterday I outlined problems that I’d like to work on with Catlow. Today I’d like to outline approaches to deal with those problems. So, there are two ways of thinking that I have with dealing with Catlow. Sometimes I think that maybe I’m just not being firm enough with her (I know that’s a problem with Cody), and so she really doesn’t want to do what I ask and is really good at making me think I’m doing harm with her so I don’t push her as hard. The other times, I think that I am being too firm and that Catlow is too sensitive to work with the same way that I did Chico. When I ask too much of her, she shuts down, so that would make me think I need to make her more comfortable so that she wants to be with me. Too much for Catlow is often not very much. It might just consist of me asking her to do something…usually when I want her to move. Probably because she’s just reacting when I ask her to move instead of thinking…I need to work more to get her thinking instead of reacting. Maybe keeping her busier and changing directions and activities lots would help…but I have to remember to stick with an activity until she gets it. Maybe I’ve just not been consistent enough with her training. I think that with Catlow I need to start from the beginning. I’ve obviously skipped some steps in her training. I want to try to take both approaches…be more firm, and also pay more attention to when I’m overexposing her.

I think I’ll start with round penning to build the base. Because I’ve been having such an issue getting her to canter, my first instinct is to just ignore cantering right now, and work on getting her to respond to my cues in a relaxed manner. I know there’s controversy over using treats, but it worked so well with Chico that I want to try it again with Catlow. They seem to be great incentive. So, the initial round pen session will focus on getting Catlow to trot in consistent directions and turn to the inside consistently when asked. Eventually, when she relaxes with this, I will put her on a long line and do the same exercises and help her to respond to voice cues of walk, trot-trot, and whoa. I want her to be relaxed and obey immediately when I ask. I will start each round pen session with desensitizing exercises and I will finish each one with desensitizing exercises. These exercises will consist of tossing the rope all around her until she looks relaxed, tossing the string all around her until she looks relaxed, and then jumping all around her. I will also work on asking her to flex from side to side and work up to flexing and staying soft under pressure (i.e. I flap my elbows or arms or jump up and down).

So, in round penning sessions I will follow these lessons and work up to more difficult things as Catlow progresses: (in the first lesson, I will ask her to canter, just to check her attitude with it.
1). A) Desensitize to rubbing and touching all over on lead line
B) Desensitize to stick and string
C) Desensitize to rope, start on rump and legs (first session, just do legs, gradually work up to head and neck)
D) Remove lead line and ask her to move off at a trot with word cue and signal
E) Work on getting consistent relaxed trotting with turning to the inside.
F) Desensitize to rope at the end.
2). Do the same exercises as the first sessions, but add lead-line work and voice cues and also add in yielding hindquarters and forequarters and backing up.
3). I will teach her the sending exercises and navigating obstacles. Particularly, I like the jumps, backing through L’s, side-passing, and the cowboy curtain, although I’m not sure how I’ll do that one here.
4). I will then work up to cantering when she’s trusting me, and keep her cantering until she relaxes. For desensitizing I will slowly work up to doing everything with a saddle on and bit in mouth, and flexing to the bit. I will tie pop bottles to the saddle to simulate legs flopping.
5). I will eventually add the breeching and breast collar and maybe ask to use the pack saddle to desensitize her to the weight and shifty movement.
6). Through all this I will take Catlow for walks out into the countryside on weekends during the day when it is still light outside. On these walks I will keep her occupied instead of letting her get distracted.
7). I will also continue to pony Catlow off other horses, but I think I need to work on my other horses before I do that.

The farrier is coming this weekend to trim up everyone (all their feet are severely unbalanced in the front). After the trim, I will work Catlow in the round pen for the first time. I will continue on Sunday, then pick two days next week when I will come out to the farm and continue working…so I will spend most days on the weekend out there. If I can’t spend those two days working horses, then I will substitute one or two other days during the week. I need to spend 3-4 days a week working the horses. So, next week, my two days will be Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hope this works!!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another picture from my mom

It looks like the three were standing there getting fed treats. That's good. They need positive attention. They probably get more attention now than they ever have, with the exception of when I myself worked with them. I hope Catlow is settling in and getting braver. Looks like she's still separate from every one though...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

January 29, 2008 (really late at night…actually I think technically it’s morning)

Entry #1

Today I decided that I need to get organized and make some goals for training my horses this spring. I want to focus on Catlow, since she’s four now and has never really been ridden. She also needs the most work out of the three…she is more fearful and suspicious of humans and being alone than the other horses.

So, step one, I decided, is to write down the problems that I’ve had with her in the past (problems that have persisted primarily because I didn’t have the time to continue work with her on a regular basis), and then write a plan of action as to how I want to approach “fixing” them. Then, I will make a schedule of days to work with Catlow and stick to that schedule. I will keep a regular journal of the approaches and activities I try and how Catlow responds to them. Right now, it is really late at night, so I am just going to list the “problems” that I’d like to overcome with Catlow and some goals.

Major goal: Ride Catlow on the trail alone by summer (mid-May)

Major issue to overcome before that goal can be reached:
Catlow is suspicious of me. I can catch, handle, do anything with her, except that if I move too fast, she still startles. If I move too fast toward her in the pasture before she’s caught, it will take me a long time to catch her. I think part of that stems from her being lower on the totem pole than the other horses, and when most horses move toward her, she gets out of their way. So she’s kinda doing that with me, but I think she’s also just avoiding me, cuz being with me is stressful for her.

Manifestations of Catlow’s lack of trust:
1) If I move too fast when catching her, or act too intent on catching her, she will move away from me and avoid me. She’ll often get other horses between us, and if I keep pursuing her, she’ll run away from the “herd”. I currently deal with this by acting very nonchalant when I walk up to her…I be sure to not walk straight up to her and face her head on. I sort of walk toward her, then let her approach me. This works always…unless I trip over horse poop on the way to her and then she thinks that I’m chasing her, so she runs.
2) Desensitizing exercises never seem to stick with her. She ALWAYS reacts when I toss a rope, string, my hand, saddle blanket, anything, over her back or neck. Her reactions vary from running away and circling me on the lead rope, taking a long time before she stands still and “accepts” it to not running and standing still, but even when she is “accepting” the exercise, she has a look on her face that says she doesn’t like it or trust it (wrinkle under her eye, stiff neck and lips, head held high). Maybe I don’t do the exercises long enough, but I think I’d have to do them all day, everyday to get her bored with them. She does seem to be okay with me tossing a rope around her legs and toward her rump. She gets more upset the closer to her head I get.
3) She doesn’t like to move out in the round pen. I can get her to go at a steady trot, but if I’d like her to canter, I have to keep on her and keep on her. She’ll canter, but kind of in a scooting forward manner, tail clamped, and she wants to keep shutting down and quitting on me. I feel bad really getting after her to go because I feel like the chasing thing is one reason that she doesn’t trust me. She works really well at the trot in the round pen and on the lunge line, but cantering is harder…maybe it’s just because there’s not much room to canter and she’s unbalanced. I ponied her off my other horse several times. The first time I tried to get her to canter following us, she just trotted faster and faster and faster…never breaking into a canter. The next time, I timed asking her to break into a canter with a downhill slope, and really urged my horse to pick up the pace and that worked. She finally broke into a canter and kept it up. I really haven’t worked with her since then, but I feel like trying alternative options to get her to enjoy moving out might be worthwhile rather than chasing her around the round pen. Then again, maybe I just need to get more firm and stop feeling like I’m chasing her…maybe I’m looking at it all wrong.
4) She’ll often get really worried when I lead her out by herself (without other horses). She does well if we are on a single-track trail in the woods and ask her to follow behind me. But when we are in the open, she’ll sometimes get distracted (usually she sees the neighbor’s horses) and get really flustered. She almost forgets that I’m there with her. When this happens, I’ve been jerk, jerk, jerking on the halter to ask her to back up and get out of my space (she tends to crowd me when she’s worried). This seems to work pretty well, but it doesn’t prevent her from getting worried in the first place. Maybe I just need to give her more things to do and keep her more occupied when I lead her out. I do think that might help. It helps Cody keep focused on me instead of trying to veer home all the time.
5) So, maybe her crowding me when she’s worried is a problem in itself that needs to be better addressed.

These are all the things I can think of right now as far as problems go. For the most part, Catlow is very well behaved and she’s really good with her feet. I can even trim her myself unaided. Most of her issues seem to stem from lack of trust or respect (or maybe both), but I do think that she respects me…she just doesn’t trust that I’m not trying to eat her or do something unpleasant. So in that sense, maybe she doesn’t trust or respect me enough to be her leader, but she does respect me enough to fear me (sometimes) and want to avoid stressful situations with me. I don’t know…part of the reason I’m writing this journal is to evaluate how I am approaching her training and to figure out how I need to change it to be more effective at getting her to trust and respect me enough to be her leader so that she doesn’t have to fear me or situations that we get ourselves into (namely, trail riding alone).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wintertime ponies

Winter in WI

Cody and Chico - Most of my mom's pictures of Chico have his face in the frame of the camera. He really likes to see what the people are up to. Silly mustang.

My horses munching their round bale.

I apologize that my most recent posts from the past seem rather scattered. When I started writing them, I wasn’t thinking in a very organized fashion; I just wanted to catch up to late winter 2008 so that I could start posting my training journal for Catlow. I was going to try to talk about each horse separately, but it didn’t seem to make sense that way and so I ended up throwing bits in about each one and it didn’t turn out to be in chronological order. Sorry. From now on it will be better.

That late winter and spring 2008, I decided it was time to really start working with Catlow. Cody and Chico were rideable and going well. Catlow would be 4 years old and if I didn’t get her going, I was worried that we never would. I already knew that Catlow would be a challenge to work with, so I decided that I was going to keep a training journal. The format of the rest of my “posts from the past” will be entries from that journal. I’ll post the date of the journal entry in the title, and then paste the entry in. I’ll tell you now that we made great progress and I hope you enjoy reading them!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wish I could have a snow day!!

I am LOVING the snow! And it has definitely felt warmer here the last couple days after our frigid single digit highs. I am so jealous that everyone has been getting snow days and playing in the snow. Unfortunately I work at the university and they don't generally officially call off work.

Plus we have two researchers here that I've been working very hard with so that they can finish up. They both leave early next week and want to get their projects finished up. I've taken the boys (my dogs) out to a couple nearby parks, but not since we got the new snow. I hope to maybe snowshoe this weekend.

I was going to get "puppies in the snow" pics, but my camera is broken! I'm not sure what's wrong with it. I think the problem began when it tried to activate the zoom lens with a low battery, and now that the battery is charged, it still won't open. I'm sad. It's not that old. Maybe I can get it replaced.

So, yesterday, I awoke to the smell of somthing burning in my apartment. I have 3 electric heaters that are set into the walls that heat my apartment. 1 heater quit blowing hot air a while ago, but I just turned it down and ignored it. I still had 2! But yesterday morning, the fan went out on the 2nd heater and the heating element was still turning on, so it was overheating! I'm so glad I was home to discover it and call the electrician. It's so strange though...the day before, as I was going into work, I had this awful thought that what if my heaters malfunctioned and my apartment burned down with my beloved dogs and cats in it! By the time someone saw it was burning, it probably would be too late to save the critters! I think this thought crossed my mind due to the news of the recent barn fire that killed 15 horses (thankfully I don't lock my horses in barns, so that's not an issue). Anyway, I think it was a psychic premonition. All is well now. The electrician fixed the one that was overheating, and is replacing the other. So now I'll have 3 working heaters again!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fall 2007, Pack trip to the Cascades

I was supposed to finish my research and defend my M.S thesis by the end of summer 2007, so I had planned a big trip to celebrate finishing. Unfortunately, I did not finish that summer, and had to reschedule my defense for the end of November 2007. However, since I already had planned this big trip, and I was so looking forward to it, we went anyway. In the beginning of September, we took a week long pack trip to the Cascades near Mt. Rainier. A very good friend of mine came along, and Todd’s mom and her brother came along as well. I’d never been on a pack trip before, ever, so Todd’s mom and her brother planned the trip out. They tried to go on a trip every year, so they had all the gear already.

My friend flew in from Texas and I picked her up from the airport on the way to the Cascades. Unfortunately, the airline lost her luggage, so we didn’t arrive until a day later. Todd’s mom and her brother had gone ahead with the truck and trailer and met us at the campsite. We borrowed a horse for my friend (a big roan quarter horse named Pepper), Todd’s mom rode her mare, Jasmine, her bother rode Pepsi, and I brought along Cody and Chico. Chico was to be my riding horse, and Cody would be our pack horse when we packed in for a few days.

The first day, we just did a trail ride up the Pacific Crest trail and saw some great views. This was Chico's first time wearing a riding breeching. I love this picture of him checking it out. He was fine with it though, once he had a chance to get used to it.

All of these photos are courtesy of my friend. I didn't own a digital camera at this time, so didn't even bring one along. Here's a great shot of Mt. Rainier.

Here we are resting at the top before heading back down.

We had a great first day ride, unfortunately, the trail was also home to ground bees that were disturbed when 5 horses rode over them. On the way back down, we got into a particularly bad nest. I lost a hold of Cody while we were getting out of there, and Todd’s mom lost a hold of Pepsi while Jasmine bucked to get rid of the bees (her brother stayed behind on this ride, so we led the two mares). Together, Cody and Pepsi decided that they were getting the heck off the mountain, and so took off down the trail. This was a very bad thing, because if they made it all the way to the bottom, they’d have to cross a major highway (frequented by huge speeding logging trucks) to get back to our campsite. Once they had their horses under control, Todd’s mom and my friend took off after Cody and Pepsi. I followed too, but did not feel comfortable galloping Chico down the mountain trail, so I kept him slower and got left behind. Todd’s mom did catch up eventually and caught Pepsi. I got caught back up and got Cody and all was well. My friend and Todd’s mom were exhilarated from their wild chase of the two down the hill and said that was one of the best parts of their trip.

The next day, we moved to a new campsite, closer to an area where we’d pack in and set up camp for a few days. That afternoon, we did a half day ride to Shoe Lake.

This is my friend and I taking a break with our horses.

Heading back down from Shoe Lake. What a great view.

The next day, we packed up all our gear, loaded Cody up with the pack saddle, and took off for our new campsite in the mountains.

The horses all packed up and ready to go.

Here is Cody starting to get antsy because Pepsi is being led away to get a drink of water, and Cody is still tied up. Chico could care less as he scratches his nose on his leg.

Our camp was in the middle of this beautiful valley.

The next day, we did a day ride out toward Elk pass and got great views of Mt. Rainier.

We had a great time on our trip. Chico did awesome on his first mountain pack trip.

Cody did good on her first time as a pack horse. Unfortunately, she had the same problem as she did on the trail ride in Ellensburg. She attached her safety to Pepsi, so if Pepsi was not in her immediate vicinity, she would be come worried, pace and scream for Pepsi to come back. This was particularly annoying when we were camped in the valley and Todd’s mom would lead her horses down to the creek for a drink, and I’d lead Cody and Chico, with Cody only concerned about where Pepsi went. I did lots of ground work and lunging with her to get her to pay attention to me. It worked, but it was a constant battle with her and she never felt good without Pepsi. Todd’s mom and my friend were amused with all the trouble and frustration I had with Cody. Amazingly, Cody was actually better behaved when I rode her than when I just led her.

My friend eating dinner in camp.

When we weren’t out riding, we were letting the horses hang out grazing in the valley where we camped. If I led Cody away from the other horses, she was anxious and concerned about where they went. If I hopped on her bareback and rode her away, she was much more tuned in to my cues and didn’t get as anxious. Strange, eh? Chico was completely relaxed unless all 4 off the other horses left him alone tied to a tree. Then he’d pace and whinny. We let the horses loose to graze in the field, but we’d never let Pepsi and Cody loose together. One of them always had to be under control, to avoid them deciding to head down off the mountain again and take the entire herd with them. We weren’t taking any chances with getting left up there without any horses. I also couldn’t let Chico loose to graze in the field with the roan gelding, Pepper, because he would try to chase Pepper away from “his”mares. Pepper was borrowed from one of Todd’s mom’s friends, so he was not part of the herd. Chico reminded him of it whenever he got a chance.

The first time we discovered that it would not be possible to let Chico and Pepper loose together, it was interesting to watch. Pepper just gave in and got out of Chico’s way, meanwhile, Chico was strutting, arching his neck, and just floating across the ground as he tried to keep Pepper away from his mares. He was beautiful. I’d have liked to watch more, but poor Pepper was in no condition to be chased. His owner said he did not need shoes, so we took Pepper up the mountain completely barefoot. After just the second day, his feet were so sore that he refused to walk down the center of the trail where it was hard packed, and would instead walk on the soft crumbly edge (which if gave away, would have sent them sliding down the mountain side). His feet were probably not helped by the first day where my friend rode him at a gallop down the trail to catch our run away mares. My friend eventually switched to riding Cody, and we pony’d Pepper, when we went out on our day rides. She did ride him back to the trailer on the way out, though, because she weighs less than the pack did.

A picture of my friend and I at the end of our trip. She's riding Pepper, I'm riding Chico, and Cody is our pack horse. Note poor Pepper's sour face. He was not happy about being made to stand in the rocks for a picture. But that's one happy dog in the background (my dog, Jasper).

It was a great trip, but was my last relaxing time until the end of the year. After that, I really buckled down and got my thesis project done. I only rode my horses a few times that Fall 2007. The most time I spent with them was when Cody colicked and needed doctoring and emergency vet care. Other than that, they were on their own. I graduated in December 2007, and then went home for 3 weeks to spend Christmas with my family in Wisconsin. When I came back in January 2008, I started working full-time for my advisor in the genetics lab. I’ve been doing that ever since (but am now moving onto something new).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spring – Summer 2007, Catlow’s walks

Earlier this year, before I had ridden Chico yet, Catlow had a very bad training experience. Prior to this event, I had not worked with her very much at all. I think that it definitely did not help what I was trying to accomplish with her, and may have made it take longer to get her trust, although it was her nature to be suspicious and closed off before this. This event probably made her worse, but I hadn’t worked with her much before this. Ultimately it did not ruin her (thankfully). I’ve really debated posting this on the internet for the world to see, but I really doubt that the people involved will ever read my blog so I don’t think posting this is going to cause any conflicts, so here goes.

Like I’d mentioned previously, I was sometimes working with getting Catlow to lead better, and also halter easily, but not very often (I was busy with Chico). I had gotten Chico to the point where I was ponying him from Cody all tacked up. On this particular day, I was going riding with 3 other people (won’t mention names). I was on Cody, leading Chico. As we left the barn and were headed down the driveway, Catlow was standing with her head over the gate watching us. Jokingly, I said “Oh look, Catlow wants to come with us!” Person 1 said, “That’s a great idea!” And proceeded to jump off her horse, run in the barn and get a leadrope on Catlow. I sat watching, not really knowing what to do, but I didn’t think it was a very good idea because Catlow did not lead very well, so why would it be a good idea to “lead” her off the property, which she’d never done before? But Person 1 is very opinionated and does things her way, and I didn’t feel comfortable telling her so. Person 1 got back on her horse and started down the driveway “leading” Catlow. Catlow set back, so Person 1 wrapped the leadrope around her saddle horn to pull Catlow. So Catlow led up, but still didn’t know what was expected of her, so she sped up and now was “leading” Person 1 on her horse. Person 1 tried to pull Catlow back to a following position, but Catlow just had her head up and kept pulling through her. Person 1 kept circling her horse around trying to get Catlow back behind her, but as soon as she did, Catlow would speed up and be pulling her again. Person 1 was jerking and pulling as hard and she could, and was losing her temper. We were still in front of the barn having not been able to make it anywhere. I said (in my timid voice), “I don’t think she’s ready to take out with us”. Person 1 said, “Well, we can’t let her win now! We have to finish what we started!” Person 1 ran into the barn and grabbed a chain and put it on Catlow’s halter. Now, Person 1 was on her horse, trying to get Catlow to back up, WHILE they were IN the barn standing in front of the panels. Person 1 JERKED as hard as she could on the chain across Catlow’s nose. Catlow reared up striking and hit the panels with her front feet. Person 1 JERKED again, Catlow reared striking again. And again. Meanwhile, I’m kind of dumbstruck, and very upset. There wasn’t much I could do, since I was holding 2 horses (Cody and Chico), but I ran down to the house, leading them and pounded on the door until Todd came out. I said, “Todd, you have to come get your horse!” I knew he would not agree with what was happening. He came running out to get her. By this time Person 1 had gotten Catlow out of the barn and was “leading” her down the driveway past the house…looked the same as before, except that with the chain across Catlow’s nose, she had more leverage to pull her back. As soon as Person 1 saw Todd, she lost her temper, yelling at him…I can’t remember what she said exactly, something about cursing the mustang and blaming her on Todd, but Todd was upset, so turned away and stormed back into the house, leaving his horse still in the hands of Person 1. By this point, Catlow was kind of leading up, but hesitantly and still pulling and getting jerked back every time she pulled. Person 1, along with the others we were riding with headed out the driveway with Catlow. I followed on Cody, leading Chico. We got to the middle of the CRP field across the road from the property, when suddenly, Catlow caught Person 1 off guard and pulled away from her. Now we had a mustang, who didn’t readily let people approach her even in the pasture, loose in the CRP field next to the canyon. I got off Cody and stood holding her and Chico, while Person 1 and 2 tried to chase Catlow down. Person 2 was going to try to rope her. Catlow was avoiding them and at one point ran to Cody and Chico and stood next to them. I tried to slowly approach her and get a hold on her lead rope, but she sidled away. Then Person 1 and 2 came and Catlow was off again galloping across the field. Meanwhile, Person 3 was having trouble with his ill-behaved horse with all these other horses racing around the field. I stayed where I was holding Chico and Cody hoping that she’d come back to them. After about 20 minutes of chasing her, they finally roped Catlow. Then we headed back to the barn. Amazingly, Catlow led pretty well with the rope around her neck. They got her back in the pasture without further incident. It still makes me very upset to think about this (I’m currently shivering and sweating at the same time). I was so mad, but I couldn’t say anything to Person 1; she’d already made her opinion perfectly clear. I thought that as soon as she discovered that Catlow wasn’t going to lead up easily, we needed to step back and readjust our goals. Catlow didn’t lead well anyway, so simply getting her to lead around, then putting her back in the pasture would have been sufficient. Why did that big goal of taking her out ponying off other horses on a trail ride have to be accomplished in order to “win” the battle with her? We didn’t end up “winning” anything. Catlow wasn’t being stubborn and fighting with them; she didn’t understand what was happening, and when Person 1 jerked her face with a chain, she just defended herself the best she knew how, by rearing and striking. Person 1 is very lucky that Catlow didn’t accidentally knock her off her horse when she was jerking on the leadrope. So, this was Catlow’s big negative training event.

A few weeks after that, I decided that I should start working with getting her to lead better. I started in the round pen, then I started taking her out for walks. This was in Spring 2007, Chico had already been out on many walks and was very comfortable with me. The first time I took Catlow out, Todd and I just took Catlow and Chico for a walk across the nearby CRP field. As soon as we got out the driveway, Catlow was on edge. She was no longer on familiar turf, and was NOT comfortable, even though she was with Chico. She was stiff and would not bend, and was walking VERY fast and getting ahead of first Todd, then me when I took over (kind of like what she did to Person 1 when she was trying to pony her). When she’d get in front, I just turned and made her walk a circle until she was behind me again, then we’d continue straight again. She was very stiff, so her turns were more like pivots and she almost stepped on me a few times as I tried to circle her. We got to a pond, and some ducks flew up and she came unglued. She spooked and jumped back, and after that, she was even more nervous. We headed home after that and as soon as we got back on the property, she was calm and relaxed.

The next time I took her out, I led her alone. She was nervous through the field, but once we got to the woods, she was much better. She wasn’t calm, but I think that she wasn’t overwhelmed with trying to look EVERYWHERE, because she could only see around her immediate self and so was better. I was pleased with how she did in the woods. We went down some very steep hills and cut across country off trails and she was very surefooted.

I took her out several more times with friends leading either Cody, or Chico or both Cody and Chico. When Cody was around, Catlow was much more relaxed. When I took all three out as a herd, Catlow was the best behaved horse of the three. She did not try to snatch grass as much as Cody and Chico did, and if you pulled on her halter, she’d immediately respond to the pressure. Whereas Cody and Chico knew they could push it and if they had their face buried in grass, when you pulled, they pulled back to try to snatch those last few mouthfuls. I actually had my least experienced (with horses) friend lead Catlow because she had become frustrated with Cody eating constantly. When I took over Cody, I got after her firmly and neither Chico nor Cody would eat while I led them.

In these leading lessons, Catlow did become somewhat familiar with the canyon. I could lead her down this way and she was quite relaxed, but if I led her down the road through open fields that went by the neighbor’s horses, she would become high-headed, alert, and forget I was there leading her. Once again though, after we passed that stretch and got into the woods on a single track trail, she’d follow behind me with her head down rather relaxed. That’s about as far as I got with Catlow that summer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let it snow!

Today is the first day that I've been really excited about the season and winter. It just doesn't feel like winter without a good snow! And it doesn't feel like Christmas without a good snow, either. I drove out to Idler's rest today to take my dogs for a good long walk through the new fallen snow. They love snow and I love watching them run around in it. I love packing snow down with my boots. I love eating it (only fresh snow, please)! I even love the challenge of driving in it (there's really nothing to it as long as you don't go too fast). To celebrate the snow, here are a few pictures of my horses in Wisconsin in the snow they just last weekend. My mom took these early in the morning.

Winter/Spring 2007 - Summer 2007 - working with Cody and Catlow

When I started working with Chico in Fall 2006, I also started working with Catlow. I never worked with her as often as I did with Chico, primarily because Chico was mine, Catlow was Todd’s, and Chico needed quite a bit of work too. But Todd didn’t have any interest in working with the mustangs, so I kind of took over. Catlow was taking haltering better than Chico, although she still had touchy spots around her ears, and she never led quite as well as Chico. She was much more hesitant when being led, and if I tried to lead her somewhere she didn’t want to go, she would become very stubborn and once she pulled away from me and ran back to the other horses (thankfully we were still in the pasture).

My work with Catlow also began in the round pen. I did some “round penning” with her, but she was not as forward as Chico so required me to drive her more, which seemed to cause her to shut down, so I didn’t work much with round penning. I did try to teach her to lead up real free in the round pen, get used to me touching around her head, and yielding her hindquarters. I also put the circingle and saddle on her, but I wasn’t nearly so methodical when working with her because I was busy being very thorough with Chico. I knew I wasn’t going to ride Catlow yet, so I just wasn’t consistent with her.

Spring on the ranch came in 2007, and the mustangs were 3 years old. Neither of them had ever had their feet trimmed and they were getting long. They weren’t horrible or unbalanced, just a bit long. I was trying to get them ready to have their hooves worked with, but I was just a bit too much of a chicken to make a lot of progress with their feet. And both of them had some reservations about having their feet handled. Chico was pretty good with his fronts, but I was afraid of his back feet…just a fear based on my inexperience with handling a “wild” horse and not knowing if I was teaching him about foot handling in just the right way. Catlow was quite defensive about her feet. When I’d run my hand down her front leg, she’d immediately pull her leg away from me…I wasn’t asking her to pick it up, but as soon as I reached her knee, she was picking her leg up and stepping away. So I worked a lot with trying to rub down her leg and take my hand away before she moved. I worked up to being able to pick her front feet up and hold them a little while, but she was still defensive about it. Many times she’d nip at my butt (not actually bite me, but pretend) when I was asking her to pick up her feet. That was the only time she showed that kind of behavior. I’d elbow her head away, but not get after her too much because I was afraid that if I did, I’d confirm why she was being defensive in the first place.

In March 2007, the vet came out and floated everyone’s teeth. The two mustangs had some points rasped, and caps and wolf teeth pulled. Chico took the whole process like a champ. I think he likes the feeling up euphoria induced by the xylazine. He acted like he was quite happy and in La La Land. He was completely relaxed during the whole process. Catlow took more xylazine than Chico. I watching as the vet walked toward her with the jaw apparatus, and she tried to run away from him (stumble in a stupor), so he gave her more drugs. I felt bad for her that she was so uncomfortable about the situation but couldn’t really do anything about it. After the tooth floating, we mentioned to the vet that we’d never trimmed their feet. He said he could do it while they were still under the effects of the xylazine. He waited until they were coming out a bit so that they could stand on three legs without falling over, and he trimmed each foot. They were aware enough that they did try to pull their feet away, but he held on like he would have with a horse that was comfortable with the whole process, and released them when they held still. He was able to easily trim every foot. I know that people say the horses don’t learn anything when you drug them and trim feet, but the next day, I picked up each foot on both of them, and they were extremely good about it. Catlow gave me her feet without trying to sidestep away. I worked on them every time I was around them after that to make sure they’d stayed comfortable with their feet. It’s possible that it gave me confidence seeing that they did not try to kick the vets head off when he picked up their back feet, and that transferred to how I handled them, but I also think that they did realize they didn’t need to be so defensive about their feet during the whole teeth floating and trimming process while they were drugged. From that moment on, I’ve had no problem handling their feet at all, and I was even able to trim Catlow’s feet all by myself later that summer.

While the vet was there in March 2007, I got a health check for Cody so that I could take her on a trail ride in Ellensburg, WA with Todd’s mom and her friends. Todd’s mom and a young man that worked with her had been getting one of Todd’s mom’s horses ready to ride in an endurance race in Ellensburg. They had a trail ride in conjunction with the race. If I remember right, I think the race had multiple lengths. 50 miles was the long race, but they had signed Valentine (the horse) up for the 30 mile race. It was her first endurance race, and they’d spent the previous few months getting her in condition. Valentine was 8 years old, and had been trained as a 3 year old, but sat in the pasture and hadn’t been worked with since. They were primarily trying to build her resume so that they could sell her. She’s a nice looking mare, but she’d sat in the pasture too long and was a bit fearful (she was spooky).

Here is Valentine before the race.

This was Valentine’s rider’s first endurance race too…can you tell? He's the helmetless male, with a plaid shirt wearing blue jeans. What a contrast to the other riders!

Valentine did quite well in the race. They came in 3rd place! Her rider said he could have been second, but the 2nd place rider had helped him get through the train tunnel part of the race (they rode through together, otherwise Valentine wouldn’t have gone alone), so he let her get in front of him…plus she did races a lot so it meant a lot to her, and this was just their first race.

Here is Valentine after the race. She was tired, but she did well.

While the race was being run, we got ready for our trail ride, which went along part of the race’s path on an old railroad bed. This trail ride was the first time I had ever trailered Cody away from Todd’s mom’s place. We rode in the canyon every day the previous summer, but she had become familiar with it so it felt like home to her. Here in Ellensburg, Cody was away from home and became a total FREAK! She was worried about this new place, so attached her safety onto Todd’s mom’s mare, Pepsi. Pepsi was a quiet, fat quarter horse who’d been shown a bit, so she’d seen a lot of the world. Cody attached herself to Pepsi’s confidence, so when Pepsi was around, Cody was fine. If Pepsi was led away, Cody went berserk! Todd’s mom wanted to warm Pepsi up before the trail ride to make sure she’d behave for the girl that was going to ride her (Todd’s mom had to stay behind and help cool of Valentine when she came in for the checkpoints). She hopped on Pepsi and took off. Meanwhile, I was trying to saddle Cody. As soon as Pepsi started leaving, Cody started pacing, while tied to the trailer. She completely lost her cool and almost ran me over while I was standing next to her. It was clear she was not going to stand still so I could saddle her, so I untied her and led her out to an open area so I could lunge her and try to get her attention back on me. She only had eyes for the direction in which Pepsi had disappeared and as I led her (opposite direction Pepsi went), she was fighting me, and actually reared up in her frustration. I was shocked! She’d never done that before, so I got after her and got her moving around me on the lunge line. She was just pissed, and she kicked out at me as I pushed her to keep moving. Again, I was shocked! She’d never acted like this before! I just kept lunging her and changing directions with her until she started to at least look at me for what I was going to make her do next. Then I took her over and saddled her up. She didn’t stand perfectly, but she didn’t try to run me over either. Then I took her back out and lunged her again. By this time, Todd’s mom had come back with Pepsi, so Cody was happy and calmed down and wasn’t a crazy horse anymore. During the trail ride, Cody was on edge, but since we were with Pepsi, she was okay. We did some trotting and cantering too. The ride went well and I thought she was actually calming down. We were almost back to the trailer from the ride. The race route was marked by 3 ft high plastic stakes with a bit of flagging tied on them. As we passed one of these posts, Cody reached her nose out toward it to check it out and poked herself with it. It shocked her so much, and she was already keyed up, that she lept sideways so fast that I was left standing next to her on the ground. She jumped right out from under me and I landed on my feet! All I could really do was laugh and shake my head in amazement and get back on her. Silly horse. The rest of the ride was uneventful.

Here is Cody relaxing with Pepsi after we got back from the ride. She looks completely'd never know that just 2 hours earlier she was rearing and kicking.

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with how Cody had behaved on our first trail ride away from home. I decided that I needed to either send her back to the trainer, or I needed to take her and get some lessons with how to deal with her when she got that way. I just didn’t know how to deal with her freaky behavior away from home…since she was so good AT home. I figured, she’d probably be freaky if I took her to a trainer for lessons too. Todd’s mom told me about Katie, so I set up a lesson and we went over there. When we arrived at Katie’s facility, I unloaded Cody. I’d already explained to Katie about Cody’s awful behavior at the trail ride. She told me to saddle her up. As Katie watched, I tied her to the hitching post and attempted to saddle her. She was trying to look at everything and not paying any attention to me. I was just swinging the saddle up on her back when she swung her body into me and almost knocked me over. Katie interrupted my saddling attempts and told me to bring the saddle and the horse into the arena. She said do some lunging with her. So I put the saddle down then started lunging Cody around me. Katie watched for a bit, then asked if that was always how I lunged her. She took Cody and began lunging her, explaining that I was not being nearly firm enough with her. I needed to make Cody work so that she was so busy moving and wondering what I was going to ask her to do next, that she wouldn’t take her eyes off me. As Katie lunged her, Cody lept to attention and really responded. With me, she’d been kind of plodding and looking all over the place and not really taking me seriously. As I watched, tears started streaming down my face. I think Katie thought the tears were because she was smacking my horse with the stick and string (because she started telling me a story about one of her lesson girl’s horses), but really, the tears were kind of from embarrassment, or rather, humility. I knew that I didn’t know how to deal with Cody, and the stress of having someone actually tell you that you aren’t doing it right, caused tears. Only initially though. After Katie showed me how, then she had me step in and take over and coached me on lunging her. After the lunging lesson, Cody did not move a muscle while I saddled her. I had also told Katie about Cody’s little bucking issue when we cantered sometimes, so this first riding lesson consisted of practicing the one rein stop at all three gaits. I’d never really practiced it before and become comfortable with it at the canter, so this definitely helped. I said in one of my previous posted, that Cody tried bucking with me once and this time I was ready for her, did the one rein stop, and she’s never tried it again. Well, I think that was thanks to this lesson, and me stepping up and being more firm with her and not letting her push me around. I let her get away with stuff because most of the time she was just a sweet domestic horse. With Chico I was very strict because I respected him more. After these lessons, I became stricter with Cody and she stopped trying to get away with stuff. I think I took about 4-5 lessons on Cody at Katie’s house. The lessons were spread out over the summer. Toward the end we were practicing collection and round corners.

So, this year, I was pretty busy with working with Chico and Cody, so I didn’t spend much time on Catlow. I had gotten her better at leading, picking up her feet, had done some lunging with her, tried some desensitizing exercises but she never seemed to accept them, and I’d also saddled her and even sat in the saddle. Although I think that was a really stupid thing to do because I had not prepared her much and she still had the tendency to get nervous – I just decided to do it one day and the only reason I thought it was okay was Catlow tends to not be flighty…she’s quite still when I work with her, but still means closed off, so not really accepting things. It was stupid to sit on her this year when I hadn’t worked with her much. Luckily nothing happened.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Spring 2007 – Summer 2007, getting ready and first rides on Chico!

As Chico accepted all these new things, I also did training sessions where I would lead him out into the canyon...just me and him on foot. Sometimes he was saddled, and sometimes he even had 2-liter bottles tied to the saddle. He was very relaxed with me out alone. He never became upset and would go anywhere I asked. I know he trusted me pretty completely. Once, we walked by a washout that someone had thrown a bunch of tin and cinder blocks in (to apparently stop erosion). I was leading him, and as we approached, he saw this "horse trap", and slowed down to eye it warily as we passed it on the narrow trail. As soon as we'd passed it, he reached out and touched my arm with his reassure himself that I was still there and we'd made it through okay. I was very touched. I've seen horses touch other horses that way when they are uncertain about something, and I took it as a huge compliment from Chico.

I also tried to pony him from Cody, and most of those sessions went okay, but they progressively got worse and worse. For one thing, Cody was not a super well-broke horse, and she knew I was distracted by leading Chico, so she'd try to pull things. The other problem was that I think Chico might have been biting her on the butt sometimes when he was following down a trail, although I never actually caught him doing it. A couple of times, Cody would get angry and start bucking and all I can think is that Chico was annoying her (or I was, because I was trying to ride her one handed, when she hadn't progressed that far yet). We went out ponying Chico several times, and the only time I ever had a spill was when we saw a piece of logging equipment and Cody was uncertain about it. Once we'd passed it, she tried to speed up, and I pulled back with one hand on both reins (because Chico hadn't sped up and the other hand was back trying to pull him along). Cody panicked and bucked, I fell off into the soft mud, then her and Chico ran all the way home. On this ride, Chico was tacked up in full regalia, soda bottles and all. Todd said that he saw those two coming over the hill at a full gallop with soda bottles just a flapping and Chico bucking. That was the only time Chico had ever bucked with the saddle on, and I wasn't around (I was picking myself up from the mud at the time) so that doesn't count. :) After this incident, Cody's disrespectful behavior escalated to the point where she was attempting to buck me off every time I asked her to canter (not just when leading Chico). I caught on after I fell off two more times, and from then on, I was ready for her when she tried. Next time, we were cantering, and she tried her little stunt, I already had my hand slid halfway down the rein, so I quickly pulled her head to my knee. She was caught off-guard so tried a few more buck jumps in her surprise, then quit. She hasn't tried to buck me off since. It only took me stopping her once.

Another activity that I made sure to perfect with Chico was yielding his hindquarters to stirrup pressure (eventually to be leg pressure) back behind the girth. Clinton Anderson emphasizes that controlling the hindquarters is the key to controlling the horse’s movement. I also figured that if he knew to move off one leg pressure, that could at least get us moving the first time I was up on him (so that it didn't turn into a frozen horse that didn't know she was supposed to move with leg pressure, like happened with Cody (because I didn't know what I was doing)). The first time I pushed the side of the stirrup into his belly, he tried to cowkick at it. He didn't know what I wanted, and so was defensive. I just yelled at him and continued with the pressure until he moved away from it, then I stopped, praised him and gave him a treat. He did try to cowkick at the beginning of the second session, and that time I got after him more severely. He didn't try that again, and instead moved away from the stirrup pressure. As he gained a better understanding of that exercise, he did it more and more willingly instead of being kind of annoyed that I was poking him.

By this time it was spring 2007 and Chico had mastered lunging, obeying voice commands, lateral flexion, ground driving, and saddling. He was also desensitized to the stick and string, tossing the rope, stirrup slapping, 2 liter bottles tied to the all accounts, he was ready to ride, but I was still not sure he'd take a rider's weight without reacting (even though he'd always calmly accepted everything else). I know I cannot ride a bucking, panicking horse, so I wanted to be REALLY sure he was not going to buck and panic with me on him. So, I had Todd help me tie 2 40-lb bags of wood pellets to his saddle. I figured if he could handle carrying 80 lbs of dead weight, then a rider should hopefully be easy. I managed to get him to walk, trot and canter a few strides in both directions before I had to stop him because the bags had started to slip out of their bindings. He acted like he'd carried those bags his whole life! I was so shocked by how non-reactive his was. At that point, I decided that I had worked up the courage to give him his first ride. He'd proved to me that he was not likely to do anything stupid at all. I just had to remain confident.

That next week, I had a friend come over and work with Chico with me. After watching Clinton Anderson's colt starting video, I agreed that the first ride should be done with a person on the ground directing the horse as they are used to being directed. Then the rider can slowly take over control as the horse accepts the weight and new feelings. I asked Windy to work Chico like I do. First, I demonstrated the voice cues and lunging exercises, then I had her master them with Chico. He listened to her very well; there was no confusion in the change over to another person. She worked him for a long time because we wanted to make sure to get all the spunk out before I tried climbing on him. Once Windy was comfortable, and Chico was respectful, I practiced putting weight in the stirrups, then getting down, then doing it from the other side. He stood patiently. Then, I wanted to have him walk and feel my weight move, but still be able to slide off easily if he panicked, so I stepped up and laid over the saddle, ready to slip off if I needed to. Windy led him around, while I patted his sides and kicked my legs around. He took it fine...he looked at me like I was a little funny in the head, but it didn't worry him. Then I stepped up and sat down into the saddle, then got off right away, then did it from the other side. I mounted and dismounted a few times. I also flexed him with reins that I'd clipped onto his halter. He flexed very lightly. Then, while sitting in the saddle, I had Windy lead us around some more, so that Chico got used to this new feeling and me above his head. He was fine with it, so then I told her I was ready for her to send him out on the lunge line with me as a passenger in the saddle. I had the reins just in case I needed to do an emergency stop. Windy sent him out at a walk around the perimeter of the round pen. Then, when I said I was ready, she asked him to trot. He broke into a trot with no problem, then she asked him to walk and he brought himself back down. We did walk and trot both directions for a while and he was being so good, so I told Windy I was ready to ask him to canter. I just wanted to get it all over with so that I wasn't afraid to do anything with him. With some trepidation, Windy said okay, and off she sent Chico at the trot, then canter. He broke into a fluid canter and did several laps around the pen. Then we did the other direction. Chico was awesome. I could not have asked for a better first ride on any horse. This was Chico's first ride, my first time giving a horse it's first ride, my first time training a horse, and we did it! And this horse was a "wild" mustang. Windy was impressed that he was so good. That first ride gave me a lot of confidence, and the next time I rode Chico, I did it by myself in the round pen. I always wore a helmet, and that next time, I had Todd come out and observe just in case Chico did something stupid and I fell off. But he was great again. Again, we worked up to the canter, and I also worked with him yielding his hindquarters under saddle, and steering with the halter and reins. At this point, I had not changed Chico over to a bridle and bit. I was toying with the idea of going bitless.

About Chico's 4th or 5th ride, I took him down to the neighbor’s indoor arena to ride him in a bigger confined space. He was a bit on edge there, because it was a new place with new horses around, but he did well and listened to me. We did not canter there because he was being a little bit stiff due to nerves, and I didn't want to chance losing control of him. We did lots of walking and trotting. He was definitely pulling on me a lot more in this bigger space and was not as soft in his face. The neighbor commented on how sensible he was for being just a young 3 year old (she raises arabians). She also asked why no bit, and when I said I was thinking of going bitless because I thought it was gentler, she showed me the bit that she likes to start her horses in. It was a double jointed loose ring snaffle with a big lozenge made by Korsteel. I started researching the bits and decided that I'd get one and transition Chico to a bit before I tried riding him out on the trail. You also just have more control with a bit if anything does go wrong, so I felt more comfortable. I ended up getting a JP Korsteel Hunter Dee snaffle with a copper center. It is my favorite bit and I later got one for Cody's bridle and eventually for Catlow as well. It is very gentle (doesn't pinch their tongue or poke the roof of their mouth), and it is very comfortable for them to hold; it just fits the contours of their mouth. Chico transitioned easily into the bit, so it was time to try our first trail ride!

I had it all planned out. I was going to lead him down into the canyon, then mount in the bottom, and ride him up the other side going away from home. I figured this would be the best way to warm him up, and ride him without him feeling like he had to rush to get home. Plus the going up hill part would wear him out and make it less likely that he'd bolt or do anything silly (even though he never showed that he was likely to do that...I was just being very careful). So off we went. I did do a little lunging at home first, but not much. On the way down into the canyon, Chico followed obediently as usual (he does try to snatch grass, but I try to prevent that). We did some lunging in a few open meadow areas. We crossed the creek in the bottom, then I did a bunch more lunging with Chico, practicing his voice cues and changing directions. Then I did a bunch of desensitizing with the rope and slapping the stirrups on the saddle. Chico behaved as usual, so I decided it was time and I mounted up. I did some lateral flexing as well as yielding the hindquarters. Then I straightened him out, pointed him up the hill, and asked him to "walk". He strode out eagerly and with strength, pushing us up the hill. He did break into a trot a few times, but I just sat deep, gave a little jiggle on the reins and said "walk" and he came right back down. He was forward and curious, a good little horse. Once on top of the canyon rim, we rode through the fields. As we came down a grassy hill, he kept wanting to break into a trot, and I'd already felt the ride was a great success, so before it went bad, I dismounted and led him down another trail back into the canyon. Once in the bottom, I lunged him a bit more, then I mounted back up and rode him all the way home. He was great.

These are the pictures I took to document the successful completion of my first trail ride with Chico...Thanks for holding him, Todd!

The next weekend after our first trail ride, I took Chico to a 1 day Horsemanship Clinic at Katie's. At this clinic, we did a morning full of ground work including leading and sending over and around obstacles. In the afternoon, we did mounted exercises, including the passenger lesson around the arena. This was my first chance to canter Chico outside of the round pen. He did really well with picking up the canter and slowing back down as asked, but he wasn't as good at steering. At one point, I was trying to ask him to cut across the center of the arena (to dodge some of the other riders), and he was stiff and pulled against me, then had a little tantrum (not quite a buck, but a tantrum). I caught him right away and bent his head around to my knee, got after him a little bit with my heel (asking him to yield his hindquarters), then we went on as though nothing had happened. Katie's clinic really did wonders for Chico and I...we did have quite a good bond before this, but after this day (spent ALL day together this first time at a new place), he was even better and he'd become less reactive to me lunging him or touching him while lunging with the stick and string. And I was quite proud of him...he was definitely one of the most well-behaved horses there.

I did go to a private lesson at Katie's one more time early that year with Chico. We worked at the canter doing the cloverleaf pattern to teach Chico to follow his nose a little better.

A few weeks after I'd started riding him regularily on the trails, Chico found a porcupine in his pasture (described on a previous post), and ended up developing a huge infection and high fever at the injection site of the anesthetic on his neck. I took this next picture on my way out to the pasture to catch him and ride him the day I discovered the infection (if you look closely you can see a lump on the underside of his neck).

Here you can clearly see the lump in his neck, although I hadn't noticed it yet.

When I caught him and tied him in the barn to groom him, I noticed that he just wasn't acting like himself. Instead of being curious about everything, he was kind of subdued. As I brushed under his belly, I could feel the heat radiating from his body. Then I noticed the huge lump in his neck where the infection was. We had the vet out and he had to be on antibiotics the next few weeks. He recovered quickly and I started riding him again a week later.

After that, I spent the rest of the summer riding him all over on the canyon trails. I did more training on Chico, and also on Cody that summer. Both of them learned to side-pass, and do shoulder yields while walking. They also learned some vertical flexion.

Continuation of training with Cody and Catlow that summer in next post….