"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.