Friday, October 22, 2010

Before I leave for the weekend!

This week we've been working with the saddle and girth individually, so it was finally time to put things together. Sage says, "No big deal!"

We went for a walk and everything, and it's as though she has worn the saddle every day of her life. She's even started to pick up her feet quite well. I hope to be able to trim them soon. If not at this coming session with the farrier, then I'll trim them roughly myself and wait for our next session in 5 weeks.

She even decided to kick up her heels a little bit with Brandy, and they spent some time running around the arena looking extremely cute. I was glad I had my camera! Today, even before our training session, was the first day that Sage has really looked happy to me. It's kind of subjective, I realize, but I feel that she's been pretty distant. Of course, I would be a little distant, too, if all that happened to her happened to me. But today, it seemed like she really wanted to be with me and involved in things. For a two year old, she's always acted quite mature. It was so nice to see her squealing and bucking a little bit, actually playing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's all about the feet...

It really is. Everything that "scares" her is completely related to something near her feet. Take today, for example: She doesn't care that the girth buckles are jingling, or that I drape it all over her back, or that I touch her belly with it...but the second those little buckles brush her leg she's up in the air, trying to run away. Considering you can stand there for hours with a lunge whip trying to make her trot, this behavior is just a little out of proportion.

I've worked on this with her before, and stupidly assumed that just like with everything else, it would only take one session for her to be fine with it. So I started out again today with my makeshift surcingle (an English girth and two stirrup leathers), but I spooked her just as I got started. So we worked with that for about fifteen minutes, and she decided that it wasn't going to eat her, but that she should still be wary of it. Something about anything near her legs/knees/feet just freaks her out--this is despite the fact that I can now pick up her front feet and hold them, which she is starting to understand isn't the biggest deal ever.

When she was good enough to try cinching it up, I realized that my little contraption was a bit long. I traded the English girth in for the western one, which is shorter and doesn't jingle nearly as much. She was a star as I tightened it up (not too tight, but just tight enough to keep it on). When I took a picture of her wearing it, she was looking at me with a silly expression on her face, and I know she was thinking that humans do the strangest things some days...

Then we walked off, took some loops around the arena and the property, and she acted like she didn't even care. Such a star. She doesn't mind being away from the other horses, and walking outside of the arena really makes her lead up well, because she's actually interested in what's doing on outside.

Before I started the session with her today, I saddled up Brandy (in the western saddle), and gave Sage a chance to look at it. She sniffed it several times on her own while I was saddling up and had it slung over the arena wall. No hesitation, just curiosity.

I had quite a bit of fun because I've decided that despite Brandy's lameness issues, she is sound enough to ride a little bit at a time and just at a walk. Brandy is a nice, laid-back little mare and one of the most promising horses I've ever worked with. Just before she went lame a few years ago, she was almost at the point where I would trust anyone to take her out alone on a trail ride. She really loved to go out and work. But physically, she just can't do that. She hasn't been ridden in quite some time, and today she just let me hop up and walk a few circles in the arena as though nothing had even changed.

Sage got a good wake up call watching this happen, and at first she thought something must be terribly wrong. Brandy's steadiness quickly reassured her, but she definitely thought everything she saw today was very strange. Poor little kid--her turn soon! But right now she's out enjoying the sunshine and green grass, not phased a bit by her training. And that's how it should be. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Booming sounds of progress...literally

I wanted to take a moment to give a quick update since last week. Sage is finally getting the hang of having me handle her front feet! I have even been able to hold them in the "hoof picking position" for a few seconds each. Although she's still clearly a bit confused at the whole situation, she picks up her foot if I just say the word now. It's not pretty, but it'll do.

We've also been working on leading in a number of different situations. Today we went for a walk all over the property and passed by the duck pen, the garden, all the patio furniture--and even walked through several small holes between bushes, through the trees, everywhere. She was perfect! A lot more motivated than she is when she's in the arena. It's hard to light a fire under her butt in there, which I actually really like. I think she's going to be a really solid horse. However, teaching her to lunge is another story entirely. You could stand there for days clucking and waving the lunge whip and she'll just stand there. A few weeks ago, we taught her by having Patrick walk with her while I stood at the center. She picked it up really quick, but since then she's become a lot less motivated. Oh well. We'll get it eventually. In the meantime, we have a lot to work on. We are always reviewing the basics, trying to create a bombproof horse.

Speaking of bombs, I should mention that for the last month, the neighbors have been shooting off a propane cannon almost constantly (literally 20-30 times an hour). It sounds like someone blowing something up right in the yard. It's loud enough to scare the birds off their grapes and shake the ground beneath our feet. As annoying as it is, I have to say it has helped Sage's training immensely. Sometimes the thing catches me by surprise while we're working, and it's hard to tell if she even notices. She's so used to the constant exploding that she's solid as a rock. I guess I can't complain about the noise as much as I'd like to. :)

Soon I'm hoping to take her on a trail walk with someone else walking Brandy. This will be a big step as there will be no fences and lots of new things to see. I'll try to stay updated!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Saddling, part 2

Since we got out of lab relatively early, and it is pushing 80 degrees outside (pretty much the warmest it's been all summer in consecutive days), I decided to spend a little time working with Sage and the saddle.

Yesterday she showed me that she didn't think the girth was a big deal, even though it makes jingly noises because of the buckles. And she proved me right about being steady as a rock, because she was easy enough to set the saddle on again. We actually got pretty far--she let me put the girth on the right side and flip the girth underneath her belly.

However, remember how she's nervous about her feet? Well, she was consistently unsure about the girth touching them. So we worked on that for a while. She got a bit better, until I decided it was time to pull the girth around to the other side. She was nervous as I was reaching for the girth that I meant to pick up her feet, but she let me rub her belly and pick it up eventually. I was just about to buckle it on the other side when she got nervous again, and I had way too much slack in the rope. She started to walk off kind of sideways, and of course the saddle began to slip. She jumped forward and it fell off.

Let's just say, it hit the dirt a few more times after that, because she became more afraid of it falling off when it got unsteady than it being on her in the first place. Finally, we got back to a point where I wanted to stop with the saddle: I had the girth dangling from the right side and was touching her everywhere with it. In the process, I took off and put on the saddle almost twenty times(not very gently as I'm trying to get her used to feeling it moving).

Then I fashioned a "surcingle" type thing out of the girth and some old stirrup leathers. She was quite obliging and let me "cinch" it up a few times. At that, we started working on things we know: leading, head down, etc. I try to pick up her feet every morning and every evening, too. I'm beginning to see some progress, although it's really the only thing she behaves somewhat irrationally about. We're getting there, though. Now I keep my hand on her leg for 4-5 seconds before letting go, and she's holding it there just a tiny bit less tensely. Overall, things are going pretty well.

Here's a picture of Brandy and Sage having dinner tonight. They certainly are pretty cute.

It's been about a month and a half since we got Sage. It's hard for me to believe how much she will let me do already. She leads anywhere, and her curiosity and excellent mind are just phenomenal. Really, it is extremely unnatural for any horse to accept a saddle on their back and girth around their middle--it's like a predator that just latches on and doesn't let go. Only we can teach our horses to trust us on the fact that a saddle isn't a predator, that it's something a part of normal, every day life. It's catching that trust that's the magical part.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sage saddles

We've been plugging away. Sage is still not sure about having her feet handled, and while I can't say that she is getting better every day, she is getting better. It's just something we're going to have to work with all the time. Really it's the only thing so far that she has been particularly stubborn about.

To keep things interesting, I decided I would try to put my English saddle on her. Once again, I started out by putting the saddle on Brandy to demonstrate. But this time, Sage pretty much thought the whole process was boring and didn't seem to care one bit. Without so much as a flinch, she was wearing a saddle in just 10 minutes.

I didn't put a girth on and cinch it up, but just having her carry the weight without even noticing was quite amazing. Once again, I can't say anything but good things about her!