Thursday, June 5, 2014

Day 3 and 4: Assume the right things

Well y'all know what they say about assume.  It makes...  Well in reality it depends what you assume.  Do you assume things will go wrong?  Or do you assume things will go right?  Do you act tentativley in anticapation of a negative response?  Or do you trust that your horse has confidence in you and that things will go right? 

Around here we set our horses up for success.  We lay the correct foundation, so that we can anticipate a positive outcome to everything we ask of them.  Thus I ASSUME that things will go well.  Don't misunderstand me.  This does not mean that I don't prepare for the worst, and keep in mind that accidents happen. 

The last two days have been big for both Jay and Penny.  Jay had his first bath, and learned to tie so he could dry without rolling in the dirt.  Both of them lunged under surcingles with Penny cantering under tack.  Jay still has some recovery to do, so I'm not pushing him as hard as her. 

Let's talk about introducing water and bathing.  I use one method for every thing I teach a horse to do.  I apply pressure, and release it when the horse offers even a hint of the correct response.  We do not use cross ties here at our house.  Baths happen standing at liberty in the middle of the yard.  Obviously in the case of these two that may seem like a lot to ask; particularly on day 3 of training.  But I assumed after 2 days of leadership establishment Jay would comply with my request and trust that I wouldn't let anything eat him.  With bathing the hose (water) is my pressure.  I do not use the halter or lead to apply pressure, nor stop movement.  I  point the hose at the horse and when they stop moving I take the water away.  If they start to move I use the lead to direct their movement, but it is their decision when to stop moving.  The reward for stopping the movement is me taking the water away, and stop it from touching them.  With each introduction of the water I expect them to stand still a bit longer, until ultimatley the horse learns not to move at all.  In Jay's specific case I had enough leadership established that he didn't try to move at all until I got to his hips.  Then I had to introduce the above pattern of training. 

As for teaching Jay to tie I use the same equipment and method with every horse.  Again I want to use a method that allows for release of pressure.  I don't like to leave them hard tied to fight it out against a rope.  I use a contraption called a tie blocker combined with a long rope.  This device puts tension on the rope if they pull against it, but in the event they sit down HARD it will give and allow the rope to slide through.  Once they stop going backwards I just pull the rope back through the blocker reeling the horse in like a fish right back to the point where we started.  I repeat this as much as needed until they come to the understanding that going backwards ultimatley does not remove the pressure of standing still.  I have had people insist that their horse's tying issues are too extreme.  My answer is a longer rope.  I am yet to find a horse that this method does not work for over time.  Some horses never need more than 12 feet of rope, some need 50 or even 100 feet of rope.  In Jay's case he needed all of 8 feet. He just didn't really question the process.

Penny is doing very well under tack.  She is more accepting of fast moving objects than Jay is.  She is definitley more whoa than go.  I typically like to use no more than a training stick (with no tassle) for lunging.  I simply use it as an extension of my arm either pointing, directing, or blocking their movement.  In the case of Penny I had to step up the energy level in order to get her cantering today.  I had to start spinning a rope and slapping the ground to create enough energy to get her moving.  She really has a nice floaty hunter type trot  when she starts moving out. 

Since I know that these two are destined for other forever homes it is important that they learn to behave the same way for several different people.  Thankfully my family is full of horse trainers at all levels.  My husband is an experienced trainer and is also working on teaching the same skills in very similar methods to myself.  On the flip side my in-laws that live on the property who are very green horse people also interact with these two daily.  They don't receive as much trust as my husband and I, but their interactions with Jay and Penny are crucial for the long term placement of these two.  In the next day or two my daughter and step-son will also start helping with the training process.  My daughter's interaction will be very important, since I anticipate both of these ponies finding careers as youth mounts.   Here are a couple of pictures of her working with her personal pony.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day 2: Halters go on

Today I was like many of you and had to go out to another job.  So the ponies are only getting one training session today.  Our session started with an evaluation of yesterday's retention.  I did this by repeating the same procedure as yesterday.  I entered their paddock with a pocket full of treats.  Penny was her normal happy self and met me at the gate, but then quickly wandered off.  Sanjay (Jay) was more interested in interaction today.  He hung out for a rub followed by a treat.  I do this and gradually introduce more petting and less treats as rewards for behavior.  I do my best to use positive reinforcement on desirable behaviors and ignore unwanted or negative behaviors.  One thing I never do is pat a horse.  I rub, or pet, but not pat.  Patting is the closest behavior we come to bites or kicks from the ground.  So in my case is reserved for extreme negative behaviors than need quick correction. 

After our initial greeting I wandered off to dump the water tank for cleaning.  Jay was right on my hip looking for attention.  I stopped and rewarded his interest with lots of rubs and a few more treats.  I then quickly walked off ending our interaction before he had a chance to.  This way I left him wanting more.  He and Penny went back to some mutual grooming.  After I was done cleaning the tank I decided to approach with a halter and dragging lead.  I wanted to evaluate if this new object that moved across the ground elicited a flight or tense response from them, or if I have earned enough trust that they would let me approach with it.  Jay not only allowed me to approach, but showed interest and curiosity in this new item.  He allowed me to rub it on his neck and up and down his face.  I was quick to remove it any time I felt tension start in his body.  I always want to remove pressure before they go to leave themselves.  He remained calm enough that I was comfortable putting the rope halter on would not elicit a desire to flee. 

Once the halter was on he led like a champ to the roundpen following a respectable two feet behind me.  He showed a retention of yesterdays lesson stopping when I raised my hand, and walking off as soon as I started motion again.  He quickly learned to yield his haunches at a waggle of my fingers.  He was a little resistant to moving his shoulder in the same fashion, but yielded when I turned his head in the direction I wanted his shoulder to go.  He was more relaxed trotting on the rail today, but continued to start and stop on command at liberty.  I was also able to pick up and hold both front feet today. 

 I repeated the same activity in the same manner with Penny.  She lacks the self confidence that Jay has, so is not as trusting.  She worked well all the same, but requires more snacks than rubs still at this point as reinforcement.  Penny was willing to yield haunches and shoulder on lead, but struggled to change directions at liberty.  She is definitley more whoa than go.  She has excellent light floating movement on the rail.  She is more ambidexterous than Jay and works well from both sides.  She did pick up both front feet, but is going to take more work in this area than Jay. 

Tomorrows goals for Jay will include tying and possibly accepting water for a bath and hydrotherapy for his knees. Penny will be a repeat of today.  I won't move forward with her until she is quietly changing directions at liberty, and comfortable giving me her feet in surrender. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Introducing Sanjay and Penny

KJ and I picked up two horses from Central Virginia Horse Rescue yesterday.  They will be staying with us for a couple of months to insure a good start on their new lives.  They started their lives as part of a mostly feral (wild) herd with VERY limited human contact.  Sanjay is a characteristic appaloosa.  He is about 14h, and 5 years old.  He was pulled from the herd shortly after an altercation with the herd stallion that resulted in a bone chip in his knee and some significant swelling.  He is sound on the leg, but the we are still working to get the swelling down.  Sanjay has been at the rescue for about three weeks recovering from being gelded, and his knee injury.  He accepts a halter, and will at least go in and out of a stall on lead. 

I worked with him for about 20 minutes today at lunch time.  He still shows a desire to leave if approached with a halter. I have no doubt I could get a halter on him, but I'm not ready to do that yet.  I would like to have a horse seeking out the interaction with his handler, not just tolerating it.  I also like to be able to control his feet forward, backward, start, stop, and turn without needing to touch him before a halter goes on.  My ultimate goal is for him to do these tasks as a reflection of my body language.  I mean if I start forward I want him right there walking with me. If I stop he should. If I back he does, etc.  In order to achieve this goal I started today by reflecting his body language.  When he was moving I was moving right there with him.  When he would stop, I also stop and take my energy level down and my focus off of him.  This is a subtle reward for him stopping and allowing my presence in his space. 

After approaching him in the pasture and rewarding his allowing me to approach with a couple of cookies I was able to move him into the round pen at liberty.  Once in the round pen I was really able to work on controlling his momentum.  Sanjay is a very receptive sensitive horse.  This means I didn't have to put a lot of energy into creating forward motion.  His self confidence shows in his willingness to move off quietley, and when asked to whoa stand confidently and wait for me to approach him.  He and I will continue this work in the round pen until he remains in a relaxed posture while I approach and/or he starts to approach me.  Once he shows an understanding that interacting with me is pleasurable then he'll be ready to halter.  Sanjay is going to do best with a long term owner who is ready to earn his respect, and in return will be given all the try in the world. 

I worked with Penny in much the same way today.   Penny is a bay breeding stock type POA. She does exhibit some characteristics, but is otherwise solid.   She has a much different personality than Sanjay however.  She is looking for leadership from somewhere.  She is more timid, and flightier at this moment.  That tells me she lacks the self confidence that he has.  This is not unusual for a submissive mare in a herd, and is in no way indicative of how she will be once well started under saddle.  Penny has a very low energy drive and is already showing a propensity for more whoa than go.  At an estimated 13 hands I think she will is going to turn into quite a nice youth pony.  She shows a desire to interact with people, and is very soft  and gentle in her manners.  I look forward to bringing her along in a way that will set her up for success in a youth home.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

And the fun begins

Today we took a road trip to Brodnax, Virginia.  Why you ask?  We brought home two foster appaloosas that belong to Central Virginia Horse Rescue.  As my regular followers know I love an appaloosa, not because of their unique and loud coat patterns, but because of their brains.  Appaloosas have an above average intelligences, that equals an intense curiosity, and desire to please.  At least until someone pushes them too far.  The challenge to this brain?  They learn bad habits as easily as they learn the good ones. An appaloosa will always keep you on your toes.  With these new projects comes a chance to revive the blog, and detailed training stories, and suggestions.  If you are new to my blog please by all means back track and read some of my previous posts.  I will do my best to post every few days with lots of visual media to keep it interesting. Thank you for all of your ongoing support, and giving me the opportunity to share.