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...

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