Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maisie Steps Forward and Dawn Does Plastic

It was beautiful again yesterday - almost 60 with a little wind. I took Maisie down a trail we hadn't been down in a long time, and she was looky and snorty and asked a couple of times if we could turn around. I just chirped to her and we went on. There were numerous downed/cut up trees on the sides of the trail - some trees came down last winter and had been cleared from the trail. More snorting. Then we came into the open by the soccer field and basketball court. I asked Maisie to walk onto the basketball court, which she's never done before - it's green concrete with white lines and is apparently of concern. I just kept turning her to face it and chirping. Then we'd turn and walk along an edge, and back again, and then turn. She would get right up to it and then wouldn't go any further. We did this for a while. She was frustrated and clearly would have preferred to leave, and would paw rather than move forward - this was a big improvement from the small rears she used to do when she didn't want to go forward. I didn't want to up my forward cue - I only want to use the cue I want her to respond to, no more and I'm not interested in upping the stress or fighting with the horse - so since what I was doing wasn't working, I changed things. I wanted to be sure to get past her nervousness about it before quitting, so as not to leave her in a bad place.

Maisie is a horse who will often tackle things in hand that she is nervous about under saddle. So I dismounted, and led her over. Using a few treats, I got her to first touch the court with one foot, then step on and back, and then two feet - just like trailer loading, really. Within a couple of minutes, she walked onto the court, stood there and walked off. Lots of praise! We walked around for a moment and then did it one more time - no trouble! So that was all, and we walked off down the trail - she's so big I had to find a rock to mount from, as my knees and hips won't take mounting from the ground any more. I expect the next time we walk up to the court with me aboard that she'll tackle it just fine.

That took a lot of time, so I didn't do what I had planned to do with Dawn, which was some mounted work in the arena reintroducing the bit and working on our backing, walk/halt/walk transitions off my seat and softening at the walk. It was getting late and almost dark, so we put that off for another day and did some quick scary object work. I got out my large black plastic garbage bag and hung it on the arena fence - it was flapping a bit in the wind. I let Dawn around near it and then up to it. She touched it immediately with her nose, even though it was flapping, and I clicked and treated. Then it started to slide down the fence - she thought this was a little concerning, but approached again on her own and got her click and treat. Then I stuck my hand under the bag and rattled it - the objective was for her to stand without being restrained in any way - it's OK if she spooks at something but I want the feet to stay still. After a few times she stood and was rewarded. Then I pulled it along the fence - same thing. Finally I took it off the fence and shook it, the first time gently and then a little harder. She got it the first or second try each time. Then I held it up to her and touched her nose with it. A few minutes later I was able to touch her nose and her muzzle on either side. Next we'll work up to my touching her with it elsewhere on her body, then rattling it and so on. We were done with our work for the day, so I dragged the bag off, rattling it as I went and Dawn followed along. We hung it on one of the paddock fences for me to come get it later - I didn't want to take it into the barn as there were horses on cross-ties. For her second scary object session, I was really pleased. Her eye stayed soft and calm and she was less worried than in our last session.

Dawn and I have also been spicing up our "crazy walking" leading exercise. On Sunday I added trotting and more quick transitions and turns. She really seems to enjoy this, and she's doing really fabulous trot forward to backing transitions on a loose lead - she's pretty agile. It's really fun and she seems to get into the spirit of things! We also got to do an important job together on Sunday. Fritz's owner was there with her little (I think 3 years old) daughter, who loves horses. She brought Fritz into the arena and wanted to lead her daughter around for a little, and asked if Dawn and I would stand in the center of their circle to help Fritz stay calm. Dawn stood rock still on a loose lead, with her ears up and a pleasant expression on her face - this from a horse that has often been aggressive towards other horses, even when they're not too close. Fritz's owner commented that Dawn looked like a different horse - happy and with a soft eye. I was really proud of her!

* * * * * *

This morning, I seem to have come down with a bug - some fever and chills, muscle aches, a sore throat, cough and a headache. The timing is right to have picked it up on my trip to New York. Those 1/2 mile round trips to the far pasture this morning weren't that much fun - at least the weather is nice. I doubt it's the seasonal flu, as I've had the shot, but it could be H1N1, but if it is I'm in the age group that should get off with a mild case (I hope!). I don't expect much horse work will get done today.


  1. I am really enjoying your posts on the work you're doing with the mares for spooking, self-calming & relaxing. I'm so impressed especially with how well Dawn is doing! These are the types of exercises I need to do with Mr. Spooky Poo. Do you think the horses sometimes do better facing scary things with you on the ground because you have more of a leader presence when they can see you? I don't know how to phrase that better, but sometimes I feel like Mosco sees things as every man for himself when I'm riding, but when I'm on the ground he looks to me for leadership when he's scared. Hope you're feeling better soon! :)

  2. Sky and I have done countless walk/halt/walk transitions. They get better every day but we've yet to have one where she stays 'truly' soft and on the bit. To someone on the ground they probably look good. I think what you are teaching Dawn is so important, about how she can spook (hopefully in place), and so few of us take the time to teach this to our horses. Hope you feel better soon! Farm work is the pits when you don't feel well . . . I should know!

  3. Sorry you're not feeling well, hope it passes quickly. At least you had a good days work with the girls yesterday.

  4. I'm also enjoying reading these posts about your work with Dawn. Self-calming is something I'd never have thought to work on, but how very helpful. Today when I was hand-grazing my youngster the barn puppy began playing with a plastic flowerpot, rolling it, running, dragging it...just puppy stuff. Cute but loud. I thought of you and instead of taking my horse to another spot, we stood our ground and he spooked and calmed himself 3 or 4 times and ended up totally calm. Very interesting. If I'd moved him, the puppy would have continued to be a scary thing. By staying, he ended up accepting it and figured out that it wouldn't hurt him.
    Feel better soon.

  5. Excellent work with Dawn. You have accomplished so much with her. May it just keep getting better and better.

    Hope the flu passes quickly and you feel better soon. It's not fun trying to take care of the horses when you're sick.

  6. Kate, I'm a big believer that sometimes the best approach is to dismount and lead the horse. Certainly when facing something scary, it often helps to be able to see someone go first.

    She probably didn't like the green concrete because green is one of the few colors that really stands out to a horse. Most colors they see as fairly muted, but green shows up as a bright yellow to them. Panama doesn't like new objects that are green in color, either. There used to be a green-painted manhole cover alongside one of the trails we'd ride, and he had an especially hard time with that.

  7. Hope you are feeling better quickly!


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