Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gwen is protesting

Gwen's been more anxious than usual for the past week. She was being extra crazy in her stall, pacing and screaming when any horse was taken out of the barn- not just her brother. I was having to hose her off every day because she was working herself into a sweaty mess. I was at a complete loss trying to figure out what was upsetting her. I finally got a clue when I turned them out Saturday night and noticed Gwen was pacing the fenceline before I had even gotten back into my car. Not wanting to leave her out where she could hurt herself on the fence, I just grabbed them and put them back in the barn for the night.

Sunday night I tried to put them out for a few hours since they didn't stay out Saturday. Only this time I hung out in the pasture for a while to see what would happen. I noticed a couple of things, 1) the weed to grass ratio was 100:1 and 2) Gwen would walk around and try to find something to eat, grab something up, chew a bit, spit it out and go back to pacing. She did this multiple times. Lightbulb!

Here's the lesson: Rotating pastures are a good idea to ensure that your horses will have grass to eat for most of the year, but it only works if you mow it and keep the weeds from killing all of the grass.

Gwen was trying to tell me that there wasn't anything left in that pasture to eat and she was ticked off that I'd put her in there to starve. When I put her out, she'd pace the fence with her head in the air, pumping adrenaline through her system all night long which would carry over into the day. It seems totally obvious now what her issue was.

But this leaves me in a tough position, I can't put them in the other pasture until Wednesday night and I can't turn them out in the pasture they're slated for right now or Gwen will freak. So now my horses have been stuck in the barn for a few days. I'm not happy. The best I can do right now is hand graze them on the lawn for an hour every night. It's not nearly enough but it will have to do.

When I get my own pasture I'm going to be a mowing fiend!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Horses are narcs

A few years ago I went on a trail ride with a friend. I was riding an arabian gelding that her daughter had taken over. He was super cute, really responsive and smart. After ducking forward to avoid a tree branch I learned two things about my friend's daughter: she likes to run and she has a nasty habit of leaning forward when she asks for it.

I'd forgotten about that experience until last Friday. For a while now I've been thinking that the quarters will need a buddy after the move- otherwise I'll never be able to ride without knowing that the horse left behind has engaged in war with the fence. I found out about a 15 year old warmblood mare that's free to a good home through a coworker. According to the back story she was kept at a dressage barn for years and just wasn't working out, her owner wanted to move on and was going to euthanize (!) her. My coworker's friend offered to take the mare just in time. Sadly this friend has too many horses, too little time, and just got screwed over by her landlord- thus the free mare. Since I can (sort of) ride now I went over Friday for a test ride.

The first thing I noticed was that the mare, Laurel, shifted away when I tried to put the saddle on her back. Later she shifted away from the mounting block, I had to ask someone to push her hindquarters over so I could get on. Once on her back I asked her to back up since the other horses going were standing right in front of us. Nope, Laurel has no reverse. We got started down the road and she rushed off, I asked her to halt from my seat and got nothing, she completely ignored it. I asked her to move off my legs and she blew right threw them. She only responded to a strong pull of the reins and then only for a split second before plowing through again. Besides that she was tense and inverted. With my ankle at only 75%, I was starting to think that this ride was a bad idea.

Laurel was telling me that her last owner rode like a clod. I could see why she wanted to get rid of Laurel, riding a horse like that is no fun, but she had created that herself! It was obvious that she had extremely hard hands, used way too much leg, and had no concept at all of the seat aids. Her bad riding had created a horse that just plain didn't like to be ridden. I'm also willing to bet she has a temper, Laurel spooked when one of the girls I was riding with smacked a bug on her horse.

There I was, feeling worried but trying hard to stay relaxed for Laurel's sake. Dreading the point when we would turn around for home because I didn't want to fight her the whole way back. But something interesting happened. All the while I had been asking her for little half halts off the bit, when she'd give me an ounce I'd give her the bit right back. She slowly started to soften, eventually she asked for more rein, stretched out her neck, relaxed and started swinging through her back. All of a sudden I was riding on the buckle and having a good time. Perhaps her last rider didn't totally sour her on riding.

Maybe I will take that horse home...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm going western, ya'll

My Dad gave me a western saddle for Christmas two years ago (thanks Dad). Now some of you may be asking, "if you had a western saddle why didn't you put THAT on Gwen?"

Well I had a whole bunch of answers to that question, all of which seem pretty stupid now that my ankle has been busted. My most pertinent response was that I didn't know how to cinch the darn thing up. Yesterday, with the help of my Mom (thanks Mom, today is her birthday btw), I learned how to cinch up a western saddle.

Coriander was my willing victim. The first saddle he ever wore was western so I knew he wouldn't have a problem with it. Of course it helped that his human kept shoveling treats in his mouth because he's such a good boy.
It looks pretty snazzy on him, doesn't it? (Yeah, he's dropping to send me a message. Sheath cleaning is scheduled for Saturday morning.) It's a brand-spanking-new barrel saddle, never been ridden in once. Mom told me I need an actual pad to go under the saddle-not just a blanket, so I ordered a new hunter green pad for it this morning. Gwen looks fabulous in green.

While I had the saddle out I took the opportunity to introduce Gwen to it. I just placed it on her back for a minute or two. She wasn't bothered by it at all, at least I did a good job desensitizing her to wearing saddles if nothing else. I didn't get a picture because I left her loose while I did it and she was more interested in walking over to a patch of grass than standing for the camera.

Operation Start Gwen Without Getting Further Broken has begun!

Monday, June 21, 2010

I rode today!

So what was the first thing Coriander did? Walked into the center of the ring and bucked. Just once, but still bucked. I pulled his face around and asked him what that was all about. He said he just wanted me to know he could. He can be such a snot sometimes.

Other than that he was fabulous. He remembered what my leg and seat meant really quickly and gave me a few really soft halts and moved away from my leg nicely. He was stiff, but I expected that. Especially since I'm stiff. I think I may have to lengthen my left stirrup. That ankle just doesn't give enough right now to keep me even when the stirrups are the same length.

When it was time to get off, I had him walk over to the 3-step block so I could step down onto it. He very nicely moved one step at a time until I was perfectly positioned to get onto it from the right side. He then stood like a stone while I awkwardly flopped off. I am so impressed with him for that.

First ride back was a success. I hope to keep this positive momentum going!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

That mare...

Just jumped the 4 foot fence of the arena and escorted herself back to the barn. She will be the death of herself one day. At least since that fence is wood she could see it and didn't hurt herself.

Lesson learned: don't leave Gwen alone in the arena and walk back to my car when I already know she's worked up. Do A LOT of head lowering first and then go get what I need out of the car. Maybe. Better yet just take her with me.

Fortunately when she gets loose I know exactly where she's going to head- to Coriander's stall. I caught her back up, took her back out on the lead line and worked on head lowering, A LOT of it.

Ugh, I was hoping she'd never learn how to jump that fence...


Gwen let me worm her today. It only took 8 days.

She really didn't want me to put the tip of the tube in her mouth, so I had to change tactics. I put my finger in the corner of her mouth and clicked her for that. Then I held the tube in my hand while I put my finger in her mouth. Finally I moved the tip of the tube so it went into her mouth with my finger. After that, I built a little duration until I finally just pushed the plunger on the tube.

Her reaction? Completely non-remarkable. She said "hmm, that tastes funny. Can I have another treat now?" After all that work it was completely anti-climatic, but exactly what I was looking for.

In Coriander news, he got his teeth done again on Friday. Unfortunately he decided that he wasn't going to let the vet put the float tools in his mouth so he had to be sedated. That was depressing for me since he was so good about being wormed Wednesday. Part of the problem may have been that I wasn't the one holding him, the vet insisted I stay out of the stall due to my recent injury. She is pretty hopeful though that he'll eventually let her do it without any drugs at all, so after I told her that I've been clicker training him she said she'll stop back on evenings when she happens to be in town and work with me to desensitize him to the equipment. Pretty awesome, eh?

Remember when I mentioned that I'm planning on registering Gwen this month? I'm still planning that but getting decent pictures of her to send in with the paperwork has proved difficult. I asked one of the other boarders to take pictures while I held her earlier this week. Unfortunately, Gwen said "can't stand still. Going into heat." She was a complete wiggle worm and I only got two useful images. I tried again just tying her to the arena fence yesterday morning. I got a few more usable pictures but the square picture from the front is still eluding me, hopefully the third shoot will be the charm.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Worming success

Yesterday Coriander got paste wormed without even having a halter on his head!

I have been very unhappy with how stressful worming my horses has been in the past: they'd throw their heads up and shake their muzzles away from me up above my head. Then, when I finally managed to get the paste in their mouths they'd either rear or jump away from me. It was horrible.

So this time I decided to do it completely different. First I threw the due date right out the door and gave myself a two week window to get them wormed in. Second I just took the tube of wormer into their stalls and played the "can I touch you" game with it. I started at the shoulder and eventually moved up their necks, to their jaws and finally next to their lips. After I got to this point I switched to the "good" treats and asked them to let me put the tip of the tube in their mouth.

Gwen is currently still stuck at this point, she's in heat right now so she's feeling more testy than usual.

My boy, with the motivation of the "good" treats (he loves his licorice), started consistently letting me put the tube in his mouth until I just took the opportunity and squeezed it in. He didn't throw his head, rear, or jump. He mouthed it for a while and then looked at me for more treats- which I gave him. He got quite the jackpot for that.

The cost? Four days and lots of treats.

The result? Completely stress free worming. Priceless!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gems from Alois

"[Their are] two methods -- and all their consequences -- with which to obtain services from a horse. On one side there is the unconditional subjection by force and punishment with which the rider may reach his goal more quickly but only if he has a good-natured creature with no tendency to fight. This kind of education, however, will undermine the individual character of the animal and result in obedience out of fear. The brilliance of such a horse will be lost and he will be indifferent towards man or even hostile. If on the other hand the training of the horse is based on kindness, calmness, and ample reward as well as understanding for his personality, the result will be happy obedience on the part of the horse and pleasure in his work. It may take a little longer to obtain progress than with the other method but there will never be that ugly fight between man and animal. The charm and brilliance of the horse will be maintained,even enhanced, and preserved until his old age."

-- Alois Podhajsky

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Clicker training lesson

One of the ladies I met at the clicker training clinic gives lessons so I asked her to come out yesterday morning to work with Gwen and me. Her name is Kate; here she is at the clinic with a 5 year old gelding that she picked up after he was abandoned at a boarding barn.
I like this picture because you can tell that she's smiling, which is pretty good since that gelding was being a bit of a handful. Kate and one of her other horses, Lucky, have been so successful with clicker training that they've been featured in at least one Alexandra Kurland book. Kate told me Lucky's story and there were a lot of parallels to my time with Gwen. Lucky was half-wild, aggressive and completely unruly under saddle. In fact he tossed her off the first time she rode him and broke her ankle. Now Lucky is a shining example of how well-behaved and cooperative a clicker trained horse can be. Between her success with her difficult horse and her cheery disposition, I knew that she was just the person I needed to help me with Gwen.

We worked on leading first, adding in some backing before I gave her a treat to make Gwen concentrate on her balance (and stop surging ahead of me after I stopped). We did a little fine-tuning of my rope mechanics, mainly to make sure I didn't put more tension on the rope than I needed. I have been unconsciously holding onto the rope under the snap, putting weight on the rope that Gwen could learn to ignore, making it harder to get her to respond to the lightest cues. We finished up with Kate giving me pointers on how to build duration with Gwen's head lowering.

For me the best part of the lesson was seeing my one-person mare working so nicely with Kate when she took the lead to do demonstrations. Kate was also quite impressed with how soft Gwen was being and how smart she is. That made me feel really good about all the hard work we've put in together. We're going to try to meet up bi-weekly from now on, doing more with leading and eventually adding in lateral work. Kate has also agreed to be my ground person when I try to start Gwen under saddle again in a few months. Whoohoo!

Today I lunged Coriander for the first time since March. The gimpy foot held up! I'm starting him out nice and easy again, 8 minutes of walking and 2 minutes of trotting. I want to try getting into the saddle again in a week or two and I want to make sure he's gotten any naughtiness out first. Poor boy is mega stiff going to the right, he actually threw in a buck going in that direction. I see circles in his future.

After I brought him in I took Gwen out to practice what we'd done with Kate. Note to self: When working with Gwen after taking her brother out, begin with head lowering. I tried it the other way and she was way too worked up for it. She did eventually calm down and started automatically backing up when I put the treat out, good for her!

Plan for tomorrow: more of the same. Plus, physical therapy for me starts tomorrow, I'm dying to get the range of motion back in my ankle.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Gwen learned to stop worrying and love the flymask

Here were the quarters today in the pasture, don't they look snazzy in their flymasks?

As usual, the flymask was a complete non-issue for Coriander and a life-ending matter for Miss Gwenevere. She was pretty sure that flymask was going to kill her. I had two options for getting it on her: I could have put her halter on and wrestled that mask onto her face, hoping that she'd figure out it wouldn't hurt her; or I could use clicker training.

I knew that if I wrestled her for it she'd probably fear the flymask forever and I'd always have issues getting it on her head. Since this was not a viable option in my mind, I chose the clicker training route. It took three days of playing "can I touch you with this" before she'd let me put the mask on her and velcro it shut, but it was completely worth it. Now I can just walk in her stall and put the flymask on, lickety-split. Flymasks will (hopefully) never worry her again.

As I was working with Gwen on this, Grey Horse Matters put up a post called "Dusty Rides Again." She wrote about how she avoids fighting with her mare over fear issues because respect and trust are never earned through bullying and force. That post felt particularly timely for me, since I was using clicker training to gently work my girl through a fear issue. Head on over to her blog and check it out, it's worth the read.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flip video cameras have a learning curve...

For the record I do not recommend clicker training two horses at once while trying to take video.

I also do not recommend playing this video with sound. Heck, I don't really recommend watching it at all. I have no idea why I'm posting this. Maybe somebody will get a kick out of it.

This is Coriander's first day getting clicked and reinforced for walking over poles. As you can see, he's pretty smart. Or just really food motivated. Either one.

Gwen's getting extra reinforcement for choosing to walk over that pole all by herself without any prompting from me. She did it again without hesitation but I had already turned the camera off.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


What a relief it is to no longer have these screws in my leg.
I'm a little (lot) sore today at the incision sites where they took them out, BUT the inside of my ankle doesn't hurt at all. Mega improvement. Hopefully the surface pain will go away in a few days and then I'll be all set to start building some muscle back up.

In not so good news, Coriander has a hole in his hoof. Can you see it down there?
Aaargh! Until I can get somebody out to take a look at it I'm not turning him out on rocky pasture. Instead they get to run around in the ring.
He looks pretty happy though, don't you think?