Wednesday, May 29

A Mostly Blurry Pictures Betty Update

Even though the weather and an illness have kept me from getting out to see Betty as much as I'd like we are still making wonderful progress. We are doing so well, in fact, I've scheduled of Ferrier appointment for this Thursday.

Yesterday, it was really rainy so I decided to skip our normal work session in favor of a spa day. Since mostly spa day included standing around, I decided it was a good day to introduce tying.

After we conquered the obstacle of standing on the scary mats, Betty totally relaxed and went about doing her favorite thing... looking for something to eat.

Including coming all the way into the tack room with me. Her cookie search was not rewarded until she was back outside where a pony belongs!

Now that she was comfortable, it was time to tie her up.

While she nibbled from the planter, I trimmed her mane and tail, brushed them out, and used scissors to give her a bridle path.

Spa day was also a way to get her relaxed in the area where she will get her feet trimmed tomorrow.

So, we worked on holding her front feet between my knees like the farrier will. She did great and let me hold them for quite a while. She would occasionally struggle but quickly relaxed. Her balance has improved, and I think that makes it easier for her to relax.

Can't wait to get these bad boys fixed up! 

Wednesday, May 22

Betty Update 5/14-5/21

Betty has been settling in really nicely at her new place. Thursday, when I got there, she even greeted me at the gate with a nicker. I know it's just because I'm the one who brings the cookies, but it still makes me smile.

I had the company of my wonderful bf who agreed to take some video of our session.

Here's our warm up. I'm looking for consistent speed and level shoulders. She has a tendency to lean in towards me and also gets a little nervous when it comes to going between me and the arena panels. We did this both ways for as long as it took to get around the arena one time each way. Once she was settled, we worked on her feet. I reviewed our previous steps and worked on moving each hoof around into different positions. We are still working towards a hoof trim, and she gets closer to our goal every session. Her balance is improving to the point I feel she could hold them up long enough to be trimmed, but her confidence isn't quite there.

I introduced two new things during this session as well. First- Backing Up. When she is scared, Betty tends to raise her head and run backward. This muscle memory also shows up when I ask her to back up on the line. So, I broke it down into the two steps that I wanted. First, I would ask her to lower her head from pressure on the halter. Then, I would ask her to back keeping her neck and back relaxed. It took a few tries to get both pieces together, but we had a few good ones in a row.

Second- The Flag. As you can see, she did pretty fantastic. First I had her follow me around while I waved it around, then I progressed to having her stand still while I waved it around, and the final step was for her to stand still while I rubbed her all over with it. While I wouldn't call her relaxed, she did tolerate it really well, and that's the first step. For me, this work is about her making a decision to stand around when running away seems the better option. Relaxation will come with time, and we have plenty of that.

Saturday I only had a minute to stop by and give her some vitamins. She wasn't too sure about the new grain pan, but her desire for yummy pellets won out in the end.

Tuesday's session was a lot like last Thursday. We warmed up with our circles, reviewed leg handling and added holding her front legs between my knees for short periods of time. We worked on backing again, which she did amazingly well. She went from only one or two halting steps in our lest session, to doing three or four steps consistently soft. She even offered some steps after I stopped asking. I have to be careful with her, because she has a tendency to guess rather than waiting for me to ask for things, but I like to see her take a little initiative sometimes. I did more work with the flag this session, and I made sure to mix in lots of moving work to help keep her calm and focused. She was a significantly more unhappy about the flag on her right side than the left, so I spent a bit more time over there. By the end, we were back to where we were before with a higher degree of relaxation. So, success!

I also added some targeting work. For the unfamiliar, take a look over here. I decided to introduce the concept of targeting as a way to help her with picking up her feet into the forward position needed to go on a hoof stand. She was really resistant to the rope method I tried, so I'm choosing another tactic. I started by just touching her hoof with the target (my whip with a tennis ball on the end) and clicking; she caught on pretty quickly and only moved her foot away a few times. The next step was for her to move her foot to the flag. I don't want her to just go around stepping on things willy nilly, so I'm using a pull forward on the halter as a cue from the beginning with this. She showed me she had it by stomping firmly on the stick after the third or fourth repetition on each side. Smart girl. There were times when we stalled out, and, to create some momentum, I would just send her out and work her on a circle for a few minutes. This is where I like the mixture of clicker training and natural horsemanship methods. They both have a lot to offer, and they really can work well together. I think. At least so far. I'm having a lot of fun experimenting, in any case.

During our sessions, I'm trying to stick to the less is more mentality. When something is working, we move on. She is really smart, so the pace is fast and fun. I have to keep in mind that everything with her is work... even standing around getting scratches can be an exercise. Although, I did spend a few minutes Tuesday massaging from behind her ears up to her poll. She seemed to genuinely enjoy that and stretched her neck low to make is easy for me. What a great little horse.

Tuesday, May 14

Groundwork, Moving, and Goal Accomplishing Mega Update

I have been really good about getting out to see Betty, but I've been horrible about blogging. So here, in all its fascinating detail, is the recap. 

Saturday was our first day working on Goal #3- Plant the feet. I want to desensitize Betty to the point that she will stand still and relaxed while I walk around her doing any number of ridiculous things. 

I started by turning her loose in the arena to work a few of the kinks out. I was able to catch a little video of her "before" movement. 

When she got all the wiggles out we moved on to our desensitizing work. I got out the long rope and started swingin'. I decided to keep going with the clicker into this stage of the training. I've gone back and forth about using so many treats, but I'm really enjoying working with her using the clicker. It serves as a nice bookmark letting her know when she is on the right track and it's really working as a way to get her to check back in with me. When she gets nervous, she wants to run off and just keep going so nothing scary will happen. The clicker gives me a way to grab her attention and bring her back to me. I set up an easy question, when she gets the right answer, I click, and she walks over to me to get a treat. It's an easy way to reset a situation that isn't going in a productive way. If she ever gets rude or pushy, the treats go away for good. So far, though, she has been very respectful. She totally understands the system and doesn't try to mug for treats when she hasn't earned one. So I'm using the clicker and the approach and retreat method to introduce the concept that scary things can fly at her and not eat, maim, or kill her. By the end of our session, I was able to swing the rope, training stick, and the training stick with the string all over her and around her with only minimal wiggling around. We will need a few more sessions until I can walk around her swinging with her standing completely still and relaxed, but we are off to a great start. She definitely had a harder time with things happening up near her head and on the top of her rump; so, I will be putting some extra time into these areas. To address her head issue, I worked on asking her to lower her head when I put downward pressure on her lead rope. She has a tendency to raise her head and pull back in response to pressure on her halter, so I want to make sure she understands the concept of giving and gets more comfortable with things moving on her head before I teach her to tie. Overall, I was really pleased with our session. She seems to be retaining information very well, and she tries hard to do what I'm asking of her. She's also admitted she likes getting scratches on the neck and ear rubs. She'll be acting like the big pet that she is in no time. 

Sunday was mostly a day off for us. I did stop by and give her day 3 of her dewormer and spent a few minutes scratching all the loose hair off her neck. She is shedding out her scuzzy winter coat and growing a new beautiful, soft, coat. I can't wait to see how nice she'll look all shed out. 

Monday was a stormy, windy, ugly, day. It was also the day I'd planned to move Betty out to the new place. The rain was coming out sideways when we were trying to load her. After the last trip, Betty was none too sure about getting back into one of those metal contraptions. It took a few minutes and a few times halfway in and then back out, but then she loaded like a dream. It was only a short drive, but by the time we got there the rain had stopped. 

She will eventually be sharing space with a sweet gelding named, Z, but for now, they are going to get to know each other over the fence. She quickly settled in to graze and didn't even look up when I said goodbye. 

Which brings us to today, Tuesday. I only had a few minutes to stop by after work, but I was able to sneak in a quick training session. I was delighted that she stuck to our catching system in her new, bigger pasture. I'm nervous to announce Goal #1 as accomplished, but it's looking like she is willing to keep working on it even with more room to get away from me if she wants. I decided to keep it simple and review our work with her feet. She needed a little reminder on keeping her feet still when I rubbed her legs, but she remembered our previous lessons quickly and was very well behaved while I handled all four feet. I worked on getting her more comfortable with bringing her front feet forwards to continue preparing for her first real trim in a few weeks. I used a rope behind her pastern to encourage her to lift her leg forward and up. It only took a few repetitions for her to get the idea, and she lifted both front feet for me several times before we called it quits. 

Sunday, May 12

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Like most things in life, working with young horses has it's high points and its low points, and Friday Betty showed me both. We started the day off really well. She let me catch her no problem, and she was very well behaved for the farrier. She wasn't too sure about the different positions for holding, but she held it together long enough for him to trim off the worst of the excess from her front feet. I was really proud that can though she didn't understand, she tried to be obedient rather than looking for the nearest exit.
Edward had to be both patient and creative to get the job done.
I also gave her the first of a five dose deworming regimen, which she handled like a champ.  The weather has been beautiful here, and the bugs are out in full force. So, she also learned about wearing a fly mask. She doesn't seem to mind once it's on, but the process of putting the mask on will take a little bit longer for her to get comfortable with. She would still really like to run away any time that you bring your hand toward her head with something in it. I was so proud of her, and I really feel like we are making progress together.
Sporting her new mask. 

Training updates:
Goal #1, catching, is getting consistently better. She is now approaching me when I walk into her field, and she usually doesn't try to run away until I bring the halter up to put it on. Even this has improved, as now all the does is raise her head and try to turn away from me,  but, for the most part, she does not move her feet.

Goal #2, hoof trim, is starting to look attainable as well. We'll work a few more weeks holding her feet in the farrier positions before scheduling another appointment. Friday's appointment was a great lesson for her, and we were at least able to get the longest parts off so that she won't do any damage to her hooves.

And those were the high points of the day...

I teach lessons Fridays, and at the end of the night I decided to do another short session. "Just a few minutes to stretch her legs." I thought. HA! It all started off fairly well. She spooked a little when I undid the Velcro on her mask, but other than that I got her haltered without a snag. We went into the arena to work a bit, and I decided to review moving her hips away from a touch on her side. We had worked on this Thursday evening no problem, but, this time, it was a problem. I was standing on her left side, and as I touched her belly to ask her to move over, she pushed her shoulder into me, ran past, and kicked out as a final good bye. I got lucky, and she hit my elbow rather than my face, but the session had been thrown seriously off course. My effort to keep our sessions positive was abandoned for a quick "we don't kick people no matter how scared we are" lesson. This quick reprimand switched her into avoidance mode and led to her doing a lot of running backwards, and running around, and general scaredy cat behavior including spooking any time I walked from one side of her to the other.

These kind of setbacks are inevitable with a training horse, but they never stop being hard. It feels like a defeat, and my smarting elbow is a nagging reminder. I'm by no means discouraged, and our little hiccup Friday has helped me decide on our next goal.. I'm going to be doing some desensitizing a la Clinton Anderson. Rope, stick, flag... She's gonna stand still and deal with it all before I go back to working inside her bubble.

Goal #3- Plant the feet. I want to desensitize Betty to the point that she will stand still and relaxed while I walk around her doing any number of ridiculous things. We will start with swinging a rope around her and then at her body, and from there we will follow the same air space followed by touchings progress to the training stick with the string tied back, then with the string loose, and the final step for this goal will be to be able to swing a flag (or in my case a plastic bag tied to the end of a stick) on over or around any part of her body. I feel this is an important step for Betty because she's both sensitive and lazy. She has a high motivation to stand still, so this sort of work will hopefully help her learn to tune out "junk" signals that don't need to bother her. Plus, I really want to ingrain in her that when she is nervous, her feet should stay on the ground.

Thursday, May 9

Starting at the beginning...

My first horse, Mack. He is the sweetest guy. We both learned a lot from each other in our years together, and I'm so happy that his new owner keeps him at my barn so I get to see his sweet mug every time I go to the barn. He's turning thirteen next week, and it's been ten years since he became mine... but he's old news.

This is the new kid, Betty. She's a 5 year old rescue mare I met when I visited R.E.A.C.H. Equine Rescue a few weeks ago. She's cute, sweet, and a quick learner. I knew the first time I held her lead rope, she was gonna be my horse. Since there was already a trailer making the trip over here, it was an easy decision. She arrived on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, calmly unloaded from the trailer (her first trip in a straight load), and went about munching grass like she'd lived there her whole life. Her laid back approach to new things and her high level of food motivation have made our training sessions so far seem effortless.
Seriously, how could you not bring home a face like this??
Betty can be a bit hard to catch, and she's had only limited handling. So, she's pretty much a clean slate, and I'm starting her training at the very beginning. I have two immediate training goals that I've been working on for the past three days. 

The view you get most when trying to catch Betty. Not too bad...
Goal #1: Create a catching routine. Due to the difficulty catching her, folks at the rescue have had to employ tricks and bribes to get a halter on her.  Betty has become very wise to people's tricks and normally chooses to evade contact rather than interact. The most logical path from A to B, in this instance, seems to be clicker training. As I mentioned earlier, Miss Piggy loves food, and, as a bonus, she is willing to work for it. Because I will be moving her to a larger pasture soon, I need to get her on board with the idea that getting caught isn't such a bad thing. I'm taking things really slow and doing them in a consistent order to build her confidence that there won't be any surprises sneaking up on her. 

Our progress so far...
Day 1- We worked on charging the clicker by doing lots of click treat repetitions. This gave her a reason to be near me, but she was free to leave at any time. She learned she could earn a click and a treat by touching my hand with her nose. Once I felt she was confident with what the clicker was about, we moved on to putting on the halter. It took about ten minutes, but we laid the groundwork for her future routine. 

Day 2- We started our session remembering that she could touch my hand for a treat. It took a little bit longer to catch her, but because she wasn't able to run away in her small paddock, she looked for a better option. I would click if she turned to face me, and this made it easy to start the catching routine by letting her touch my hand for a treat. 

Day 3- Yesterday was a teaching day, so we did two short sessions in between lessons. The first was short and sweet. We got right down to the point, she let me catch her without any running off or other silliness, she earned a click and a treat at each point in the routine, and then I turned her loose and left her to graze. Our second session was very similar. She still has the urge to run away when I am slipping the halter over her ears, but she is doing much better about dealing with it while keeping her feet still. 

These feet need some work ASAP!
Goal #2: Get a hoof trim. Betty is a little behind on her hoof maintenance. Part of the reason is probably because she's not great about having her feet handled. This goes along with her general attitude that people are up to no good and should be avoided. The clicker is helping her find a reason to participate here, too, and I really hope to be able to get her front feed trimmed by the end of the week. Her hinds aren't as bad, and she also has a harder time holding them up; they may take a few more days before she's ready to have them trimmed.

Our progress so far...
Day 1- When we started, Betty wanted no part of me touching her legs. I used an approach and retreat method to get her more comfortable, and she was able to earn a click and treat by keeping her legs still while I handled them. We went from running in a circle every time I reached for a leg to standing calmly waiting for her treat while I ran my hands up and down all four legs. 

Day 2- We picked up right where we had left off the previous session. After a brief review of touching the all four legs, I added touching her hind legs with a training stick and swinging the string toward and around her legs. She quickly decided standing and eating treats was the best response to this situation as well. She also learned to pick up all four feet on command. Although, she was much more confident with the front feet; she even offered a little hangtime before putting them back down. 

Day 3- After a quick review of "stand still" and "pick up your feet", we advanced to the next step on the way to a farrier visit. By the end of our session, I was able to hold all four feet for at least a few seconds. From here, I'm hoping, we will be able to build the length of time holding her feet fairly quickly. We also did a lot of hanging around in the arena while lessons were going on. She seemed interested in the going's on, and she even snuggled a little while I sat on the rail and taught. 

I'm so excited to have a project pony. Feels like returning home. I'm excited to be going through the process again and looking for ways to do it better than I did last time. There will always be mistakes, and I'll always strive to be better. I think this mare has real promise, and I'm excited to help her shine.