Then we did some more scary object work. Here's our set up from yesterday - there are a couple more cones behind me.
We used the cones yesterday as markers for our ground-driving as we got closer to the black plastic bag hanging on the fence. Today I also hung a white (white is a scary color, Dawn says) saddle pad on the fence as well:
First I led Dawn near the saddle pad and clicked and treated when she touched it with her nose. Then I shook it on the fence - she move away, somewhat alarmed. I wanted her to work on spooking in place and not moving her feet. I allowed her to move away until she found a distance where she could stand when I moved the saddle pad - first gently shifting it and then sliding and flapping it - if she startled but didn't move her feet she got clicked and treated. Then I asked her to take a step closer, and repeated. And so on. Next time I'll take the pad off the fence and present it to her, and flap it, and reward her for not moving her feet. Soon I expect I'll be able to flap it all around her.
Then we did the same exercise with the plastic garbage bag - she actually seemed to find this a bit easier than the saddle pad. By the end, I was able to drag it off the fence, flap it a bit and drag it on the ground, and she was happy to be close and even touch it with her nose for a click and treat. I continue to be delighted with her intelligence and willingness to try, and her trust. We'll move on soon to some work with white plastic bags and eventually even balloons - both of which have been problems for her in the past.
It was starting to get dark, but I wanted to take Maisie out for a bit. We didn't have the time or light to repeat our exercise from yesterday, but we did have a lovely dusk-to-dark trail ride. We saw one skunk, which piqued Maisie's interest as it crossed the trail and headed off into the prairie. As it got fully dark, the houses we passed were lit up and looked cosy, and the milkweed pods by the trail - now fully open with their fluff showing - were almost glowing in the dark. Maisie stayed relaxed and happy for the whole ride - it was a lovely evening, not too cold, and there was no wind and it was calm and peaceful, and as we headed back to the barn, the lighted windows glowed and the limestone path gleamed softly in the night, lighting our way back home - what a nice end to a day with horses!
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This morning was one of those days when leading work really pays off. It was frosty, and windy, and the mares were going to a new pasture, and they had to get there using a route they'd never taken before - through both dry lots - due to the mud and a pasture gate that is tied shut due to some needed fence work. You get the idea - really excited horses. And Sugar had to lead by herself, which I think turned out to be a good thing - Misty was getting her feet done. Maisie was excited, but she's pretty easy to deal with on the lead. Sugar was very excited, and really wanted to bolt, but held it together after a few corrections. This was excellent in light of Sugar's history.
Sugar came to our barn several years ago with some serious leading (and other behavior) problems. She had been at a barn where the horses were run to and from the pastures - a labor-saving device that causes lots of problems, in my opinion. When you led her to the pasture, she would become more and more agitated, and would then explode and completely lose her mind. No amount of pressure - including chains or anything else - would bring her back, and in fact it made things worse. She would completely panic and would fight to get free, even if it meant running directly into you. There was no meanness in it, but it was very dangerous - like playing football against a 1,000 pound linebacker. Her owner was about to give up on her but there was a good horse in there somewhere. She and her owner went for intensive training at another barn for a month, where her owner learned to provide her with leadership and she learned that if she responded to pressure, there would be a release, and that coming in towards a person was to happen only when she was allowed to. Just to prove there are no rules (in contrast to some of my thoughts in my post yesterday about why I don't do liberty work with my horses), she's one of those horses who really benefits from daily, repetitive liberty work - she takes comfort from the repetition and it reinforces her owner's leadership in a positive way. Her owner gets a lot of credit for sticking with her and for doing the work required, on almost a daily basis since. After that month of training, she's consistently led well.
Dawn was if anything more excited. We stopped a number of times, and on several occasions her entire body was rigid with excitement, head high, whites of eyes showing - she was ready to roll. Although her attention was far from completely on me, she paid attention to my asks and stayed with me. Both Dawn and Sugar were somewhat calmer when they reached the pasture, and we got there on a loose lead with both horses at or slightly behind my shoulder, and Dawn even walked away from me for a few steps before trotting off.
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And now I'm off to pick up some plain white salt blocks, that somehow were omitted from our feed order, and to bring back my trailer from the dealer, where it's had its bearings repacked.
Have a lovely November day, and may it include horses!