Monday, July 1

Betty Update: June Summary

Wow! I can't believe June is gone already. It's been a full month with 4H season in full swing. Sadly, this means Betty has been doing lots of standing around mowing pasture. I'm happy to say, though our sessions are few and far between, we continue to progress. 

Below are a few posts that I had waiting as drafts to be edited and posted. I procrastinated too long and now it seems a little silly to post them on their own. So you get them all together. 

6/2: I only had time for a quick session. I brought her down to the barn, tied her up, and picked her feet.  Then we worked on holding her feet in the farrier positions and tapping/filing gently with a rasp. This will help get her ready for shoes to be nailed on. She was really good, but several times she declined my offer of treats. This has been happening lately, and I'm going to add timothy pellets for variety to suss out whether its the treats themselves or the process she is rejecting. 

Tonight was her first night together in the pasture with Z. I was ready for some running and tomfoolery when I opened the gate between their two pastures, but they just trotted together over to a grass patch and began grazing like they'd been together forever.

6/3: As I feared, Betty avoided me at catching time. I knew this would probably happen when she had a buddy to hide behind, as that was her favorite tactic in the pasture at the rescue. Since I had an extra pair of hands, I asked my trusty sidekick to catch Z. With the ability to use him to avoid me removed, she only walked away about 15 yards before turning around and approaching me for her treat.

In our groundwork, I was looking for more balanced trot in her circles, and she did very well. She tends to be more stiff when travelling to the right, so I occasionally ask her to yield her hips for a step to get her reaching her right hind deeper under her body and closer to her midline. As a way of reinforcing this, I asked for a lot of yielding her hindquarters from a standstill as well. Because she has been doing this one for a while, I asked for a little more refinement and precision. She's getting more consistent at crossing her hind legs while keeping her front end still, but she does have a tendency to want to walk forward rather than pivot. As she gets more flexible, I will continue to raise the precision that I require from her.

I also worked on the Landslide Exercise (back 4 steps, 90 degree turn on the haunch, sidepass 4 steps, 90 degree turn on the forehand, back 4 steps) from both sides. She was having trouble with the sidepass, which is the most recent step she has learned; so, we worked on this one both directions with her standing perpendicular to the fence. This helped her see clearly what her options were, and she greatly improved in only a few passes. We will need to continue to work on calmness as she tends to want to rush through her maneuvers, and she goes to the right much better than to the left. I need to be sure to pause between each step of the exercise to give both of us time to get organized for the next step.

I reviewed targeting the feet for a few minutes, but she doesn't seem to be enjoying that particular exercise. I think it's hard for her to lift her leg forward, which is why I chose this method in the first place. I think I'm going to put that one on hold for a while, and I will re approach the issue when she is better balanced. While it would be convenient for her to know it now, she really doesn't need it until she has to hold her foot on a hoof stand for shoes.

Today was also the day I introduced her to the saddle blanket. As with most things that aren't person related, Betty didn't care about it one bit. In this instance, a picture is worth a thousand words...

She also wore it over her back while walking and trotting some circles. Since the session was going to well, I also introduced the concept of approaching me at the mounting block. She wasn't too sure at the beginning, her hardest training moments involve her having to move near my bubble. She is OK with me being near if she can be still, but when she has to move in close proximity to me, she still gets a little tense and rushy. She caught on quickly to the concept, and I was very proud of our first session on it.

6/10: Continuing with my goal of getting Betty more comfortable moving closer to me, we worked on showmanship. She is already fairly maneuverable in hand from all the groundwork we've been doing, but she is really uncomfortable trotting in hand. To slowly ease her into it, we started with her trotting a circle about 8ft wider than I was jogging. I adjusted my speed and direction to keep her aligned approximately in the position I want her to be in when she is closer to me, but I allowed anywhere from a foot in front of to a foot behind my shoulder. When she got too fast, a quick turn brought her back into an ideal position. She rarely went too slow, but if she did, I would slow down my pace to match. As she became more comfortable, I reeled in more and more slack from the line. We ended up doing walk trot transitions with about three feet of rope between us. We had some good moments and some not so good moments, but she was really trying to figure out what I wanted. At the end of our session, I introduced the first step of setting up for showmanship. I used the clicker to reward her for standing squarely with weight on all four feet. The addition of variety of treats seems to have revived her interest in treats (and the clicker), but she does still occasionally pass on them. I've been wondering how far I would take the clicker into the training process, but it's starting to look like we will leave it behind sooner rather than later. We'll see how the next several sessions progress.

6/22: This was our first session that I left my clicker in the tack room. Her declining interest in receiving treats but not in the work itself led me to believe it was time to let it go.  We worked on more traditional lunging work; she seemed to like the more relaxed pace of working one direction and then the other. I worked her at each gait changing directions before moving faster. She is really improving in her balance and getting a more regular cadence to her work. My boyfriend was along so he was able to take some video.

You can see she is getting much more relaxed about pretty much everything. We also reviewed her showmanship moves. I've added in trot to halt transitions, and, while she still doesn't love it, she is getting much more comfortable moving next to me with only about 18" of slack in her lead. Today was her first introduction to pressure around her stomach, a vital step in preparing her for a riding career. This video was our first attempt...

I couldn't be happier with how she responded! That cool as a cucumber quality is one of the reasons I was drawn to her. I think she is going to be a rock solid horse. After this session, I think I'm ditching the clicker for our regular sessions. I'm sure it will come in handy for occasional things. I find it awesome for motivating a horse and for clarifying ground work where our cues are more difficult for horses to interpret, but, now that Betty has overcome her suspicion of me, I think I can treat her more like a "normal" horse and progress our training in my usual way.


In between these sessions were some ho-hum, run of the mill ones. I wanted to focus on her fitness and moving in balance to best prepare her for being ridden, so we spent a lot of time trotting circles and changing directions. After her one night of rebellion, she has remained catchable. She willingly walks up to me in the pasture 90% of the time. She still has her occasional moments of avoidance but they are becoming less frequent.
Our showmanship is getting much better. So much so, that I've declared Goal #4: Go to a show. I'm planning on taking her to the S.A.F.E. Benefit Horse Show August 3rd and 4th. If she is exceptionally laid back about her new surroundings, I may show her in showmanship and trail in hand. As of now, the plan is just to get her out to see the world. I'll be showing her pasture buddy, Z, in some western classes, so she will have a battle buddy there to reassure her.

In the last month's sessions, I've been laying the very early foundation of her riding career. She is gaining confidence with each session, and I'm starting to feel like riding her is approaching faster than I thought it would. To that end, I will continue refining the movements that have already been introduced, while adding new elements that will continually build towards my first step in the saddle. The first one, Goal #5: Carry a saddle, should be uneventful. She has already worn the blanket and had pressure around her middle, but saddles have flapping stirrups and a stiff feel on her back that may inspire some excited behavior. I'm excited to see how she handles this new element.

Month End Goal Recap:
Goal #5: Carry a saddle.
Goal #4: Go to a show.
Goal #3: Plant the feet. - Accomplished!
Goal #2: Get a hoof trim. -Accomplished!
Goal #1: Create a catching routine. -Accomplished! 

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