"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.