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.


  1. Project Pony!! Congrats on your new girl. Can't wait to follow her progress.

    1. Thanks! I've had a few "what the heck was I thinking getting a baby" moments so far, but she is so much fun. Seeing that cute mug of hers every time I pull up doesn't hurt either.