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!):