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.

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