Saturday, December 13, 2008

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.

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