Oct. 2004 -- Fledgling steps

October 1 , 2004

Queen Quincy doesn't seem to be queen anymore, which really surprises me. Jay and I witnessed a minor skirmish last night and were surprised when she backed down. Today I haven't even seen skirmishes, per se. Both Guinevere and Blue, but most especially Guin, have been laying back their ears and moving her around the paddock at will.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. If she had a buddy, I wouldn't mind it, but she doesn't. I don't want her to be lonely and picked on. I also worry that they won't let her get enough to eat and drink. Am I just worrying too much? She's been here only 24 hours, after all.

I'm still learning to work with the horses, trying to figure out the best way to get the horses into their stalls and between the two paddocks. The paddock has direct access to the barn aisle, so if the door is open for me to walk one horse in, the others can follow. This is fine if they get along, but they lay back their ears and threaten to kick pretty frequently. The fronts of the stalls don't go up very high either, which means a passing horse can either harrass or be harrassed by a horse in a stall. I really don't want to get hurt, even unintentionally.

A couple of times I felt intimidated today because I got "trapped" in the aisleway by the horses. I wasn't really trapped, but I was feeling overwhelmed. I didn't panic though. I just stopped and thought about how Sue and Rachel, the horses' previous owners, interacted with them. They weren't afraid -- they just insisted that the horses get out of their space and expected results. So I pretended to be confident, and the horses responded accordingly. Good lessons, both about my own presence and expectations and about allowing the horses to control the barn space.

All three horses are very sweet with me when they're by themselves, but they immediately put their ears back and begin posturing if another horse comes anywhere near.

I did better when I fed them dinner. I got them in one at a time without allowing the others to barge in and interfere. Quincy and Blue went in without halters. Guinevere wouldn't. I considered bribing her with grain, but decided that was not the right message to send. So I put on her halter and took her to her stall -- she went willingly in the halter -- and then rewarded them all with their dinner.

While they ate, I picked out the paddock, refilled the water buckets, and put out piles of grass hay (a routine I plan to follow morning and night). Out of curiosity, how do people have time to ride and train and have fun with their horses? By the time I finish doing all the chores, I'm out of time!

I made sure Quincy had a good, nutrient-rich dinner and plenty of time to eat it. She was still eating when I finished my chores, so I spent some time brushing each horse's mane. When she finished, I took her out in her halter, and then released the others one at a time. I wanted Quincy out first, so she wouldn't get trapped in the barn if the others didn't go far enough away from the door.

I think I know what I'm going to do to enable myself to work with the horse's individually without being molested by the others. However this weekend isn't a good time for me to experiment. Jay and I have some other obligations. I'm afraid I won't get to see the horses very much for the next couple of days!

October 4, 2004

I had a bad day and a good day this weekend.

Jay had a party on Sunday. When we moved into this house, we had planned to have several housewarming parties. We had one small one, but then we got busy, and the others never materialized. Jay really wanted to invite some of his friends out, however, and this weekend was likely the last good weather we'll have this fall. (And it was GORGEOUS.) So I agreed to have the party even though I knew I had way too much happening to deal with getting ready for it.

It wasn't just things that I had to "do" -- I knew this would be a critical time with the horses. I know from experience that when I get a new pet -- a new animal that doesn't know me or my routines, who hasn't settled in, who doesn't "speak English," who hasn't bonded with me -- I am generally overwhelmed for a few days. "What was I thinking? This was a huge mistake. I should just ask the breeder to take the animal back." The feeling peaks after a few days, and then it gets better and better and better until I can't imagine life without that animal.

This time I got THREE new animals, and they were animals of a species I'm not used to. I knew it was going to be hard and stressful. Agreeing to a party this weekend was foolish and not fair to my husband.

Saturday was awful. I was so frustrated with the horses, because I felt like they couldn't care less about me. I was interesting if I was bringing hay into the paddock, but otherwise they ignored me. Of course, I was in a horrible mood. Gee, can't imagine that would have anything to do with it. Pbbbttttttttt.

So my mood got worse as the day progressed. At the end of the day, Jay was helping me feed, and the space issues got out of hand. I knew Quincy was going to bolt away from Guinevere, and I knew Jay was in the way. I told him to get out of the paddock, but he didn't move quickly enough. He said Quincy tried to avoid him, but it was only his presence of mind to direct the momentum to roll him along her shoulder instead of letting it knock him under Blue's feet that kept him from getting hurt.

I was really freaked out by that. Okay, it's one thing for me to put myself in danger. But not Jay. This isn't his fantasy. I was really upset, and the whole experience just sent me into a tailspin of wondering if I'd made a HUGE mistake with this venture.

Sunday was so much better though. Everything went smoothly when we hayed the horses and picked out the paddock. Then we took various people down to meet the horses during the party. My neighbor Pam is a horse person, and she really helped just by being so calm and matter-of-fact. Guinevere really warmed up to me yesterday, and I realized that Blue just isn't as used to being petted (and dislikes hands coming at his head) as much as the girls.

Jay hayed the horses this morning, and I planned to clean the paddock before I headed out for a meeting at work. I like to let the horses into the grass pasture while I pick out the paddock, but it was still wet when I went out before work. So I decided to put everything off until I got home in the middle of the afternoon... and thought I might try to ride Guin afterwards.

Okay, before Alex reads this and reads me the riot act, I know I'm not ready to ride her. I haven't done any ground work with her, and really know nothing about her. I just wanted to walk her around the pasture -- just to feel what it was like to ride again.

Well, not to worry -- I didn't even make it on her back. I don't have a saddle or a real mounting block. I figured I would lead her beside something high enough for me to use as a mounting block. Of course, I don't have any cues to get her to move laterally or to swing her hips in or out, and she wouldn't just stand there while I futzed around beside her.

How irritating that I must do my homework before getting the payoff. LOL.

Funny thing happened. When I was taking Guin out, I had the wheelbarrow too close to the gate, so she couldn't pivot around to give me the ability to shut the gate. In order to close it, I had to walk her further out, turn her around, and then come back. Of course, when I did that, Quincy walked out and trotted away. So I had to put Guin back in the paddock, get some grain and Quincy's halter, and go out to catch her. Fortunately, she was more interested in the grain than in her freedom, so it was an easy process. I learned my lesson though -- I'll be more careful bringing the horses into and out of the paddock.

I'm hoping I can do more with the horses during the next few days. I leave Friday for Alex's camp in Toutle, and I'd like to have something to report.

October 5, 2004

Had a really good day today, though I didn't get to do as much training as I was hoping to. We're all settling into our routines, and it's getting easier to move the horses back and forth between paddocks and into and out of their stalls. The horses are much more interested in interacting with me, and they come over to the fence frequently when they see me. Quincy and Guin are the most friendly, but then, they are the ones with the most "pet" experience. Blue is very settled, but he dislikes having someone reach for his head, which makes him seem standoffish. If, instead, you start with his body, he's very friendly.

Oh! I introduced Guin to the dogs today. Both dogs have been really interested in the horses, but until today, I had limited interaction to sniffing noses through the gate. Today I haltered Guin and brought her into the front yard, then let the dogs out. Pax was just thrilled! He was play bowing and desperately trying to entice her to play.

Guin stood quietly, not really interested in their antics. She wasn't having any of the sniffing around her back end though. She kicked -- lightly, not trying to hurt -- at Pax a couple of times, and he stayed away. Then Rain tried it. She clipped his shoulder, and he yelped and limped away. He is SUCH a drama queen. He was fine 30 seconds later.

I was out all afternoon, so I didn't get a chance to do any training then. When I fed dinner, I did some targeting with Blue and Guin in their stalls. Wow! Horses are SO smart. Blue remembered what to do from that one session last week! He targeted up, down, right, left, front, back... He was awesome!! And he wasn't at all pushy. I wasn't at all worried about working with him in the stall.

Guin did well too. She had had a super short session last week, but this was the first really focused session. She was great. A time or two she was more interested in my pocket than the target, but I think she caught on pretty quick to the idea that the grain appeared only when she touched the target.

The only problem in these two sessions was my mouth click. It's AWFUL. I'm going to start carrying a real clicker. I can do the mouth click when I'm in the house, but I fail miserably in the barn. I'd rather have the sharpness of the "real" clicker anyway.

I'm not sure what to do next. I need to pull out Alex's books. My friend Dolores sent me a wonderful plan for getting a horse ready to ride too. So I'll compare those resources and figure out my next steps. I'm really looking forward to Alex's seminar this weekend, because she'll have definite opinions about what I should do.

I feel like such a newbie!

October 6, 2004

Our electric fence is driving me nuts! The charger is, I think, too big for the small amount of fence we're using right now. The fence is "arcing" to the metal T-posts, especially now that the rain has returned. Thus far Jay has treated the symptoms by using a silicone gel on the metal. I don't think it's going to solve the problem unless he coats all the posts from top to bottom. When he fixes one spot, it just starts arcing in another. The horses hate it. I hate it. I especially hate it when I'm running around in the rain in my pajamas at 11:00 at night or 6:00 in the morning trying to fix a particularly stubborn spot.

Okay, I looked at my various resources, and I have three behaviors to start with: targeting, backing up, and head lowering. I've started with targeting, but I need to shape it to ground, and then work on adding distance. Feels good to have a plan!

I spent an hour this afternoon on "the plan." I decided I would halter each horse and take him/her into the driveway to work. The paddock wasn't a good choice, because the other horses were there, and I wanted a little more room than I would have in the stalls. Besides, I'll work in the stalls during dinner.

I started with Quincy. She is the one who has had the least amount of work. I did a super-short session with her one of the first nights she was here, but because I didn't want to rob her of her chance to eat unmolested, I did just a few clicks. So today was her first real session.

She was a bit distracted outside of the paddock, so we started by just walking around a bit. She was mildly interested in a few things, but mostly she wanted to taste the lawn. So after a couple of minutes, we went to the driveway and started working on targeting. She was a little slower to catch on than Blue or Guin had been, but honestly, I think it was tougher for her, since I started her in a strange place with tempting grass just a couple of feet away. She was also pushier about trying to check my pockets than the other two had been. Not rude or scary, but persistent.

I decided to work with Blue next. I was going to do the same thing I did with Quincy -- halter him and take him out to the driveway -- but I ran into a problem. Blue doesn't like to be "caught." He approaches cautiously and avoids being immediately touched on the head. If you have a halter, he heads the other way entirely. His former owner used grain to catch him. I could have done the same thing, but that doesn't really solve the problem, does it?

So I decided to concentrate on getting him over his distrust of the halter. I started with simple targeting of the halter. I was standing kind of facing him, so I changed my body position to one more similar to what I would have when putting on the halter. He immediately began backing away. So I worked on getting him to let me stand beside him. Then stand beside him and touch the halter. Then touch the halter while the other hand held the lead rope near his neck. After that, I stopped -- it was a good beginning.

The only problem I had with this session was working in the paddock. Guin was right there the whole time. I should have taken the time to put her in a stall, but I didn't. Really, she didn't interfere much, even though she was standing right THERE every minute.

After I finished with Blue, it was Guin's turn. I haltered her, and took her to the driveway. She did well, sweet girl. Toward the end of the session, I started taking the target closer to the ground. She was a little hesitant about going all the way to the ground, so rather than rush her, I got a couple of clicks down low, and then stopped.

At dinner I put them in their stalls as usual while I cleaned out the paddock and got the night's supply of hay out. I generally leave them there a while to give Quincy a chance to eat some alfalfa unmolested. Tonight after I finished my chores, I did short targeting sessions with Blue and Guin in their stalls. (I left sweet Quincy alone to eat.)

With both I opened the stall door, and I stood in the aisleway. I wasn't feeling crowded -- I wanted a flat surface to put the target on when I shaped it to the ground. Neither horse tried to barge out. I've been asking them to wait when I open the door and come out only when invited, and so they were willing to stand quietly while we worked.

I again worked on getting Guin's target to the ground. She was definitely targeting more intentionally, and she got a little closer to the ground.

Blue was amazing. He remembered that target, and he was fully in the game. We quickly worked all the way to the floor. I didn't even have to gradually fade my presence. I stood up to give him a treat, and he went right back down to touch it again! Brilliant, brilliant boy.

Blue is an interesting horse. I think he will demand respect from me. I think if I take the time to teach him, he'll give me everything. But he doesn't like force. He's going to be a challenge with a huge payoff!

October 7, 2004

Rather frustrating afternoon, for an entirely un-horse-related reason: computer problems. We're guessing that my laptop is overheating, which is causing it to shut down unexpectedly -- and I can't always get it to reboot. Scary. I've had so many problems with this computer since I bought it. Last time I lost a TON of stuff, because the CDs on which I backed up my hard drive wouldn't read later.

This afternoon I worked with Blue on haltering and I did a targeting session with Guin. Poor Quincy got left out because I was running short of time, but she got lots of pets.

Blue was terrific. He was a lot more comfortable with the halter and with me standing beside his head. There was much, much less backing away. I was able to get the rope close to him, touch him with it, and hang it over his neck. Hmmm... as I htink about it now, I should have spent more time taking it off and putting it on, but I didn't think of that today, and instead let it hang over his neck while I concentrated on the nose loop. By the end of the session he was lowering his head and letting me slip the loop over and touch the top of his nose.

I took Guin into the barn aisleway to work on targeting. She was much more assertive about her touches, and the rate of the behavior increased. (That's a good thing.) We made it all the way to the floor, but I haven't yet faded myself from the picture.

I didn't do a session with dinner tonight, but I popped out later and did a short haltering session with Blue. I noticed that he didn't try to move away when I approached him with the halter! I just walked right up and started working. Hmmm. I should make an effort to pop out at random times to do haltering sessions, so he gets used to me approaching him like that.

I did a lot more with the rope -- really waved it around and flopped it over him -- but required him to not only stand still, but to reach out and touch the halter to get a click. Then I dropped the rope over his neck and spent more time working on bringing the nose loop to his lowered head. I changed the way I was holding it, so I was also holding the strap that goes over his ears. My biggest challenge is in clicking the instant that his head is moving down, not as he bobs back up.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to get at least one more haltering session in before I head to Toutle to Alexander Kurland's workshop. I'll be gone until Monday night. I'll take my computer, and assuming it doesn't crash, I'll write daily summaries of the workshop. I won't be able to upload them until Tuesday though!


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