June 1 , 2006
Thought I'd start the month with a couple of pictures of Rowan, all shed out. Definitely seal brown and not bay.
June 2 , 2006
What a great day! First, I had a terrific riding lesson. Lots of sitting trot and canter work. (Sitting trot is improving. I'm learning to ride the swing of the back. That makes Gryphon's bouncy trot a little less like sitting on a jackhammer.) Then I had a major breakthrough with Rowan.
I haven't worked with Rowan much since she was put in with the mares. It's hard to separate her from them without haltering them and shutting them away. I really wanted to spend some time with her though, so this evening I grabbed a clicker and treats and headed into the pasture. I realized before I got to her that I'd made a mistake -- I hadn't brought a pan to use to deliver the treats; as of this point she still hadn't taken a treat from my hand, though in the last couple of days, she had sniffed them and lipped them once or twice.
She came to me immediately, as she always does. I held a fairly large alfalfa-berry treat in my finger tips and offered it to her. She eyed it, sniffed it, and then cautiously took it. GOOD GIRL!! I praised her like crazy and offered her another. She took it. From that point on, we were golden. Now she'll take treats from the palm of my hand, like she's been doing it forever. (Well, almost. She's not terribly skilled at it and occasionally knocks it to the ground.) Cuteness!!
Of course the other mares crowded around too. There was no way I was going to be able to work with Rowan out there, even if she would take treats. So I started walking back toward the barn. The girls followed willingly. When we got to the dry lot, it took a little finagling, but I managed to get the mares inside and the gate shut. Then I opened the gate to the front part of the property and called Rowan through. After she was through and that gate closed, I opened the dry lot gate again, so the mares could return to the pasture if they chose.
The front part of our property is fenced except for the woods on the far side, but there's so much "virgin" grass in the front area that I've never had an "escaped" horse venture into the woods. There's a fair amount of interesting space to explore in this front area, about half of it, including the tiny arena, out of sight of horses in the dry lot.
Rowan was very excited and very cautious initially. She stayed along the dry lot fenceline for a while, eating the yummy virgin grass. I sat on some woods and just watched her, giving her time to get comfortable. After a while she relaxed enough to take treats. Then I started asking her to target my hand. She was still hesitant to explore very far, so I would walk a couple of steps away and ask her to target. She would do that, and we would progress a bit at a time further into the front area. After a few steps beyond her previous boundary, she would get nervous and turn and go back. I was completely cool with that. I wanted her to enjoy this.
Our house has a picket fence around it that the dogs live in. That area borders this front area as well. Just for the heck of it, I let Pax out to stretch his legs while Rowan was eating. It occurred to me as I was targeting Rowan that I hadn't seen him recently, so I called him, and he came running from the far side. He ran right up to us and touched noses with Rowan. I clicked and treated her for being calm and friendly.
She and I kept working. I added a new criterion: follow my target hand as I walk. This is the basis of off-lead walking, and I was thrilled that she did it so willingly and easily. One time we made our way well into the front area, all the way into the little arena. As I mentioned, that spot is out of sight of the dry lot and Princess, who hadn't chosen to leave, began to call to her. Rowan answered and got very excited. She trotted around the arena a couple of times, worrying, I think, that she was trapped. I hadn't shut the gate though, so when I pointed it out, she exited stage left and trotted back to the area next to the dry lot.
(I had forgotten about Pax, and when she did that, he barked and started to give chase. To her credit, she didn't react to him at all. To his credit, when I yelled, "No!", he slid to a stop and came right to me. Whew. Crisis averted. Princess would have kicked the crap out of him.)
I'm not at all worried about Rowan running back to her herd. She'll chose to stay when she feels secure enough. I'm glad, in fact, that I didn't have her option to leave restricted. Confining her would have scared her. This builds her trust that I'm not going to push her past her limits.
I really hope I can get Rowan out like this on a regular basis. I may have to get creative to get her away from Guin and Princess though, not because of her desire to be with them, but because of their desire to be where the treats are.
June 16 , 2006
Okay, it may have been forever since I updated, but today I have an update on all four horses!
Mr. Blue is doing fabulously! I've been down to see him a couple of times this month. We thought, because of my work situation, we were going to have to bring him home early. However it looks like I have a new 40-hr-a-week project that will enable him to finish out his training. I think he'll be in Olympia, then, until the end of July. Leslie said that everyone down there is going to miss him. He's such a character that everyone loves him.
He has had a chronic problem in his hip. The muscles on one side were bigger, and he was shortstriding on that side. Leslie thought it might be a condition called EPSM that is common in drafts and large-muscled horses. Since the treatmet is a change in diet, she decided just to try that -- and saw changes in just a couple of days. Wow! For a while we thought we were going to have to pull him out of work and rest him, but he's back to 100%.
He loves to work, and he's progressing by leaps and bounds. They're doing canter work now, both under saddle and on the longe, and he's soft and responsive. She picked up his hoof boots yesterday, so she's going to start getting him out on trails soon. His biggest "issue" is that if he scares himself, he doesn't let go of the fear easily. Being startled the day before can result in a tense horse the next day. So she really has to be careful about how she introduces new, potentially scary, experiences.
Leslie came up yesterday and met my critter family. She loved all the horses. She just kept raving that Guin was cute as a bug, and she continues to be befuddled about why I put Blue into training and not Guin, because Guin is clearly the perfect horse for me.
I had Leslie bring my saddle up with her, just so she could check the fit on the other horses. Despite Guin's width -- she's a sofa, I'm telling you -- the saddle fits. I'm going to have to buy her a grazing muzzle, however, and try to get some weight off of her.
Guin's biggest issue is that she trips, which is a very serious, potentially-deal-killer fault. A horse that trips can kill a rider. I've had her actually go all the way down with me because she tripped-- at the walk. Leslie lunged her a bit and checked her conformation carefully. She didn't find any blatant physical reason for her to trip. She wants me to try her in hoof boots, and see if that helps. She also suggested that she *might* improve as she is ridden and develops the proper muscling.
If we can get money quickly enough, I'm going to put Guin into training when Blue comes out. Leslie will be able to better tell if her tripping is going to keep someone from safely riding her. I *would* ride her, but Leslie has my saddle. (And I suppose, if Guin goes into training, Leslie will *still* have my saddle, and I'll still be unable to ride my horses.)
I had a vet-chiropractor come out to look at Princess this week. I wanted to be certain she wasn't going to founder, and she was clearly stiff and sore. I just want the girl to be comfortable in her retirement!
Imagine my surprise when there were remarkably few adjustments to make, and her arthritis was limited to the hock/stifle in one leg. Her lameness was caused by flat feet -- she's walking on her soles, and it's ouchy. (See, her white lines are stretchs, so Christina has been bringing the toe back to fix it. Unfortunately, that is exacerbating her flat feet. We're going to have to try to find a happy medium.) If I boot her, she should be sound.
And here's the even more shocking part: The vet said she not only isn't ready for retirement, but that being ridden three times a week will extend her life and make her more sound. Wow. I suddenly have another riding horse!
Leslie saddled her yesterday, lunged her, and watched her move. Princess is clearly broken, though of course we don't know if she has any riding issues. Frankly, I'm betting she was a ranch horse and will be a great trail horse.
And finally, my precious Rowan girl. Have I mentioned I'm in love? We're having such a funny time trying to figure out how old she is. It's more challenging than figuring out what her color was! We were originally told she was one or two. I decided, based on her size and condition that she was a yearling. But people who saw her most recent pictures pointed to her tail and said no, she was like two or even three.
So Leslie told me to check her teeth, and told me what to look for. I worked with her face until I could do that. Hmmm. Are those baby teeth or adult teeth? I finally decided that only the very small tooth on the side was a baby tooth, and she was three. I was a little disappointed with that, because unless she had some major growth spurts coming, that meant she was going to be tiny!!
Well, when Leslie was here yesterday, she looked in her mouth. She had a really hard time figuring out if those were baby teeth or adult teeth and finally decided that they were all baby teeth -- which means she's a yearling. Leslie said she thought she was good at estimating a horse's age, but said Rowan was just impossible to figure out. Hee! In the end, she said we'll know for sure what age she is in the next six months because new teeth either will or will not erupt.
So for now, I'm going with yearling!
About a week ago, Leslie made plans to come up here to give Rowan her first hoof trim. Unfortunately, Rowan wasn't ready for that. But Leslie spent an hour working with us yesterday, and we made HUGE progress. I can't tell you how helpful it is to have a second person to help when teaching a horse to pick up her feet. And if that person happens to be a hugely experienced clicker trainer? Da bomb.
Before Leslie got here yesterday, I did a haltering session and a session with a lead rope. Rowan hadn't been haltered yet. I taught her to target the nose loop, and I was able to put my arm over her neck and slid the halter onto her muzzle. I had had it most of the way on, but hadn't put it all the way on. I hadn't worked with a lead rode with her before. I introduced her to it, and clicked and treated her for standing still when it was rubbed on her and tossed over her and dragged over her. She did really well with it, actually. Then I looped it around her neck and combined light pressure with targeting to introduce her to the concept of following it.
Leslie took things way further. She haltered her with little fuss, and we worked on leading her, combining light pressure (as a cue) and targeting. There was pressure and release too, of course. If she tightened the lead in any way, we looked for the moment she figured out how to self-release it, and then we would click and treat. I was amazed at how quickly Rowan caught on. She hadn't been restrained in any way prior to yesterday, so this was a potentially scary development for her. But she handled it like a champ.
I hadn't made much progress with her feet before yesterday. Long ago, I tried picking up a front foot, and she offered it right away. That made me think she had been handled before. Turns out that was more likely a reflex response. When I tried again, she looked at me like, "That's my foot. What of it?" I had done several short sessions, but I hadn't had a lot of success prior to yesterday.
From the beginning yesterday, however, she was more willing to lift her feet. Leslie handled her feet, and I was in charge of delivering treats swiftly. Fast, smooth treat delivery was really important here -- Leslie was having me deliver the treats before she released Rowan's foot. I think that helped Rowan figure out that this really wasn't a huge deal.
We didn't work with her back end. I went back there once and was casually hugging her back end to show Leslie how calm Rowan was about it, and Leslie just about had a heart attack. (This was the end of the day, and Rowan was pretty stressed.) She showed me how to use the lead rope to turn Rowan's head a bit, so I could mitigate the chances of getting kicked. I had to remind her that prior to this, I hadn't *had* control of Rowan's head, so I couldn't have done that. Rowan has never shown a tendency to kick though -- not that she couldn't, of course. But even I have gotten relaxed about working around her back end, and I'm the world's biggest fraidy cat. So she's pretty reliable.
It was quite a day for Miss Rowan and all the girls. And for me. I loved having Leslie come visit.
List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com