Friday, May 31, 2013

Hard to Get (Tex, the Kentucky mountain horse 2)

I took Tex for a spin in the Pocahontas State Park late Saturday afternoon. He proved to be a solid trail horse. We negotiated traffic, herds of deer, creeks, wooden bridges, and fallen trees without a single problem. He’s been at the farm for a week now, getting settled into his new digs. He has demonstrated that he is hard to catch. So, he’s still in the “new guys corral” and not in the big field with the rest of the geldings. Another rider had worked with him earlier in the week. As predicted, she had trouble catching him. She finally caught him using what the boss called “that Parelli thing, where you chase them around the ring.” When I went to fetch him up, I could get close to him, but when I reached for him, he would bolt. I decided to try “that Parelli thing” myself.

The method is not unique to the Parelli program, it is used by many practitioners of natural horsemanship. It takes advantage of a horses natural instincts and social behavior. This technique uses how a horse sees itself in the herd hierarchy of the animals and people around it. In its’ simplest terms, the horse or human that can make another horse move, outranks that horse. It combines that with what a horse perceives as aggressive, friendly, or passive actions and positioning.

I started by taking up a passive position near the horse, or in country boy terms, “acting like I wasn’t up to nothing”. I stood sort of sideways to him, facing in the opposite direction from him. I fiddled with a handful of hay. I hoped this made it look like I wasn’t interested in him. He’d already shown that he was curious, but was mistrustful of bribes. I fiddled with my hay and slowly zigzagged towards him. I was careful not to face him, but kept him in my peripheral vision. If he took a step away from me, I took a step away from him, but continued zigzagging toward him. I eventually got by his shoulder, close enough to touch him. I kept a “friendly position, standing beside him facing the opposite direction, the way two horses stand when they’re scratching each other’s withers. I knew that if I reached for him, he would bolt, so I waited for him to reach his nose toward me. When he did, I put my hand toward his halter, and he took off.

This is where the running around part comes in. The concept is, that the one who can make the other one move has a higher rank in the herd. When Tex bolted, he didn’t run away, he just moved well out of my reach. The important thing here is that HE made that decision. In other words, Tex was controlling the movement. To change that, I swung the lead rope toward him to move him away from me. It didn’t matter which direction, or what gait, he was moving because I wanted him to. When he wanted to stop, I swung the rope faster and moved toward him to keep him moving. I pushed him around the fence line like that for several laps. When I wanted him to stop, I swung the rope forward of him, picked up a handful of hay, and began zigzagging toward him again.

The second round went about the same as the first, so I pushed him around the corral again. The third time, he allowed me to take him by the halter. Tex is a joy to ride, but we’ll need to work on the first step in that process.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rosie on the Trail and Tex, the Kentucky Mountain Horse

We took Rosie on the Amelia Springs trail ride. She did pretty well, for a youngster. I was very proud of her performance at mounting and dismounting. She did well in spite of all the excitement of a strange place, strange horses, and a big change in her routine. All weekend long, I mounted and dismounted from a block or the tailgate of my truck while Rosie stood quietly on a loose rein. She was obviously tired by the halfway point, so we took the short route back to camp from the lunch area. That way, she didn’t have to worry about keeping up with the rest of our group, and we walked a good bit of the way back.
Rosie and me at Amelia Springs
photo by
She was a bit nervous about being alone for a while, but she settled in as other riders overtook us. While all this was going on, the boss was in negotiations to buy another horse. We ended up bringing a Kentucky Mountain Horse named Tex home with us.

We had watched Tex perform on the trail and could see that he was an experienced and proven trail horse. I rode him for the first time the other day. Folks had told me he was hard to catch, and a little “jumpy”. I didn’t have to worry about catching him; the boss had left him in the stall for me, after feeding him. At the hitching rail, I could see what folks meant by “jumpy”. Tex was tense. He stood still, never offering to move or shy, but he flinched nearly every time I touched him with a brush or my hand. Tacking up was no problem. But, even though he accepted the bit, he kept his head high while I bridled him.

He was obedient, but stayed tense as I led him to the arena to mount up. We knew he was a good riding horse, we had seen him working on the trail. Still, his body language had me half expecting him to shoot to the moon when I mounted. But he stood still. He did move off before I got my right foot in the stirrup, but it was a simple thing to stop him and get situated. Once we started moving, I found Tex to be a dream to ride. He neck reins, he stops on command, he has a range of comfortable gaits. We’ll work with him some more and see what develops.

Tex, relaxed and all business under saddle.
photo by Debra Wood Ferguson

Monday, May 20, 2013

Keeping track of the horses

I've made a minor change in the blog.  Some folks have said they would like to be able to track the progress of the individual horses as they read.  So, I  added each horse's name and part 1, 2, or 3, as the case may be to each title.  It starts way down at the bottom of the sidebar on the left with "Dandy's First Ride".

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rosie part 3

The third time up on Rosie was a very successful session. I’m working to make sure she will stand to be mounted using a mounting block. We started just like the day before. I groomed her on a loose lead line, again using the mounting block. I kept her on a loose line while tacking up as well. She has done so well standing on a loose line that I took a chance when I went to get the block for mounting up. I hooked the reins over the saddle horn, leaving plenty of slack in them. I also draped the long lead line over the horn. I repeated the command of “whoa”, and walked over to get the block. Rosie stood perfectly still while I picked up the block and brought it to her side.

The other times I have ridden her, Rosie has moved around some before I got well settled into the saddle. In reviewing the previous sessions, I realized that I might have caused some of the movement myself. Rosie has only recently been introduced to the bit. I’m using a short-shanked “tom thumb” bit on her. I use a very light touch on the reins, and I can tell that her mouth is soft and responsive. When mounting, I’ve gathered the reins somewhat close so I could be prepared to stop her if she moved off. It’s entirely possible that there was an increase in tension on the reins, probably on the off side, as I mounted. Rosie could have interpreted that as a command from me, or simply shifted her position to relieve the pressure.

This time, I left the reins and lead rope on the saddle horn and grabbed a handful of mane for support. I’ve had success with this tactic before with a horse named Hawk. It worked with Rosie as well. She didn’t move at all. I mounted and dismounted from both sides a couple of times, then moved into the arena.

Rosie has the mounting block down pat.
Photo by Debra Wood Ferguson

I led Rosie and carried the mounting block with us. I left the gate open and moved to the center of the ring. There, I tossed the block out in front of us, letting it bounce around. Rosie wasn’t fazed. I hooked the reins and lead rope over the saddle horn again and gave the command “whoa”. I went back to the gate and closed it. Rose stood there where I left her. She did try to take a step toward me when I started back towards her. Another “whoa” stopped her. She stood there while I retrieved the mounting block and rolled it noisily toward her with my foot. Once again, I mounted and dismounted from both sides. This time, I bounced and rolled the mounting block under her belly when I changed sides. No problems from Rosie.

Rosie, patiently waiting
Photo by Debra Wood Ferguson
I figured that she had the mounting block aspect down pat, so we took a couple of turns around the arena to break the monotony. We stopped parallel to the board fence, and I dismounted and mounted using the fence a couple of times. Then we went around the arena and did it again in the opposite direction. I took her out to the barnyard and tried a few different things. We mounted and dismounted using the well cap, the fender of a horse trailer, the floor of a flatbed trailer, and the tailgate of my pickup truck. Rosie handled it all.

I can’t take full credit for all this success. Rosie had a good start with a gentle trainer. She trusts her rider implicitly. She still has more to learn. She doesn’t know backing yet, and has a lot of work to do on her turns. But the parking brake works pretty good.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rosie part 2

It’s been rainy and sloppy here, but the other day, I got back to work with Rosie, the 3 year old walking horse. I’ve been tasked to teach her to mount using a mounting block. A mounting block is a platform used to mount an exceptionally tall horse, or to assist riders who have difficulty getting a foot up to the stirrup. Sometimes they are permanent platforms with safety ramps and rails. Usually, they are lightweight, portable steps. The one I’m using is the lightweight, portable variety.

Marlyn using a mounting block on a horse named Pepper
I started by grooming Rosie without tying her to the hitching rail. I simply gave the command “whoa” and held her with a lot of slack in a long lead rope. I worked my way around her with the brush. When she tried to move, I repeated the command and reinforced it with a tug on the lead rope. It didn’t take long before she stood quietly on a slack rope while I moved all around her. Once she had that mastered, I picked up the mounting block and casually moved around her with it. I let her sniff at it to satisfy her curiosity. Then, I set it on the ground beside her. I continued brushing her then stepped onto the block and brushed her back. I draped myself over her and brushed the opposite side. Then, I did the same on the other side. Rosie never moved.

I kept her on the loose lead to saddle up. Someone was using the arena, so we stayed in the open area by the hitching rail and horse trailers to mount up. Once again, without tying to the rail, I casually set the block beside her. I mounted and dismounted a few times. The first time I had ridden her, I noticed that she had the habit of trying to walk off once I was in the saddle, but before I was settled in. I had to gather up the reins and stop her while I got my right foot in the stirrup. She did this a couple of times with the mounting block. She even bumped it with her foot a time or two. But she stood still while I got on and didn’t spook when she bumped the block. That was good.

I moved the block around to the other side and mounted and dismounted on her right side. Many horses aren’t trained to do this. The unfamiliar position could cause a horse to shy or spook. You can’t carry a mounting block on the trail with you. A person who needs assistance mounting needs to be able to use whatever might be naturally available. This could be a tree stump, a rock, or a dirt bank. You may have no control over which direction you can face the horse to utilize it. I want Rosie to accept being mounted from either side.

We did the same up and down drill several times from both sides in a few different places in the barnyard. After a half hour or so, I could slide the block underneath her from one side to the other before mounting. We finished up with that success.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rosie Part 1

I’m mounted up again after a long winter hiatus from horse work. I haven’t been idle though. My wife, Marlyn and I spent part of the winter getting some things accomplished on our ranch property in the Philippines. If you’d like, you can read about that here on my other page, “Random Notes From the Road”.

My first project this season is a 3-year-old blue roan walking horse named Rosie. Most of my other projects have been older horses. Some are new arrivals at the farm that just need the kinks ridden out of them before they settle in to their new routine. Others have developed a bad habit or two and need to be reminded that they need to behave, even for novice riders. At only three years old, Rosie is a clean slate. She has had a good start. She’ll stand quietly for grooming, tacking up, and mounting. She’ll move out, stop, and change gaits, but needs work on her turns.

I worked her for a short time in the arena. With nearly all my project horses, but especially the youngsters, I start with sacking out. I still do it old style with an old saddle blanket. It only took a couple of minutes to see that Rosie had already been through this aspect of training. She stood calmly while I moved the blanket all around her legs, belly, and head. I did the same from the saddle with no problems. From there, we went on a short trail ride with a couple of other folks. Rosie did just fine crossing creeks and wooden bridges. She shied once at a herd of deer, but I made her stand and watch them bound off into the woods. The few times she has shied at anything, she’s settled right back down.

Rosie, on the trail.  That's us on the right.
 When we got back to the farm, the boss asked if I could train her to be mounted using a mounting block. He has a customer interested in Rosie, and that’s one of the specifications. So, in addition to the usual on the job training, a 3 year old gets, Rosie will spend a lot of time mounting and dismounting with a block in different places.