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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The uncomfortable place of misunderstanding............

Earlier this week, I broke out my long lines to see if I could help Moses relax with lots of bending from the ground.  Much to my surprise, he seemed to have experience with this type of driving. So we moved to exploring; just what did he know?  I discovered right away that he was worried about the lines flipping over his back from behind, so I did this excessively in motion all the while letting him know not to worry, using my voice to make soft noises of approval when he relaxed. 

 I asked him to follow the feel on the halter. He had trouble following the feel when I was on the left wanting him to follow the feel to the right.  He wanted to look at me, but with a tap of the line on his cheek he quickly learned that was not the answer. I have finally learned, that it is better, just to go there! Make the correction quickly and clearly, just like the lead mare does. 

I had the perfect example shown to me by Valentine and Jessie when they first got to co-mingle with Moses (on purpose!) in the field.  We were all there, all the mares and Sterling too, I was cleaning as usual and playing with horses when I got bored with the cleaning. I let everyone in quietly, without a fuss.  I noticed earlier in the morning Mo and Valentine seemed to be interested in one another across the fence so I knew it would be a good time to bring everyone in.  Valentine is my lead mare and Jessie is the enforcer, but she honors  Valentine's lead and they are usually together.  

Without looking at or acknowledging Moses at all, Valentine went straight to grazing.  Jessie and Moses both turned butts to each other and tucked under and I  thought they were going to kick each other.  Then they didn't ~ Hmmm. Then with just a cock of her ear in his direction, Valentine double barreled him! I heard Whack.  She was back to grazing only one heart beat later. He was looking at her like a little puppy dog seemingly apologizing for being in the way, and only moments later, they were touching noses and that touch ran all the way to the flank.  Lovely example of Love language and leadership.  Firm fair and friendly. 

So that was my goal when Moses did not follow the feel on his halter, but wanted to turn and face me.  Touch quickly, firmly and go back to grazing, so to speak. Like Valentine, I was sure this was the best way to get through this uncomfortable place of misunderstanding.  Unlike Valentine, I needed to repeat this lesson a time or two during our session! Soon enough, he was asking me questions about the quality of his hind quarter yield :) So we quit for the day, friendly confident and happy.

It was two days later when we revisited this lesson and gratefully, the yields were soft and way better than how we left off! We have been making a habit out of approaching one another with our necks relaxed and body language soft.  I go out several times a day to give Moses a piece of carrot, just to reinforce the relaxation.  I go up to him and crouch down in front of him and encourage him to come get his carrot.  At first he would come right into my space, not asking permission to share the space, but taking it, so I needed to send him away.  But as the days went by and our lessons progressed he realized the price for the carrot was to come in relaxed, respecting my space and asking politely. 

I wasn't sure a couple of days ago if this horse was going to be a reliable riding horse for his owner, and I'm still not sure, but I was encouraged yesterday by the shift in him.  I think he is having congruent conversations on all fronts, even Mya, my little 30 inch tall mini mare, tells this dominant horse where to be, then she leaves him alone until he asks politely.  

Once again, it is my honor and privilege to live, play and work In the Company of Horses..........

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Claiming space and playing with food ~ Moses~

Moses came in yesterday for 30 days of training.  The owner says he's dominant and she is not always comfortable in his space.  He has kicked her and intimidates her.  So when he got here yesterday, I let him investigate the space at liberty for awhile.  He displayed his dominance to my herd from across the fence as I observed. That looked like posturing, tossing his head and rolling repeatedly.   After awhile I took him with halter and long line to the field where I hoped he would stay during his time here.  I showed him around and simply claimed the space around me and my projected path.  We stopped at every fleck of hay and I shared food with him.  Calmly with controlled energy and excitement, we explored the space.

While Mo's attention was on everything, he had an ear cocked on me the whole time.  When he got fixated on something in the distance, I thoroughly got invested in whatever it was as well, then decided, like a leader, that nothing was wrong and we should move on to the important work of investigating the new space.  When his head was below his withers, and he was blowing and looking for grass to chew on, we went into the round pen and I removed all strings.  He was very connected to me, following me wherever I went feeling like a herd of two.  So we picked up the pace trotting together.  Without looking at him I could feel his head come up above his withers, so I came down to the walk making my circle much smaller so as to keep the walk and continue to slow down.  As soon as he looked at me, I invited him in.  Rinsed and repeated until he was able to trot with me without his head coming up.  That happened through walk, trot, stop transitions.  It took about 20 minutes and I opened the gate and we went out.  I was hoping he wanted to go to the water trough to drink; instead he went to the water trough with me and got interested in where the girls are.  Then he went to the creek and was very interested in crossing.

Now if he had gone down the bank and crossed the creek, he would have been out in the general population with my herd and on the track of my paddock paradise.  I did not want this to happen.  So I observed for the better part of an hour and made the determination that he would cross the creek if caught up in enough excitement and given the dominant tendencies I have already witnessed, I was sure he wanted to go cavort with the big girls.  So I put up an electric barrier where I thought he would cross, thinking it was done.

He went back into the round pen and rolled repeatedly, violently, I suspected he had some discomfort and he began to paw at the ground.  I've seen this horse show signs of colic in a situation where he was worried.  So I put his rope on him and took him; keeping the belly of the rope on the ground, once again, to the water.  He checked it out but did not drink, so we went to see if he wanted to stand on the tires.  When he got focused on the task at hand he did lots of licking and chewing.  It was a nice connection, so while he was still on the tire, I took off all strings and left him alone. He showed no signs of discomfort.   I went to get him some hay.  When I arrived in the field with the hay, I was immediately accosted for the food, he ripped it right out of my hands.  Hmmmmmm another sign of dominant behavior, claiming the food.

With no fuss, just noticing, I walked away to get my stick.  Now prepared, I was very clear about claiming the hay.  I did not touch him, just claimed the hay, like I have seen other horses do countless times.  When he looked at me longingly, questioning, I picked up the fleck of hay walked it over to him and I walked away.  I did that a few more times, all the while being clear, fair, friendly and unwaivering in my intention to claim the food. He responded with more and more respect each time.

With only one more short session online for the day, just asking him to lower his head in motion and relax, I considered the day a success.  Then came the first night.

Earlier in the day I noticed that Mo and Summer seemed to like one another.  So as the light of the day waned, I had a thought that I did not listen to.  I should leave Summer in the field with Moses.  It may not be enough that the whole herd is just on the other side of the fence on the track, eating hay next to him.  So, at 2AM I am woke to the sound of rolling thunder.  It sounded like it was just rolling around the house.  I went out and found the whole herd in the front lawn including Moses! I have no idea how he got out of the field and onto the track with everyone. So by the time I got out back to see if anyone was left (only Sterling - Yelling for the herd) the thunder rolled right up to me!  Lots of energy and I'm pretty sure there was not a bit of moonlight.  I got a rope and went in and put it on Moses, then took him out to the space just behind the barn, Summer happily came with us.  There they were quietly together for the rest of the night.........

All in all a very interesting first 24 hours!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stronger than any halter and lead rope!

Whispering Jessie, really understands what stronger than any halter and lead rope means.  Thank goodness she's teaching me!  Jessie is my dominant mare, really the only one I would classify that way out of 7 mares and 1 stallion.  Today I had yet another example of how my dominant mare keeps the order in her herd.

So, it's pouring out, not cold but windy and sideways rain, lots of it.  All of the horses were tucked inside the outside shelter, mostly wet because the rain is coming from the South.  I think it would be a nice idea to go out and bring them all into their barn, cozy, dry, more room, hay, you know comfy.

 I go out, prepare the barn make my way through the driving rain to the gate, get Jacquie's attention, and run back to the barn expecting everyone to follow.  I'm in there waiting and waiting, I poke my head out and I see Hearty, Jessie and Jacquie half way to the gate looking at me dressed head to toe in rain gear, I'm sure they can't hear me calling them because the gale force wind is blowing my voice to the county north of me, but they see me for sure waving at them to come in.  Now these horses come into this barn once every day to eat.  They love it, look forward to it, I've watched them waiting to come in and eat day after day, year after year for 20 years; rain, snow, wind, thunder and lightning, sunshine, night, every type of weather condition, they come in.  But, they are looking at me then back at the shelter, I'm thinking they are coming, I run back in to get ready to receive them, and they don't come!  I look back out and they are now all back in the shelter! I'm wondering what's stopping them.

So I get a halter and lead rope and go back out into the torrential and driving rain, now soaked in spite of my rain gear, and Summer sees me because now they are all stirring.  Gratefully, she chooses to come in, then the migration begins, so I get back to the barn to get everyone where they need to be and just like every other day every horse is waiting outside the barn,  at the doorway, waiting for their herd leader Valentine to enter first.  The ducks, chickens and cats all make way and in perfect order everyone files in; calm and quietly going only where they are suppose to. First Valentine, then Jessie, Patches, Summer, Hearty, the little ones, and lastly Sterling. It occurs to me that all along they were waiting, waiting for valentine to make the move to the barn. More important than comfort or food; the safety of the herd leader saying lets go.

That Jessie, she is not only a beauty, but a gift!