Nov. 2004

November 1 , 2004

Ugh. When you have horses, rain is not your friend. I liked this weather a lot more when I spent all my time inside!

I decided to walk Blue to the mailbox (down the drive and across the street) today. I could see I've made a mistake by working with him in the barn and paddock so much. He gets really excited when he comes outside. So that's another thing I need to put on my "to do" list -- getting him out and about.

I clicked him for a variety of things. We started with moving out and walking politely beside me. When he started getting a bit tense, I switched to clicking for head down. I haven't worked with him on head down very much, so mostly I captured bobs and fed him down low. The feeding low is what really helped, I think.

When he was calmer, we switched back to walking toward the mailbox. His tension level got a lot higher when we walked out the gate at the end of the driveway. Of course, it didn't help that the (loose) dog across the street barked at him and the wind and rain kicked up.

We did a little more head down, and then I decided I'd better finish my task and get him back inside the fence. I clicked him for responding to the cue to move forward, stopping after each click, so we got several repetitions. There was a TON of mail, which filled my arms, making it a bit awkward to train on the way back -- tactical error on my part.

I was planning to drop the mail off at the barn and then go out again, but the sky opened, and it started pouring. So I gave him kisses and turned him back into the paddock. As soon as he figured out that I wasn't going to play with him anymore, he took off on one of his galloping, bucking, kicking jaunts. He chased Guin and Quincy, galloped and stopped and whirled and took off again, and then chased them some more. I love it when he does that. Wish he'd do it sometime when it's not raining so I can get it on camera.

I took Blue out again after his dinner. It occurred to me -- duh! -- that the big trackhoe parked out there might be a goblin. So we did some targeting of it. He blew a little and stretched way out rather than walking up to it, but he did touch it several times.

I found that he walked away from the barn very hesitantly, and he wanted to rush back. So I reinforced him for responding to a lead cue to move forward when going out, and I reinforced walking slowly without crowding me on the way back. I should have brought his target out with me -- I think it will really help me get the behavior I want. I'm going to work on "Stand on a Mat" out there too.

He really is a sweet boy. I have so much fun just being with him!

November 16, 2004

Yep, it's been two weeks since my last entry. I haven't done much with the horses lately. I swear either I'm not home or it's pouring rain. Excuses, excuses.

We've done a little bit. I took Blue for a couple of walks out on the road and through the back pasture. He was fine, but I was nervous. Our road is gravel, narrow, and overgrown on the sides, so there's really no place to step him safely out of the way if a car should come by. There are several "blind" places too, so I worry that someone driving a bit too fast might not see us in time. I should ask my neighbor where she walks her alpacas.

The vet came out and looked at Guin's foot again. He said it was draining from a hole in the heel, and I should hose it out every night. He's coming back tomorrow to dig into the sole and make sure the original abscess (or whatever) has cleared up. He would have done it that day, but he had hurt his back a couple of days earlier. So please keep your fingers crossed! This is the only thing standing between us and buying Guin.

We finally bought a "portable" shelter for the paddock. Initially I had thought I would give the horses access to the barn, but there was just too much chance that someone would get trapped in there and get kicked. So that meant the only escape from the rain was a tree in the grass part of the paddock. Not very efficient shelter!

The shelter we bought is 20 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 7 or 8 feet tall. It's an aluminum frame with a tarp secured over it. It came with zippered panels, front and back, but they didn't stay open, so I chose not to use them. I like the shelter, but it took HOURS to put up, not least because the instructions were incorrect and incomplete.

The shelter is in the paddock and has been up for a few days now. The horses were all right with it when it was just the aluminum shell, but the tarp is scary, especially in the rain and wind. (I don't blame them!)

I started getting them used to it by feeding a flake of hay there when it wasn't raining. Blue and Guin were hesitant at first, but then explored it pretty confidently. Quincy, the one who needs the shelter the most, stayed clear. But since it's been just a few days, I wasn't concerned.

After that initial exploration I hadn't seen the horses venture inside, rain or... um... not rain. (No shine here.) So today I got my clicker, treats, and target and went out to play. It was a windy morning, but not raining. Still the tarp rattled, and leaves occasionally dropped on top. Blue and Guin were more than happy to play the game though. I had to figure out how to work with both of them though, because one would try to steal treats when I was clicking the other. (Obviously, we haven't worked on "The Grownups are Talking.")

Quincy stayed near the barn and ate some hay. When I finished with the other two, I went over to see her. Blue and Guin began eating from another pile of hay, so I took advantage of the break to click Quincy for some easy targeting. Heck, I didn't care if she even touched the target. I just wanted the opportunity to play with her a bit. Well, she did touch the target, and before long, I was, step-by-step, walking her toward the shelter. She was a lot more hesitant than Blue or Guin, but eventually she was inside. Good girl!!!

This afternoon we got a good soaking rain shower. I grabbed all my stuff and went out to the shelter. The horses stood under the tree and watched me. I waved the clicker and treats and target and called them. Nada. Oh sure, I could have gone over and targeted them to the shelter, but hey, I didn't want to get wet either! So I called and waited. Eventually I got kind of bored and stopped paying attention to them. Imagine my surprise when a horse showed up at the entrance -- Quincy! Jackpot!!

I was so pleased. I clicked each forward foot movement and shaped her inside. It was raining on the tarp, and she still ventured in, eventually touching the target to get her treat. Blue came in after a while, and that made working with Quincy difficult, because they don't get along well. Blue tried to shift his hindquarters toward her, so I had to be creative to keep them separate. Sweet Quincy worked so hard to stay in the game -- and didn't even aggress toward him, which she usually does when another horse is near her food. Eventually Blue did drive her off, so I quit playing the game. (Don't want to reward that behavior!) I was awfully proud of them though. As I was walking out I noticed that Quincy was checking out the shelter on her own.

November 18, 2004

Had a good training day -- and narrowly averted what could have been a tragedy.

I took a rectangular piece of plywood into the paddock to use as a "mat." The goal was to teach the horses to stand on it. This is a good exercise for teaching a horse to stand quietly. I went into the paddock where all the horses were loose rather than taking them out one at a time.

Blue came over first, of course. He loves training, and he's boss of the pasture. He likes Guin, so he let her come and beg for treats, but when Quincy came over, he drove her off. I really don't like that sort of behavior when I'm around, so I suppose working with them loose in the paddock when the other horses are present is a bad idea. Bummer, because it makes it most likely that I work with all of them.

Anyway, Blue was the most willing to paw at the board. He was quick to paw it, and quick to stand on it. Since he was at liberty, I couldn't lead him on -- I had to just reinforce his offered forward movement. The cool thing was that once he was on and I reinforced him several time for standing quietly, I was able to ask him to back off with the lightest touch on his chest. (Wish I could take credit for that, but it was his initial trainer.)

At one point, I tried to increase the criteria to both feet on before clicking, but that was too big a jump too soon. I started losing his foot behavior altogether. So I dropped back and said I would click just firm steps with one foot, not pawing... and I lost all foot behavior completely. Bad trainer.

I took a break, thinking I would separate Guin into the grass pasture and work with her. While I was futzing with her, Blue kept playing with the mat, and eventually went back to pawing. I ran over and got some clicks in, and we got some good steps on the mat before I quit.

I was able to get Blue into the pasture then, so I switched to Quincy. My sweet Quincy girl. She was just so cute -- so hesitant. She wanted to walk over the board. Since she wasn't in a halter, I had a hard time trying to get her to take a half step. I made sure to reinforce any interaction with that scary board though, and I did get a couple of steps on it. I didn't work with her too long, though, because she began feeling too threatened by Guin and finally quit playing.

So them it was Guin's turn. I just adore that girl. She too wanted to step over the board, but she wasn't at all afraid of it. So I turned it long-ways, and I got a bunch of steps. At first she stepped on the edge, which unbalanced the board. I kept backing her off when she did that, because I didn't want her to hurt herself.

Then we were done, I let all the horses loose together again. Blue went off on one of his "chase the others, run, buck, and jump" jaunts, which he frequently does after training. I think, after all the thinking, it's his way of working off some energy. Generally, I don't mind this, but the pasture is muddy and slick, and Blue was forcing the others into tight turns in corners.

Sure enough, Guin lost her footing and fell -- under the cross fence. She tilted a T-post way down, and broke line connectors on three of the four lines on many, many posts. She took out the cross fence and much of the back fence, but THANKFULLY, she wasn't hurt and no one got out.

I got all the horses into their stalls and repaired the fence. But I've had to accept that the pasture is getting too muddy. We're going to have bite the bullet and get it made mudless. That will involve more than the initial mudless paddock involved, because we were starting with firm ground then -- and we didn't have a fence in place. We're going to need to put the horses in the barn, and in one day...

  • Take down a large section of fence
  • Dig out the mud in the pasture area
  • Put down a layer of gravel
  • Spread hog fuel in both that area, and some additional in the original dry lot
  • Put the fence back up

We're going to have to hire help, and it's going to cost a fortune. I'm not looking forward to it.

November 20, 2004

I spent today cleaning house, but I managed to get in a quick training session on the "mat" after the horses finished their dinners. Guin went first, and she was brilliant! She went right to walking both feet onto the board. I was so proud of her. She really thought about this over the past couple of days. We got in a bunch of absolutely perfect reps. Only problem I had was getting her to stop so Blue could have a turn.

Blue actually took longer than Guin to start walking both feet onto the board. He went right to interacting with the board, but he spent a few reps pawing first before settling down. The first time he walked both feet on without pawing I made a huge fuss over him. (Jay said that wasn't fair -- I didn't make that big of a fuss over Guin, and she did it right from the beginning.)

Quincy finished up her dinner, so I moved into the barn aisle to give her a turn. She, I discovered, has a very low frustration tolerance. If I don't maintain a high rate of reinforcement, she'll quit cold. That happened tonight, and really I think it happened last time. I think I need to chunk it down and reinforce weight shifts and leans, even though she's doing it to try to reach my bait bag. I don't mind luring her -- this is primarily for fun and mental stimulation for her. So I need to keep that in mind and make sure it IS fun for her.

November 24, 2004

Guin finally passed her pre-purchase exam. Her foot cleared up and was declared healthy. Yay! As soon as we can make contact with Rachel, we'll deliver the check and pick up Guin's saddle.

Blue has been absolutely insane the past few days. It has been hard to clean out the paddock because he keeps getting into his running, bucking fits. He's having a great time, but I'd really prefer not to be run down, even accidentally. I'm going to change his food and give him timothy pellets instead of grain. The vet suggested that the horses spend about three hours a day in their stalls to give their hooves a chance to dry out, so I'm going to feed their alfalfa in their stalls from now on. I'll give Blue less alfalfa and more grass hay. That should lower his energy level. The way he is being fed now gives him access to the more energy-rich foods that Guin and Quincy need. This will be better.

Blue and Guin got out of the paddock today. Jay was working on the electric fence, and he forgot to close the back gate. Blue chased Guin out there, and sure enough, they noticed and ran through. I'm soooo glad Jay was there to block access to the road at that end of the pasture. It felt like it took me forever to gather two halters, a pan of feed, and a clicker, but I finally got it all together and went out to catch them. (Wouldn't you know it was raining? Sigh.) It really didn't take but a couple of minutes, but it scared me to death. Thank goodness they were interested enough in the grain to stand there and eat it while I fumbled with their halters.

I found out that Quincy is absolutely MAD about peppermints, Guin likes them very much, and Blue thinks they are GROSS. He hasn't had much variety of food in his life, I've discovered. He didn't know what to make of apples or carrots initially. Peppermint is just too weird. I was feeding him carrot after carrot, and I slipped in a peppermint, and he got really irritated. He wouldn't touch a carrot for a long while because he was sure I was trying to trick him with that gross candy! Quincy and Guin are more than happy to get the peppermint though.

I'm hoping to get the "riding ring" fenced in the next few days, so I'll have a place for lunging and individual at-liberty sessions. Our neighbor Pam is riding her dressage horse in the ring occasionally. That's cool. I hope to pick her brain about my horses some too.

Finally, in non-horse news, Rain brought back half a rabbit tonight. Jay said he was barking very insistently to go out, and when Jay opened the door both dogs took off to the back of the house. It was dark, so Jay didn't see more. But when he called the boys back, Rain brought back a partially eaten rabbit. I checked, but it wasn't warm, so it wasn't a fresh kill. Nor was it an old kill that was rotting. I have no clue if my dogs ate any of it before they brought it back. <grin> I didn't think ether of my dogs had the speed to catch a rabbit. I wish I knew where they got though -- if I did I would see if I recognized the tracks of the animal that killed it.

November 25, 2004

Whatever killed the rabbit raided the garbage last night and reclaimed its prize. Rain started some serious barking about 15 minutes after I went to bed, but I didn't see anything outside. I didn't think to look toward the trash cans though. I wonder if that's when the theft occurred?

My horses are bloody insane.

On a friend's recommendation, I'm trying a non-chemical wormer. The directions require me to make a hot mash from this powder mixed with my horses' feed. Guin has gone absolutely NUTS in her stall both times I've done this. She eats, but she is just over the top -- just a moment away from exploding, it seems. She spins. She tries to push the door open. She acts like she wants to go over the wall. WEIRD! Release her into the paddock, and the weirdness doesn't really stop. She acts like coyotes are breathing down her neck -- and she freaks out the other two.

Quincy gets concerned, but she eats her food. Blue doesn't eat -- in fact, I thought he didn't like it. But later I offered it to him in the paddock, and he was more than happy to finish it. Insane I tell you. Insane!

We did a lot of work on the hay barn today. The hay barn is a three-sided structure with wood halfway up, and then tarps blocking the open space above... or at least that's how it's supposed to work. There was a tarp missing on one side, and somehow rain got in around the bottom of another side. So we had to be super careful to be sure we weren't feeding moldy hay.

I've got a hay shipment coming tomorrow, so today we cleaned out the hay barn. I picked up all the pallets (which form a layer between the hay and the ground), and cleaned all the old, wet, moldy hay and "stuff" out. Then I rearranged the pallets so there was a bit of space along the edges -- that way water couldn't run in the sides and get trapped -- and restacked the remaining 10 bales nice and compactly at the front. Finally, Jay climbed up and affixed a tarp on that third side, to keep the rain out over there. It was a full afternoon, but it's done now, and I think the hay will stay drier and fresher.

You know, I thought this was a vacation week. We seem to be doing a heck of a ot of work for a vacation!!


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