Friday, July 29, 2011

Mika Goes to Training, and Dirk Moves In

Mika and I never clicked, but I worked on desensitizing her, teaching her to be caught, and teaching her to have her feet handled.  She went on to a trainer because she needed more work than I could give - and sometimes you have to admit when you just don't 'click' with a horse and have a personality clash.  Mika and I definitely clashed!  I'm thrilled to report she's done well in training - he even got her started under saddle.  He said she wasn't great in an arena as she didn't want to collect, but she went anywhere he pointed her when they trail rode.  She's going onto another foster home who will work with her and a trainer.  I'm glad - she deserves someone she clicks with.  And hopefully she'll find her forever home soon!

A week or so after Mika moved on, Dirk arrived.  He is about two years old.  He's red roan who I think will gray out, and he came from a neglect case.  He was barely halter broke when he got here, so we had our work cut out for us!  Fortunately he's sweet and he really tries. I think this one will one day be a 'pocket pony' - he wants to be right up in everything, checking everyone out.  

He started out life here wearing a halter since he wasn't easily catchable.  So I had to catch him each day before breakfast and before dinner.  He pretty quickly learned that being caught led to good things (food!) and learned to stand quietly.  Each day also included a brief leading lesson and I spent a few minutes rubbing part of his body.  It is amazing what you can accomplish in just two 10-minute training sessions a day.  Before long, i could catch him easily and was able to remove the halter and still reliably catch him in his stall or run.

We scheduled him to be gelded on July 7th, but the veterinarian discovered that he was a cryptorchid and referred us to a vet hospital.  The vet hospital performed his surgery on July 20th.  Because the veterinarian had to go fairly far into his abdomen to remove his testicle, Dirk has been on stall rest for two weeks now.  He's supposed to be hand-walked daily, which gives us some training time, though.  He's now leading very well from his left side and learning to lead from his right side.  I can run his face, neck, sides and rump and I can run my hands up and down his front legs.

Now I've moved on to teaching him to pick up his feet.  This is my process for teaching a horse to pick up his feet:  
When I'm teaching a horse (of any age) to pick up and hold their feet, I first want them to be comfortable with having me rub their legs.  I accomplish this by having them in a halter and lead in a confined space and rubbing at the top of their leg.  If they move, I let them (but keep their head tipped in so they're basically going in a circle around me) and I keep my hand on their leg. When they stop moving, I take my hand off and stop rubbing.  I pet/praise them and do it again. When I can rub the top of their leg without them moving off, I move further down and repeat. And I keep this up until I can rub up and down their leg without them moving.
If they're really goosey, I'll use a stick/firm crop to start rubbing them (using it as an extension of my arm).  And when they're good with the stick, then I'll use my hand.

It normally takes several sessions until you can run your hands up and down their legs without them moving.  Right now, I can do this with Dirk's front legs and I'm just starting to work at rubbing the top of his hind legs.

Once I can touch their legs, I'll rub down their leg and ask them to pick the foot up.  The second I feel them start to pick that foot up, I stand up, pet/praise them and then walk a few feet off. Then I ask again.  And repeat.  When I've gotten them picking up their feet when I ask without
walking off, spooking, etc. then I'll ask them to pick up the foot with my hand on it and hold it up one second.  Then 2 seconds.  And slowly increase the amount of time they hold it up.

This takes time, but it results in horses who hold their feet up without fuss and saves you time and saves them stress in the future. 

So that's where we are with Dirk.  I'm going to keep working with his legs and his leading.  And before long, I'll start introducing him to things like tarps, flags, and other spooky stuff... he's got two and a half more weeks of healing before I can start teaching him to longe or do anything that requires a lot of movement.  I'm hoping he gets adopted soon - I'm going to get attached!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Set Back with Mika

Mika is a pretty mare, a lovely mover and very smart.  Smart is good - it means she can learn.  BUT it also means she can learn bad habits easily and is always thinking about how to outsmart you.  A smart horse keeps you on your toes.

Last week, we had a little set back.  She had gotten much easier to catch in her stall and was more relaxed in general. I could rub all over her with the exception of her back legs, and I had been rubbing her with a whip (so I could more safely touch/handle her back legs).  On Saturday morning, I caught her in her stall, lead her out, and picked up the longe whip.  I was planning to work some more on rubbing her with the whip before letting her go in the pasture.  However the act of picking up the whip startled her, she pulled back, ran through my hotwire fence and wouldn't let me near her.  She was out in the pasture for a day, dragging a leadrope and making me a nervous wreck. I had put my horses up so they wouldn't get tangled in with her.  And luckily she was wearing a break away halter, but I still worried she would get caught on something.

Now, she shouldn't have pulled away and run off. BUT I also did a few things wrong that morning.  I wasn't wearing gloves, so it was easier for her to pull away.  I also immediately went to try to catch her instead of letting her settle down a bit.  The pressure of being caught is what sent her crashing through the hotwire fence to be out in the barnyard.  And I was upset and angry which I know she could pick up on.

So that evening, I went out with a better attitude and her grain.  She still wouldn't let me near her, so I took the grain and walked off.  (And worried).  By the morning, she had settled down.  So when I went out with a calmer attitude and a bucket of grain, Mika walked up to me and I caught her.

So now Mika has a new set up.  Her stall/feeding pen has been attached to the round pen.  So she spends the nights in her feeding pen.  In the morning, I catch her (she's again being good about being caught) and lead her into the round pen and work with her a bit.  If she pulls away from me, I make her move around the round pen for a bit.

The first time she pulled away, I had her run around the round pen. I let her stop and she turned to face me, so I walked up to her.  She took off, so I sent her off running around the pen again.  We had to do that three times before I could catch her.  Then I was able to work with her for a few days without problems.  Then a few days ago, she pulled away again. I sent her running around the round pen.  When I let her stop, she stood still and let me catch her.  A few minutes later, she started to pull away.  But you could almost see her thinking: If I pull away, I have to really work.  Is it worth it?  And she didn't pull away.

Unfortunately it'll be a while before she's going out in the pasture with everyone else.  but she can see the other horses now and we're working on desensitizing her. 

She's teaching me a lot about MY attitude and my patience.  And she forces me to be in a good frame of mind when I work with her.  She's too sensitive and she misbehaves when I'm not "there" mentally.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Update on Cassie and welcome to Mika

I apologize for not posting on the Case Study Blog in so long.  Life and rescue work got busy - and the horses needed me to spend less time on line and at least a little time with me.

Cassie (aka Cassandra) was with me until the Bluebonnet Horse Expo in October.  While she was here, her ground manners greatly improved and her riding skills advanced.  When she went to the Expo, I was riding her both sidesaddle and in a dressage saddle at the walk and trot.  She had gone through a brief time of crow-hopping when pushed under saddle, but a body work session donated by Charlotte Morris of Phoenix Bodyworks helped her move past that.  Over time, she became better balanced under saddle and moved out more willingly.  She was adopted at the 2010 Bluebonnet Horse Expo - before the Expo even began!  A family came to look at another horse who ended up not being a good fit.  They were interested in Cassandra and decided to adopt her, get her training and turn her into a hunter/jumper for their teenage daughter.  I'm so proud of Cassandra!

I had several horses through here from October until the end of March, but none of them had serious behavioral problems.  Then I got Mika.  Mika was part of a five horse seizure conducted in Arkansas a few years ago.  When the horses were seized, none of them were halter broke.   Mika drifted through a few foster homes who didn't do much with her.  One home did have a trainer work with her and get her somewhat halter broke, but then she moved on to someone who didn't do much with her.  When Mika got here, she had a halter on but was nearly impossible to catch, even in a 10 x 10 stall/pen.  When caught, she jumped if you moved your hands or tried to touch her.

So we spent most of April just working in her stall.  I hate to leave a halter on a horse, so I took the halter off of Mika.  That might have been a mistake because I couldn't catch her for the first week.  If you tried to catch her, she spun around with her head in a corner.  I would swing the lead rope and cluck at her until she faced me and then back off (giving her a little space to relax).  After the first week or two, she knew that if I growled the "no" sound at her, she should turn around and face me again. 

Once I started getting my hands on her, I started haltering her in her stall.  With her in a halter and lead, I started rubbing on her neck.  When she tensed or moved away, I kept rubbing until she relaxed and stood still.  After another week, I started taking her on brief trips out of her stall and leading her around the barnyard.  She learned to lead remarkably quickly, probably remembering some of her leading lessons for nearly a year ago.

After she was getting easier to catch and halter in her stall, I put a break-away halter on and put her out in pasture, hoping I could catch her again.  The first night, I couldn't catch her and she missed dinner.  Everyone else got to eat, and she loves her food.  The next morning, she was much easier to catch.  So her routine has become that she gets caught in her stall in the morning after breakfast, has a 5-10 minute training session, and then heads out to the pasture.  In the evening, she gets caught and put in her stall for dinner.

The first training sessions were just getting her acclimated to being handled and touched.  Like in her stall, if she moves around or gets nervous I keep rubbing her until she relaxes and stands still.  She's a smart girl and is getting much better.  I've also taught her to lower her head when I press on her poll.

Right now, I'm rubbing all over her with a long whip.  My goal is to get her comfortable with something touching her legs so eventually I can teach her to pick up her feet.

I'll start trying to keep this blog more up to date so you can read about the steps we take in her training and handling.