Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Work, work, work

I worked with Sage a lot today, as I had the whole day free. I know that if I want to be able to turn her out of the corral before school starts (and before the weather turns), we have to keep progressing every day. Our "deadline" is a little less than a month from now, and Patrick and I are going to be gone for a week of that when we visit family in Belgium.

She ate her grain quickly this morning and I did a round pen session with her. After yesterday's success with being able to pet her, I expected it wouldn't take much to get to that point again. However, the wind was blowing and the horses were feeling frisky. Normally she keeps to a walk, but today she offered more trotting, turning, and head shaking. At first it seemed as though everything I did just made her more and more excited.

After a little while, though, she settled down. Once again, I could flip the lunge whip all over her and she cared little. I ran it over her neck, head, back, rump, and all four legs. She was doing quite well with that, so I decided to try the lead rope. I flipped it over her back, and she ignored it for the most part. Again, the thing that scared her the most was my movement. The lead rope is short at ten feet, which forced me to be fairly close to her. At one point, I had it dangling around her neck (as it had been several times before), and she decided she was going to react: a swift half-rear and a buck forward--not quite in keeping with the philosophy of making the horse progressively calmer as you train them and definitely a step backward for me.

Before I let her "get away" with that reaction, I flipped the rope towards her a few more times. When she was calm, I grabbed a 20 foot rope from the barn and worked with that for a while. Instead of trying to touch her with my hands, I just wiggled the rope and ran it all over her body. Going to the left, she was quite willing to have me toss the rope at her and have it land on her back. Going to the right, it was like I was trying to kill her. I tried to keep working on her right side, but she constantly turned back around. After turning her back several times, I decided to give her a break and come back a little while later.

In the next session I left the ropes and picked up the lunge whip again, preparing to work with her the same way I had the first time I touched her. At this point, she was well used to me messing with her with the lunge whip from both sides--so comfortable, in fact, that she would often stop to eat or drink in the middle of the session.

I worked with the same approach and release method I used yesterday. Approach only to the point where she won't move away, touch her with the lunge whip, then release by moving back. Next time, move close (as long as she doesn't move away). Eventually, it's not too hard to get close enough that you're touching with your hand instead of just the whip.

Today, however, she just seemed to want to move away because she wasn't interested in playing--she wanted to be near Brandy, or she wanted to watch something else, or she wanted to eat hay. Now, I wasn't too upset if she wanted to eat hay while I was petting her with the lunge whip, but I didn't like the way that she was almost--and I say almost--pushing me around.

In our previous sessions, I taught her to walk, turn, and stop. When she stopped, she had to pay attention to me or she would have to move forward again. I had kind of gotten lax about this as I worked with the lunge whip, but in our second session today I knew I needed to both gain respect and reduce fear. I had to combine approach and release with paying attention to me, or we were going to go around in circles for hours with her doing whatever she pleased and just jumping away as I got near.

After a quick 10 minutes, I started to see results! I approached as though I was approaching a normal horse, touching her with the lunge whip. Of course, this would cause her to move away at first, but at the same time I would ask her to stop and face me (with my body language, as I taught her before). When she did, I would reward her by removing the lunge whip and walking away. A second later, I would approach again and do the same thing. She picked up the game very quickly. Sometimes, she would follow me as I walked away (exactly what I want!). Doing this, I was able to touch her shoulders again with reasonable confidence.

I let her take a break again and planned to do another session tonight, but with the rain drizzling down and the ground getting slick, I opted instead just to feed the horses their hay and stand near her while she ate for a few minutes.

Tomorrow we'll go again. I know she would love to go out with the others and stretch her legs, but she can't do it until she can be reliably caught and handled. Soon, hopefully! Soon!

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