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!