Saturday, August 18, 2012

Upping the Ante (Ginger pt 3)

Friday, August 17th, 2012

It's been a little over a week since I've been able to get out to work with Ginger.  The other folks who are working with her have worked with her briefly in the arena.  All the obstacles in the arena are no problem to her now.  I found that her ground manners have regressed, so I've still got a battle coming on that.  The main issue with her is her performance under saddle, so that's what I'm concentrating on.  She has to be rideable by the clientele of this stable, or the boss won't keep her through the winter. 

Today, I raised the ante a bit.  I brought my quirt, and wore my spurs.  I wasn't sure what use the quirt would be, but I wanted to have as many tools as possible at my disposal.  My main tactic was going to be with the spurs.  Ginger has no problem with commands to move out, so the spurs are not needed in that way.  My thought was, that when she refuses and tries to spin away, I would bring my foot up with my heel to her shoulder.  That way, she would run herself into the rowel unless she moved in the proper direction. 

We rode out to the perimeter trail, and she immediately balked at turning off the driveway onto the trail.  I'm not as nimble as I used to be.  She was a quarter of the way around her left hand spin by the time I got my foot in position.  She spun around twice against the spur, then moved on out down the trail.  Not far down the trail, she balked again.  Once more, she spun twice against the spur.  We rode completely around the farm and she balked again as we approached the driveway.  This time, however, she only spun once before accepting the direction I wanted to go.  We worked for a bit over an hour.   She balked twice more, but spun only once against the spur each time.  We rode around the farm, changing directions frequently to approach the driveway from opposite directions.  Most times I could feel her preparing to dodge down the drive  But , that was corrected with a light touch on the reins.  A few times, she actually walked past the drive without a thought of changing directions.  To finish up, I stopped her at the head of the drive, and stood there for a minute.  Not long enough for her to get nervous, I wanted her to be successful.  Then we turned to the road, stood there and watched a couple of cars drive past.  I turned her back down the driveway, stopping at irregular intervals to reinforce that we don't just blast down the driveway going home. 

We'll be working some more this weekend.  I hope she remembers how to behave.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Temper Tantrum (Ginger pt 2)

Ginger and I worked a couple more times this past week.  Wednesday was our second time up.  She is a bit more attentive walking on a lead rope, and with mounting and dismounting now, but still not where she needs to be.  Took her outside the arena for the first time.  She did fairly well, but her first reaction to anything she doesn't like is to sit back and spin away.  She only did it twice.  First, at the spot where she got chased through the fence.  That could also be because that is where the barnyard opens up to the house and garage area.  She's familiar with it, but there are a couple of blind corners there that sometimes spook other new horses.  We rode the perimeter trail around the farm.  A good portion of it parallels the public road, with a fringe of trees between.  I was hoping a truck or motorcycle would come by so I could get a feel for what she might do when I take her onto the road.  I had no such luck, so we took a couple of laps around the farm at a nice calm walk.  Just for fun, we crossed the road at the top of the driveway.  She stood quietly on the other side while we watched a couple of cars buzz by.  We crossed back to head down the driveway to the farm, when she started spinning again.  This one was more of a refusal than a spook.  She wanted to head down the road instead of going home.  A group of trail riders had saddled up and left while we were getting ready.  I'm fairly certain that she knows this is the route they take whenever any horses leave the farm.  As much as she wanted to go with them, she is not yet ready for the real world.  I spun her around in both directions, and pushed her into a trot to get her going in the right direction. 

On Friday we worked on ground manners, mounting and dismounting for a good while.  Ginger still hasn't figured it out, but I can see she is trying.  It's very much like teaching an active kindergartner that she has to raise her hand, wait to be called on THEN speak.  Repetition, repetition, repetition, with unwavering consistency. 

From the barnyard, we moved out to the perimeter trail again.  The obstacles inside the arena no longer bother her.  We met a few things that gave her a small start.  The clacking of the pedals on a golf cart, a cat darting across the trail, and a cyclist on the road.  Nothing to do for unexpected things like that but to always stay calm and balanced, before, during, and after they happen.  The main event of the day was a reminder to me that you should never plan your day around a horse's behavior.  We made two loops around the farm at various gaits, then I decided to call it a day.  Fortunately, I had no other pressing commitments that afternoon. 

When going back to the barn, I habitually ride back and forth past the driveway entrance, sometimes four or five times.  This is to reinforce that we don't just duck down the driveway whenever we pass it.  On our first pass at the top of the drive, Ginger decided that she was going home NOW.  And she let me know it with her patented left hand spin.  I kept her spinning, and came out of it aimed in the direction I wanted to go.  Ginger countered by spinning back toward the driveway.  I spun her several times in both directions.  By the time we were done dancing, we were well inside the driveway entrance.  I had her facing out, and cued her to walk forward.  She threw it in reverse and backed down the driveway as fast and straight as she walks forward.  I turned her around, and backed her in the opposite direction.  She knew what was going on, and didn't go as fast as before, though she did stay straight.  Back at the top of the drive, I turned her completely around a couple of times, left and right, just for general purposes.  Then I pushed her back onto the perimeter trail.  She fought that briefly, but a light tap of the reins on my boot top convinced her that this round was over.  I pushed her several yards past the point where she relented, then turned around to try again. 

When we reached the driveway again, Ginger renewed the battle.  She wasn't nearly as enthusiastic this time.  It only took a couple of turns in both directions to convince her to move past the drive.  Instead of turning back, we continued all the way around.  About halfway around, Ginger figured out what was going on, and gave a halfhearted protest.  Several tight turns in both directions convinced her to continue on.  As we approached the driveway again, I began looking for a way to end this fight on a positive note.  I stopped her at the driveway without turning into it.  Instead, we turned to the road, and stopped at the edge.  We paused there a while, then I turned her around and we walked calmly back to the barn. 

If I had allowed Ginger to win this contest of wills, I, or someone else, would have had twice the problem next time around.  We'll see how much of this she remembers next time up.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Rudeness (Ginger pt 1)

Ginger is the lowest ranking horse in the herd.  She is so timid that the others have hounded her through the fence.  She doesn't offer the least resistance to this treatment.  Fortunately, she stayed calm while we knocked the boards loose and untangled her.  She got out of what could have been a disaster with nothing more than a few scrapes.  I took her to the hitching rail to check her over, and noticed that she had absolutely no manners.  While being led, she wanders without regard to the human leading her.  she also walks faster than a human walks, and when corrected, swings around to face the person.  As I doctored her scrapes, I noticed that she would not stand still at the hitching rail.  Not trying to escape, but constantly moving, keeping an eye on everything around her.  I thought it might be because she had just been chased through a fence by her pasture mates.  I was told, and have since seen for myself, that this is her normal demeanor.  We separated her in a field with a horse who won't pick on her.  She is my next project. 

You never know how much credence to give to a new horse's back story.  I glean what I can from them, then deal with each horse as an individual.  As told to me, Ginger was professionally trained as a youngster.  She was ridden for a while.  Then, after spending a year or more in a pasture, was "tuned up" by a pro, and ridden for another short while.  This cycle seems to have been her life so far.  Long periods of languishing in a pasture, broken by short stints of professional training and light riding. 

She moves easily, with a smooth comfortable gait.  And, she works with a light bit, a short shanked snaffle that we call a "tom thumb".  We know some of her disadvantages.  Her poor manners, of course.  She is "light in the front end", meaning a tendency to rear when faced with uncertain situations.  She is also said to be "nervous" in traffic. 

There's an old saying I heard when I was a kid.  "The cure for most horse problems is wet saddle blankets."  Ginger's owner has three of us working with her.  Or job is to keep her saddle blankets good and sweaty.  In the process, we'll teach her some manners, get her to stay on the ground, and make her traffic safe. 

My first session with her began a few days later, I caught her up from the pasture and constantly worked the lead rope as we walked down the lane to the hitching rail.  She would move when I needed her to stand still, or wander when I needed her to walk by my shoulder.  I would shake the rope, tug it, or snap it.  Whatever the situation called for.  She wasn't completely sure what I wanted.  That will come with repetition. 

Halfway to the hitching rail, she spooked.  Another rider was free lunging her horse in the arena.  This involves some running around, kicking up heels, and changing directions.  Ginger didn't like it at all, and started dancing around, trying to get away from the scene.  Of course, I thought we should stand around and watch.  So we did.  After about a minute, she was standing still, but she still didn't like it.  We had more work to do, so we moved on. 

At the hitching rail, I gave her a good grooming and checked her for bruising and soreness from her encounter with the fence.  She seemed no worse for the experience, so I saddled her up.  The farm was bustling with activity.  Vehicles were moving, people were saddling up, and moving out for their afternoon rides.  Ginger was constantly moving, twisting, shifting, and in general, making it difficult for me to get the saddle square and tightened up.  The saddle wasn't her problem.  She wanted to keep an eye on all the activity around us.  I realized I had no effective way to correct her there.  Her head was tied to the hitching rail, and my hands were occupied with the saddle.  I wasn't going to ride her immediately, so I went with what I had, crooked saddle pad and all.  I put the bridle on her, and moved into the arena. 

Ginger continued her moving around, but now I had control of her head with the long reins.  She still didn't completely understand my signals, but it was obvious that she was thinking about them as I reset the saddle.  My next step was a technique called "sacking out".  It's an old cowboy method of getting a horse accustomed to things moving and flapping around it.  In the old days, an empty feed sack was used.  I tend to use an old saddle blanket.  I use this technique on young, or nervous horses.  My method is to first, fold the blanket up small and let the horse see and smell it.  Then, I rub it all over the horse as if I'm brushing it.  From there, I continue in the same manner, gradually opening up the blanket.  I open it a bit at a time, until the horse allows me to touch it anywhere, and flap it around myself and the horse.  If the horse gets nervous, or spooks, I back up to the last step, and work until the horse accepts it.  It was obvious that this was old hat to Ginger.  She stood calmly the whole time I was waving the blanket around, wrapping it around her legs, swinging it under her belly, and draping it over her head.  I tossed the blanket on the ground, and moved on to the next step. 

Sacking out is old hat to Ginger.

I stepped into the stirrup to mount, and Ginger continued to move around.  Nothing major, just little steps as I stepped into the saddle.  Then before I was settled in, she began walking off.  I used the verbal command "whoa" and pressure on the bit with the reins.  She still doesn't understand completely that I want her to stand perfectly still.  But, the firm "whoa" and equally firm rein pressure after I was up, was clear to her.  We did that drill several times, with similar results.  It will take more time and consistent repetition before it sinks in. 

We took a few turns around the arena, just to see what would happen.  We moved out at a walk.  I avoid letting a horse think that it should blast off at speed, as soon as a rider is seated.  There are a number of objects in this arena.  Barrels, poles, traffic cones and big PVC pipes are set up for various purposes.  We walked around by the rail without incident, then changed directions.  We had passed  the PVC pipes in the corner easily once.  Ginger didn't like them from the other direction.  There, I found out her favorite trick.  She sat back on her hocks, and spun out of there like a cowhorse.  Spinning to the left seems to be her preference.  I spun her completely around, and attempted to go past the pipes again.  She spun away again.  Since she wanted to spin, I just kept her going.  We'd spin around a few times, then head right back toward the pipes.  She eventually figured out that her spinning trick wasn't getting her out of the situation, and relented.  We took a couple more turns around the pipes and went back to the hitching rail. 

After untacking and a good brushing down, I led her back to her pasture.  I still needed to work with the lead rope to teach her that she's expected to walk quietly by my shoulder.  But, she still had another surprise for me.  When I opened the gate to let her into her pasture, she charged through it with no regard that I was standing there.  With a horse that I'm unsure of, I hold the lead rope sort of upside down.  the rope runs from the horse's head through the bottom of my fist, and out the top.  I cock my elbow toward the horse, giving me something of a bumper in case half a ton of beastie comes charging towards me.  With my elbow stuck out like that, Ginger, more or less, bumped me out of her way.  But, I still had the lead rope.  I gave it a jerk,  and she turned to face me.  I swung the free end of it in a figure eight around her head, and let her know in no uncertain terms that I didn't like what she had just done.  The whole thing only took a few seconds.  I gave her a firm "whoa", and began scratching her neck and ears.  She settled down immediately.  Then we tried going in and out of the gate again.  With constant motion on the lead rope to keep her attention on me, we calmly passed in and out of the gate a couple of times before I gave her some more scratching and turned her loose.  There's a lot more work to do.  We'll see how things develop.