Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wanted: To Accomplish These Goals

Wanted: Beautiful saddle trained.

I have several horse projects at my house this spring, the first of which is saddle-training Beautiful. I've been having fun with the movies of her introduction to the herd, but in all seriousness, what the herd has done for me is priceless. Basically, it's good cop, bad cop. Before I moved on to the next phase of her training, she had to go back into the herd and learn the most fundamental lessons.

What has she learned? They have desensitized her to a number of spooky things, they've taught her respect and boundaries, they've heightened her attention to what's going on around her--to name a few things I've seen by my own observations.

When I worked with her on Sunday, she was the sweetest, quietest little horse you could imagine. I owe that to the head mare, Cowgirl. She has spent night and day to earn the peace in the herd that I see out there now. The reason I can aspire to be a leader like Red is because there's a real leader like Cowgirl in her herd.

Wanted: Ride Cia on the trails.

I've been working with Cia for three years. The first year I just sacked her out and saddled her. The second year, I did the same, but hired a trainer to put on the first ride here at my house and to guide me through my own first rides. Having him here gave me great peace of mind, and I might bring him out again this spring as I work with these two horses. He has a special way with the horses, tender and quiet, and only did what he had to and no more.

Here are pictures of Cia's training history. The bowing pictures were with her first owner.

As a baby.

These were taking with her previous owner. I ran into her at Aslin-Finch (Local Feed Store) last week. She used to own the mare she's out of and bred her to get Cia. She wanted to know how she was doing and said she still thinks about her all the time--even has her picture up in her house still. Sweet. As for Cia's mom--a wonderful sorrel QH--she eventually had to sell her, too, to a 4-H girl who has been doing fabulous.

First year. The barn wasn't even built.

I said once that my opinion about roundpenning changed with Cia, and it's true. Cia taught me that I have to be more observant about what my horse is saying and doing--even if it means leaving what I've learned behind. I roundpenned her more than necessary and wasn't giving at the proper time. Luckily, horses are forgiving, or at least she is, and we were able to take steps back and do it right.

Still the first year.

First ride, second year.

Second ride, second year.

Wanted: A sound horse. Cowboy has been camping out his injured leg more often now. Any suggestions about what to do if that hoof gets arthritic? (It's an old P3 injury--severly fractured--from toe to coffin joint-and displaced coffin bone.) But I've been able to ride him for the last three years, and I consider every day a gift. He's a miracle on four hooves!

Wanted: A pony who will approach me in a large turnout or pasture.

I've been working with Jasmine for years now, and I do finally have her to the point of being easily caught in a 36x36 turnout. By easily caught, I mean she stands and let's me approach and halter her. However, if you increase the size, she will not come or stop. She's great when she's finally "caught", you can do about anything with her, but she does not prefer people if she has her choice.

No one really knows Jasmine's history, but you can guess some really poor handling when she was young. I'm not sure how far I'll ever be able to get with her, but I continue to try, and she continues to make small improvements. I guess we have the rest of our lives.

So, for now, I'm letting her loose in the arena with a halter and lead each day so that I can catch her and work with her. When she gets to the point that she let's me approach and catch her easily or, better yet, that she comes to me on her own, I'll release her back in the herd.

Until then, no. She used to be with the herd, but the third or fourth time she broke the fence and I couldn't catch her, I thought a horse that cannot be caught has no business being out there. What if it was an emergency? Plus, I wanted to work with her every day and get her to attach to me rather than the herd.

So, how is this new tactic working (letting her loose on a lead)? Pretty good. Sunday was two steps back, maybe because of the good weather, but she wanted nothing to do with getting caught for at least three hours. I let her be and came back at dinner time. She came right up and let me catch her. You know that windstorm I wrote about? I had to halter her to switch stalls, and she came right up to me then, too--like there wasn't a windstorm at all. So, I think she's very, very, very, very, very, to infinity, smart. Scared when she wants to be. Hmmmm.....

If you've followed my blog, you know that my husband and I walk her with the dog. We live in a rural area where we can do this, and she seems to like it.

So, those are my goals for 2011--saddle train, trail train, keep sound, and have the pony approach me on her own.

Any suggestions for Cowboy and the pony are greatly welcomed. Encouragement is always welcome, too!


  1. I've been enjoying your posts about your insights about your horses and their places in the herd. Loving the videos, too! No suggestions, really, about Cowboy or Jasmine ... but when I was a kid, we had a Quarter-Welsh pony named Sparkle (born on the Fourth of July!). She was really my grandma's pony, but we had for a couple of years at one point. Also extremely smart and very fond of seeking the nearest low branch when she was tired of being ridden. My brother and I played "Indians" a lot, and I liked to hang low on her side while riding bareback. It occurred to me that I could test my ability by riding her under low branches to see if I could be low enough that she could go under but I'd still stick to her like glue. She didn't like that so much, and without me trying, basically cured her of doing it herself. :) A little reverse psychology, maybe, before I even knew what it was! I'm not sure how that would work to catch Jasmine ... though Sparkle wouldn't be caught when she didn't want to be, either ...

  2. Thanks, TJ--glad you're liking the videos. I invested in a tripod this weekend to lessen the shaking and to be able to set it up while I work with her and no one is around to film. So, I'm in business.

    I love the idea of reverse psychology, but when I've tried to play it on her, it doesn't work. Basically, I shun her. And, I mean, it does work better than directly going after her, but not much better. There must be some reverse psychology trick, but what? She loves Red and Cowboy. Could I enlist their help in some way?

  3. Alexa's old horse Gulliver was hard to catch when we first got him, we think because he was used pretty hard once he was caught. You may have tried this method, but I'll share just in case you haven't.

    We would approach him sort of indirectly, walking up to his shoulder/withers area as opposed to his head. If he made a move to walk or trot away, we would wave arms/halter/lead wildly and make him move even further, and keep him moving for a good 5 minutes or so. Then we'd let him stop, and we'd turn a shoulder to him, then circle around and approach him again. It didn't take him long before he realized that getting caught was less work than moving off. We also didn't always have an agenda when we would catch him - sometimes it was just to halter him up, give him a carrot, and then release him back. He was only hard to catch for about the first week or two that we had him, but on occasion, he would revert back and try to evade. It was almost comical to watch, but the minute Alexa waved her arms and chased him off, he would make a tiny circle and come back to her and practically stick his head in the halter, like, "Gee, I'm sorry - I've lost my manners."

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  5. Would Cowboy benefit from wearing boots when you ride him? The extra padding might do the trick.

    With the pony - what does the pony really like? Food? To do something interesting or challenging? What else? The pony might be a good candidate for a bit of clicker training - ponies tend to really like food rewards.

  6. Laura--That's a good way to do it--make it more work--and I've been doing that to her since I first got her with varying success. But this pony has abuse in her past. The only owners I know tried their best with her, and I got her and have done the same, but it's been three years. My farrier has worked on her feet since the first day, and he shakes his head every time and just says, whoever did this to her deserves to hit with a 2x4. But, on the other hand, she has come a long, long way, from the eyes bulging out of the head, cowering, and constant flinching. There's nothing physically wrong with her, and she only reacts to people--she loves other horses. And she seems to really like little girls, too. If she has a natural affinity to any human, it's little girls. Some little girl--back when her trauma happened--was probably good to her. Her last owner was also a little girl, and the most calm I saw her (back then) was when she entered the stall with her. There was a visible relief in her body...yet, she still didn't approach her--but you could tell she almost wanted to. She's like that with me now. You can tell that she wants to come to me--but something's keeping her back.

  7. with the pony try target/clicker
    and do more hanging out and petting then haltering etc.
    i have a foster donk in that was FREE and was chased repeatedly by different people. he came to assume any one coming in was a threat and would take off and play can't touch me.
    now he a lil spoiled bratt..LOL

  8. Kate--I don't know a lot about Clicker Training besides what I've read on blogs, but if any horse is a candidate, it might be her.

    Her issues are small, yet huge. She doesn't like to be with humans. She will go beserk if you touch around her ears. Besides that, she is very sweet. She picks up her feet, leads like a dream, trailer loads, ties, you can even put a blanket and saddle on her. But I find all of that's worthless if I can't get past those first two things. It's the weirdest case I've ever seen, and I've been at this three whole years. I have had success, but it comes in very small increments.

  9. Yes, trust issues are a different ballgame, aren't they? I agree with trying clicker training. It works best with intelligent animals. I have one book on it if you'd like to borrow it. We should have coffee one of these days and I'll bring that and the Mark Rashid book.

  10. Erika--I really need to look into this clicker/target training, and it's a very good idea to just hang out with her more and not halter her. I used to do that, but no so much anymore.

  11. I agree, Laura--it's time for coffee and I definitely want to look at your book on clicker training. She is nothing if not intelligent.

  12. Did you read Jane's post on The Literary Horse blog about Spitz? Her mare reminds me of yours, with the abuse and fear issues. It's an amazing story and it sounds like you are doing the same thing (wear her down with love and kindness). Maybe just a good read to give you confidence in your current path...

  13. No, I haven't read it, but I will. I don't know that I've ever visited the Literary Horse before. Sounds interesting, and I could use some inspiration.

  14. Hmm, my wheels are turning on the catching thing but first off I should probably be smart and refer you on to Tracey on Mustang Diaries. I dont know if you read there but she works with BLM horses and gets them gentled and then onto new families. The horses she starts with always come not wanting to be around humans and certainly not being caught. Seems to me she has a great process in overcoming that. You might check there.

    I know for me, I pretty much think about everything in the terms of applying pressure and releasing it when the horse gives me what I want. For a horse that doesn't want to be near me, I would start with the horse just looking at me on request as a goal. I would apply light pressure, like maybe a clucking sound, and when the horse even thinks about looking at me, I would release/stop the sound and take a step back. I'd give the horse a little bit of time (at least twice as much as it took for the horse to respond) before I would try again. Eventually I would build up on that look to turning to face me. If at any point, in the process the horse makes a move in my direction, I would give a huge release and lots of soft verbal praise. It's a quiet and time consuming process but it works.

  15. I'll weigh in on encouragement ... To quote the Dunkin' Donuts tenet ... You KIN do it!

    Seriously, it looks like you'll be having a great year, Linda, living what you love. All horses, all the time, with lots of exciting things happening. I'll be looking forward to Beautiful's journey, enjoy :)

  16. If you're interested in trying clicker - try some of Alexandra Kurland's books - they're very good - a horse/pony who has confidence/trust issues due to prior treatment might well benefit from the constant positive reinforcement that clicker provides.

    Mark Rashid has some very interesting thoughts about dealing with horses with a past history of abuse - I think in his most recent book - but then all his books are good.

  17. All horses, all the time...I guess that's true! How lucky am I? Thanks for the encouragement!

  18. Mikael--I agree about Tracey--I follow her blog. I have to say though, gentling Beautiful to humans, though it looked extremely difficult at first was 100 or 1000 times easier than this. Beautiful was scared I was going to eat her, but once she figured out I wasn't, things moved along quickly because she didn't actually dislike humans. Jasmine, on the other hand, has learned a few lessons, too, but they seem to be more about avoiding humans by avoiding being caught, but still be able to enjoy the treats they bring. lol. I've done the pressure and release, and it does work to a point, especially in an enclosure.

  19. You look very relaxed and confident during those first couple of rides. Love your helmet too!

  20. Thank you--I know you don't see that very much on my blog--a helmet--and I apologize for that. I own about five, and in theory, I love them. I do use them when I feel the need. ;)

  21. I love the pictures of your rides on Cia. You two look very good together.

    Is Cowboy in special supportive shoes? I like the idea of boots and pads to support his coffin bone, or shoes with pads and a supportive material (Vettec makes a few) between the pads and the sole/frog. That might make it more painful though. If it's arthritis you could think about injections but I'm not sure they can get into that area. Maybe supplements, especially daily anti-inflammatories. Some people might consider having him "nerved." I'd imagine that would be a last ditch effort and might end in total breakdown but he wouldn't be in pain. I'm not sure if they can be ridden after that.

    I like the idea of catching Jasmine and doing something she likes. I think Rising Rainbow's suggestion is excellent. You can use clicker training with that also. I had a hard to catch horse once and the chasing game didn't work very well. I'm pretty sure he thought it was a fun game and he had way more stamina than I did. Just spending time with him consistently worked wonders. But he was a pretty sociable guy and liked being fussed with, even if he was a neurotic goof.

    Do you ever just go in and sit down and read? It sounds like you've played the ignoring game already, and she's not curious. I wonder if you went and just sat there at a certain time every day, if that routine would make her more comfortable over time.

    I agree, mustangs aren't the same as a hard to catch domestic. A hard to catch, abused domestic would have a lack of trust, but mustangs just don't know whether we're trustworthy yet.

  22. Thanks, Andrea. Cowboy isn't wearing anything right now, but next month, as riding season approaches, I'll have him hot-shod. The shoe will stabilize the hoof and should help the pain. I've considered anti-inflammatories--which would probably be my next step when necessary, and I've been told about nerving when this all started. I don't know what to think about nerving. I've never know anyone who has done it. I would think it would be a last option, but I don't know.

    I went out today and sat in Jasmine's stall (no book), and I fed her treats. She didn't come for carrots, but she practically mauled me for grain. I'm going to take a book out next time. If I could only get her to enjoy me--I'd take ten steps forward. :/

  23. linda sounds like you have some great advice already. good luck and keep us posted!

  24. All of your horses are beautiful. I'm sure soon enough you'll reach all your goals for this year.

    Ponies are way too smart for their own good in my opinion. I think the Jasmine is her own person and she will eventually trust you and come to you. Dusty mare is the same way but she does work for treats and most times will come for a treat. She's the first one at the gate now since she started getting a treat to come in at night. We're not above bribery at our barn.

    In answer to your question about Dusty not wanting to come in to the barn. I think it was simply a case of adjusting her thyroid medication so she wasn't so hyper and didn't feel cooped up with too much energy to deal with. Or if she was somehow mirroring me, maybe I didn't feel like going into the house and cooking dinner or cleaning? Ha,just a thought.

  25. p.s. I meant to say that with Dusty's coffin bone injury we did use boots but we also had the farrier work on her feet and he's been using pads to cushion her hooves.

  26. Kritter Keeper--you're right--I have gotten some good advice. It's got me excited to try again

  27. GHM--Funny about the mirroring. Your post yesterday was thought-provoking. I see my horses mirror each other all the time. When I first got the pony I thought it might be a helpful took for getting her to cross over the line with me--basically, mirroring the horses in our herd who love and trust us.

    I'm not above treats either---especially in this case. And I agree, I've never had a pony before this one, but they are amazingly smart, aren't they?

  28. Kate--thanks for the book suggestions. Laura's going to loan me Rashid's latest one--maybe it'll be in there. I'm not sure which clicker training book she has, but she's going to loan me one of those, too.

  29. Clever way you put the "wanted" on the pictures. Made me laugh! I'm with you on the goals! I've decided this is my year with my horses. I've had health issues and other family issues(my dad's health and passing,helping my mom in her new situation) for the past 3 years. It's time for my horses!

  30. Good for you, Leslie! Sometimes life just takes us a different way, but you stepped up and did what you needed to do. Good luck this year with all your horse goals.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.