Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lots of firsts

Okay, so I'm already having trouble keeping up with this blog. That's because school started this week, and things are just crazy. But fun, of course :)

Sage has made some incredible progress this last week. She is leading like a champion. However, picking up feet is still something that we really have to work on. She doesn't mind touching down by her feet, but she knows when you want her to pick up her foot and this makes her nervous. My goal is to be able to have her trimmed by my farrier in 4 weeks. He'll work with her even though she is a bit shy, but I'd like it to be a good experience for her. I would trim her myself, but her feet have a few shape problems and I want to make sure that she gets started on absolutely the right track.

But back to the positive...Sage learned to wear a saddle pad on Sunday! It was a bit tricky at first, but she settled down and was wearing a saddle pad in a 20 minute session. First, I tied Brandy in the arena with us. Sage seems to really appreciate seeing things done to other horses and learns a lot from that, so I took the saddle pad on and off Brandy several times. I let Sage sniff the pad on Brandy, which of course made her snort, and then I worked on trying to get it over her neck and back. She was surprisingly quite good despite the snorting. Here are some pictures:

I've gotten to work with her a few more times this week so far, and she's learned to lead away from the other horses (to where she can't see them), walk calmly through several types of gates, and stand on the rubber mats to be groomed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The arrival of fall

Sage has been a good girl this week and learned several things:

-how to lead, even into scary places
-how to be in a stall for breakfast
-how to have a rope around her legs
-how to pick up her feet (she's still tentative about this, though)
-how to back up and yield her hindquarters (consistently)
-how to wear a halter with a buckle (this is pretty scary you know, because the buckle makes noise)
-how to have her belly brushed

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And we're back...

I got back home on Monday morning, which was going to be a busy day because the farrier was coming to reset shoes on Brandy and Luna (both of which take a long time). I didn't get much of a chance to work with Sage at first, and I had a few concerns before I even got out there. Would her week without handling make her flighty again? She was just beginning to halter and lead before I left, and I was thinking that it might take a day to get back up to that point again.

I shouldn't have been concerned, because she let me halter and brush her right away. In fact, I think she did some thinking about what she'd already learned because when I asked her to lead up she was perfect. A fluke, I thought. I tried again later. Same thing; she was leading perfectly no matter where I walked her around the pasture! So much for her being wild again. I even started to teach her to pick up her feet, which she caught onto very quickly.

Today I haltered her, groomed her, and practiced leading again. She willingly followed me through the gate and into the arena, she learned how to back up, and she knows how to keep her head tuned into me and stick with me. I can't imagine how startling it must be to have such a sudden change in your life and then have some person throwing ropes all over you, but she has been doing so well it's just unbelievable!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Haltering and Leading!

This will be the last entry for a while because Patrick and I will be gone for the next week spending time with family in Belgium. But, I wanted to update with pictures of Sage from today.

She has been haltering very well, and has learned to yield to pressure to the left, to the right, and down (although down is a bit harder for her). With that, she is now starting to lead up, which is awesome.

So how do you teach a horse to lead who has no idea what you're wanting? Well, some people use a butt rope like for a weanling. But I thought she wouldn't like this, and I knew that the second she figured out how to take one step forward she'd be leading in a heartbeat. So, I pulled on the rope and waited, and if she even thought about taking a step forward, I released. A few times, I pulled her to the side and kind of forced her to step forward. Doing this, she was leading up within 10 minutes. Good girl? Of course! She definitely needs more work, but today is exactly two weeks since she's arrived and she went from being untouchable to haltering easily (even in the pasture), leading, yielding to pressure, and allowing me to touch her everywhere.

Here are some photos!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Haltering redux

Today I haltered Sage in the pasture after working with her for only a few minutes. She was happy to yield her head to the left and right and follow me with her feet a little bit, too. We even worked on a bit of the "head down" concept (which is hard for some horses because they start to feel trapped with downward pressure at their polls). She was a star!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


It's been a few days, but Patrick and I were busy this weekend photographing our friends' wedding in Portland (which was a blast). We did get to spend much of the weekend at home (even made and canned some salsa from the tomatillos in the garden) but overall Sage did not get a lot of time put into her. However, the time she did get was quite productive in the end!

Since Sage is pretty much comfortable with me approaching at any time and petting her, I felt good about having Patrick come in and work with her. I wanted to get her used to another person, especially someone male. I hoped that after a little bit of persistence and some horse whispering, Patrick would be able to pet her. Although it was clear she was very unsure at first, it only took a few minutes before Patrick was able to approach and pet her quietly. Honestly I was surprised by how quickly she tolerated it, so I counted that as success #1.

Still, she was (and still is) a little picky about hands around her head/face/nose. I thought the only way to really remedy this would be for her to choose to touch me, but she isn't all that "curious" with her nose to people. So I figured if we got her eating out of our hands, that would be ideal...though trying apples and watermelons we hadn't found a treat she really liked yet. We decided to try a bag of carrots, and although she thought we were crazy at first--holding the piece of carrot between her teeth and flipping her nose up and down--she soon became a little greedy carrot monster and learned (reluctantly) to eat of the palm of my hand. This has indeed helped with her approachability and her willingness to let me touch her nose. Success #2!

I had also been playing around with the halter, as you already know. Over the weekend we had a few setbacks. The weather turned cool and she was feeling frisky, and a few times she'd decided she'd had enough of the rope and took of shaking her head and bucking. This is of course a difficult situation because she "escapes" the rope when she does this. Each time, I go back and start over, but I can see the little wheels in her mind turning and I know she could get somewhat obnoxious on this front.

I also had my suspicions that her freeze brand up high on her neck is a little sore, and this doesn't help with the rope/halter situation because it gets rubbed by the lead rope sometimes. It's starting to scab, and you can only imagine the feel of something running across a scab on your skin and pulling at it. She also very much dislikes my hand near it, which leads me to believe that not all of her sassyness is inherent (though I can tell some of it definitely is!).

The only thing I could really do is break down the process even more, into simpler and simpler steps. I planned to work on just putting the long rope around her neck and teaching her to yield to pressure really well from somewhat of a distance, with a long enough line that even if she did pull back and bit she would have somewhere to go and not lose the rope.

Tonight was the perfect night to start, even though I got home quite late. She came in wet from the rain, and I knew she wanted to be curried quite badly. She makes her intentions quite obvious, because she'll stand at the arena wall while I brush the other horses. If I place a brush on the wall, she'll pick it up and wave it around in her mouth. If it's the green curry she likes, she'll actually reach out and touch my hand while I hold it. Knowing this, I had the perfect opportunity to teach her that if she wants to be brushed, she has to have a rope on like the other horses.

She was very obliging about the rope, a little ticklish with it when it dangled behind her ears, but who wouldn't be? She very quickly learned to "lead" in both directions on a small circle. In between teaching her to turn her head and lower it, I would brush her and run my hands down her front legs, almost like a normal grooming. She didn't flinch once.

Then I decided to try the rope halter and lead rope, and although she tensed at first, I was quickly able to have her realize this wasn't much different. A few days ago I was able to easily reach my hand over her neck to grab the other side of the halter, but this has been her downfall now the last two days. Tonight she started to act like she was going to flip out, but I persisted and she let me do it without too much fuss. Finally, the moment of truth, I slipped the halter over her nose and pulled it up as though I was about to secure it. Instead of balking, she actually turned her head towards me! To make sure it wasn't a fluke, I let it go and repeated this three more times. She was good each time. Success #3!

Each success is something to build on. She's been such a good girl out with the other horses. It has definitely helped her to settle in here to be turned out with them, and I'm glad she gave me the opportunity to do it sooner rather than later. We really have achieved so much more since she has been with them than when she was separated.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of Sage and Patrick or of her with the rope on, but I'll leave you with this gem from when the girls were up the grassy field the other day (when it was still sunny and not so cold and rainy!):

Friday, September 3, 2010

A million reasons why my mustang is amazing...

But first, notice something?

I mean, other than how cute she is...

This morning in the barn, she was doing so well with approaching and petting and brushing that I decided to try to take off her halter. I know the thing has been bugging her, and now that she is approachable, that little extra failsafe isn't necessary. Not that it helped much anyway, and I am very paranoid about leaving horses out with halters on. Plus, it looked like it was starting to itch.

I braced myself for a mini-explosion as the thing came sliding off her face (because she's still not excellent with hands around her face), but she was a good girl and immediately let me approach again. In fact, she seemed better with hands around her face now that I could scratch her where the halter was.

Since the girls have been so good in the "dry pasture" up by the barn, I figured it would be safe to let them out into the big pasture for a few hours. They had a great time but were ready to come in when I came back out a few hours later.

I let them into the arena/round pen and individually caught each one to give them a quick brush and fly spray. I wanted to make sure Sage saw each horse with a halter on being handled. She was very interested, once again very curious about the fly spray especially.

Then I worked on haltering with her, and although I didn't slip the rope halter over her nose, I had my hands all over her face, the rope around her neck, etc. I worked on her lowering her head and bringing her nose toward me, the foundation for haltering. She was a star. Likely she'll halter better than my other horses after this.

I gave her a good brushing again, but I could tell she was being bothered by flies. Since she didn't seem to mind the fly spray near her before, I figured it was kind of a "now or never" moment. I told her (yes, I literally talked to her) that she would feel better with some on. She just stared at me and stood there, so I sprayed a bit around me. She took a deep sniff and stood still. Within a few seconds, I had completely sprayed her and she could have cared less, even when the bottle made lots of weird spraying noises. Even Gabby won't stand still for fly spray without a halter on...and yet, two months ago this horse was running wild and had never been touched by people.

Some days, she amazes me. And yet, it's not all as easy as I think I make it sound sometimes. There have definitely been moments, especially because she wasn't that easy to approach for the first time, where I've thought one of the following or all at once:

1. Why on earth did I want a mustang in the first place when I could have found a gentle, domesticated horse?
2. Why didn't I get a gelding, who would likely be much more social?
3. Why didn't I get a weanling, who wouldn't have memories of running wild and free?
4. Why the hell did I get such a big horse?
5. I am never going to be able to do this.
6. I have no idea what I'm doing
7. I am going to get killed.

However many times these things cross my mind each day, each time I go back through what we've done and how far we've come. So far, we're on track with many of the "Extreme Mustang Makeover" trainers (who have about 3 months to gentle and show a mustang). Not that we're trying to be, but it's nice to know.

The main thing is, though... You just gotta jump in and be scared and stick with it 'til it gets fun.

It's a motto to live by. And it's starting to get fun.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Things We Learned Today

1. That we love Gabby (for some odd reason, as all Gabby does is squeal every 2 minutes).

2. What fly spray is (and that, for another odd reason, we think it smells good)

3. How NOT to touch the electric fence (and be a good girl)

4. That being brushed feels good, especially with the green jelly scrubber! (YAY!)

Out with the big girls

One week ago today, I picked filly #47 out of a herd of young mares at the corrals in Burns. Sometimes it feels like it's been months and other times just a few hours.

Last night, Sage successfully spent the night in the barn (aisle and stalls) with Brandy and they didn't destroy anything. She even ate grain halfway in a stall this morning (I'm trying to teach her that she has to eat grain in her stall just like every other horse on the place).

Today she's out with all the girls together, as pictured above--although Brandy was standing next to me trying to mess with the camera instead of eating with the others. Let me tell you, this adds a new element to the training process. However, she will now after some persistence, let me approach and pet her out there.

She even tried (and spit out) a piece of one of our homegrown watermelons!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

They call it rope burn for a reason...

...because it burns, a lot. My hand is still burning, in fact.

Let me start by saying I didn't think we'd get this far today, so I didn't even think to wear gloves. Otherwise, I might as well start at the beginning.

I left Sage in the arena after our session this morning to think about what she'd learned. Okay, so maybe they don't really think about what they've learned, but at least she doesn't get rewarded after each session by going back out with the other horses. That's a sure way to create a horse that won't go back in the round pen!

I came back out later and just played around in the arena a little bit. Timothy the cat was hanging out and Sage was very curious about him; so curious, in fact, that she was willing to approach and sniff me as long as Timmy was there. I also wanted to find something that she liked to feed her out of my hands, because although she watched the other horses eat apples several times, she still wasn't into them. So I pulled a bucketful of green grass from the manure pile. She was more than willing to come eat out of my hand. Although she didn't step as close as possible, I counted it as progress.

I took and break and came back later in the afternoon. After working for about thirty minutes on approaching and retreating just touching with the lunge whip, she was willing to let me approach, pet her, and retreat--on both sides! She still isn't very curious about me; it's more like she puts up with me coming up to touch her because she knows it won't hurt. I suppose I can't expect her to love me, but sometimes I'd like to see her look a little happier. I guess that it's barely been a week and these things take time.

Since she was doing really well, I thought I'd introduce her to the lead rope. After a few good approaches with the rope, I was able to snap the lead onto her halter. Amazingly, this is not where the rope burn comes in. She seemed somewhat indifferent to it. I could even teach her to yield to pressure going to the left, although it was hard for her to listen to two cues at once (pull from the halter, and the disengagement of her hindquarters). She even walked a few circles around me, and then suddenly she took off, and I was wishing we weren't in such a big space. And that, my friends, is where the rope burns come in.

Well, she trotted and snorted around and the lead rope dragged behind her. She actually did a pretty good job of teaching herself to yield to pressure because she stepped on it quite a few times. Because she was a bit distressed, I went back to square one--approach and touch with lunge whip. When she was okay with that again, I petted her.

I was able to pick up the lead rope again, and this time something outside spooked her and we had another rodeo. Don't worry though; I was smart enough to get gloves this time. Back to square one again. Finally, I was able to pick up the rope again and we had a great session learning to yield to pressure. Though she was tentative about my hands around her chin (I mean, look at what happened last time she let my hands under there!), she let me undo the rope and redo it several times. Finally, since the session had been very long, I took the rope away altogether, and came back to pet her a few times.

Now being pet is a piece of cake! If only she would start to like it...

No one ever said this would be easy...

What do you get when you mix a naughty Quarter Horse, a fresh mustang, some round pen panels, and a rainy night?

Well, I'm sure you can guess:

Needless to say, it was a scary thing to see both horses in the same pasture and the round pen obliterated. However, the two didn't seem phased or injured, and they were calmly grazing together. (Luna and Gabby in the pasture next to them were quite upset at the ruckus the "kids" had caused, though).

Of course my main concern was whether either had been injured, but I could see no blood and they both trotted up to the fence to see me. Then, I wondered what the heck I was going to do about the whole situation. Thankfully, the perimeter of the property is solidly fenced, but the pastures are cross-fenced with electric braid wire. I could see that some parts fencing off the manure pile had been knocked down, but otherwise Sage seemed to respect the barrier between her and the other two horses.

I called Patrick to let him in on the news and see if he had any suggestions about where to put them. In the end, the best thing to do seemed to be to run the girls up to the barn (where the other three know to go in the morning to get grain) and corral them up in the arena. I knew Sage would follow them, and with little fuss, they were all in the arena.

The arena only has a 4 ft wall, and I was a little worried this wouldn't be a barrier enough. However, she seemed content to stay in there even when I took the other horses out and put them in their stalls (where she can just look across the aisle to see them). She was even comfortable enough to roll! She found the other horses' favorite spot and had a blast:

Soon afterward, I left her and Brandy to explore the paddock near the barn while I set up the round pen panels in the arena. Our initial idea had been to move the panels inside for the winter to make half of the arena a 60 ft round pen. However, we were going to put some extra boards up on the perimeter first to make the arena wall higher. Since I didn't have any way to do that, and it seemed as though Sage would stay wherever the other horses were (naturally), I figured it was the next logical step. Now that she knew she could bust through the panels outside, I wasn't going to take the chance again.

While I was setting up the panels, Sage learned a lot. She learned to drink out of the big trough, lick the salt block, and respect the electric fence (it bites!!). She was very offended when she first got shocked, trotting away with her ears back shaking her head, wondering how anything would have the nerve to do that.

It was easy enough to get her back into the arena, and I had a great time working in our full size pen. I went back to square one with Sage, teaching her to go, turn, and stop again. It was great to work in a place where she didn't feel constrained and the footing was even.

Now was the real test of whether she would listen to me, because all she had to do was trot away at any moment. We worked for a while, and she was a star. She learned to face me all the time, and to follow me when I walked away. I didn't try to touch her with my hands, but I used the lunge whip to do the same thing we'd been doing yesterday. Occasionally, she offered me her hind end, but every time I drove her forward and connected her back to me. She realized it was a much better idea to face me and pay attention than do anything else.

Afterward, I knew that the other horses were getting hungry, so I figured the safest place for her would be with Brandy and the barn while Gabby and Luna ate outside. With a quick horse shuffle, she eagerly went into the barn to eat with Brandy. She even explored the stalls all on her own!

Since the horses are loose in the aisle and have free access to their stalls, Sage had a chance to explore and trade places with Brandy several times. When I left, they were both calmly eating--with Gabby and Luna calmly eating outside. Let's just hope it stays that way!