Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fun With the Boy

Brandon & Jewel, circa winter 2010

I can't believe I took NO pictures today!  Well, this photo is from the last time my son Brandon (now 20) came to the farm with me, probably 2 1/2 to 3 years ago.  He's since moved out to go to college, but he came to hang out with me today and ultimately we decided to go hang with the horses.

We couldn't find them when we got there, so we figured maybe they were in the woods, and took a hike.  We found them deep in the woods, in the clearing by the river.  It's kind of funny because when I first got Abbey she wouldn't voluntarily go into the woods much at all.

I coaxed them to follow me through the woods so they joined us on our hike... walking in the woods with a string of horses behind you, loose, is kind of fun!  We usually walk on the trail, which is paved with gravel, but the horses don't care much for walking on that so they showed us the cow path, a way through the woods I've never taken, stopping and giving us confused looks when we took the wrong fork - I'm constantly amazed at what horses will tell you about if you give them freedom and the opportunity, and consider their ideas as valid as yours!

One thing is for sure, walking through the woods with my horses makes me reaaaallly want to ride through the woods.

Then we got back, I fed them, and asked Bran if he'd like to try riding.  He's been on a horse only a handful of times, and Storm is pretty sensitive, but I was pretty sure she'd be a good girl.  I kept her on a lead rope, just in case - I certainly don't need to be responsible for any more riding accidents.

She did basically what she did the last time I got on her - stood rooted in place and had to be coaxed to move.  Bran's not a super balanced rider, not having ridden much, and it was pretty plain to me watching from the ground that my hunt seat saddle wasn't helping either of them (frankly I think it was causing the balance issues).  Also, she kept balking again, and every so often she'd reach around and touch her nose to near the girth, so...   

I think the saddle is really bothering her, or possibly just the girth.  Gonna try a mohair girth on it, but my anniversary/Christmas wish is either a good bareback pad or possibly a Barefoot treeless saddle, with a mohair girth. And a bitless bridle.  Meanwhile... I may try riding entirely bareback to see if she acts differently, or maybe try Russ's saddle on her.

Besides not really wanting to go, she was great for him, because she always is.  I love my pony, and Bran had a great time too.  <3   Thanks for being awesome, Stormie.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Personal Space

When I first got to the farm, I couldn't find the horses, so I figured they were probably in the woods.  I heard them a few times as I took my walk (I figured what the heck, I love walking in the woods and I can use the exercise).  I think they thought I was stalking them, and I suppose in reality, I was.

So they ran out of the woods and led me a merry chase and when I came back to the pasture, there they were.  Jewel:  What are you doing?

Abbey and Storm:  Where have you been!  We've been waiting for breakfast.  (as you can see, Abbey does not really need any breakfast).  She gave me a little nicker when I showed up, though, which she does not generally do, and it made me smile.

She wanted to hog me again today and drive off anyone else who was going to get any treats, so with her I worked on the "You stand over there, I'm talking to Storm now" game.  (she got clicked and treated for standing a respectful distance away and 'supervising')

I also played with Jewel some more.  Game One:  You do not poke me or my pockets for treats. When you back off and don't shove your nose at me, you get goodies.

But heyyyy, look at THIS!   Vee (you can see the winged V on her forehead really clearly here!) was VERY interested in the fact that I am giving out goodies to someone other than "my" horses.  I tossed a treat at her and for the first time she picked it up and ate it (with the head-bobby nomnomnom that's good! action).  And then she was extra extra interested in what Jewel was getting, come up very close to me, but she wouldn't take anything out of my hand. Yes, that is Jewel's nosey nose in this picture, and the photo quality for both of these is terrible because someone was investigating my phone/camera - pokepokepoke.   Back OFF!  Good girl.

Vee was even relaxed enough to make silly faces.  THIS IS HUGE PROGRESS WITH HER!

So then I fed everyone their ridiculously tiny amount of grain (seriously, no one needs it, especially with all the trick or treating).  And Storm and I played Game One (stop nosing my pockets! and step back...) because she is getting a little pushy and spoiled.  I put a neck rope on her and started giving her some cues with that:  turn toward me, and back.  Then, I started teaching her to Walk On (this is a lunge command that both my horses know, but we have never free-lunged).  She really, really did not get it and she acts sometimes like her feet have roots.  I'm not sure if this is an unconfidence thing, or what.  I got her moving off going to my left without too much problem but she was majorly stuck going to the right - soreness thing, or something about my cue?   When she finally walked off toward the right, I gave her the magic peppermint and we called it a day.

Abbey, I thought I'd try the beginnings of free-lunging with her, and she was like, "Oh, right.  Okay." and she moved off and got clicked and rewarded.  That was all.  We are going to keep things interesting for Ms. Smarty Pants.

All in all, a gorgeous fall day and walking through the woods I couldn't help but think, I want to ride!!!!!!!    Maybe soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Human!

Rainy day, but I took advantage of a lull in it to go see the girls.  I didn't do much very serious... started teaching The Boss Mare a new trick (back up by the tail hairs... she pretty much gets it already after like six repetitions), then I gave her a bit of a massage, which I have wanted to do for a while.  

Vee is getting closer and closer to me.  Before, if I would focus on her and offer her a treat, she would actually retreat.  Now she stands and looks at me and I can see the wheels turning.  And, when I am feeding, she will come right up beside me and I can even feed her out of my hand sometimes.

After the massage Abbey decided Okay, I don't want to share you with anyone else.  She tolerates when I do stuff with Storm, sometimes supervising, sometimes going off to do her own thing.  But I kind of made the rounds today and asked Jewel to back up and yield her hindquarters, then I clicked/treated Jewel, and Abbey was like OH HECK NO!   and came and drove Jewel off.  She drove Vee off before she could really think about coming to me, too.

I had to kind of show her that I can and will play with the other horses too, but she is the boss and they sure get out of the way fast when she flattens those ears!  But, the focus was mostly on her today.

Which is exactly how she likes it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gorgeous First Fall Day

What a beautiful day!  It would have been a crime to spend it inside but I did spend most of it inside  :( But, this evening Russ and I went to visit the horses.  I got him to take a picture of me with both girls, because I realized I don't have a single picture of the three of us.

Storm is poking my pocket with her nose to see if it crinkles.  She's generally not rude (I won't say never) about it, but she likes to be apprised of what her potential rewards are.  And crinkles (peppermints) are the BEST.

I groomed them a little.  I got tired of pushing Jewel away because she has no respect for personal space, especially if there is something to play with, so eventually I just let her play.  She pulled one thing out after another, moved it around in her mouth, dropped it, then dumped the entire grooming bag.  Then she found the Absorbine.  Peuuuuu!   She is the silliest horse ever.

Then, I walked to the back part of the field, and Storm followed.  I ran around her some.  She doesn't get it, although they were all pretty eager to run today.  After we were done grooming, they all ran from the back field to the front, tails flying - they all ran to the big field except Abbey, who had been promised a peppermint in exchange for letting me put roll-on fly stuff on her face (I do this with no halters on, which impresses me... the stuff smells funny and they don't like it, but they let me do it).

Since the other horses were running, I tried to goad Abbey into running but she stood and looked at me.  So I ran out into the field, lured Storm, and she followed, but when I ran she got confused.  What are you doing?  What do you want?  At that point Abbey came trotting into the big field and I was pretty sure she was catching on, so I circled around and ran toward her, and she gave me a gorgeous head arched, tail floating canter, then gallop... wow!  "See I can run... when I want to."  I need a picture of that!

Then when she reached the rest of the herd she turned around to look at me, and was licking her lips. Yeah, she's getting the idea.  And once she does, they others will.

How to Play With Humans 101.   We're learning.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Eva Roemaat's First Tutorial

I can't wait to see more of these.  I love watching her with Shilas & Flip.  Do check out her YouTube channel!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Play with Me

I walked away from Storm, deeper into the back field, half turned toward her, snapping my fingers (which means "come"), hoping I was being inviting.  Then I ran, circling around her, and dodging toward her occasionally.  She stood and watched.  When she came toward me, I clicked and rewarded her.  Eventually she followed me around, I even got a few trot steps out of her, but she clearly didn't know what I was doing or what I wanted.  

Meanwhile my husband was trying to teach Abbey to come to him when he stood with his hands behind his back.  She saw Storm getting clicked and treated and was interested.  So I took a running step toward Abbey.  She startled and dodged away, and I took the pressure off and walked away.  I did that three or four times, moving her back further into the field, but then the herd ran off around the other side of the barn, and Abbey - eyeing me as if I was clearly insane - circled me and charged off after them at a gallop (I was not forcing her to participate in any way).


There is method to my madness.  I am trying to engage them and get them to play with me.  I don't really know what I'm doing, but I expect them to teach me.  There were a few times after I engaged Abbey that I got her lovely, neck-arched, floating trot out of her.  And then she galloped.

You have to understand, tubby Abbey does not gallop for no reason.  Abbey isn't really all that into moving around unless there's something to be afraid of.  You also have to understand the evil, evil looks she gives me if I lunge her.  She is the smartest horse I ever met and she does not appreciate being forced to run in circles.

But she might appreciate playing.   I figure, if I can get her to enjoy a little game of dodge-horse, I can run some weight off her (and me!) without it seeming awful for either one of us.

Interestingly, Vee was very interested in my game.  When I was playing with Storm, she followed us, and then she sort of followed me (at a safe distance, of course).  This is a horse no one can currently touch, but she very obviously wants to connect with me.  And I very definitely want to connect with her.  I'm hoping that with my unconventional "training" methods, it might happen.

I have seen people do this game with a whip, but I had no whip.  I don't need one.  Abbey is very uncomfortable around them (we have desensitized her but she has given me very clear messages on this score in the past) and I suspect that the increased pressure would just send Storm into her happy place.

When I came back around the barn, all four of them were standing there waiting for me rather than retreating to the big field they usually hang out in, looking at me with ears pricked.  What's that crazy human going to do next?

I rubbed on everyone I could rub on, played with a feed sack for a little while, handed out goodbye peppermints, and we went home.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Red Chair

I haven't been to the farm in almost two weeks.  I've been super busy with craft shows, a 30-day painting challenge, and life.  I'm trying to paint or make art everyday.

So I took my sketchbook (sketch photos to come) to the farm and set up a red lawn chair in the middle of the field and sketched the horses in the distance and this gorgeous place they are privileged to live in and where I am privileged to spend time with them.

Storm noticed me first.  She took a few looks and went back to grazing - not the lead mare.  Of course, when Abbey noticed, it was pretty important to check out what the heck this foreign shape and bright red thing in the middle of her field were.  She came... at a gallop, which is really interesting, considering she doesn't EVER run unless she thinks it's pretty important (which you can kind of tell by the fact that she looks like she's pregnant in this photo... she's not).

She went wide around me to scope it out, while I was talking to her and telling her it was me, but didn't get up.  Note the more relaxed expression as compared to the above photo.

And here my little herd displays the four "horsenalities" (Parelli) to a "T."

Abbey (the butt in this photo) came over and assured herself that I and the chair were not dangerous, then went back to grazing but keeping a careful eye on me.  She is lead mare and takes it very seriously.  She is also a Left Brained Introvert (read:  too smart for her own good).  She was probably also calculating how to disassemble the chair.

Jewel (the paint, not mine) was DEFINITELY calculating how to disassemble the chair, but her style of doing so was totally different.  As a Left Brained Extrovert (read:  into everything, a troublemaker), she marched up, honk-snorted a few times, saw that nothing was eating her, then came over and proceeded to chew on it and me.  I then pushed her out of my space but you can see the look on her face:  "Can I come back?  Can I mouth it?  Can I play with it?  Wanna help?"

Storm, my grey Arab, is a Right Brained Introvert (read:  shy).  SHe is not sure about this situation and is letting the left-brainers scope it out while she adopts her classic pose that means "I'm in my happy place, I'll check back in when I'm a little more confident."  I'm SO glad I've learned to recognize this... it's the key to working with an RBI.

V (the black, not mine) you can barely see behind Jewel's big head.  She is a Right Brained Extrovert (read:  if I'm unconfident, which is most of the time, my feet are moving... and if you try to stop me there'll be trouble).  She is all but untouchable and I'd have been shocked if she wanted to do more than look at the chair from this distance.  She doesn't trust human stuff.  Or humans, for that matter.

Jewel then decided to behave herself and graze nearby.  You can see Storm behind her cautiously checking things out from a distance and with a horse between her and the scary thing.  V uses this tactic as well, but makes a general practice of it.  She will often herd Jewel over to me so she can see what's going on, but from the safety of the other side of another horse.

Pretty soon Storm assured herself that neither I nor the chair were monsters, so she wandered over, nose the chair a bit (for which she was rewarded with carrots and scritches).  However, I noticed that her jaw was still really tight... another sign that she's still not all that sure about things.

Isn't she gorgeous, by the way?  I love mornings and I love my horses, and the two together are pure magic.

The more she nosed and investigated the more I rewarded, which turned into a scraching session, which relaxed her a good deal  She then moved around me a little, checked out the chair from the back, and finally seemed pretty comfortable.  Enough to pose with me :)

When Storm wandered away to graze, Abbey came and licked me a bunch.  I knew what she and Jewel wanted, and I also knew Jewel would go first.  They wanted to investigate.   I'm going to have to get Jewel some indestructible things we can play with... but after she attempted to remove parts of the chair I had to distract her.

Which was when Abbey moved in.  She sniffed it, nosed it, then collapsed it.  Stuck her nose into parts of it, nibbled, picked it up by the fabric, then wanted to know what would happen if she pawed it with a hoof.

At that point I picked up my chair and we headed to the barn for their grain.  I didn't get pics of the clicker stuff we did, cause it was just me today.  I am teaching Abbey to bow.  I'm not sure who's teaching whom, though.  My initial idea was to tap her foreleg gently with a whip until she was irritated enough to pick it up, then click/treat.

No, she said.  Carrots, not sticks.  She already knows that when I snap my fingers she's supposed to touch my hand, wherever it might be.  So I'm holding my hand down between her forelegs and snapping.  SHe touches, gets click/treat.  Then I lifted her leg and targeted her between her knees, which she did with no problem.  Today she is leaning her weight way back over her hindquarters to target, which is progress.  

I also decided that I want to use a neck-rope on them, and I started teaching both of them to walk their heads into it while I hold it, and made some progress on that front (although Ab thought I wanted her to touch the hand holding the top of the rope).  

I want the neck-rope to be a signal that we are going to do some things together, and I want them to have the opportunity to turn away and say, "No thanks, I think I'll graze today, or maybe we can just hang out."  

I suspect I'll be able to teach Abbey to pick it up off the ground and put it on herself, eventually, if I use stiff enough rope.  She's that smart, and that motivated to do things, if there are treats involved.