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!