Dove and Journey
Two weeks ago Mark and I went to a farm auction. The owner was selling up. He was a breeder of Appaloosas and Quarter Horses of quite good quality and we came home with two mares. A nine year old gray whom I named Dove, and a three year old bay that Mark has named Journey. Dove is halter broken and probably had two or three rides put on her as a youngster. She has been used as a broodmare. Journey probably isn't halter broken, and we don't think she's been ridden. Both are probably in foal.
So far they are fairly timid or skeptical about people. Dove will tolerate being touched, but obviously doesn't enjoy it, although she's not really that scared, I'd say. Just cautious. Journey is more curious about us, but at the same time more timid. I have only touched her nose and face, so far. Mark has gotten slightly further. Journey also makes a lot of grumpy faces and occasional threats. So far she hasn't followed through, but I'm sure she could. Her eyes are always the first thing people comment on. The whites show a lot of the time. This seems to be partly conformational, but she also has that habit of arching her "eyebrows" when she's worried, which is a lot of the time. She's going to be quite a challenge, we suspect.
I've spent some time just sitting in their pen reading, and stuff like that. They do come and check me out. One day I put a haynet under my chair, which made me a lot more interesting, and that day I got to touch Dove a lot more. Then I got busy and haven't done much for a few days. However, this morning as Mark and I were standing looking at them I felt the moment was right to do a little more with Dove. I took a halter and lead rope and played an informal and low key Catching Game.
It went much as I expected. She didn't get scared, but there was no magical moment when I suddenly got lots of draw or she decided to "join up". The pen is an odd shape with lots of corners, plus a run-in area. Luckily they didn't want to be in the run-in with me (too trappy) and it was pretty easy to keep them circling. I say "them" because of course Journey is in the pen, too, and had to come along for the ride. She likes to stick close to Dove for security, and at times seemed to be trying to cut me off from her. Dove pretty much ignores Journey's insecurity, and didn't try to hide behind her at all. I tried not to put too much pressure on them, and stuck to walk and trot. Canter might have been a more effective gait, but Journey is pretty reactive, while it would have taken quite a bit to get Dove going, I think. We are in a tape pen, the ground is hard, their feet aren't that great, and they're pregnant. Lot's of good reasons to keep is low key.
How it went was that I would send her around for awhile, and she would begin to show signs of relaxing and/or locking onto me a bit, or wanting to stop at a favorite spot. I didn't have draw, so I would experiment with going over and letting her sniff me and/or trying to pet her. Sometimes I could, sometimes I couldn't. I tried to time sending her off again to her offering to leave. If she didn't offer then I would walk away and chat to Mark for a moment or two. I did feel we were reaching a stalemate at one point, and by this time Journey was getting used to the proceedings, and figuring out that this was just not about her, so I was able to up the pressure a bit and throw the line out at Dove. I got to where I could pet her and she would stand for longer, then actually rub her with the halter and rope. I walked away.
Pretty quickly after that there was a very clear change, and she let me put the halter on with no rush, no sneaking, and I felt she accepted it. We had a walk around the pen. I was very careful not to let Journey get between me and Dove with that halter on, as I feared that could turn into a wreck. I then had a look at how she felt about being touched in more provocative areas, and hand fed her some hay for awhile, and let her go. The hardest thing resisting the urge to try to touch her again before I walked away, but I knew it was the wrong thing!
If I did a good job today, tomorrow it will take half the time.
After this incredible feat of horse whispering, thank goodness Bruce was around to help return me to humility. I thought I might just give him a nice grooming and a bit of attention, but it was obvious that he wanted to do more. As soon as I tied him up he had to play with everything, and clown around. So we did the grooming thing and I put his bareback pad on. We headed for the arena. I thought we might work on some Figure 8s.
I started On Line. The 22' is too heavy for my wrist, so we were limited to the 12'. He pulled on me a couple of times and I decided that was a no-no, so we went in the roundpen, where we had a pretty good session recently. He did some nice transitions, but perhaps not quite as nice as last time. (Hmmm. I'd better monitor myself, or I'm going to allow him to get dull.) Then I tried some changes of direction between two cones, but he was doubtful about that. Because I know he can get a little unconfident with that I was trying it at a walk. I had no draw! It actually went better a little later when he was trotting and cantering.
Things seemed to be improving, so I tried some Stick to Me outside the pen. That was great so I hopped on. I had no lateral flexion ot the right (my bad hand). It really took some getting, and when I finally got it, I gave him a treat. I'm not sure it was the right strategy. He did one or two nice things, but I spent most of the ride dragging him away from obstacles I had not asked him to visit. Aaarggghhh! It was pretty messy and although you simply can't out-muscle Bruce anyway. having a weak hand didn't help. My little pony turned out to be too much horse for me, so I found a good note to finish on and bailed out. Probably the most harmonious note of the session was me sitting down on the ground and inviting him to roll. I'm sure it was his favorite part!