Thursday, July 9, 2009

A good workout with both wild ones

I gave the mustangs a day off yesterday (picking berries again, yum), but I worked with both of them the previous couple days and then today.

Now, I actually sat down and watched some horse training shows - RFD-TV is showing Clinton Anderson's working with mustangs series again, and I was able to catch the the first episode (of 6). He and his apprentices work with 3 mustangs and one is quite fearful, but they all calm down and are touched and rubbed within 3 hours. Now, I don't always like how forceful and rather aggressive he can be with training, but I do appreciate the opportunity to watch and take away what I can from each thing I see. I decided that if those horses can handle that level of pressure, and they've been around people less than mine have, then perhaps what Kachina actually needs is for me to step up the amount of pressure that she's been exposed to. She seems to be getting jumpier and jumpier, and I really am not pushing her and just asking her to do mini-roundpenning and sorta sniff my hand. I was all concerned that the pole episode freaked her out, and I think that it did, but my mistake was to not show it to her again. She thinks that by running forever and ever, she was keeping herself safe, and in the end, that pole went away. She didn't learn a thing from that episode...well, she thinks she learned that she needs to be on guard to keep herself safe and run from new scary things.

So a few days ago, I was thinking that I'd like to soon here get a rope on her and try that out. I started by entering her pen with a lead rope in my hand, then just tossing it onto the ground so that she could investigate it.

Kachina is worried about something. What could it be?

Oh! An evil rope!

She was very worried, and approached it snorting, but she did get over it and came into the barn to watch while I worked with Griffin that day. Later, I picked up the rope and just started walking around with it, and she of course became very nervous and ran around me. I started swinging the rope, and she really took off. So, I kept swinging it, and every time she stopped searching the corners and stood and looked at me (head high, nostrils super flared), I stopped swinging the rope and backed away from her. This whole time, my body was very passive, and for the most part I was trying to ignore her. She did get hyped up, but toward the end of that lesson, she was standing and looking at me more often than running around. Progress! Then I got rid of the rope and she relaxed quite a bit, I asked her to sniff my hand, then I left her.

So, after thinking about what I've been doing with her, I decided to try the bamboo pole again, but this time, I would introduce her to it more slowly. The next day, I threw the pole onto the ground in her pen for a couple of hours before I commenced working with her. She snorted at it, but she did investigate it and seemed not too worried by it later. Then I entered her pen, and picked up the pole and she immediately started searching corners looking for a way out. I tried to hold the pole out toward her so that she could acknowledge and investigate it. She of course kept trying to evade me, so I kept cutting her off until she stood and looked at me, then I basically made her acknowledge and sniff it. She did and seemed to calm down just a little. I repeatedly retreated and then advanced again to ask her to just stand and check the pole out until she was not looking to take off every time I advanced (remember this fear is primarily pole related because she lets me walk even closer than I was standing without showing any concern). I then progressed to passing it alongside her body as I was moving it toward her to ask her to sniff it. As she give in, I decided it was time to set it on her withers. As I did, she made to move off. She began trotting around me, but she didn't seem too concerned at first. I let her go for a little bit, then stepped in front of her drive line to ask her to stop...she started to stop, but then freaked that the pole was still touching her and at that point, she started to get more and more worked up the longer she trotted. I kept trying to get her to stop, but all I ended up doing was causing her to turn into the fence. Every turn seemed to get her more hyped up. I decided to wait a little bit and let her trot it out and see if she might start to relax with time, but it became clear that it was going to become just like the last time with the pole unless I did something different.

So, I threw the pole on the ground, opened up the gate that I shut when I work with her so that she can't hide in the barn, and let her run into there. She seeks that out because she thinks she is safe in there. I shut the gate behind her, and approached with the pole. By this time she was dripping sweat and out of breath. I let her air up a minute then I started "force touching" her with the pole. I figured that I had to break that cycle of her thinking that she needs to run when the pole touches her. So, I stood on the opposite side of the gate, and stuck the pole through and made her acknowledge and sniff it. When I started touching her on the withers in that narrow space, she was very very worried, and searched corners in there to get out (I was a little concerned about trapping her in that space - worried that she'd try to jump, so I was watching her carefully for pushing her too far). She didn't try to jump, and when she finally stopped and looked at me, I took the pole off and just walked away from the gate with it. I kept reaching in and touching her and when she would stand and look at me (or the pole), I turned and walked away with it. When the pole would approach her body, she would tense up so severely that her whole body would arc into a 'C' around the pole. I kept touching her until she wasn't tensing up like that. I rubbed her with the pole too. If she saw it over her back with her opposite eye, she kicked out a few times as a self-protective reaction, but I just ignored her and kept touching her. I ended that session on a good note with her standing and not tensing when I reached to touch her with the pole, then I left her. When I opened the gate, she got the heck out of the barn!!! Now the barn wasn't so safe!!! Poor Kachina's world was rocked! I wasn't sure that lesson stuck with her or if I'd perhaps pushed her too far, or "ruined" her in some way, until I worked with her today.

Today, I decided to go with the pole again, but I'd try to touch her outside of the barn first, with the plan that if she got to running again, I'd do the same thing with letting her retreat to the barn, then "force" touch her in there. So I started off by throwing the pole in her pen and letting her just check it out. Then I went and got my berries and soda and sat in her hay tub to slowly enjoy them, while I ignored her. She sniffed me twice, but took awhile to do it, although she remained relaxed through it all. Then I began work with the pole. I went in and picked it up, I asked her to just sniff it. I did that several times, and she really did seem a little less scared of it. She was touching it more firmly with her nose than she had ever before. I gave her lots of breaks and let her just take in the fact that the pole was not out to get her. She did make to move away a few times in the beginning, but I just cut her off until she got the picture that I wanted her to just stand and sniff that pole. After I felt like she'd checked it out well, I reached to her withers with it, she immediately tensed and started to take off, so I touched her firmly, then pulled the pole off immediately and stepped in front of her to cut her off. When she stopped immediately, I praised her and walked away. I did that again, and again, until she stopped trying to take off when I reached out with the pole. The key was to take it away before she got into that mindset where she needed to run and escape the pressure. Soon, she was standing still, but still tensing when I reached out toward her (arcing her body as the pole approached), but with the same consistent method (not making her endure the touching for very long before I walking away with the pole), soon she was not tensing at all! At this point, she suddenly looked very relaxed and I began to scratch her with the pole. Now, she had not been allowed to run at all during this lesson - I had not even done any mini-roundpenning without the pole, and the difference was very obvious. I think that Kachina gets into a mindless self protective state when she is running around the pen. With this no-running method, she was soon letting me scratch her all along her topline, on her chest, and a little ways down her butt. If I went too far down her butt, her reaction was to kick, so I only spent a little time there until she quit kicking and I didn't want to push that issue because that was not what our lesson was about today - the lesson was the pole is not going to kill you. A couple of times, she did actually manage to move away and started to think about mindlessly running around, but since she'd not gotten hyped up previously, I was able to get her stopped while the pole was still on her back. She was so relaxed by the end, that after I put the pole away, I spent time approaching her head and asking her to sniff my hand, and I was able to bump her nose with my hand and brush my hand down the lower bridge of her nose without causing her to move away! What a successful lesson!

Griffin's lesson went pretty much as well as they have been all along, except today he was much more comfortable with sniffing my hand and letting me briefly run my hand down his nose. At one point, he reached out to investigate my arm and my hand and he actually started to lip at my hand, but not in an aggressive way - more in a male horse investigative way. And he was so into the pole rubbing that for a while he was searching for something to return the grooming favor and he started to nibble on the pole too. His favorite place to be rubbed is his belly and his boy parts - you gotta love those male horses and their itchy parts (females too I guess). It's a sure way to win their affections because you are the only one who can itch those particular places! I also did not move Griffin around today before I worked with him and he was much more comfortable with me. I think I can hold off on the asking them to move away from me until they are much more comfortable...after all, I probably don't need to get respect when they are still actually afraid of me. I had also been moving him with the hopes that it would bring the swelling down in his leg (and it did - but it always returned a few hours later).

Griffin's chest is quite huge still, but it has changed shape. I think it is going to abscess really soon. Yesterday the hair started to fall out of a patch in the center of his bulging chest, and then today, the hairless patch is much larger and the bulge is starting to gain definition - it looks like he has a softball under his skin. He's been on antibiotics for 3 days now and his leg is less swollen, although I'm not sure if that is due to the antibiotics or if it is just the natural progression of this abscess. I predict the swelling will break open tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your posts - you have such a great way of figuring out what will work, and a fine sense of timing in your work! I've never worked with a wild horse (well, that's not exactly accurate - some of my horses can be pretty wild!), and find what you are doing and how you go about doing it fascinating. I'm a firm believer that it's OK to put pressure on a horse - within the horse's personal limits - provided you give a release - which you certainly do a great job with. I particularly love how you figured out that the mindless running thing was not helping Kachina. Thanks for taking the time to post all the details - that's what makes it come alive!

arlene said...

This describes Echo as well; "She thinks that by running forever and ever, she was keeping herself safe..."

Echo thinks he's keeping himself safe by avoiding me. I have to confine him and force myself on him. When he has room to move his instincts to flee overwhelm him.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably pretty sure you've already watched this, or you just don't care for her training methods. But I seen the bamboo pole and so I figure you probably at least know/have heard of Kitty Lauman. On she has complete 15 10 mins video on how she worked with Ranger from day 1, then week 1, week 2, ect, for the Makeover Extreme of 2007. They are really great videos (For free is awesomeness) And well, I'm sorry if you already heard of them or watched them. If not, just go to the search box, and put Ranger Day 1, and it's the first one who comes up. I hope this helps. Obviously you are really good at what you do. And I agree with you about Clint Anderson 100%. I watch him now and again, but I can't with the husband in the room. He ends up making me laugh. My husband calls him Clint TalkyMcTalk because whenever he has a guest on the show, he talks over them. Or it seems like it. And then all the horse ads he's in. /sigh. lol, Anyways, the horses look gorgeous. They look completely different then the Internet Horse Adoption pics. I'm still so stoked to see they got a kickass home. Rock on!

Kara said...

Thanks! And yes, I've seen Kitty Lauman's videos and I like what she does. I do try to incorporate a little of what I've learned from every trainer I've watched as I work with my horses.