"Post from the Past"
April 6th 2008
Wow, I really have not written in a while. I’d like to say that it’s become spring in the time since I last wrote, but really is hasn’t! The weather has been chilly and it has snowed several times! One snow was about 4 inches deep. Sure they melted off quickly, but still, it snowed! I really wish I would have kept up with writing, because as expected, I have forgotten what I’ve been doing lately. A few things stand out in my mind, so I’ll talk about those.
First, Chico’s cut is healing up nicely, although slowly. Here is a picture from last weekend, and also a picture from this weekend.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought some obstacles to use with my horses in the round pen. I bought a tarp, PVC pipe and flower pots to make a jump, a large ball (about 2.5 ft dia.), and some foam tubing (to use as an additional scary object). The night I brought the stuff over, it was really windy, and everyone was acting not like themselves, so I thought it’d be a bad night to try to introduce new objects.
On the weekend (must be last weekend) I decided to work with Cody with the obstacles. She was really good. She jumped the jump cleanly when I sent her over it at first, but after a while she got lazier and lazier, so we worked on something else. The large ball was no big deal at all. Cody was not even remotely worried about it. I even kicked it at her, and she flinched when it hit her in the side, but she wasn’t too worried about it. I could toss it up and bounce it around and she was okay with that. Then I got out the tarp. She wasn’t as comfortable with the tarp, but she did not spook or panic. I ended up laying it over her back and pulled it up around her ears. She stood very still with a little white showing in her eyes. I asked her to move and she walked around me in a circle wearing the tarp. I took it off shortly after that because I could see I was pushing her to the edge of her comfort zone and I didn’t want to cause her to shut off mentally. After that, we went for a bareback ride around the loop, down to the end of the road and back. I had also ridden her the day before with the saddle.
I didn’t work with Catlow much last weekend. I brushed all my horses out really well. They were itchy from starting to really shed out. I came out to work with them last Wednesday and I took Catlow into the round pen to introduce her to the objects. I pulled out the ball and the tarp. Catlow was awesome. I was surprised by how well she handled the potentially scary objects. I fully expected her to spook at least at the tarp, but she was so good. When I pulled the tarp out of the corner, I really shook it good, and she just stood over on the side watching me. I drug it right up beside her and she didn’t move. I spread it out on the ground by the gate, she walked up and sniffed and mouthed at it, then stood next to it rather relaxed because the other horses were standing near the gate. I spent time dragging it on the ground and asking her to follow me. She was very willing. I would pick it up over my head, and shake it, she would stop, but as soon as she felt the leadrope slack pick up, she’d step toward it and continue falling me. Then I dropped it on the ground and asked her to keep walking and step on it. She did. Then I spread it out and spent some time sending her over it. She walked over it so calmly. I was so impressed. I took a little bit of video. Then I picked up the tarp and swung it over her back. She didn’t move an inch while I spread it out over her, pulled it up around her ears. I think that is from being used to wearing a blanket and having it swung up on her. I took pictures. I had Catlow saddled up, but I didn’t bring my good saddle and my old saddle just doesn’t fit any of my horses right, so I didn’t want to climb on board. She did so good, that I just spent time doing ground work with her that day.
Yesterday was Saturday, and I worked with Catlow all afternoon. She was exceptional yesterday. I have concluded that I think she is ready to start riding out on the trail, with another horse. But she might be fine for me to start working her around the place as long as we stay within sight of the house. Then we can gradually build to riding farther as soon as the ground hardens up.
I started with grooming her really well. She is really shedding and the blanket kind of builds shed hair up under it so that it mats in with her hair, and she is obviously itchy. When I hit an itchy spot, she stops munching on her hay, and picks her head up a bit and gets a pensive look on her face while her lower lip twitches just ever so slightly. I have learned that Catlow is a very subtle horse. She reads very subtle cues, so she gets confused easily if I am not being clear, and she expresses her pleasure and comfort in very subtle ways. It’s when she’s confused that she is not so subtle, so it can become easy to only see the bigger reactions, when the subtler ones are always right there under your nose.
Then I saddled her up (which she is taking more and more calmly every time…she still picks her head up high and braces herself for something unpleasant). She is getting calmer about bridling, although I still need to work on getting her to drop her head. I led her to the round pen, then I pulled out all my obstacles (ball, jump, tarp). She was unconcerned about them. I used the bag on a stick to move her around and over the jump. I was a little disappointed about how Catlow took the jump. I asked her to trot over it, and she picked her front feet up nice and high, but she consistently knocked it over with her hinds. Maybe the jump was too high, but I expected her to be more mindful of her feet because she’s VERY mindful of them when I am leading her through the woods. When she cantered over the jump, she cleared it cleanly each time. I was pleased with how she did not get worried after she knocked the jump over. It didn’t faze her at all. I worked on lunging and changing directions with the bag on a stick. I am starting to think that the bag on a stick is too much pressure for Catlow, now that she understands what I am asking her to do. I think she has a tendancy to focus on the bag, rather than what my body is telling her. She was anticipating me making her move whenever I backed away from her, so she would start to get anxious and go even though I had not told her where to go, so I spend some time backing up, and standing still. Then I’d approach her again, pet her and back up again. She got more relaxed. I also ditched the bag on a stick because I could see it was making her uptight. Then we worked in sending over the tarp, piece of cake…so I took the tarp and wadded it up and had her walk over it…still piece of cake, so then I slung it over the fence and sent her past it. She was a bit leary of it, but walked right past it. I led her up to it, shook it, she stood and watched, then sniffed it when I backed off the pressure, so then I slung it over her, she was still great. She was really calm after the tarping and such, so I worked with picking her feet up, slapping the stirrups, and asking her to flex to the bridle. Then I mounted and spent time flexing from the saddle. She is really starting to get what the cues mean (squeeze means go forward, she remembers the various leg cues, although she gets them wrong the first time, but if I keep asking and increase the pressure a bit, she realizes that she’s not doing the right thing, so she’ll switch to doing the right thing, then I stop. She is a smart horse and really wants to please, she’s just really green at this stuff. I think she wants to react right away when I ask her something, so sometimes, in her haste, she chooses the wrong answer. So, we worked on each of the various cues, including sidepassing this time. I have to be more consistent, because when I am, she gets it right away, but when I start trying to manipulate her movement with the reins too much, she gets confused and doesn’t understand what I’m asking at all. So, once I figured that out, I tried to really only use the reins to block forward movement (tried not to pull on her mouth at all), and cue her with my leg. She gets it when I do that. She was calm and obedient today, not spooky, so I decided it was time to try to get a canter out of her in the round pen. She is difficult to get to canter anyway, so I anticipated difficulty here. I got her going really at a really fast trot and then tried to urge her forward into the canter, she trotted faster and faster, then she did finally break into a canter stride and I said “good girl!” and she immediately put on the brakes and stopped, because that is my usual expectation when I say that, but wow was it hard to not say that when she actually broke into a canter. Then she started to stop in the same place every time after she would take one canter stride. It was so much work for me to try keep her going, and she was starting to sweat up and breath really hard, so after a while, I decided that I was pleased as long as she sped up when I asked her to go faster, whether or not I got a canter, and also that she didn’t stop unless I asked her to. She does have a very good stop, which I like! She stops reliable when I say “Whoa”. I had been working with her for a couple of hours at this point, so I gave her a drink, and tied her up by the hay, then went a took a break myself.
Then I came back out, put he bridle back on, and took her outside. We walked around the driveway, and we trotted this time (only the second time we’d done this all outside). She was awesome, so we went out of the gate onto the road and just did circles out there. Cody and Chico followed us down the fence. Then the stallion came over on the other side of the driveway and screamed at Cody, Cody started flirting back with him, and Chico jumped in to try to drive Cody away (Chico thinks that he is a little stallion and Cody is his #1 mare). They got all excited and took off galloping back to the barn. When they did that, Catlow got really worried and wanted to run back with them, so I just pulled her head around asking her to stop and flex. We spun around in many many circles, but then she did stop and flex, so at that point, I got off, because I didn’t want to lose control of her while I was on her back…meanwhile, Cody and Chico (and the stallion) continued to gallop back and forth along the fence. I tied the reins up and asked Catlow to lunge around me and back up. She visibly relaxed after that, so I started walking away from the other horses down the road. We ended up going for a walk all the way up to the bend in the road on Dry creek by the wheat field past the neighbor's place. I wanted to keep her calm and eager to be with me, so I made sure to enforce her to walk beside me…when she’s worried, she tends to speed up and try to lead me. I wanted her to see that being out with me can be a pleasant experience, so in addition to working with her and asking her to listen to me and do things, I also would stop by the side of the road and give her a break to eat some of the new green grass. She really liked that, and I think it helped keep her calm and take her focus off the fact that we were going away from everybody (I’ve heard the endurance racer neighbor call grass the green tranquilizer). We even walked past the llama (she could smell him, but couldn’t really see him). She was awesome on our walk today. She stayed fairly calm and relaxed the whole time. I definitely think she is ready to go out on the trail.