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).

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