Friday, March 25, 2011

Does This Horse Look Walkable?

Today I had a short session with Hunter. My plan was to take him out for a walk. Almost as soon as I brought him into the pen, the rest of the herd left to go exploring the track, so Hunter was upset. He didn't really calm down that well, and it was also pretty breezy, so I figured we needed to do something else together to get him "rideable" or at least Zone 3 Driveable. Of course I would have been safe taking him out on line, but I think he would have been too emotional to learn anything. 

We started in the round pen on the 12' line. We did a few circles, mostly just doing a lap or two and disengaging. I really worked on him stopping and standing straight, giving me two eyes. He was having trouble keeping his attention on me, and also with giving me his right eye, which isn't usually much of an issue. He kept hoping to spot the herd out there somewhere, but the round pen is in an area sheltered by buildings on three sides, so there are only chinks to peek through. Once the On Line work was reasonable I took the halter off. I tried a couple of changes of direction at walk and lost him. He looked like he might trot around on a left circle for most of the day if I let him. I had an idea. I slowly worked my way toward one side of the pen, trying not to interrupt his pattern yet. When I got four or five feet from the rail I turned to face it, keeping my energy down and my eyes low. As he came through the gap I disengaged his hindquarters as if we had been playing the squeeze game. He turned and faced me. I sent him through the gap to repeat it, but he shot off on a right circle. He squirted through the gap fast as he came around again, but he wouldn't disengage. The next time, he wouldn't come through, rolled back and headed left. Interesting game!

With a little repetition I got him turning, facing and waiting every time. At first, if he didn't disengage, I just added a little pressure when he had Zone 5 to me. I then placed myself on his right and we did a couple of laps of Zone 3 Driving around the pen. It took a bit of effort from me for that to be really calm and harmonious. I decided that we still weren't ready for the big wide world (or even the pasture) so I took him to the arena, where he had his first session with some heavy poles we put down in a fan to use as cavaletti. He picked this up really well, but now he could see the herd coming in and got very bracey and pulled on the line, so it wasn't the pleasure it might have been. Oh well!

I decided to end the session with just a little walk, so we went down the driveway ( a few thresholds) and out the gate, where we had to clear some scary tumbleweeds to get through, to check the mail. He handled that pretty well. On our return trip toward the herd, he got a bit fast, and I disengaged him a number of times. I suspect, that had I been riding him, that's all I would have needed to do. I wonder?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Scared Rabbit Club

So the horses got moved to a new grazing cell recently. I knew it was going to be an interesting one, because the last two cells they've been in have opened onto the feed/water area. They had to head east to get through those gates. This month, they have to head west, and trek along the track to get in for their feed. Bruce and Iona don't have any trouble with this - it's old hat. Hunter might remember to go west if he's feeling left brained that day. But then , it's not really in his interest to "remember". After all, why would he want to leave the grass and a couple of fairly unattached mares who can't read a map? Not to mention venturing down the very scary track!! Nope, his strategy the past few days has been to come through the gate (which I need to shut for the day) with the Fells and Journey (she's always up for a trip anywhere), then when I've almost got Ranger (who dawdles) and Dove (usually just to scared to move) out the gate, he runs back in, taking as many as he can with him. So I traipse back and forth with a halter or two collecting them all. 

If I'm lucky the whole herd can then be led/driven down the track to get their breakfast. Alternatively, Hunter may try to hold the others back and then there is a palaver where I have to backtrack and round them up again. Yesterday, I had a bit of a crackdown, so today they all followed me out of the cell like lambs. But every time I tried to go back up the track to shut the gate, they all turned with me and tried to run for it. Then I would turn, so they would turn. Good grief! In the end, I just walked them in, fed them, then zoomed out in a truck and shut the gate. 

Hunter seems to be going through all kinds of teenage rebellions now. Rounding up the other horses (not ponies!) if he can, and trying to take as many hostages as possible. It's a real pain sometimes when I'm trying to catch the two mares. They're scared of me because I might make them leave Hunter, which they're not supposed to do - you guessed it - according to Hunter! It's like Hunter has decided to form his own little Scared Rabbit Club, and if you're a horse you have to join, and he gets to be the president of the club. The Fells are a different story, of course. They find Hunter useful. If they're trying to move other horses, he will do their running around for them, like a teacher's pet. However, he also finds opportunities to organize Club boycotts of Fell pony planned outings. These are usually outings to go eat hay somewhere. I can't see this being a popular policy in the long term, however. Except maybe with the Fells, who then get to eat SEVEN haynets! And when I bring Hunter into the yard because we want to play with him, I can just see him thinking "That's my whole day ruined! I was gonna do stuff with the gang! This is awful!" Like a teenager who has to stay home on Saturday to write a term paper. 

However, on Sunday, I did invite his Hunterness to spend some time with me. He wasn't too impressed. I combed his mane, I put his bareback pad on. That's a ritual now. I still don't ride him much, but just in case! We went to the arena and worked on the FQ yields again. The facing forward thing wasn't as effective as last time, but probably still a good way to go. We moved on to circles. Lots of leaning on the rope and trying to escape sideways. Much more than he has done in a long time. I kept trying to reward any slack in the rope, but at the same time, was sticking to my guns that we would work on, or at least toward, a few canter laps. He just preferred to think about where the herd was, where he wished he was, and how truly unfair life was being to him! It wasn't long before we ended up in the round pen. I knew immediately that all that leaning on the line had been Left Brained, because as soon as we went into the pen, he stopped doing it. The pen is about 60 foot, so he had plenty of room to pull if he wanted to. I guess it just wasn't worth it anymore!

So we worked on a little Sideways. By now he was seriously sweating, as it was a hot day. He was also starting to act like a partner, and look rideable. Mark recently bought a mounting block, to make it easier to get on Ranger in the roundpen, so I pulled that in.

I've always been afraid that Hunter will just take off running with me and then I'll get tight, and it won't be a good experience for either of us. Our arena is huge. When Livia rode him, he did act green, but she was relaxed, had a ball, in fact, and Hunter did NOT run off with her. I was gonna follow up, but then I broke my wrist.

He is a really cool and talented horse, and now I am longing to do more with him. I always have this feeling that when I'm playing with him, and he's at the perfect point to get on, if only somebody was there to "help me" I would get on and do more. Often, nobody is around, but recently I have had somebody lead me around a couple of times. You know, it didn't help my nerves a bit!
I stood on the block and did a bunch of lateral flexion and stuff and hopped on. And just sat there for ages. Then I saw something that I thought might worry him, so I hopped off. Then I did a bunch more flexion and stuff and hopped on again, and just sat there. Finally, I got bored and asked him to walk. Then turn, did some indirect rein turns. Dang! I enjoyed it!

What I figured out was that I was (a) in too big a space before (b) didn't have the right height mounting block in the arena and, most importantly, (c) when you get on any horse you have to be "sure you're sure". That's actually much easier for me to do when nobody is around. I do the mental approach and retreat that I need to do, whereas I will push myself if I have somebody there, even if they are supposed to be helping me. Then I'm not confident enough when I get on. I'm hoping this will be the start of me and Hunter getting it together. It sure feels like it!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trail Rides and Other Successes

On Tuesday, my buddy, Rodney, and I managed to go for a ride in Vogel Canyon, a local riding and hiking area which is part of Comanche National Grassland. It's taken me a little time to work up to this. Although I can see that Rodney's a good horseman and his horses are well behaved, I felt that I wanted to have a little more rapport before we ventured out to places I wasn't familiar with. We've had a few little rides around my place now, and Iona and Bruce are both settling back into being ridden after the lay off with my wrist. Then it snowed, so we put the trip off for another week...

Finally, Tuesday dawned with good weather and we loaded up in Rodney's trailer for the drive to the trailhead. Rodney has a  nice little slant load trailer, with no partition, which is just great for his two horses, who get along well and are very regular travelers. Iona has a history of catching her halter on stuff, so I asked if it would be okay if we traveled Iona, and Rodney's horse Shadow, loose. (His other horse, Sundance, stayed at my place while we were away.) Rodney said that would be fine, we would just give them a few minutes and observe them together before we drove off. If it wasn't working, maybe we could use our big trailer, but that would mean a lot of extra work. They seemed fine, so we set off. It was only once we got down the road that Rodney told me he found the idea of traveling a horse loose pretty worrying. I explained that I much prefer it, most of the time. Isn't it interesting how different things seem right to different people! Neither of us is right or wrong, I believe. It's definitely an "it depends" question. One we'll need to talk about again, but the trip went smoothly, anyway. 

 The ride itself was great. Rodney picked a really easy route, which I appreciated as Iona's foot is still just slightly stiff, and she was a little nervous. I notice such a difference in her in the past year or so, as far as how she handles herself when she gets worried. Much more willing to listen to me and to keep trying. (She would probably say exactly the same about me!) My main clues that she was worried were a high head and that she wasn't trying to eat the grass! I quite enjoyed the not eating grass part. The first part of the trail was fairly rocky and slightly downhill, but really no big deal. Most of the rest was along a trail through winter grass. We hardly saw any wildlife, but we've had some very mild nights recently, so everything must have been asleep. There are bears and pumas in the area, and I can't help wondering what a British pony would make of those smells. What would they mean to her? Happily, we didn't see any of those guys. 

We stopped and ate our lunch a little over halfway around the loop, under a tree. The horses kept looking off in one direction, as if there was something they wanted to follow, like cattle or antelope or something, but we couldn't see anything. A bit further along we stopped at a windmill fed stock tank to let the horses drink. Tall, Rodney's dog, went for a swim and really didn't want to come out. We followed the old stagecoach road back to the road we drove in on. An odd configuration of fences means a bit of a detour to get back to the parking area. Naturally the horses were feeling quite forward going here, so I took the opportunity to play with a little collection, which was a great feeling, and the perfect way to do it with Iona.

Back at the trailer, Iona decided to put on a short display of  "I don't want to load so I'm running off" which was only slightly embarrassing! She's done much worse, though, so I just smiled.

Rodney did all the picture taking, so I've included a couple of him from some of his previous rides.

The previous Sunday, Denise and I had a nice ride around the property with Bruce and Iona. She's still getting into the swing of Parelli-style riding, so we did direct and indirect rein turns along the rail, some Point to Point and other stuff.  We had a great ride. There's nothing I love more than being out with both ponies. They behaved very well, and as usual, Denise did brilliantly without a saddle! 

The wind has been a problem lately, and has curtailed my plans more than once. However today I had a nice short session with Iona and a green ball. We've been having fun with this off and on. The panel round pen comes in handy for this, as the ball doesn't blow away! Iona did a great job of pushing the ball around along the rail, then to me, and then back on the rail in trot! In positioning her from a distance to push the ball I discovered that her Sideways Toward is amazingly good from a long way off. Who knew?

I mounted up for a session to go over some Freestyle basics. Iona was now using those tall panels against me, playing the Squeeze game with her side and my leg! Neither leg yielding away or flexing her neck toward the fence was working at first, but finally with the second strategy I out persisted her! Then we had a nice little transition session. I had hoped to go on to other things, but she did some nice canter on the right lead, which has been broken (and neglected) lately, so I quit there.I was trying out some of the one rein techniques that Pat shows on the new L2 Freestyle video. I got myself royally tangled up, as it seems to be different than the way I learned it. More viewing required, I guess!

We also had a nice session earlier in the week working on Traveling Circles and reviewing some one rein basics. She was really good. The stuff is set out for Obstacles and Question Box. Now for some calm weather.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I decided recently, that as well as increasing the undemanding time I spend with the horses, they all need more trail riding. Except, since I'm not riding most of them yet, that means lots of Zone 3 Driving. This has turned out to be really interesting for me. I am learning a lot about their confidence levels and typical reactions to things, and a lot about myself, too. I already wrote about my last session with Dove. On Saturday, I took Hunter along the east side loop, accompanied by Denise with Ranger. They did pretty well. Both wanted to eat grass quite a bit. Hunter had a few thresholds, but they did really well. A few days later I took Ranger out by himself, though, and he was much less confident. He feels like such a big horse to me. I guess he's around 16hh, but after years of just Bruce and Iona, that's a monster. I didn't really have trouble managing him, but even the thought of riding him while he was a bit high was making me nervous. I really need to (a) work on myself and (b) cut myself some slack until the confidence increases. I suspect that all this in hand walking is going to be a big part of the puzzle. It's a better simulation for riding out than I realized.

Yesterday, I spent some time with Journey. After a long grooming session in which she learned about spray bottles "Is that it? What else have you got?" I took her for a walk. Honestly, I knew exactly how it would go. She would find it very interesting and take it all in her stride. Yep! She had no problem going away from familiar areas and the herd, and really listened to my requests. There was one area where she got a bit stuck and had quite a few thresholds. I gave her a lot of time with them. I imagine that I could have asked her to try a bit harder. but especially since it was our first outing, I let her set the time line. On the way back we got to see a neighbor collecting kindling in pails, and then ventured a few yards outside the front gates to check the mail. By the time we were headed up the drive, she was turning right and left off just my focus! I was suitably impressed! 

I also spent some time with Bruce yesterday, just brushing him, sitting with him and giving him some TLC. Something is bothering him - or bothering me where he is concerned. I can't put my finger on it. He is spending a lot of time by himself. Very close to the herd, but somehow not really with them. He is a little quiet. I don't know whether it's emotional, almost seems existential. So I tried to be quiet and listen, and feel for him and of him. I had some interesting impressions.

One thing that kept occurring to me was to do with his sheath area. I went on a little fact finding mission, and it needs cleaning, and might be a little sore. Okay. I will deal with that. I often wonder whether he is sorry he was gelded. (Well, let's face it, he probably is!) But I had this odd thought that he thinks that this is why his "friends" don't stick with him. By "friends" I mean Hazel, Denise, Livia. I think he really misses having someone to play with more. I can't say whether the rest of that thought is my own invention or is a true insight. I also got the feeling that he has a mild tummy ache. I offered him a little bit of peppermint leaf. He liked it. It sure won't do him any harm, so I will put some in his feed for a few days, maybe longer if I manage to replenish my supply.

Today I played with Hunter. We started off by the trailer. My goal is to play games with him at Liberty using the trailer as an obstacle. Until recently, he wasn't ready to play at Liberty, but Mark has been introducing it into their sessions lately, so I thought I'd give it a try. Hunter and I have done nothing with the trailer for a very long time, and it showed. He wasn't happy with the unfamiliar environment, and the trailer itself worried him, too. So we stayed On Line. I wished that I'd had the 22' line, and I could have been more successful at trying to keep the belly of the rope on the ground, but as it turned out, we had to keep things pretty basic, and it didn't make a lot of difference. 

We did a little Touch It and other Friendly things, and then I played with trying to Porcupine him into putting his body against the side of the trailer. That was not easy, and in the end I settled for a slight touch, but not before I got him really listening to what I wanted. I also tried some Driving Game, asking him to back up to the trailer. Also very difficult. (Plenty to work on, then!) I stood in the doorway and played Yo-yo with him. He was pretty worried for a moment that I was going to make him come in. I didn't, of course. He didn't even like Circling past the opening, but we got there. After this, though, Sideways and Squeeze along the side were very easy. We then did a little Touch It at Liberty successfully, so I was pleased. We just need to spend more time with this.

In the arena I asked him to back on to a large piece of plywood that I recently put in there. He is pretty worried about those hind feet, and we made a lot of progress. I noticed that I didn't have much control of his hindquarters when we were at the trailer, so I thought this might help.

We then played with some forehand yields. Hunter naturally pivots on his haunches when he is just moving around. In fact, so much so, that it wears his hind hooves at a bit of an angle. Yet, when I ask him for this, I usually get a couple of excellent steps, followed by a whole lot of excess hind foot movement and stuff I didn't ask for. As far as I know! This time, I stumbled on something that helped. It was simply that I faced forward and moved with him, instead of looking at him (his shoulder or head) and trying to just drive him. The results were pretty consistent, so I hope I've hit on something. Perhaps he felt the need to disengage because I was looking at him. I will need to isolate and clarify that for him. I wonder whether this technique will transfer to other horses.

We also played with some circles. I tried canter. We've been getting it pretty well in the roundpen. Although he picked up the canter when I asked, he then couldn't maintain the circle, and spun outward, quickly followed by me disengaging him like crazy! After a couple of those we went to the pen. I decided to use the low tape and poly post pen in the arena. I hoped it wasn't a safety risk, but I like the more open feeling so much better than the panel pen. It worked just fine, however, it was obvious that Hunter felt pressured as well as supported by the pen. I was very careful to have appropriate energy, and we got it together after awhile. This is the same kind of stuff we went through when we worked on trot on the 22', not so long ago, so I'm sure it will resolve if I am persistent and consistent.

We finished up with a Zone 3 walk. Boy, going away from the yard/herd was really tough for Hunter. Lots and lots of thresholds and needing to move his feet in the first hundred yards of so. He didn't get really wild. just had some trouble, and he really tried. Once he realized that my focus was set, he seemed to get better and better. though. The herd had now all migrated quite a ways down the track. so we ended up having quite a trip getting him to them. He was nice and calm by the time we got there. 

My feet hurt.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Another Day, Another Dobbin

I had a nice day today, playing with two very different horses and doing quite different things with them. I started off with Dove. When she and Journey first went out on the track, I started putting up barriers at either end of the morning feed area, just to make it easier to catch them. Journey is simple to catch now, but Dove is still pretty elusive. Today I decided to set myself the challenge of catching her without the barriers. She must have realized that she was supposed to move on the the next phase, because she let me halter her without any problems. 

I decided that it was time to groom her tail, which I have never done since she came here. I figured it might be a challenge if she was feeling defensive about Zone 5, what with the recent vet exam and all. It took a bit of time to work my way back there, but once I did, she let me work with her tail at liberty, and only walked around a couple of times, and never flinched at the detangler spray, during what turned out to be a very long session. One reason I hadn't groomed the tail was that it's fairly thin and wispy (at least by Fell pony standards!) so I thought it would be easy to zip through when I had a moment. No. When I had a proper look, I found a solid round mat the size of a baseball near the end of her dock. Eek! No wonder I always felt there was something odd about the way her tail hung. It took about an hour to get it all combed out, and it was all live hair - so Miss Dove has a much prettier tail now!

I can't get over the feeling that Dove is blown away by all the positive attention, and patient handling. I can see her processing it, and almost feel her wonder, sometimes. She has her moments of being stuck or even stubborn, but I feel that she is becoming sold on the new lifestyle. I brushed her body down. She is starting to shed out her winter coat. She enjoyed that, and let me go absolutely everywhere. Nice. I wanted to do something different with her today, so we went for a Zone 3 Driving walk across the pasture and to the far side of the track. She had a little trouble with the concept of  going away from the herd. I had to disengage her a couple of times, but as my focus on where we were going got better, her confidence did, too. If that's as bad as she would be ridden, it would be pretty mild. If only I could have the same level of confidence ridden that I have on line!

We collected the empty haynets, and I shook old hay out of some of them. She enjoyed picking at it and relaxed as I got busy with my work. Once I had them all collected, I decided to see it she would carry them for me. I figured they were a nice familiar thing. She had no problem with that at all, and packed them all the way back to the yard for me. We finished up with a bit of Shiatsu back in her pen, which she enjoyed once she understood what I was up to.

All this time, Bruce had been patiently chilling in the pen next door. I'm sure he was ready to play, but his tail also desperately needed attention, so I got my comb out and resigned myself to another long session. We finally made it out of the pen and I took him for a drink. Yes, he needed to play! He got a drink then played with the feed buckets that were waiting to be washed. Then another drink. Then played with the buckets, etc. He went back and forth about five times, and each time he held the last gulp of water in his mouth in case he got a chance to dump it on me. That's quite a fun game, because of people's reactions. I let him have his fun with the buckets, but I made sure I stayed dry.

I put his bareback pad on and took him to the arena for a short play. We concentrated on some Level 3 Sideways games. I started on the fence, sending him in half circles. It took a few changes of direction before he woke up and then he got really bouncy. Great! I rewarded "bouncy" and tried for some fast sideways along the fence. We finished with him cantering sideways. We also did some sideways over a low jump, and other variations on a theme. One of the interesting things about loaning a pony out to other students is being able to say "I wonder if he knows.....Sideways Towards?" and finding out that he does! It needs a lot of polishing, but he knows what it is.

That seemed like enough. We headed out for a ride around the track. Some discussions about eating as we began were probably more to do with leaving the herd than anything. Once we turned along the dreaded east side I was very proud of him, because I could see that he was really trying for me. I'm still a bit nervous riding Bruce sometimes. Just not enough hours together, I guess. I got off once.  There was a gate coming up, anyway. Dratted hotwire gates! You can't really work them from horseback safely, and I never remember to turn the fence off. Once through that, I got back on and decided that if he needed to hurry back, I could probably ride it. However, he surprised me by taking his time, and not blasting through any thresholds. We did lots of walk/trot transitions. Bless him, when we got to the west side, where the neighbor has just put a herd of cows out, he whinnied at them. Well, they're mostly black. I guess there might be a Fell pony hiding there somewhere! (One of the calves sure seemed to think Bruce might be his mama. I was glad he didn't come through the fence.) Iona was waiting to welcome us as we pulled into the yard.

Journey Update
Journey loaded up easily for her vet appointment on Thursday. He sedated her pretty heavily and put her in a squeeze chute for her exam. It didn't appear to be traumatic in the least. Boy was she snoring! And SHE'S NOT PREGNANT!! Happy days! The vet is in the nearest town where any significant shopping can be done, and we had a few errands, so Journey got to visit a few parking lots and an outdoor eatery on the way home, all of which she took in her stride. She is a very cool girl.

Mark played with her for a couple of hours today, including trailer loading, just to make sure she's forgiven us. No problems and he says they had a blast. She seems to be the kind of horse you can play with all day, and she just comes back asking what the next activity is. 

Well, once again I apologize, as I feel this blog must be a little boring right now. Not much problem solving going on, what with all the horses doing as they're told. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the increase in undemanding time I'm spending with them.....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Day with My Girl

While I've really enjoyed playing with our new horses, and learned some stuff along the way, it hasn't left me enough quality time with Iona or Bruce. However, now that Dove, Ranger and Journey are pretty well through their L1 groundwork, I intend to back off a bit and spend more time with Iona, Bruce and Hunter - in that order of priority. I already feel pangs of guilt that the other three won't be "progressing" enough, but I also remember having that feeling when I went from just having Iona to owning Bruce, as well. It will work out. I know that I need a break, as I was starting to think "Oh, no, not another L1 session!" and it isn't good for anybody, horse or human, if I feel like that!

Yesterday, I spent most of the day with Iona, and it was bliss! My new trail riding buddy, Rodney, came over first thing in the morning, so we headed out for a little ride around here. Iona's foot was a little stiff at first, but it seemed to get better and better as the ride went on, so we finished with some trotting and cantering, by which time we really couldn't see a problem anymore. And, Iona behaved very, very well. I think she was glad to be out doing something. I was pleased that she enjoyed it as our first ride with Rodney mostly consisted of her carting me back to the barn. (Ah, first impressions, eh?) Next week we hope to trailer to Vogel Canyon, a local nature/historic area with horse trails. I hope the weather cooperates!

In the afternoon, I decided to continue with Iona. We shared a lunchtime carrot and then I gave her a good grooming. I wanted to spend some time just hanging with her, and also do some canter Passenger Lesson if possible. I put her bareback pad on, and let her graze in the pasture while I sat on her. She worked her way toward the far corner, near where the herd were loafing on the track. I toyed with the idea of asking for canter when we were about 1/4 mile away from them, but I didn't feel I'd given her enough chill time. I made a vague suggestion, just to see what she'd do, and she wasn't keen. Eating her way toward them was preferable. I figured I might have trouble getting her to leave the corner again, but when we got there I started asking for walk, then trot and finally some canter, and she chose to head back toward the yard. The canter wasn't very enthusiastic or prolonged, and I decided that I wasn't going to pick a fight on her first day back! Instead, when she started to pick up a head of steam going home, we played with slow trot/fast trot transitions. I've rarely done this, and she did brilliantly. I was so proud of her.

When we got back, I had some obstacles set up in the arena, and we played 7 Games Freestyle with them for a little while, after practicing some basic yields. The jumping was a bit clumsy (maybe she was protecting that foot) but everything else went well. Among other things I had set a couple of barrels up for us to squeeze between. Now, Iona is an incredibly brave little squeezer, so I had set them really close together. Too close, as I discovered, as I had hardly left room for Iona, let alone my legs. So we did things like time it so I picked my legs up at the right moment, or stop between the barrels and I would stand with a foot on each barrel. Iona thought that on was really cool. Of course, I've just realized this minute that this would be an alternative way to stand on her back. I must try that next time! Yeah!

We finished by practicing taking the hackamore headstall on and off while mounted. That went better than previously, so I was pleased. The herd were still a half mile away, and I try not to just dump a lone horse on the track, to find their way to the others, so I took her bareback pad off and we headed for the mounting block a third time (each time with less tack!). Iona did look at me like "What now?" but we headed out in harmony, and it felt great! I was pretty happy walking home.

Today, I didn't have much time, so I just went out to where the herd were loafing by the shed, out of the wind. I groomed Iona and combed her tail out, then gave her some attempted Shiatsu. I'm not very sure what I'm doing with it, but I try, and it seemed to hit the spot for her, as she did some yawning and stretching. I'm trying to fit more undemanding time in as part of what I do with each horse. It's not easy to convince myself to do this, especially when I feel I "should" be teaching them things and learning things, etc. However, I'm going to try to stick with this, as I'm pretty sure I don't have a good balance. To my surprise, so far, I'm enjoying it, too.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Incredible Journey

Last week we had a visit from the vet, to find out about the status of the two new mares. Dove, it turns out, isn't expecting. To be honest, I am relieved. She's a bit thin, and we've had enough of an equine population explosion around here. Unfortunately, Journey couldn't cope with being examined, even with a sedative, so we still don't know what's up with her. The next step is to take her to the vet's facility, where he will be able to examine her in a crate or crush of some kind. Of course, the step before the next step was to teach her to trailer load.

Fortunately, we keep the trailer parked in a pen which makes it easy to practice loading. I started off by giving Journey her morning feed bucket in the trailer. First day, it was just at the edge of the opening. then a bit further in. When I got in far enough in that she needed to put her front feet in, she got stuck. I tried sending her in with a little approach and retreat, pressure and release, but she wasn't quite getting it. I did manage to pick up a front foot and just set it in, but she didn't step up. The following day, I taught her to lift her front feet by tapping them with the carrot stick and rewarding her with treats. That was easy, so I got her to stand on a few obstacles and rewarded her some more. She picked this up at lightning speed, and immediately put her front feet in the trailer when asked. The next day she put them in voluntarily to get her bucket. Then the wind blew for two days, and I hid in the house.

Today, we got back to our program. I put the bucket much further in (long stock trailer), but when I came back to check, she wasn't trying to figure this out. I played around very briefly with some friendly game at the rear end. (She's gonna need that, anyway, right? I'm hoping that I might be able to ask the vet to try once more without the crush, when we get to his place, if I can help her be ready.) Then I tapped her hind legs and asked her to lift them. I quit after some pretty vague tries, and took her to the trailer. She put her front feet straight in, but we still weren't quite making it with the hinds. She was getting out of position, so I sent her around to the side and then gave her a pretty energetic re-send. She went straight in, thought about things for a bit, and ate her breakfast in a pretty relaxed manner. Hooray!

I left her in the pen, with a hay net in the trailer, but when I came back she was hanging around outside. I put her on a 22' line and checked to see how she felt about being tied up by running the line through a ring outside the trailer. She followed the feel of this very well, until I had her snubbed quite short. No problem. I then drove her a little with the stick, just to see what she would do if she felt the pressure on her poll. I was ready to offer slack if she got worried. She thought things over and just gave to the halter easily. I reloaded her and ran the line out through the slats, so that I could keep a feel on the rope while I played with the doors. She just munched the hay and couldn't have cared less. I finally left her shut in the front half of the trailer, took the halter off and chatted to Mark for a little while. When I opened up the middle partition she stood calmly for me to put the halter back on and unload her like a seasoned pro. We are suitably impressed. She has made such huge changes in a short time, and is a very fast learner. From being untouchable, to hard to catch, to coming up to us for attention - and now this!

Fell Pony Adventures
Iona has been a bit lame for a week or so. We've been here before. Last time (last May) it passed after awhile, and again, it looks like getting better. It's somewhere in her left hind foot. Fetlock joint, I think. I haven't asked her to do much, and have given her some massages and extra TLC and essential oils. Maybe it's time to think about some herbs or a joint support supplement. Being a pony who isn't inclined to move without a good reason, I suspect that she may make things worse by letting it stiffen up, so I have walked her or encouraged the herd to keep moving a bit. Of course, I've no idea whether that's helped, but she seemed almost sound today, so fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I've had the opportunity to ride Bruce out a bit more as as result. I feel that I'm finally getting to feel the benefits of his time with Livia. I see that he upholds his responsibilities better than he used to. Today, I thought I'd ride him and pony Iona around - probably just walk. I warmed Bruce up in the arena for a few minutes. I started with S bends (for rapport and draw). It didn't take long until they were actually willing and I had draw. Much better than the last time I tried them, when he just ran to (or maybe at) me and wouldn't change direction. When it started to look like he might try that again, I went to Falling Leaf (for respect and impulsion) and stuck with it until he was keeping his shoulder out and even offering canter. Whee!

We went and got Iona, as no way was I leaving Bruce in the arena to roll in his bareback pad again! They were acting like they'd never been led or taken through gates before, which didn't exactly fill me with confidence, but I tried to keep smiling and we made it back to the arena. I hopped on Bruce and played with Iona over some obstacles. She stood between some barrels and on a tarp - really basic stuff for her, but I figured it would catch her interest if she could do something cool and get a treat. I tried some Porcupine yields. Iona did well, but Bruce seemed to be having a hard time understanding where I was trying to position him part of the time. I'm sure he's done this before when I've ridden him and played with Hunter. Today it was a challenge, but Iona tried her heart out. We did some Touch It, which finished with all four feet on a low pedestal. Then, of course, Bruce wanted a turn on the pedestal, so I said "sure"! While he and I were up there I did some Yo-yo and Circling Game with Ony. I decided to ask for trot to the right, just to see how bad her foot was. She was a little unlevel part of the time, but wanted to keep going, which was encouraging.I sent her to the left, and she went willingly, but I only asked for about half a circle, as I figured it would be harder for her than the right circle. The next part was the best, though. We did Sideways with a fence, and they were both so cool! Really in harmony, then smoothly into Squeeze, and Sideways the other way, etc.

So we headed out for a look at the world. Or at least the east edge of the pasture. Most of the east side of the track is still closed, so they haven't been over there for awhile and it showed. We felled a tree there awhile back and there are still some huge pieces of trunk on the ground, and our neighbor seems to have dug a big hole or something, and there is a very large pile of spoil from this near the fence. In other words: IT'S A TERRIFYING PLACE TO TAKE YOUR PONIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I hadn't really thought of that.)

Sooooo - we  got to work on thresholds. And grass eating. And not eating until invited. And not bolting for the barn.  A - n - d    b - r - e - a - t - h - e!  I got off for awhile. I took them over for a look at the scary stuff. They took turns nibbling on weeds and going giraffe-necked and snorting. I finally thought they had relaxed, but when I turned them around, they dashed forward because now all the scary stuff was in Zone 5. Help! Naturally I thought I'd get back on Bruce anyway. (I know. Don't say it!) It went okay for a bit. We went back to the grass. They ate, they walked on, but I had a feeling. It wasn't that I wondered whether they would eventually take off with me, more that I wondered when they would do it. If I had only had one of them, I would have gone with the flow, but I decided I didn't need the experience with two, so I hopped off and walked back with them. That's not easy for me, but probably the right thing to have done, since I wasn't really confident.

Mark and I were talking about what a great resource the east side could be for us. We can take horses over there for walks and things to check out  and build their confidence, so every cloud has a silver lining.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tricks and treats

Apologies for not writing for awhile. I have been playing sporadically with all and sundry when the weather and schedule has allowed. Today was Bruce's turn. I have been inspired by some videos of Pat I've been watching where he says that he just takes what the horse offers and shapes it, etc. Of course, he always seems to be playing with forward going horses, and while I want to use this approach, I wasn't too sure how it would translate to a pony like Bruce. Bruce can be an obstructionist! I recently "quoted" Bruce's stance as being "If I do what you ask, how is that a game?" and very often that seems to be what he's thinking. 

I set a row of four barrels out, with a gap between the middle two, and a small pile of poles to make a T at the far end, then a tarp about 40' away, so that I could hopefully do some circling, a bit like Pat does with Midas in the latest version of Level 2. Midas could hardly stop moving his feet, so it was just a case of see where he wanted to go. I figured Bruce and I had better warm up a little first, or he probably wouldn't go at all. We played with a little Zone 5 Driving with one rein. He only seemed to know how to go backwards, so when I finally got him to go forward I rewarded him by changing the subject. I played with just mixing up lots of sends and draws and drives of different zones. That woke him up a little. I needed to work on the draw, so we did, and when he was more enthusiastic I gave him a treat.

We headed for the obstacles. It was windy, so I had weighted the tarp down with hunks of wood and put a few cones against the barrels to stop them blowing around. The tarp drew Bruce like a magnet and he was pretty sure that he was supposed to either stand on the tarp or the hunks of wood. I wasn't surprised. I sent him on his way and he managed to get one of the barrels of it's mooring of cones and push it with his nose for almost a half circle. (These are oil drums, by the way, not plastic barrels.) I did my best to have no opinion and just laughed, and encouraged him to push it some more. 

He got the idea that I really did want him to circle. He crossed the tarp pretty well, but the barrels just needed rearranging. He pushed them into log jams and ran toward them enthusiastically only to stop and refuse to jump. Then tried the old "one leg over and stumble around" routine. I told him I really didn't care as long as he tried. I rearranged the remaining three barrels in a line again. He really didn't try, but he discovered the poles at the end and jumped them a couple of times. Fine. If he stopped at the barrels we now changed direction. He was using a bit more energy now, and wasn't he surprised when he jumped a barrel and we stopped for a rest! He went off with a better attitude the next time and put his little heart into a jump and actually kept going. Game over!

I thought we'd touch on the Zone 5 Driving again, so I aimed him at that barrel he'd been pushing earlier. He still wanted to back up at first, but I just kept focusing on that barrel, and he got it. Off we went pushing the barrel around with me directing from Zone 5. Fun! How many people can get their pony to do that!

I also wanted to do some circles, with the plan to try some simple lead changes. I could see that we might be struggling, so I decided that if all we did was practice changing direction at walk, that would be okay. We worked on that, and the draw part was awful. So was his attitude. He had his shoulder and ribs pushed toward me and his nose poked out as he dragged himself slowly around. It was the same right or left, so I knew it was attitude! At first I just ignored it and kept changing direction anyway. If he wouldn't draw I just disengaged him and sent him the other way. That got to him after awhile and he got quicker, offered trot. Now I felt I had some hope of shaping his body a bit. What I tried was giving him little rhythmic tugs on his nose and at the same time driving his ribs and shoulder out. When he got it, I would either leave him alone or bring him in for a rest. Before long he was offering canter and I was able to ask for some changes. He did four really nice simple changes in a row. Once he tried very hard to make it a flying change, which was good enough for me. Cookie! And he really enjoyed that particular cookie, I noticed.

We finished up trying some S bends, which I thought would help me with my draw. However, it was very hard to get him sent right and left, and I had so much draw that we were both tripping over the slack in the rope. Hmmm.

Just time for a couple of "tricks". I've been revisiting getting Bruce to hand me his halter, so I took it off and laid it over his favorite barrel. This was some distance away. I made sure he saw me put it there, came back to where he was standing and sent him for it. He was doing a lot of thinking on the way, I could tell, and really asking questions. He made it to the barrel, but I had to come a bit closer before he would pick the halter up. Then I learned something. If I put out my hand to ask him to hand me the halter, he will drop it!  Why? Because he changes his focus to the possibility of getting a cookie. So I really must wait and ask him to offer it to me. Then I can take it from him, pause, and offer a treat. Big aha!

I thought we were done, and we did some nice Stick to Me on the way to the arena gate. But Bruce reminded me of one last thing. His roll. There's a nice soft spot near the gate. He loves to roll there, I am trying to establish this as something he does on command (and not spontaneously while wearing tack!). Bless him, he hesitated and looked at me meaningfully.  "????" So I pawed the ground with my foot and said "Lie down!" and he finished with a nice roll. Next step it to get him to stay down so I can get on, I suppose!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Head in the Sand

Yesterday's session with Dove gave me the opportunity to see her more Right Brained Introvert side. Previously, I thought she was more Left Brained, but simply unconfident, and that may prove to be her innate horsenality, however this time, at least, I felt her tendency was to lower her head and freeze or hide, and lock up mentally and physically. 
At first I only noticed that the Porcupine Game was a little sticky. It took quite a bit of persistence on my part to make progress beyond a few steps. However, it improved and I even got some full circles of the hind and forequarters. I had been thinking of her as fairly "easy" and it took me awhile to notice that somehow, Dove wasn't quite as "present" as in the last session. Still, we successfully went through the motions of some Driving and Yo-yo tasks, so I thought I'd teach her the Circle Game.

At first the sends appeared to be understood well enough and she would set off, only to get stuck after a couple of steps. Getting a true disengagement was hard. Then the sends got more difficult, and she was just freezing up, and eventually put her head nearly on the ground and just shut me out. Okaaay... even I could read that as RBI. What to do?
I admit that I was a little short of Savvy Arrows for this. I am realising an uncomfortable truth about my horsemanship, lately, which is that I am better at technique and theory than I am at psychology. Especially acting on the psychology that I know, sometimes. However, my RBI experience is pretty limited, so I forgive myself! At least I knew to try something different. Even though she had responded to the send, I knew that she had no idea that she was supposed to circle. But I remembered the old "short range" Circling Game from the original Level 1 pack. At the time I studied L1 it had seemed like hard work to do this. (Well, I probably just wanted to see my pony run around in pretty circles at the end of a 12' line, more like!) However, it worked a treat for clarifying things. She was still very hesitant, though, and hadn't come out of her shell much, so we didn't go back to the long range game. I'll start short range next time and progress from there when we're ready.

I really don't know why Dove got up on that particular side of the corral yesterday. She has seems more positive and confident around us at feeding time as the days go by. I decided to stand on the pedestal and play some gentle Friendly and Porcupine games to finish the session. That was alright, although I could still feel her sort of holding herself apart from me. Then at one point I sort of stuck a finger in her mouth, in fun, as I was rubbing her face. Interestingly, she made a sudden change. It was simply as if she suddenly woke up and joined the party. I can't really describe it much better than that. Her eyes lost that vacant look and she looked at me more confidently. Huh! So that's were we left it.

By now, the rest of the herd were part way up the track from the arena, so I decided to walk her out to them. As we passed the water trough, she wanted to stop for a big long drink. At that point I guessed that she never got her morning drink. She lets the other horses push her away repeatedly when they congregate at feeding time, but makes her own arrangements to drink once the pressure is off. I probably haltered her and brought her in before she had a chance to drink without noticing. I can't help but wonder whether this discomfort was enough to upset her, and maybe the finger in the mouth triggered something that temporarily compensated. I'll probably never know, but I'll definitely make sure she doesn't go thirsty in future! 

Jumping with Ony
I spent most of my time with Iona. First we had a really nice session with the ball. It was just windy enough that I knew the ball would leave us if I put it in the arena, so I decided to try the round pen. Last time the ball was out, Iona surprised me by being very interested in it, biting it, wanting to push it around, etc. She knows what the likely human games with the ball are, but that was the first time I saw her so voluntarily engaged with it. So I was hoping that the limited and more boring landscape of the pen wasn't going to take the shine off things. It didn't, and I managed to get her to push the ball both to me, and to a barrel that I directed her to. Neat! We also played around with a few circles and Figure 8s while we were there.

I had obstacles set up in the arena with a plan to play with the On Line and Freestyle. Among them was a tiny jump that I wanted to ride over. I haven't jumped in quite a long time, and although I'm not always that confident, I have been missing it. To help my confidence, I wanted to get Iona to jump it loads of times while we played On Line. Maybe I was a bit too focused on that. Iona sure thought so! It seemed to take every strategy in the book to get her motivated, or at least willing, and I hadn't really positioned it for ease of play, but it was too heavy to take the time to move - or so I decided - so we were squeezed in between a bunch of other obstacles that Iona kept "running into" and stopping. 

We also played with the tarp and pedestals, where I spent some time asking her to to HQ or FQ yields while she was on them. And we played with some poles and jumps I had put out for Hunter's last session, which were fanned out in a semicircle. Again, it took quite a bit of experimenting to get her going over these enthusiastically, and I'm not sure that all the exuberance was really positive energy. That's something I will have to watch. I've been rewarding exuberance, but I know some of it is a bit snotty, and I probably don't want to ride that! We did have some nice moments where she would go sideways away over one pole, then forward to the next pole and sideways back toward me. That's coming on nicely now, and I don't see any sign of her trying to use it against me, as people always warn you of.

I got mounted up, and tried to play every game with at least a couple of obstacles. I'm generally not getting as much good stuff ridden as I am on the ground, and I'm going to have to think about why. Probably, I think "Oh boy! Now I get to ride around and have fun!" but to Iona it just translates to "More work, and Kris doesn't know when to quit!" However, at least she was pleasantly surprised when we got to the jump and didn't just jump it, but did things like back up to it and rest, or walk over it and turn around.

She had a couple of small tantrums, mainly about being sweet on the gate. I was riding with a stick, and she got really mad at that stick and bit it! Grrrr! We kinda worked through that and did some more interesting things, repeating some of the things we'd done On Line. I decided I didn't want my stick for the jumps, and was really pleased that it wasn't too difficult to ask for a circle which included the jump, and it was fun! I really don't know when I last jumped in a saddle, but jumping in my bareback pad seems to have helped everything. It may have only been a tiny jump, but we were nice and smooth over it and it felt great. We finished with a victory lap of the arena in canter, and I blew her mind by insisting that she gallop to the gate. Whoopee! Had the sense to take her to the middle to rest and dismount though!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fun With Hunter - and other stories

I've had a couple of nice sessions with Hunter recently. He has been joining the hard-to-catch mob some mornings, and in fact, was becoming a ringleader. We really didn't need that, so I thought a little time in the round pen might help. He didn't need a lot of Catching Game as it turned out, but it has been a good opportunity to progress his Circle Game, and we seem to have played enough with catching to improve his attitude in the mornings.

I think I have been afraid that I would put too much pressure on him in the pen, especially as it's a high sided one. However, I have more self control than I thought (LOL!) and I see that it can also be a tool to make the right thing easy. The simple fact that going in a circle becomes a given, means that neither of us has to worry about where he's going and we can focus on transitions and maintaining gait. The fact that he has now cantered some circles (not too many yet) seems to have improved his trot circles in the arena quite a bit. No doubt the work Livia and Mark have put in helped, too! I managed to teach him to do changes of direction at the walk, and immediately show him how to do it at trot successfully, the other day.

Today was cold and windy, and Hunter had spent an hour or two by himself in the yard by the time playtime arrived. We're trying to keep up a pattern of him spending a little time on his own fairly often. So it wasn't the best set up for a great session, but we had one! My goal was to work on Traveling Circles, maintaining gait, looking where he's going, and hopefully to put enough poles in his way to make him think and encourage him to use himself better. What a blast I had! He was full of go, and easy to direct most of the time. I couldn't believe this was his first session at this task! It wasn't all smooth sailing, he was bracey sometimes, worried about the tarp and certain monster poles! I don't think we have two matching poles/logs on the whole farm. What makes some scary and not others remains a mystery.

Hunter on the go with Livia in October
It was such a change for me play like that with a horse who has so much go. I could really get to like playing with this type of horse. I also believe that "horses teach humans" and that somehow, Hunter may teach me a "feel" that I can pass back to my slower ponies, that may get them moving. Perhaps in the form of new expectations.

Learning with Ranger 
I had the chance to play with Ranger twice this week. Before that I hadn't done much. He is a pretty nice horse, so far. I have to say though, I'm not getting barrel racer! He's mostly a big, slightly pushy "okey dokey" sort of guy. He can be pretty reactive, but that's probably because I try to move too fast for him and forget he's new to me and the environment. So far I don't see that he has tons of go, though. Having said that, he's easy so far, and we will be moving into a little L2 stuff next time, while we consolidate L1. 
I learned something interesting from Ranger during our last session, that I thought was worth mentioning. With so many horses to progress, and a lot of Level 1, more L1 and still more .... well, you get the picture, I realise that I've been a little hard on myself while playing with the newbies. Hard in the sense of thinking that I must achieve everything I try in a session. In a way, these high expectations are working for me, but somewhere in the middle of Ranger's last session I also realised that if I'm that hard on me, I'm also being exactly that hard on the horse, too. I was getting a bit "C'mon, we have to get this so I don't have to do it again on Tuesday," if you see what I mean. I'd definitely stopped playing! I will try to hang on to that!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good weather and horseplay

The lack of blog entries the past few days doesn't mean I've been idle. The weather has been incredibly mild, so we've been making the most of it. I've worked out a sort of rota for playing with the horses, which prioritizes Iona and Bruce, and then allows for working with the others to some extent. It's a bit of a horse training treadmill, but of course the weather won't always be this good, so I won't always be playing so much.

I've always subscribed to the old PNH idea of concentrating on getting one horse to Level 3 before you take on others. I've mostly done this, so the change is a little uncomfortable. Change always is, for me. However, there are lots of plusses. I think playing with the flightier horses will teach me a lot and help me to be lighter and more sensitive. Sometimes I know that I treat Bruce and Iona like tractors, and if I do, then I am to blame when they behave like tractors. It also keeps Iona interested in me, when she doesn't always get picked.

So my days have been filled with horseplay, and a lot of horse catching. The routine is that when they come in for their buckets, we box the herd in, which makes it reasonably easy (well, possible) to catch Dove or Journey. Hunter has also decided he'd rather not be caught and likes to get the other two to go on a tear. He's trying to be possessive. I don't think Dove and Journey are that impressed with him. They try to stay together and avoid being driven around by Hunter, but he only has to start running around and their adrenaline goes way up, too. Journey has become much easier to halter. Mark has spent a lot of time working on that with her. We've neglected Dove a bit, and now that's starting to show. I had a nice session  with her yesterday, though. and I thought her attitude was a bit more positive this morning.

I played with Hunter on Saturday. I had hoped to have a little ride, too, but he and Bruce saw something scary off in the distance, and I couldn't manage to keep his focus, so we just played On Line. Everything went very well. I managed to work up to some changes of direction at trot, by rehearsing them at walk first, and his transitions are getting better. However, I couldn't get canter - just a fast panicky trot. Typical young horse stuff. I knew that if I pushed him he'd probably end up getting loose, so I decided to either try to develop this slowly or maybe later take him into a round pen where I could make the right thing easy (I hope).

Well, the round pen opportunity came the next day, as he caused to much commotion at feeding time, when I tried to catch Dove, that I decided he needed to play the Catching Game himself. When I took him to the round pen and sent him around, however, it was obvious that he'd played that game before. I've never done it with him in a round pen, but we sure played it in the big arena some months ago! So I'm not sure why, but he was hard to lose and hard to keep out on the rail without making him feel wrong. So since we were there, I put the line on and worked a bit on the canter thing. That went really well, and I hope I kept it relaxing for him. I finished the session by taking the halter off and sending him out and around a bit more, hoping to reinforce the catching.

Weave breakthrough!
Today I had a nice time with Iona. I took the time to groom her in a relaxed way, which she seemed to appreciate. We headed for the arena, where I had her saddle and stuff waiting. I wanted tp work on two tasks On Line: Travelling Circles and Weave. I started out doing some circles in the corner near the loafing shed where Bruce and some others were lounging. She was pleasantly surprised that I picked that spot, but I figured it'd pre-empt any decisions of hers to leave me. It worked.

Once I got her going a little, we changed to the Weave. I've been having trouble with this for ages. Especially getting her to maintain trot as she goes around the end markers. I set the markers a little closer together than usual today, as I know that my rope handling is part of the problem. I think that helped. I also had a brainstorm. Part of my problem is that I never seem to be close enough to the end marker to help her with the rope as she comes around. So today, I started off doing a Figure 8 at one end, but standing off center, almost level with the 2nd marker. She got that easily, and I kept going until she offered an enthusiastic trot. Enthusiasm is what I am looking to reward these days! That really made the whole thing much easier for me and she seemed more clear on what I wanted. Yay!!

We circle-traveled over to her saddle which she found like a bloodhound "Can we stop here?" so I tried saddlng at liberty. Easy. We played back and forth between Weave and the circles while I cinched up. We threw in the pedestal and a couple of jumps. I got her to maintain gait in trot for quite a long time. Now we just need to do the same with canter.

With the riding, my goals were a little Canter Passenger lesson, to practice taking her halter on and off while mounted and maybe some Cloverleaf. She wasn't thrilled with any of this. There was some bucking and general grumpiness - however, not from me. I'm learning. She needs to go forward/maintain gait as a priority over maintaining direction. So if she needs help to go, I don't argue about where. Just go! Then I gently and smoothly guide her back to our route. Of course, there's no route in a Passenger lesson. Iona's route was to the gate on that one, but we eventually made a little progress. After a couple of short canters I let that go for the day.

I hoped that the Cloverleaf might help her impulsion and also get her mind on X instead of the gate. She knows the pattern well, and we had been doing Question Box yesterday, so she saw the plan right away. Our arena's quite big. Normally, I think this is good for a short horse, but it also means it's a long way to X on the Cloverleaf! I figured it was much too far to trot - haha! So every time we went through X I did a downward transition to walk for about twenty strides. As soon as she got more cooperative we stopped for a rest. I took the opportunity to take the halter off and on. We changed the rein and did a few more, and again I looked for some good stuff to reward. I think we both felt pretty happy by the time we stopped.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fells Do it Again!

Yesterday was pretty cold, so all we did was feed the horses. I wondered how that would go. Dove is still pretty worried about being fed in the group, and now Ranger and Journey need to learn the ropes. They all made it through the gate, which currently opens near the feeding area, but it was a bit chaotic with the Fells throwing their weight around, Hunter trying to boss the new mares into sticking with him, etc. So in the end the three new horses all ran around toward the loafing shed, and we just gave them their buckets there. 

I didn't want to continue this pattern, as the loafing shed spur is not a good place to catch horses. So this morning we blocked the track a bit up from the gate before I called them in. So it ended up that the three new horses had enough space, but were also contained. So far so good. Now I wanted to catch Bruce, Journey and Dove. Logically I would have gone for the easiest horse first, but Dove, Journey, and Hunter all got busy hiding behind each other, and behind the rather oblivious Ranger. They squirted back and forth past me in the long narrow space a couple of times, while I tried to get their respect, and Bruce and Iona decided that it would be a fun game to hold them at one end to help me out. It did help, and I caught Journey first, handed her out to Mark and went back for Dove. 

It's so cool when the Fells do this, and I see that they are getting better at it and more obedient about not taking pot shots at the horses I'm trying to catch. I think it's amazing that they have decided to do this without any real encouragement on my part. I've written about this behaviour before (Fells to the Rescue), but even so, it felt like a fluke. It's becoming clear, though. Just like a sheepdog, it's vitally important that I can control them. If I can, wow!! It's a huge help. I am really thrilled at their desire to partner up in this way. Next question, though: does it cause the horse I'm trying to catch to respect me less?

Journey was pretty easy to catch, but she's hard to halter. She gets high headed and stiff necked. Each time I devote some time to helping her lower her head and relax. I'm sure we'll get there. We had a session together in the arena, playing the first three games. The Friendly stuff will need more work before she is as relaxed as I'd like, and I need to resist the temptation to move on to other things too quickly. However, she seems able to learn, and we also need a language, to oil the wheels of day to day life together. It seems that the act of being haltered is the hardest thing for her, so far. 

I also spent some time with Bruce, although it was getting very cold by that time. We worked on Porcupine Games around his head, and he was very soft and easy to move around this way, even though he was goofing off, and not terribly attentive. I moved on to some Zone 5 Driving with one line. He has done quite a bit of this over the years, but it's been awhile for us. At first it was just rubbish and all he wanted to do was go to obstacles and he kept turning around or backing up in order to get his head near me to ask for treats. Really annoying, and it was working. I got annoyed. Oops! Initially, I just nagged and grumbled, which made him even more scattered. Ar one point he managed to swing his rear end into me and on a reflex, no doubt fueled by the frustration I was already feeling, I whacked him pretty hard on said rear. At least I had the emotional fitness to go "How interesting." NOT apologize, and have a look at his response. He lost a little confidence, but he started paying a lot more attention. We managed a Figure 8 around two half barrels without him putting his foot on them, so I was glad I stuck with it. THEN I apologized and rubbed his poor little butt.

He then did some very respectable walk-trot-canter transitions on a circle. His impulsion is sooo much better since his time with Livia. I wonder what she did!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Everybody Out!

Most of today was taken up with moving horses from A to B. I can now report that every horse we own can be haltered and led. (It's all I did all day, endlessly.) It's a start!

Our plan was to check out Journey's willingness to be haltered in a small area, and if it was possible then we would introduce both her and Ranger to the other horses with a view to turning them out. We achieved our plan! 

I had some trouble catching Dove. Hunter has latched onto her, in the same way he previously did with Dakota and Scooter. He likes to have a "friend" to herd around and doesn't want anyone to touch them, and his friend is not allowed to leave him unless he says so!  Hunter has been pretty easy to catch the past few months, and I think it's because it's just been him and the Fells. Obviously they won't play his games. But now that he has Dovey it's another story. Fortunately we managed to get them separated, and then Dove was much better. However, she'd lost her softness again. I was a little disappointed that yesterday's magic didn't last, but I'll get it working, I'm sure.

It only took Mark a minute or two to convince Journey that it would be okay to be haltered. He did put the lead rope over her neck first, as she was skeptical, but he wasn't sneaky. He let her sniff the halter and rope, rubbed her head for a bit and talked to her and that was that. Halter on, and here's your cookie!

Meanwhile, I installed Ranger in the arena with a flake of hay on a tarp. That's become my method for introducing new horses to the herd. I wouldn't use this method with every herd boss, but Bruce is so confident and seems to have a policy of using only the minimum force necessary to make his point. So I put one pile of hay out, and it's easy to tell when an agreement has been reached. Even so, I was a little concerned about Bruce and Ranger. Ranger is a very big, athletic boy. Playful, pushy and like Bruce, a former stud. I would be very upset if Bruce got hurt. 

Ranger had a few bucks and  rears while tearing around the arena, before I brought Bruce in. I let him settle a bit and find the hay. Bruce was really more interested in the hay than he was in Ranger, and ignored him a lot of the time. He even let him eat some peripheral strands of hay. After awhile Bruce drove Ranger around the arena for a bit. Ranger kicked him once and after that Bruce drove him from a couple of feet further back. They ate a bit more hay and then started playing with the hay tarp and abusing the arena obstacles like a couple of hooligans, so I guess Bruce has a new friend.

I put Iona in with them and she couldn't even be bothered to kick Ranger. Honestly, I think Bruce and Iona meet so many new horses that they just don't care anymore. I also like to think that the peaceful atmosphere here and plenty of space and Parelli helps. So I gathered up Ranger and Iona and put them in pens and introduced Journey to Bruce. Another non event, as was putting Iona back in. Ranger's reappearance started to stir things up a bit, as he now had "his" mare (Journey) to protect. So there was a bit of running around and posturing. I don't think Journey is any more interested in being rounded up by other horses than she is in being rounded up by humans, though. 

Hunter certainly tried to round her up when I put him in. That set them all of on a mad gallop around. Journey was too funny, taking off with Hunter and Ranger in hot pursuit. She can really move fast, but braking seems to be limited to a series of stiff legged bounces. Wouldn't like to ride that! Bruce was wildly excited by this time, bucking and high blowing, galloping sometimes and doing fancy trots. But also conserving energy by making smaller circles further inside the arena while the big ones did laps on the rail. 

Iona mostly stood in the middle and watched. Sometimes Bruce just stayed in the middle and bucked. Now Bruce and Iona don't always like to move their feet that much, it's true. But I also wondered if I was seeing a bit of learned behavior. The center of the arena being the sweet spot. The honeycomb exercises they've done on courses where you get to stop if you go to the middle. I wonder.

I put Dove in last, and she and Journey paired up, leaving Hunter without his hostage/friend. They all calmed down and I picked up the tarp and barrels that had been tossed around, so that they don't blow away in the next storm. I opened the gate. and got the Fells moving out and down the track. Everybody followed us until we reached the grazing cell gate. So we now have everyone out. I'm so happy for them. That's where horses belong.

The weatherman says we're now due for another big freeze up, so I don't know how much we'll get done with horses the next few days. I sure won't miss the constant hay net stuffing and pen cleaning, though!