May 2006

May 1 , 2006

Okay, I absolutely refuse to add a headshot of Rowan at the top of the page until her snotty nose clears up. (Edited 5/14 -- Gorgeous head shot added!) Hopefully I can do that in a week of so. When I do that, I ought to post a new picture of Guin as well -- that picture really doesn't do her justice.

I love this gentling procedure, because I can see bits of progress every day. Yesterday she would eat with me squatting just a foot or two from her head. This morning she ate hay from my hand!

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit, so let me back up. I was so pleased with her reaction to the hayI brought her yesterday, that I decided to make her a mash. I've never made a mash before, so I followed a recipe off the Web, more or less. I made one tiny mistake... I didn't let it cool enough. She was willing to try it and seemed to think it smelled good, but it was much too hot. I felt so bad. She never did eat it. I think I had too much water in it, plus I added apples and carrots, neither of which she has seemed to like before. I'll try again sometime. I encouraged her to eat from the bucket several times, scooping up a bit in my hand and letting her smell it. She wouldn't touch anything in my hand, but she did sniff at it -- that's as close as we'd gotten to "touching."

I noticed yesterday that she was coming to meet me at the food spot when I came into the pasture. She would stay with me for a good amount of time too, and is now comfortable with me standing just a couple of feet from her head. If I push the boundaries, she turns her head away before she walks away, so I can back off if I want her to stay.

She was even willing to lie down in my presence yesterday. Did it twice, in fact. She took several short naps yesterday. Predictably she coughs more when she's lying down, so she doesn't stay down long. She's cute when she rolls though. I bet that fur is horribly itchy. I know I'm just itching to get it off of her!!

This morning I took out half a flake of hay -- just half, so I can take out more later. She walked to meet me, which made me really happy. Rather than put the hay on th ground, I held it out... and she started eating. Progress! So I picked some up in my hand and offered it. No deal. I let her eat another few mouthfuls from the flake, then tried moving the flake away and offering her a bigger bite from my hand. She took it! Initially she would take a bite only if I had a lot in my hand, but eventually she was brushing my skin with her lips.

Cool, eh?

May 13 , 2006

I can't believe I haven't updated in almost two weeks. I've made sooooo much progress with Rowan, and I'm just kicking myself that I haven't been keeping a day-by-day record. It has been a really amazing experience.

First, let me say that she kicked the shipping fever. We had several warm, sunny days, which I think helped her bolster her immune system. Tuesday, I think, was that first day she felt really good. For the first time I saw her trotting and cantering and kicking up her heels. In fact, I walked into her pasture, and she came right at me at a gallop. Whoa! I don't need you to feel that good! She has done it several times since, and she isn't running "at me," just to me. I've gotten no impression that I'm in any danger.

That same day I saw on her throat what I thought was a strangles abscess. I didn't really panic, because the abscess would pretty much put her out of danger, and my mares hadn't been exposed. (In fact, since Princess managed to stay healthy on the lot, it's likely she's already immune.) I called the vet to give her a look-see and to vaccinate the mares just in case. He thought, however, that instead of strangles, what I saw was one of several scabs on her from an apparent fly allergy. Poor girl! We're going to keep her in quarantine a while longer though.

Rowan has made an amazing amount of progress. In fact, I have been able to see little baby steps every day. She still won't take treats from my hand, but she'll eat hay I offer by hand and will eat treats offerd in a shallow pan. The treats are an alfalfa/berry treat; she still won't touch apples or carrots.

She comes to see me most any time I make an appearance in the pasture. I no longer have to feed her away from the gate, because she has figured out that the front corner is both safe and a good place to see what's going on. If she's eating at the far side of the pasture and doesn't come to meet me, I can go to her, and she'll follow me back. That's a good foundation for off-lead leading!

I introduced her to clicker training last weekend. She was totally surprised by the clicker and weirded out by the target. Got just a couple of reps before she vacated. Time passed, and Monday I got out there again. She stood there and if the target was an inch from her nose, she would touch it, and then, if I picked up the pan and held it out, she'd take the treat. All very slowly.

Then I went out Tuesday afternoon. Oh. My. God. Didn't matter where I held the target -- either side, way up, way down, close to me, close to her body -- she would touch it, and then dive for the treat. It was AMAZING. Mind-blowing. And because she was so focused on the game, she forgot to worry about my getting close to her body. Have I mentioned lately how amazing clicker training is?

Tuesday evening the vet came, and on two occasions I reached out and gave her three firm strokes on her shoulder. I touched my horse!!! Yay!

From there I transitioned to targeting my hand, and I've done a lot more stroking of her shoulder, neck, and cheek. She hasn't yet learned to like being touched, though, and I can see her getting a bit cranky. Not threatening, but stressed. So I've backed off a bit. I'll concentrate a bit more on targeting. She seems more settled with that, probably because she's offering the behavior.

Yesterday afternoon I moved her to a different pasture, one easier to quarantine. Although I "moved" her by simply leaving the appropriate gates open and letting her just wander over, she was pissed when I closed her in there. LOL. She was so pretty doing laps of the new pasture -- wish I'd had my camera. I tried to get her to do it again today, but no deal. I did discover that there's some grass over there she's so crazy for that she's willing to eat it out of my hand.

Unfortunately, the other mares have been in that pasture a lot lately, and so there's not much grazing left there. For the sale of my pasture rotation, I'd prefer to put her in one of the back pastures, but I don't have enough hose to get water back there. Maybe I should invest in more hose. I think the mares would appreciate having water available in each of the pastures, not just at the barn.

I also took a trip to Olympia this week. Leslie and I finally got to sit down and talk about positive reinforcement training and how it would be different from "regular" horse training and what the challenges would be. Much fun.

Blue was "in a mood" that day. But that didn't stop us from playing with him. I got to practice some off-leash leading, and we discovered that Blue doesn't like to leave Leslie. Hee! I can't really blame him though, since she has been such a great source of fun and treats.

It looks like we're going to have to pull him out of training for a while because a project I've been working on didn't turn out to have the hours that the client predicted. It amounted to a serious chunk out of the budget. So Blue is coming home early, much to Leslie's dismay. He isn't *ready* to come home, so she hates to let him go. I understand that, and I fully expect to get him back down there as soon as the budget allows. I've been very pleased with his progress and accomplishments there.

Okay, I must stop typing now. We're going to Cirque du Soleil this evening, and I need to get ready.

May 14 , 2006

Cirque du Soleil was AWESOME!! I've never been before, and I really, really enjoyed it. My favorite performers were the tumblers. Jay's favorite was the strength work demonstrated by the people suspended over the stage. They did things I didn't think were physically possible.

Yesterday I forgot to update you on my riding lessons. I was really scared of getting as sore as I did the first time, so at my next lesson, I asked Pam if I could work on the lunge. The lunge allows the rider to work solely on his or her own skills without having to worry about steering or moderating the speed of the horse. Obviously, it takes a horse who will lunge quietly, who will stay at the requested speed, and who is not going to be confused or concerned by the exercises, stretches, and other odd movements performed by the rider.

I was nervous about not having the reins for balance, even though that was the exact reason I want lunge lessons. Pam put a neck strap on Gryphon, so if I ever felt insecure or needed the extra balance, it was there to grab.

We started at the walk. Pam first wanted me to work on relaxing my arms -- jelly arms. Then we did jelly arms at the rising trot. That was really interesting, because when I concentrated on my trot, my arms stiffened, and when I concentrated on relaxing my arms, my trot got sloppy and a bit unbalanced. Next Pam had me do circles with one arm, stretching at 12:00, 3:00, 9:00, and 6:00 -- and keeping the other arm jelly. And trotting, of course. We did circles with both arms, and then we did a little bit of posting with both hands on my head. Then we took off the lunge line, and I got my reins back. The goal then was to ride on the rail with my reins but without losing all the relaxation.

This week we did essentially the same lunge lesson, but I was much improved. Surprisingly so for only one week. I was much more relaxed and much more balanced. Pam was very pleased. I could feel that I was better aligned, and thus balancing was easier. It also was less "work" to keep my arms relaxed, even during the circles. I also want to add that I didn't touch the neck strap in the second lesson, not during pace changes.

I'm really enjoying the lunge lessons, and I think my riding will really improve as a result. I've got soooo much to learn, and I'm really starting at the beginning.

I got some pictures of Rowan today...

May 15 , 2006

It's been really bugging me having Rowan isolated from the other mares. Not only is it stressful for her, but it's also hard on my pastures to graze two at once. So I called Leslie, and she said Rowan had probably been well long enough that it was safe to let her out of quarantine. She suggested that I put them in adjacent pastures for a couple of days first, but I didn't have an easy way to do that, so after letting them meet through the fence in the aisleway, I let Rowan into the mares' pasture.

Guin is a complete witch. Rowan approached her, chewing like a foal, and Guin was beastly to her all day long. When I finally got them all back to the barn -- which was an adventure itself today -- Princess also jumped on the "terrorize Rowan" bandwagon. It makes me so sad. Why do they have to treat each other like this? Leslie suggested that I turn Rowan and Princess out by themselves and let them bond. They can stand the extra grazing too -- Miss Guin doesn't need it.

Rowan made an important discovery today: Humans scratch itches!! She actually leaned over and scratched her ear by rubbing up and down my arm. So I then turned and gave her good hard scritchies over the left front quarter of her body. I was elated, and she was blissed out.

Later I went back out and gave her more scritchies. I covered probably three quarters of her body, and I pulled all that old, long, matted fur off of her. She just stood there relaxed, one foot cocked, lip drooping. Amazing. I'm wondering now if maybe she wasn't as completely unhandled as I thought.

Even later I went out and gave her lots of sritchies on her butt and played with her tail a bit. Then I ran my hand down her front leg -- and she lifted her hoof. She putit down quickly because she wasn't balanced -- and she looke a little surprised when I took hold of it -- but I just can't believe she has never had that done before.

When I talked to Leslie, she mentioned giving Rowan a trim when she delivers Blue next month. That's a great idea, but I have a fair amount to do between now and then. The challenge won't be doing it, but doing it positively. I don't want to rush her. Hmmmm.

May 16 , 2006

I turned the horses out, officially, 24/7 today. They took advantage and stayed in the pasture all day, but they wandered up in the evening. I got Rowan alone and brought out a halter to see how she'd react. Leslie had warned me that introducing something as scary as a halter can take some time.

I'm convinced more than ever that Rowan wasn't completely unhandled. She targeted the halter with no hesitation and stood disinterested as I tossed it all over her body. No way could it be the first time she's seen one.

I clicked and treated her for touching the halter with her nose, and I did that lower and lower, so she would begin to associate the halter with lowering her head. I also held the halter with the nose hole open and began encouraging her to target through it. I didn't go too far with it because I didn't want to push her. I really want her to think this is positive.

I'll need to loop my arm over her neck to get hold of the halter buckle, so I practiced that. She didn't like my arm "hugging" her and backed away. I'll break that down and work on it more. The only other "problem" we had was that we were standing next to the tarp-covered manure bins, and the wind was blowing. She spooked a couple of times, but her spooks were in place and not extreme. Good girl!

I used a mixture of alfalfa-berry treats and hay pellets as her treats initially, but I quickly discovered that she would prefer to be scratched under her jaw. Cute! It's great to have a non-food reward that she really wants.

May 19 , 2006

I am having SO MUCH FUN with my riding lessons. My first one went okay, but I was sooo out of shape that I blew my quads to hell and couldn't move for three days. At the second lesson, I asked if we could do some work on the longe line, and we switched to doing half on the longe and half not. That has worked so well.

I'm amazed at how much I've learned on the longe. Pam seems very pleased too. (She's very complementary anyway.) I'm balanced enough that I haven't used the neck strap since the first time, and then it was only because I wasn't sure how balanced I'd be at the rising trot. Each week my balance has gotten better, and my upper body has gotten more relaxed.

The first lesson I was a bit intimidated by Gryphon's big bouncy trot, and I asked what his sitting trot was like. She said that she didn't teach sitting trot on him because it was too rough. (I kind of wondered how she taught people to canter on him, but hey, I didn't want to argue.) Well today, lesson four, she surprised me by asking me to do "a few steps" of sitting trot on the longe. I was balanced just fine, so we did a lot more than a few steps. There's certainly room for improvement, but I felt good about my first sitting trot on a warmblood.

I mentioned that I enjoyed sitting trot because as a kid I had ridden bareback a lot, and I really wanted to do ride bareback again in the future. So she tells me to kick my feet out of the stirrups and try the sitting trot. Yikes! That didn't go so well. Mentally I wasn't ready for that, and I immediately got forward in my seat and wobbly and was grabbing at the neck strap and mane and anything else I could hold on to. LOL. We'll work up to it. I *want* to do it; I just have to get comfortable mentally with it (and get more practice at Gryphon's bouncy sitting trot).

I thought that was our big progress for the day, but at the end of the lesson, she had me canter some as well. He has a lovely canter. That was the only cantering I've done (as an adult), except for two times on Smokey.

It's really, really fun, and I'm feeling much, much more comfortable and balanced. It doesn't hurt that she gives me lots of compliments on my seat. She was bemoaning the poor, forward seat hunter/jumper riders have, and I laughed, remembering how hard Brandy had to work to get me out of that position.

I might even be brave enough to ride Blue soon.


We'll see.

In hindsight, I do think it was foolish of me to send Blue to training before Guin, because it's likely Guin that will be the horse I ride regularly. But maybe I'll surprise us all, and Blue and I will hit it off. He might be too sensitive for me though. What I really, really want to do is just take him on some plain old ordinary trail rides with some been-there, done-that horses and just see how he acts.

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