Thursday, June 25, 2009

A session with Griffin

Tonight I worked with Griffin. He's calmed down so much. Prior to this session he has not had any official work (though I realize every experience he has adds to his gentling process). I have been entering his pen to feed him, and after I feed him, I walk around his pen, ignoring him, stand in the middle (while he stands at the side watching me), then I climb out over the panels (so that he sees me above him), then I jump down to the ground on the other side, rather abruptly. Through all this, he just stands and watches me. He does occasionally snort if I maybe get too close and he has to move away from me, but he rarely snorts at me anymore. That is the extent of work he's had up to this point. I've just gone about my business in his pen completely ignoring him.

I've decided that with Griffin, I want to prevent him from getting reactive at all. So, no bamboo pole, and no running. I figure this will help him trust me and teach a habit that does not include running around and away from me.

So, this evening, I brought a chair into the middle of the round pen and sat down with a horsey magazine. Then a friend called me, so I chatted on the phone the whole time I worked with him (which I think was really good because it gave me something else to focus on besides him and he got to hear me yabbering away). I sat at the chair for a long, long time, and he just stood in the barn munching hay, looking out at me from time to time from his safe haven. So I moved the chair closer to him (I was about 10 feet away from his hay). He backed away, watched me, and since I just continued talking on the phone, he advanced and began munching his hay again, mostly ignoring me, but I'm sure he knew exactly where I was.

I spent a lot of time like that and it became obvious that he was not going to investigate me and was content to just pretend I wasn't there, so I got up and started walking around his pen (he was still in the barn). This made it very hard for him to ignore me, so he backed further into the barn where he couldn't see me at all (if I can't see her, she's not there!)

So at this point, I walked into the barn on the far side of him, and just stood for a bit, then left, then came back, then I parked myself on the panel that separates him from Kachina. All this while, he stood facing me and watching me intently. He just stood there looking at me and nothing else, so I inched closer to him, then sat still again. All this while I'm kind of ignoring him and just talking on the phone, gesturing, moving normally. I must have reached a point where he was feeling a little trapped and wanted out of the barn because he advanced toward the opening very slowly, then when he got to where the he had to sort of squeeze between me and the opening (there was plenty plenty of room), he sped up and squirted through it, snorting as he went, but I just ignored him completely.

Then he stood outside in the corner looking at me. Now I had him outside where he had to pay attention to me. So I walked out and just spent time walking back and forth around his pen. Some of this time, he watched me, but if I got a little too close, he'd move away very very slowly, and put his head down to sniff his poo piles. I've discovered that is his way of trying to ignore me and do something to relieve the pressure he feels by my proximity. So I've been advancing toward him, while ignoring him and when he started to show signs of becoming uncomfortable, I stop and stand, looking away. If he stays put, I try to catch his attention a little so that he'll turn his head to look at me with both eyes, then I back off. To catch his attention, I've been leaning forward just slightly and looking right at his face. If I can't get a response, I do that, and then step back just a bit and that usually gets him to look at me.

So, I just walked around doing that, advancing toward him, then backing off when he looked at me. I also got him to stop and look at me as he was moving away from me a couple times too. I was pleased with that. He is so funny when he walks around me in the pen. He is ever so slow and cautious. He walks like a cat stalking prey. I feel like he is trying not to draw attention to himself as he ever so slowly moves around sniffing his poo piles to ease his nerves. Not once while I was in there, did he move faster than that cat walk (with the exception of squirting by me at the door). I was even able to extend my hand out toward him without him backing away. I was way too far away to touch him or for him to sniff me (probably about 5 feet at the end of my hand), but his response when I did that was very positive - he pricked his ears more forward, looked at me with greater interest, and extended his nostrils bigger as he sniffed in my general direction.

I was so pleased with his responses. And not once did he show any aggression. He's never pinned his ears at me or kicked at me, or even swung his butt in my direction. When he's ignoring me, he will walk away from me, but he usually turns around and faces me when he feels a safer distance away. He even had the hind leg on the opposite side of me cocked a few times as I advanced and retreated!

He also stepped forward to the center to check out the chair, while I stood in the corner ignoring him after I'd been advancing and retreating for a while. He was so cautious, and his necked was stretched out so far and he got closer and closer till he was touching the chair with his nose. But then his breath fluttered the pages of the magazine a bit, and he jumped a little, decided that he'd investigated it enough and backed off.

He does still jump and snort sometimes if I suddenly appear around the corner or in the barn, but after his jump, wheel and snort, he's back to relaxed.

I basically did something similar with Kachina after the pole experience and she was actually much more reactive than Griffin. During Griffin's session though, she usually stood in the barn watching my activities with great interest. I stood in the barn with her at one point and almost got her to sniff my hand. She really wants to trust me, but she's not sure she is safe. I think the pole session did not help her at all.

I wish I would have brought my camera along tonight to document his progress, but I will next time. I don't think it will be very long before he sniffs my hand.


Andrea said...

Sounds like excellent progress, and very relaxing horse time. I need to do stuff like that more with mine, even though they're past the gentling stage. We're always doing things and rarely just being together. I'm really looking forward to this weekend of just playing with horses.

I love keeping up with your progress with these guys. Can't wait to see what happens next! So exciting, each little thing. You know you're a mustang person when you get excited over a look or a breath. :)

Kara said...

That's so true! The looks and breaths are so special right now!

Andrea said...

Hey, did I forget to mail you back your Makeover DVDs? I just found some here, and I don't remember ever buying them... I think these must be yours. I'm so sorry! I didn't realize I still had them. Will you email me your mailing address again so I can send them to you?

Anonymous said...

I like the way you approach each horse as an individual and try to figure out what methods will work best with each one. Griffin sounds like he's making good progress!